This is another in a series of occasional writings about a particular whiskey. Rather than the standard review and tasting notes, I tend to focus on the story about a whiskey, the occasion I found myself drinking it, who I was with, or some other hopefully interesting anecdote.
With the volume of new whiskeys hitting the market on a monthly basis these days, companies try to differentiate through marketing, creating a story, and/or truly having a unique product. Back in 2011, the latest Irish whiskey renaissance was in its early stage. Trying to break in to the whiskey market was more challenging and required more than just a good product. 2 Gingers succeeded with a combination of product quality, clever marketing, and a unique distribution channel.
Kieran Folliard owned and operated several Irish pubs in the Twin cities. Through his pub network, he became the #1 seller of Jameson whiskey in the country. Not bad for a publican in St. Paul, MN. Promoting the “Big Ginger” and other whiskey centric cocktails, he was able to tap into not only Irish whiskey drinkers but woman and a younger demographic. At some point, Folliard realized that if he had his own whiskey he could sell a lot of it instead of Jameson. In 2011, 2 Gingers was introduced by Folliard in St. Paul, MN. The Irish whiskey was a blend sourced from the Cooley distillery in County Louth. A MN state law disallowed the same owner of both a restaurant and distillery, forcing Folliard to choose between the two. As a result, later that year Folliard sold his four Irish pubs to focus exclusively on his new whiskey.
I had followed this story from afar in Boston. As luck would have it, I found myself in St. Paul in early April 2011. I came to MN for the Frozen Four hockey tournament to see my alma mater Notre Dame play (Go Irish!). My college roommate who luckily lived in St Paul took me to The Liffey, one of Folliard’s pubs located across from the hockey arena. It was here that 2 Gingers was available, having a “soft” launch through the pub. Not yet available to buy in stores, I took it upon myself to “do the research” and thoroughly sample this new whiskey and report to the IWSA upon my return to Boston. My “sacrifice” was not to go unrewarded.
2 Gingers is an easy going, pleasant blend which was unmistakably Cooley. I say this because at the time there were fewer options available and Cooley provided the bulk of sourced whiskeys for independent bottlers. We tended to sample everything that came out for IWSA purposes so Cooley malt became a recognizable and pleasurable experience. I was drinking it neat that weekend but I imagine the target market in mind included the pub drinkers who favored Folliard’s cocktails such as the “Big Ginger”.
I was enjoying the new launch and considered myself lucky to be there to experience the whiskey before most had an opportunity. Everyone involved at the pub was excited about the new whiskey. As the weekend wore on, I realized I wanted a memento of the occasion. I set out to procure an empty bottle of the newest Irish whiskey. Whether it was my endless charm or drunken nagging, I was given an empty bottle. I still have this bottle on my shelf and consider it a collector’s item. Why? The original 1 liter bottle I received prominently showed a picture of the “2 Gingers”, Folliard’s aunt and mother. When the whiskey actually came to market several months later, the bottles sold in liquor stores were different. Gone was the yellow colored label and pictures of the women, instead replaced with a vertical name logo and brown color scheme. While I can’t be sure, I’ve got to believe that there are not too many if any of those original bottles in existence.
Two Gingers has had a relatively short but exciting life cycle. Having started out distributed through the pubs it then shifted to local MN liquor stores for sale. To make this happen, Folliard had to sell his pub holdings and battle a lawsuit with Jameson. It seems they did not like his use of “Big Ginger” for his whiskey cocktail made with ginger ale and lime. Maybe it had something to do with losing their biggest account to a new upstart whiskey? In 2012, Beam purchased Cooley, putting Folliard’s new whiskey in jeopardy just as it was getting started. One of the first announcements upon Beam’s acquisition was that independent bottler contracts with Cooley would not be renewed or continued. Beam wanted the Cooley stock to use to promote their newly acquired brands like Kilbeggan. However, not only did 2 Gingers survive, but Folliard sold the product to Beam, becoming the company’s American Brand Ambassador and expanding its distribution nationally. Beam’s clout and advertising budget has resulted in a clever print advertising campaign for the product (see accompanying pictures).
Two Gingers is an entry-level, everyday drinking whiskey suitable for mixing. It is priced very reasonably, similar to regular Jameson. This is not a whiskey meant to be compared to Redbreast or an aged single malt but that is ok. Some whiskies are meant to be enjoyed in a pub while drinking with friends. This is how I first came to drink 2 Gingers, surrounded by Notre Dame hockey fans and old college friends. One thing I learned from Rich Nagle, IWSA founder, was that “who you are drinking with” is probably the most important factor with how you feel about a whiskey. More important than age, cask, or country of origin, it is those you are drinking with that make for the memorable occasions. For this reason, I will always appreciate 2 Gingers for the fond memories it elicits.
Allan Dwyer, President IWSA