That’s the Spirit

BRC Imagination Arts has turned the Jameson brand home into a completely new visitor experience. The team explains how it came about and how it’s shaping up since the relaunch

Jameson Irish Whiskey is a brand that dates back to 1810, when John Jameson took ownership of the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin, Ireland, established in 1780. Jameson would go on to become a global brand, with annual consumption of the product now exceeding 56 million bottles. The brand is particularly popular in the US, where consumption is largest.

The newly launched Jameson Distillery Bow St brand home in Dublin tells the story of the historic company, using new technologies and set in the historic surroundings of the Bow Street Distillery to create an all-new state-of-the-art storytelling experience.

Claire Tolan,

Managing Director,

Jameson Brand Homes

Tolan: the revamped attraction is more fun and more memorable
Tolan: the revamped attraction is more fun and more memorable

How does Bow Street fit into the Jameson story?
Everything used to be done here, from 1780 to 1971. The chimneys outside were part of the original distillery. This was all distillery buildings. A lot of the surrounding housing used to be workers’ housing too.

When we created the new brand home, we wanted to really work with what we have in terms of all the historical buildings, but then add a lot of the stories that we had in the archive. All of the information had been in storage for a long time. Our archivist had to put on a mask and protective suit as she rummaged through the Jameson files.

She found these amazing stories – information on the barrel men, for example, and other stories that you hear during the tour. We wanted to really make it more personal, more rich, whereas before it was about the production process and that alone. We wanted to add in more people stories, stories that visitors will remember after they leave.

Why did you opt for a full revamp?
When the tour was set up originally, the big thing was tourists and groups of tourists. The numbers grew really quickly – we went from 40,000 to 150,000 in a few years. Then in 2007, we did another revamp, and at that point we also put in a restaurant. Then we had daytime visitors coming in, and then evening guests for the restaurant.

It’s been 10 years since we last revamped the distillery. The brand has moved on and it wasn’t really working for us any more. The old tour was very focused on the seven steps of production, from start to finish, in a linear format.

So we knew from a business perspective it was off-brand, and from an experience perspective it was dated. You had stuffed cats, you had mannequins, you had things like that, which just weren’t right for us any more. Within the building, everything needed re-doing.

We focused on making it more interactive, more fun, more engaging, more memorable. We want people to hear stories that they’re going to talk about when they get home, because fundamentally our reason for existing is advocacy. Everything that we do here is about promoting Jameson. If that’s not working, then what’s the point in investing £11m ($14m, €13m)?

What is the visitor experience?
There are three – Bow Street, Makers, which is a whiskey masterclass, and Shakers, which is a cocktail class. Our Bow Street tour has two different routes, both identical, so we can get twice as many people through. The tour takes 45 minutes and then you visit the shop and use a voucher to get a drink from the bar.

"We want people to hear stories that they’ll talk about when they get home, because fundamentally our reason for existing is advocacy"

John Carroll,

Project Director,

Irish Distillers

John Carroll
John Carroll

Why did you decide to reinvent the space?
We were welcoming 305,000 people through our doors annually. It was almost like a pilgrimage to come and see where it all began and walk in the footsteps of John Jameson in the original distillery buildings. The visitors were fans of Jameson, having interacted with the brand wherever they’re from in the world. They had an expectation that when they came to Bow Street, they would have this elevated experience.

There was a disconnect between the experience itself and the expectation level. As proud of the experience as we were, it was a bit tired. It was dated, it wasn’t very visceral, it wasn’t very interactive, it wasn’t very immersive and it relied heavily on the delivery of our brand ambassadors.

How important are the brand ambassadors to the story?
All of our experiences have always been fully hosted from start to finish. We could have reopened with multimedia and headsets and hit play on a video, but we didn’t want to do that. A host means we can focus on immersive storytelling, and the visitor is at the heart of that process.

With the three new experiences, multimedia features prominently. Our ambition, however, was to use technology to support the brand ambassador to deliver our story. It should sit in the back seat with the brand ambassador at the wheel.

How does responsible drinking come into the attraction?
Alcohol awareness is really important from our perspective in terms of the responsible drinking message and approach. We actively encourage people to be aware. In terms of the tasting opportunities, it’s all quite measured. Water is offered throughout and we don’t permit people to mix and match the experiences on the same day. For any of our evening events that we host here, food is mandatory as well. It’s just an incredibly important area for the brand and for us as a company.

What’s your target audience?
Our target audience, both from the Irish market here and abroad, want to interact with the brand and love the brand. With our international audience, they kind of make a pilgrimage to come here. You’ve got lifelong fans of Jameson introduced to the brand in their 20s and 30s, who have stayed with us ever since. We’re a top tourist attraction in Dublin and the majority of people who come through our doors are from overseas. The US is our number-one audience. It’s fantastic to see so many American tourists in Ireland.

It’s estimated that 600,000 people come to Ireland specifically to visit a distillery and by 2025, it’s estimated that number will jump to about 1.9 million people. We look forward to being at the forefront of Ireland’s whiskey tourism strategy.

Does that strategy mean you work with local players?
As part of the Irish Whiskey Association, we work with all of the other players within the market and there are more entrants to the category every year. It’s fantastic for Irish whiskey and we work with them across the board to ensure that all whiskey experiences are of a very high level.

We also work closely with the local community. Dublin 7, as a district within the city, is enjoying a rejuvenation and there’s lots of cool stuff happening.

How do you work with the nearby Guinness experience?
If you go to JJ’s Bar now, you’ll see bags from the Guinness Storehouse, and if you go over to the Guinness Storehouse, you’ll see green Jameson bags, and that’s fantastic. We have a strong and long-standing relationship with the team there. Paul Carty, the CEO, is very much like us – he supports the whole tourism strategy. I think the more premium experiences we have in the city and in Ireland, the better it is for everybody – from tourists right through to people who work in the industry.

"This year, it’s estimated that 600,000 people will come to Ireland specifically to visit a distillery. By 2025, that number will jump to about 1.9 million"

Christian Lachel,

Executive Creative Director,

BRC Imagination Arts

Lachel says people increasingly want to engage with their favourite brands
Lachel says people increasingly want to engage with their favourite brands

How much change was there in the distillery?
It was a complete reboot. I don’t think we kept a single thing. One of the aspects we talked about early on was making sure it was aligned to the modern audience.
The last experience was much more of a museum. It was a bit static and there was no real engagement. The experience was more passive and we needed to make sure that wasn’t the case anymore.

We also wanted to make sure when we did this that the staff had better facilities, so we moved the back of house and improved operations – that was a big part of the change. You can’t underestimate the importance of this. I think Disney is a prime example of someone who gets that. If your employees are happy, that directly relates to the happiness that they’re going to be able to deliver to the guest. If you’re going to deliver the exceptional then you have to deliver that in terms of quality of workplace. If you can really be willing to transform not only the guest experience but also the operational experience for the staff and the ambassadors, it’s a real win for everybody. The audience feels that, the ambassadors feel it, it’s all good.

To enter and exit the distillery, you go through the bar. What was the thinking behind this?
When you walked into the old Jameson experience, there was a small bar in the corner and then guests were smacked right in the eye with the ticket office.

We wanted a space where people can hang out. When guests finish their experience, they can continue their journey in the bar and just enjoy it. It’s a wonderful social space and its design reflects that. I really like that different way of thinking – so guests don’t immediately walk in and it’s ‘here’s the welcome desk and here’s where you need to pay’. It was a conscious decision to put the bar at the end and it’s something people are really enjoying.

How do you see the brand home as a visitor attraction?
A core focus at BRC has been working with brand homes. We’ve worked with Coca Cola, Ford, Guinness, Heineken, Jameson and more. All these great brand homes have become really popular with visitors and successful in terms of the business model.

One of the things we’ve also been seeing as a trend is experiential branding. People are looking for real bonding, connecting moments with brands they love, so we’re exploring ways in which consumers can engage with brands, not just in a passive way, but as a two way conversation.

We’ve been working towards a concept of ‘brand theatre’, which is a new term for how we’re approaching these opportunities. It can be a combination of sensory, it can be a combination of live, or simply creating social spaces where people can just have a great drink and there are wonderful cocktails.

How important is storytelling?
A lot of projects are about putting in the latest technology, but you’re not going to put something like a Harry Potter ride into this project – it doesn’t make any sense for a brand like Jameson to do that.

There are ways to deliver storytelling that are authentic and meaningful, using the techniques of our industry, but not in the same way as in other attractions.

For example, there’s something about real people talking to real people. It means guests tend not to look at their phones _ they’re actually in the moment.

Several years ago, everybody was asking about the use of apps and mobile devices – and they can be great – but you can also say ‘let’s just talk to each other for a moment and have a meaningful experience’.

What’s next for the Jameson project?
At BRC we never really leave our projects and we’ve got a great relationship with Jameson. We’re going to be continuing to look after the attraction as the operational team ramps up, helping and optimising here and there as new things come up.

Like any attraction, you have a test and adjustment phase for the first six months. You’re dialling things in, making sure of the efficiencies and if something needs to be dialled up or dialled back, you do that.

"If you transform not only the guest experience
but also the operational experience for the staff and the ambassadors, it’s a real win for everybody"

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