Brand experience: Jameson Distillery Bow Street
Jameson wanted its new brand experience to offer more than a distillation of the distilling process. It layered immersive storytelling upon historical context upon a technologically advanced approach in order to craft something new. Brittany Golob reports from Dublin
Jameson’s Bow Street Distillery has stood on the same site in north Dublin’s Smithfield Market for 237 years. Its cobbled courtyard and timber beams show that history. But even five years ago, or for that matter, anytime before St Patrick’s Day 2017, the experience of visiting the distillery was vastly different than it is today.
The whiskey maker’s home in Bow Street, now non-operational as a distillery, has recently undergone a massive change designed to bring the history of the brewery into the present. It represents a shift in the way branded experiences are presented, particularly in the alcohol sector. The new distillery is also a significant change in the way in which the Jameson story is told.
The previous distillery experience followed the well-trodden path of exploring the whiskey distilling process through a guided tour of the site. Visitors were able to learn more about whiskey, about Jameson and about the Bow Street location. But that experience offered little for return visitors or for those more well-versed in whiskey and in Jameson’s brand origins. Thus, in September 2016, Jameson began the process of reimagining its brand experience at the Bow Street distillery.
“We’ve got a very deep and rich heritage and provenance both [in Bow Street] and with Ireland. It was really important for us that we didn’t just come in here with the new look and feel and completely rip out the old heart of the experience. It was important that we were able to marry the old and the new quite comfortably together,” project director of Jameson brand homes for Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard, John Carroll, says.
He and partner agency BRC Imagination Arts, a Los Angeles-based team that works on brand experiences globally, ensured history was not cast aside in favour of progress, but digital technology could be integrated to create a continuously relevant and interesting experience for modern visitors.
The rst manifestation of that ethos is in the foyer of the distillery. Two sides of the newly-revamped JJ’s Bar – named after founder John Jameson – make up the entry to the Bow Street distillery. The Irish oak bar tops show off their grain along with the engraved names of Jameson employees past and present. This touchpoint is a nod to Jameson’s ongoing focus on its employees. The barrelmen, as they’re called, even have pride of place on the moulded glass on the front of every Jameson bottle.
But above the new oak bars lie 240 year-old timber beams that date back to the original distillery. Being a listed site, there were built elements that needed to be preserved and the clever integration of the old beams into the new ceiling makes for a conjunction between old and new right from the start of the experience. The team worked with a conservation architect throughout the project to ensure preservation of historical elements. Indeed, a small section of the original foundation can be seen under plexiglass in JJ’s Bar.
“It was a delicate conservation project with the ultimate ambition of perfectly marrying the old and the new and not wanting to tear the heart and soul out if it both physically or spiritually,” says Carroll. “We tried to recycle as many of the materials as we could.” He says there was an old wooden vat in the distillery that was taken to a workshop to be recycled for modern use in the new experience. “The workmen who were tasked with repurposing it said when they were putting it through the ame, they could smell the whiskey.”
Repurposed and original wood sit alongside the new timber, while a healthy dose of copper and premium leather rounds out the tactile experience. Nine Yards, a Dublin creative agency, worked with Jameson to develop the new touchpoints. The result is a premium experience full or rich colours, textures and scents that relate back to the distilling process. Copper, Carroll points out, is integral to the distilling process even today.
The new distillery offers three different experiences. The flagship Bow Street Experience takes visitors through the distillery, the distilling process and the history of Jameson. Visitors can also take part in one of two more hands-on experiences dubbed the ‘Whiskey Makers’ and the ‘Whiskey Shakers.' The first of which isis a blending workshop with expert Jameson whiskey blenders and the latter a cocktail making course that explores Jameson's range of whiskies and their uses in mixed drinks. Both allow for return visitors or more knowledgeable visitors to get deeper into the Jameson brand and into the world of Irish whiskey. “The nature of brand home experiences and particularly us as an alcohol brand, they're intherently social," says Carroll and the new experiences offer groups an interactive activity to do together.
The Bow Street Experience, though, is that which best displays what Jameson has to offer. It is led by a brand ambassador, always on hand to offer insights, stories and generally to take the group through the experience.
The visit begins with a climb up a brick-lined spiral staircase into what was once a working kiln. The first stop is a timeline documenting Jameson’s history. The brand ambassador discusses the history of whiskey in Dublin and Ireland; a history that is interrelated with Dublin’s past and Ireland’s political changes as well.
Following that introduction, visitors are ushered into a round room echoing the kiln-cum-staircase below, in which they sit around a round table in the centre of the room. The table is littered with parchment, leather-bound books, a teakettle and other replica artefacts from the 1800s. A video plays on the tabletop – drawing viewers closer into it – that uses a mixed-media approach to delve deeper into Jameson’s history and the distillery’s place within it. Following that, visitors can select from five objects that then prompt another lm to play telling a different aspect of the story.
“We want to completely immerse people into that little window in our history for 10-12 minutes when you’re in that room,” Carroll says. “The spaces are very intimate, but the walls are all circular. They’re original stone walls from the 1780s. We’re telling and sharing and showing our story literally within the walls of the original fabric.”
Carroll says the easier route would have been to supply each visitor with an audio guide that then walks them through the distillery. But that too closely mirrored other brand experiences and didn’t re ect the level of immersion Jameson was trying to achieve with the new approach. “We wanted the brand ambassador and the multimedia to work together hand-in-glove to deliver that seamless experience,” he adds.
That strategy carries through the experience, which requires both the live brand ambassador and the digital touchpoints to fully achieve that immersion. The next room is the pinnacle of the experience. Groups of four visitors cluster around a set of tables, stocked with asks of liquid, distilling materials and done up in Irish oak. On the wall is a 3D diagram of the distilling process that then is brought to life through a map projection technology married with the brand ambassador’s own detailed description.
Throughout, though, visitors are able to touch, smell and taste different things – like barley or different types of whiskey – to better understand whiskey’s distillation. In the previous Bow Street experience, the information from this one room was extended out across the tour which dedicated one stop to each of the steps in the process. Visitors left with a better understanding of whiskey, but not necessarily of Jameson whiskey. The new experience changes that by detailing the speci c quirks that make Jameson whiskey purely its own. Following that, visitors are able to do a tutored tasting of Jameson, Johnnie Walker scotch and Jack Daniels bourbon.
The tour leads, as expected, to the gift shop. But the fresh approach – dubbed the Bow St. Market – exhibits local artists’ work as well as unique bottles of whiskey and unusual souvenirs. No sign of the clichéd magnet featuring the Jameson crest, says Carroll.
The Makers and Shakers experiences offer an added level of immersion. In the shakers course, thick Jameson green aprons with leather fixings sit alongside the oak tabletops and copper accents. The tasting offered on the agship experience extends seamlessly to a better understanding of Jameson’s range and of whiskey’s use in cocktails.
The new experiences are a far cry from those they replaced – which famously featured mannequins and a stuffed cat or two. But they also differ from the variety of brewery and distillery tours on offer around the world. Most of which connect process to history, but few manage to integrate a tactile approach with technological effects while using the historical aspects of the site to their benefit
“A lot of brands would probably give their right arm to have the history and the story and the heritage that we have. And we’re incredibly proud of it, so it was imperative that we brought that to life through immersive storytelling,” Carroll says. “Every single touchpoint has been carefully thought through and it’s always linked back into the brand history.” He talks about the layers of detail involved in the renovation and reincarnation of the experience.
It was also important to capitalise on the nearly 300,000 visitors Bow Street received each year. Carroll says by 2025, 1.9m people per year will come to Ireland just to visit a distillery. Increasing the capacity, upgrading the experience and integrating more of the Jameson story allows for a more emotional connection to be built between the brand and those thousands of visitors. “The ability for us to offer our consumers or fans of Jameson the opportunity to taste and to smell and to sense and to touch our brand in the original home and the original distillery building is hugely powerful,” Carroll adds.
There are layers of history as well. Jameson has called Ireland home for over 230 years. However, in 1966, distillation was moved from the brand’s Dublin home to Middleton, County Cork in order to expand. It is, as brand archivist Carol Quinn says, a brand that “adapts and survives.” She says of the Jameson family, “They were so proud of being Irish and being from Dublin. It’s a whiskey with an Irish accent.”
The most recent layer of history is remembered by the two stuffed cats that still reside in Bow Street, now hidden in JJ’s Bar, where only the most eagle-eyed can spot them. But the gem of the new Jameson Distillery Bow St. brings whiskey making back to Dublin. The distillery is no longer a distillery in name only. It is now home to an 88-cask maturation room that allows Jameson whiskey to once again be crafted in its original home. The new experience truly layers the brand’s history together with its present.