by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Things to do in Dublin
The constellation of “things to do” in Dublin has been rapidly expanding in the past few years. When I worked as an Italian speaking tour guide in the late 80s / early 90s you could “do Dublin” with your group in half a day – Trinity / Book of Kells, St Pat’s, the National Museum or Art Gallery. That was pretty much it.
These days it’s an entirely different story with one single Dublin attraction – the Guinness Storehouse – attracting more annual visitors than the resident population of the greater Dublin area itself. In 2016 a staggering 1.6m visitors visited the Home of Guinness, which equates to about 20% of all visitors to the island of Ireland in the same year. By comparison about one third of this number visited Buckingham Palace in the UK and about 1m visited Holland’s number 1 visitor attraction, The Heineken Experience.
Dublin’s Northside Attractions
Over the past decade or so many new visitor attractions have opened around Ireland’s capital spanning the spectrum from re-positioned cultural gems to commercial brand homes. Many of the newer ones are located north of the River Liffey – Glasnevin Cemetery Museum, the GAA Museum, GPO Witness History and, most recently, EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum. These have come together under the clever brand /acronym DNA – Dublin’s Northside Attractions – to offer a hidden gem / off the beaten path experience to the growing breed of intrepid travellers who’d rather go for root canal treatment than be called “tourists”.
And these are the very ones that Jameson is targeting with its newly re-launched brand home, the Jameson Distillery Bow St. Jameson has a long and deep legacy in Dublin as an employer and purveyor of great whiskey but also as a visitor attraction. The brand’s parent company at that time, Irish Distillers, spotted the potential in the “tourism” market in the mid 80s and opened “The Irish Whiskey Corner” across the road from the current facility at Bow Street.
Irish Whiskey Corner
I recall taking groups of Italians there in the late 80s and quickly realised this genius facility was achieving two distinct but equally successful objectives. Firstly, it was delivering a highly engaging visitor experience to overseas tourists and connecting them with a unique Irish product that had a very compelling story. And this story was multi-faceted including its historical origins as uisce beatha, the impact on its development of prohibition in the US, the distillation process itself, how its differs from Bourbon and Scotch etc. It was also told, as I recall, by a master storyteller, John Callely, who still weaves his magic for tourism brands in Ireland today.
Secondly, and I would always discover this when the group re-boarded the coach, “The Irish Whiskey Corner” was slowly but surely building a global network of ambassadors for Irish Whiskey. I’d always get comments from seasoned Scotch drinkers full of surprise at how great the triple distilled whiskey with an “e” tasted. At a time when duty-free existed within the EU there were also the inevitable questions about whether they should purchase directly at the visitor centre or wait until the airport. Either way it was clear. Zealous Scotch drinkers “not for turning” were being turned all the time by an up close and personal “experience” with Irish Whiskey, mediated in and through a meaningful, direct encounter with the brand and the great people around it.
Jameson Distillery Bow Street
And so it is today. We may have impressive brand-and-marketing-speak to help us articulate what happens at great “brand homes” – and the best one I’ve seen is on Harvard Business Review authored by Christian Lachel of BRC – but ultimately it’s all about emotional connections. It’s Maya Angelou’s immortal statement:
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel
The Jameson Distillery Bow St is now officially open again following a 6 month re-imagining project and this brand home / visitor experience is all about deeply personal, sensory, emotional connections, ensuring, above all, that the feeling is right.
I was privileged to get in there on opening day and, along with about 14 others, was taken around by tour-guide extraordinaire, Miren. The tour commences at mezzanine level, overlooking the vast volumes of the entrance foyer and bar areas. While your group assembles, you can read the timeline display that provides an overview of Jameson’s tenancy in Smithfield. There’s also an intriguing collage of print advertising campaigns undertaken over the years including the memorable “Rush Hour Ireland” one.
Then you start with a history lesson and this is where the magic of the new Jameson experience starts to unfold. You gather up-close-and-personal around a table and Miren starts to narrate the Jameson story aided by a slick but unobtrusive AV display that materialises in front of you, for the tabe is actually a screen. There’s mood lighting and props and it’s all very emotive and theatrical. It’s a blend of old and new, analogue and digital, history lesson and entertaining story. You hear about the “Daily Grog”, a complimentary glass of whiskey offered at the end of each shift to every worker in the distillery. You leave resolved to “fear a bit less and live a bit more”, a modern interpretation of the great Jameson motto Sine Metu.
After history it’s science and everything associated with the distillation and maturation processes. It’s full-on sensory. You get to touch, taste, hear, see and smell everything – the unmalted and malted grain, the perforated tiles on which the malting takes place, the different scents and aromas from the oak barrels, the changing colour of the elixir as it matures. Miren’s commentary is authoritative but never condescending, always inclusive, soliciting and encouraging questions at all times.
After history and science there’s a tutored comparative tasting where John Jameson from Ireland stands up beside Johnnie Walker from Scotland and Jack Daniels from the United States and shows the strength and depth of his character. Then it all comes together. You’re not just sipping any random alcoholic beverage: this is John Jameson, a meticulously crafted, triple distilled and blended whiskey with a long legacy and a proud history taking its rightful place – again – amongst the super-nova drinks of the world.
Following a final Sláinte and Sine Metu toast with Miren it’s back to the foyer area to continue the glorious “Daily Grog” tradition and claim your free Jameson drink – you can have it neat / straight-up or enjoy the signature Jameson cocktail with Ginger & Lime. Now you’re back at the bar, glass in hand, and its all chat, connections and conviviality.
PS Described above is the entry level “Jameson Experience”. Launching shortly are two premium experiences, Makers and Shakers, that take you behind the scenes for an in-depth deep dive into the wonderful world of making whiskey and crafting cocktails. Details and Booking here
Pádraic Gilligan, Pat Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training.