John Lamb, Published April 08 2013
Minneapolis- founded Irish Whiskey making inroads
The Minneapolis pub owner-turned-whiskey maker cringes when people mention “the luck of the Irish.”
“What luck?” he quips. “You have ‘Riverdance,’ famines and great hungers. Where’s the luck in that? We say, ‘Bring your own luck.’ ”
The “we” he’s referring to aren’t necessarily his native Irish men and women, but rather those behind his latest venture, 2 Gingers Irish whiskey.
2 Gingers made its debut on March 16, the day before St. Patrick’s Day, 2011. It was available only in his bars, but when he decided to make it available at other establishments, he had to sell off his bars, (Kieran’s, the Local, the Liffey and Cooper), in accordance with Minnesota liquor laws.
The ensuing success has been more a product of pluck than luck. Folliard took his drink to liquor stores around the state in 2012.
“I saw more of the state of Minnesota in three months than I’d seen in 25 years,” he says.
In late February, 2 Gingers spilled over the borders, becoming available in North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.
“I feel like Richard Kimble in ‘The Fugitive,’ ” Folliard says referring to his recent travels, cutting back and forth across the upper-Midwest to promote his drink.
His hustle is starting to pay off.
“It’s taking off here, little by little,” says Alex Berghuis, a bartender at Duffy’s. The bar started carrying the drink just before St. Patrick’s Day and it’s been catching on.
Sitting down in the lobby of the Ramada Plaza & Suites, Folliard catches his breath long enough to discuss his newest endeavor.
First things first, he says, consumers need a little education in whiskeys.
A native of the Galway area, he proudly points out whiskey is an Irish product.
“We invented it,” he says, noting that the word is a derivation of the Gaelic terms “uisce” and “beatha,” or “water of life”.
Until prohibition, whiskey in America was predominantly Irish, making up 62 percent of the market, he explains. Now it’s only 2 percent and other varieties are to blame for leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths.
“Most people’s first encounter with whiskey was with cheap, inferior brands,” he says.
While Folliard successfully pushed Jameson Irish Whiskey on his customers as a pub owner, he saw room for competition.
Under his ownership, the Local was the largest Jameson account in the world, reportedly going through 25 bottles a day in 2010. Sales were aided by the bar developing the Big Ginger, a mix of ginger ale and whiskey, garnished with a lemon and lime.
Folliard’s 2 Gingers copyrighted the name Big Ginger and later sued Jameson for marketing a Big Jameson Ginger.
Folliard is making a case for his brand in the court of public opinion.
Berghuis says more and more Duffy’s customers are asking for 2 Gingers in their Big Gingers.
In December, the Jim Beam company bought the 2 Gingers brand and trademark. Folliard agreed to stay on as chief operating officer of Kilbeggan Distillery in Ireland where 2 Gingers is made. He’s given himself the title, “Chief Irish Whiskey Ambassador in the U.S.”
Red making green
Folliard worked with Kilbeggan distillers to develop a smooth, slightly sweet blend with a taste of honey and citrus.
Unlike most Irish whiskeys, it’s only distilled twice, not three times. It’s then aged four years in bourbon barrel before bottling.Folliard thinks the mellower taste, compared to the more bracing Jameson, opens some doors to new whiskey drinkers, particularly women. The label, after all, features drawings of his red-headed mother and aunt.
In the first year of 2 Gingers being poured in his bars, 40 percent of total whiskey sales were to women.
Whereas most whiskey advertising is directed at males, and whiskey considered more of a cold-weather drink, 2 Gingers strives to be a “season-less, gender-less whiskey, more about story-making than story-telling,” Folliard says.
He’s worked at getting the brand involved with nonprofits and arts groups to help establish a following.
“I knew we could outwork the big guys and be hands-on in the communities. We can’t outspend them,” he says. “We’re doing events where you never saw Irish whiskey in the summer.”
Indeed, 2 Gingers is the only Irish whiskey at Target field, the home of the Minnesota Twins, and it’s also available at Canterbury Park for the horse races.
A horse track seems a perfect spot for an Irish gambler.
Folliard left his Irish home to try and sell milk in the Middle-East.“Thirty five years ago I was flogging milk to the Arabs. Now I’m flogging whiskey to Minnesotans,” he says with a laugh, noting that in this instance, flogging means to sell aggressively, promote or push.
With a job at Cargill, he ended up in the Twin Cities in the mid-1980s.
“I thought I’d be there for a year. Twenty-six years later I’m still walking around,” he laughs. “It’s better to walk around the tundra than to walk around the desert.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533