Irish pub impresario Kieran Folliard has boasted for years that the Local, his bar on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, sells more Jameson Irish Whiskey than anywhere in the world.
In fact, he sells so much of the product that last week Folliard announced he will begin selling his own brand of whiskey, imported from Ireland. It's a business decision likely to help his bottom line, but it also could end his reign as Jameson's global sales leader.
He's calling the new brand 2 Gingers, and plans to have it behind the bar at his four locations -- the Local, Kieran's, Cooper and the Liffey -- by St. Patrick's Day.
The move is further indication that Folliard and business partner Peter Killen have grown to the point that they can dictate the supply side. In 2010, the duo introduced Green Ox, an artisan meat-production company that stocks the pubs with pork products made by Mike Phillips, former chef at Craftsman.
The Local has been Jameson's worldwide leader four years running. In 2009, the pub sold about 775 cases of Jameson, or roughly 25 bottles a day. Kieran's at Block E and Cooper in St. Louis Park were the No. 5 and 8 sellers within the United States in 2010.
Folliard and Killen said the make-it-themselves whiskey stems from two factors. Pride is the first.
"It's the dream of every Irishman to own a pub," Killen said. "And the whiskey comes next."
The second is economics: Food and liquor prices continue to rise. The Local's general manager, Josh Petzel, said Jameson prices went up 25 percent over a two-year period.
"That was maybe the straw that broke the camel's back," Folliard said.
Folliard's team recently broke the news to representatives from Jameson's parent company, Pernod Ricard. "They were sorry to hear it," Folliard said. "But let's face it, they're the second-largest liquor company in the world. We're small potatoes in the grand scheme of things."
Timothy Lawler, the state manager for Pernod Ricard, disputes the claim that his company raised prices. However, Lawler said, "We wish them luck."
A pair of redheads
Folliard and Killen will not be making the whiskey themselves. The brand will be made by Cooley, the last independent distillery in Ireland. Once it reaches the States, Minnesota-based Phillips Distilling will bottle it. Two rosy redheads are featured on the bottle's label. CEO Dean Phillips said there's a possibility that 2 Gingers could one day find its way into liquor stores.
"When the world's largest seller of Jameson Irish Whiskey says he's going to start his own brand, we would be remiss not to think of those opportunities," Phillips said.
The 2 Gingers name is a nod to the cocktail that sparked the Local's worldwide whiskey dominance. In 2003, the pub introduced (and trademarked) the Big Ginger cocktail, which mixed Jameson with ginger ale, lemon and lime. Its smooth taste was an instant hit with both men and women. Killen estimates that 70 percent of Jameson sold at the Local goes into the Big Ginger and the Skinny Ginger (with diet ginger ale). The bar sells about 400 a day on average.
Folliard said he will keep selling Jameson, but his staff will push 2 Gingers as the whiskey of choice for the Big Ginger. Patrons calling for Jameson should expect an upcharge, Folliard said.
The men are confident that the taste of their new Irish whiskey -- smooth but with a bigger kick -- can stand side-by-side with a historic and beloved brand like Jameson. "We're not trying to reinvent the style of Irish whiskey that people are used to," Killen said.
At the end of the day, Killen joked, 2 Gingers isn't some bold business move, but simply an outgrowth of Folliard's restless spirit.
"Kieran needed a new project," Killen said. "'Cause I told him we're not opening any more pubs!"
Tom Horgen • 612-673-7909