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While many brown spirits brand owners have made hay from creating 'homes' for their brands, the white spirits category may be missing a trick. Richard Woodard explains.

Pernod Ricard has created an Absolut Home in Sweden

Pernod Ricard has created an 'Absolut Home' in Sweden

During its late Victorian peak, Dubin's whiskey industry employed well over 1,000 people at its vast super-distilleries. Less than a century later, and the last of those huge plants - Power's John's Lane - had shut its doors.

Today, the picture has shifted once more. Both The Teeling Whiskey Co and Pearse Lyons are making whiskey in the city again, as is Quintessential Brands' Dublin Liberties Distillery, which began production earlier this year. And, Diageo will join the fray later this year when its Roe & Co (reviving the George Roe name) plant opens in the old Guinness Power Station.

The cluster of new ventures says much about the renaissance of Irish whiskey but, in pure production terms and when compared to the 7m-case-plus might of Pernod Ricard's Jameson Irish whiskey colossus, these ventures are tiny.

Nor is 21st-Century Dublin the ideal place to make whiskey - urban locations are demanding in terms of logistics and regulations, and expensive when it comes to rents and overheads. But, they have one crucial factor in their favour: People.

The infant Teeling distillery welcomed 125,000 visitors last year, while Jameson's Bow Street attraction (no distillery here, just a 'maturation house') claims to be the world's most visited whiskey experience.

It's easy to make a 'brand home' out of a distillery (or, in the case of Bow Street, an ex-distillery). Being able to visit Glenfiddich, Bowmore or Macallan and see where the liquid is created is a key part of the appeal.

But, it's not so straightforward for a white spirits brand of any scale to do the same thing. After all, where would you locate the 'home' of Smirnoff, for instance? Or Gordon's? Or Baileys?

Partly, this is related to category regulation and process. By law, you can only make Glenfiddich at, er, Glenfiddich; Smirnoff, meanwhile, is put together at several different locations around the world. Consider also that gleaming copper pot stills, even on the scale of Glenfiddich, are undeniably sexier to look at than the stainless steel skyscrapers of an industrial-scale white spirits plant.

But, what about blended spirits? The Bow Street site shows how a grain-dominated blended Irish whiskey can still play the provenance card, even though not a drop of Jameson is distilled on the premises, but at Midleton, some 250km to the south-west.

Now, the biggest blend of them all, Johnnie Walker, is getting in on the act with Diageo's GBP150m investment in a new attraction in Edinburgh, linked to four malt distilleries that are key to the Walker style: Glenkinchie, Caol Ila, Clynelish and Cardhu. True enough, Diageo is canny enough to focus on the malts (there are no plans for a similar link to the vast Cameronbridge grain distillery, which produces the majority of the Walker liquid). And, Jameson has its long history of distilling in Dublin to fall back on.

It can be done, even if your brand is an apparently rootless, homeless modern white spirits incarnation. Bombay Sapphire was the creation not of the Indian Raj, but of a modern-day marketer, and for many years it was made at the G&J Greenall distillery in less-than-glamorous Warrington.

No matter, said owner Bacardi. The stunning Laverstoke Mill in Hampshire opened in 2014 as a production centre and visitor centre combined. The fact that this 'brand home' has been retrofitted to the Bombay name matters not a jot to the folk who have a good time there.

Another G&J gin, Thomas Dakin, is about to perform the same trick. In this case, the product is the property of Quintessential Brands, owner of G&J, but the company has always intended for Dakin to have its own production base and visitor centre in Manchester. The premises on Lloyd Street are due to open later this year.

Even a brand of the scale of Absolut is beginning to see the value of playing the tourist card - assisted by the fact that all of its vodka is still made at Åhus, Sweden - and has opened its Absolut Home in the town.

What mystifies me is why more brands in the white spirits arena haven't followed suit.

Returning briefly to whisky, Edinburgh's planned Holyrood Park Distillery takes the 'brand home' theory to its logical conclusion, with co-founder David Robertson explicitly stating that tourism was central to the entire exercise, describing the site as a tourist attraction with a distillery built in, rather than the other way around.

The positives of such ventures, particularly when they benefit from a prime urban location, are manifold and go well beyond the revenue gains from tours, tastings and sales from the shop. In an age of product clutter and adventurously-exploring consumers, they create a direct and tangible emotional connection between the liquid and the customer.

Give them a few quid off your product and they'll express their gratitude by forsaking you in favour of the next brand in the discount queue; give them a grand day out and they might just be your friend for life.


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