Posted on | January 21, 2016
Written by | Kristen Wolfe Bieler
In Conversation with Jessamine McLellan, Single Pot Still Brand Ambassador for Pernod Ricard
Jessamine McLellan is in a category of one, as no other company employs a Single Pot Still Brand Ambassador. But then, no company besides Pernod Ricard currently sells the ultra-traditional and increasingly popular style of Irish Whiskey, crafted at their legendary Midleton Distillery. Just five months into the job, Jessamine sat down with me to talk about how the category is evolving.
BEVERAGE MEDIA GROUP: Single Pot Still may be a very small segment of the booming Irish whiskey category, but it’s getting a lot of buzz. A lot of people are still unsure of what it actually is, can you clarify?
Jessamine McLellan: Sometimes referred to as Pure Pot Still, Single Pot Still (SPS) is made at a single distillery from a mash of malted and unmalted (green) barley, which is then triple-distilled in copper pot stills. The style is unique to Ireland and these whiskies were once the most sought-after in the world. Yet over time, a lighter, more accessible blended style of whiskey gained popularity, and by 2000, there were only two SPS Irish brands still around—Redbreast and Greenspot. At Pernod Ricard, we believe this is the quintessential style of Irish Whiskey. SPS is a more robust and complex whiskey with a heavier, richer, fuller mouthfeel.
BMG: I imagine a lot of the recent interest from consumers and critics has come as a result of the success of the Irish category overall, and the stratospheric rise of Jameson in particular.
JM: That’s entirely true. While my job is to show people that Irish Whiskey is about so much more than shots and beer, we would never have had the opportunity to talk about SPS if it wasn’t for Jameson Irish Whiskey blend. There was a built-in fan base just waiting to try some of these more complex expressions.
BMG: Redbreast remains the most well-known SPS on the market and continues to clean up at every awards competition, but it was long regarded as an insider’s secret. Is that changing?
JM: Redbreast remains a bartender favorite, and gets tremendous respect in the trade, but yes, more consumers are finding out about it. The 12 Year Old is the signature expression with its hallmark Sherry cask flavors, and the 12 Year Old Cask Strength, which is unfiltered and bottled at close to 58.8% ABV was chosen as the Irish Whiskey of the Year by the Whisky Bible. We also have the 15 Year Old, bottled at 46% ABV, and extremely rare and ultra-complex Redbreast 21 Year Old.
BMG: While Pernod Ricard is promoting SPS as a traditional whiskey—we have seen quite a few innovations coming out of the Midleton Distillery of late, similar to what we are seeing in the Single Malt world.
JM: SPS really plays in the same space as Single Malt; it’s the same consumer. And yes, innovation is a big part of what we are working on. We even opened a micro-distillery in Ireland for our innovation team to allow them to experiment on smaller stills. We are resurrecting archived recipes going back to the early 1800s and at the same time playing around with many different wood treatments and aging regimens.
BMG: You will soon have a number of competitors in the SPS game. How will this change the category?
JM: There are a number of companies who have begun to produce SPS, but we are the only ones releasing product now. That will change as other distilleries’ stocks are able to age and go to market. We think it’s great for the category. The most important thing for us is that the consumer continues to associate SPS with very high-end whiskey produced in a very craft way.
BMG: The SPS prices seem pretty fair, compared to Scottish single malts of the same age. Is value a big part of your message?
JM: Absolutely. Even Redbreast 21 Year Old at $250 is a great deal compared with what you would pay for, say, a pedigreed Scotch with that age statement.