As I’m sure you all know, the internet has been set alight by Conor McGregor’s entrance into the Irish whiskey industry with the announcement of his own blended whiskey ‘Proper No. Twelve’. The double champ is one of the most recognisable and followed people on the planet, and As I mentioned in my first article examining McGregor’s new whiskey, he has a greater social media following than any brand in the industry.
He is able to leverage his own brand to sell a consumer product, which is literally targeted at the 40 something million people that follow him across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. His market reach is unimaginable. His first social media announcement about the brand garnered nearly two million likes in a matter of hours, which a reach of several times that number.
This is a number that a brand like Jameson or Bushmills could only dream of. To give you an example of his ability to successfully convert his followers to an idea, lets take his whiskey’s social media account @properwhiskey. He mentioned it once on Instagram and it not only garnered the illustrious verification tick but also 100,000 followers almost instantly.
To put that into perspective, Jameson whiskey’s global Instagram account only has 95,000 followers. Proper No. Twelve’s two only Instagram posts have garnered more likes than the entirety of Jameson global’s following. The champ is here, and he clearly means business. This is something that I tried to stress in my previous article also, it’s irrelevant whether or not you believe that McGregor’s whiskey is going to be unreal or undrinkable, he has a loyal aspirational following and they will drive sales. We are seeing, what could very possibly be, the beginning of the new beginning of the Irish whiskey generations for the better or otherwise.
As excitement has been building, eager McGregor fans have been filling their social media channels with images of newly acquired whiskey bottles, with bold statements of grandeur in testament to the Notorious Conor McGregor. The one thing that none of those eager social media savvy whiskey drinkers have doing though, is telling us what the whiskey actually tastes like.
So, I think it is about time to crack the cork and discover what thousands of McGregor fans will be pounding during Conor’s upcoming fight.
The price was confirmed to be € 35 ($29.99 RRP USD) a bottle, exclusively through Tesco stores in the Republic of Ireland. The first thing to notice is that the front label differs somewhat from what we’ve seen before. The European label does not have the volume or the words ‘a blend’ adorned on the front like its American cousin. Similarly, the back labels have their own share of differences too. It is here that we find the volume (700ml) and alcohol measurements (40%ABV) but we also find some clues as to the contents thanks to our European neighbours. For you see, while it is not a legal requirement to disclose additives such as E150a (caramel colouring) in Ireland it is in Germany. So, thanks to our German speaking friends, I can confirm that this product does contain caramel colouring (or Zuckerkulor in German), and quite a bit of it by the colour judging by the finished product.
So, moving past the caramel, what else does the whiskey have going for it?
Nose: a very light bodied aroma, grain sweet, slightly floral, which boarders on menthol with a nice tinge of vanilla and caramelised pear.
Palate: the sweet grain follows through from the nose, pairing with a light toasted wood, which develops into a slightly confusing medley of bourbon and light sherry notes. A slight clawing combines itself with vanilla, wafer, a hint of cocoa and a fair amount of vanilla.
Finish: its lingering and the clawing remains. The sweet grain and vanilla follow through.
It has a, somewhat, confusing medley of flavours all competing for space in, what is, a very light whiskey. It’s sweet, it’s young, but it’s not fiery or particularly unbalanced. It’s different to Jameson, palatable, mixable and inoffensive. Which makes it a perfect storm for a volume blended whiskey. Its neither terrible nor a Midleton Pearl but I think it will be a enjoyable whiskey for a massive amount of the market that purchase this whiskey.
People will buy it, but will people re-buy it? I do have a reservation about this. This is due to Proper No 12 being approximately €9 more expensive than Jameson, and even though I’m convinced that the McGregor brand will sway his consumers to purchase a bottle once, I’m wondering will it do it to sway them a second time. We’ll have to see.
Now that the liquid is out of the way, the bottle needs addressing and close examination. McGregor is known for having swagger, panache and, depending what side of the fence you fall on, either charisma or boldness. And, strangely I don’t think that this packaging embodies any of that. I know that his fight is fast approaching but this has too many hallmarks of a rushed enterprise to me. Which surprises me, because if the liquid suits the price point, why does the bottle fall down? We buy with our eyes after all.
My immediate concern with this product is the glass. I can only speak for the European bottle but that is a peculiarly painted green glass, which I’m sure was designed to emulate Jameson, but has an incredibly strange and slippy texture and ended up with a strange gloss finish to it, making the whole bottle look weird from afar.
Furthermore, the label appears to been applied using a wet glue application (good for volume and speed applications) but the front labels, in particular, have not adhered to the bottles correctly at all. Rubbing your fingers across the front label reveals crackling and popping of air bubbles below the label that do not go away. The label itself lacks any kind of quality look or feel. It is a matte finish, with a few embossed/raised features but not even any foil. The packaging feels cheap and sub-premium as a whole. Very strange for something trading on reputation rather than price.
I’ll say now, that I truly believe that these all appear to be teething issues. I’m assuming these will all be rectified in the future when the second batch is released. I have to assume that the project was fast tracked due to the media opportunity posed by McGregor’s impending fight against Khabib.
As I mentioned in my previous article, the bottles are not adorned with the “Fast is Smooth” embossing, in the promo shots, below the front label, and as if to attest to my rush job theory, instead of this embossing the bottling code resides below the label. My particular date code confirms that this particular bottle was bottled on the 7th of September and was on shelf on the 20th. Which is an incredibly speedy turn around from bottling to retailers’ shelves.
While all of these faults can be forgiven by assuming it was a rush to market job, one egregious fault that I have found with this launch was that Eire Born Spirits decided to launch their whiskey in Ireland, in U.S. 750ml bottles. Clearly the rush to market impacted bottle deliveries also, but I have never experienced a brand going to market with incorrect bottle sizes.
Initially, I was stuck by the immense presence that the bottle shape has on a shelf. I actually thought it was a one litre bottle at first until I examined the base of the glass bottle and saw the 75CL volume reading at the bottle. To be clear, we aren’t all scooping a free 50mls of Proper No. Twelve, but in-fact, the producers left a 50ml headspace with the whiskey in the bottle, giving the impression of an underfill, if you can actually see through the strangely painted green glass.
This is something that I have never come across before in my time in the whiskey industry and I am very surprised that I have come across it today, especially because Ireland and the EU require spirits to be packaged in 700ml formats with the only exceptions being smaller and duty free. For a whiskey that nailed so many aspects of the whiskey launch, I’m surprised that the whiskey fell down on the packaging of all places, especially for such a fashionable sports figure.
So overall, what are my impressions of this whiskey? It is a palatable blended whiskey, with an inoffensive nose, palate and finish, that will appeal to many, particularly the mixed drinks market. The price point is price premium to Jameson, although, the McGregor brand will definitely drive initial liquid to lips, particularly during his upcoming bout. So, what about the packaging? I have to assume this was a dash to the finish line which will ultimately be corrected in subsequent releases. For such a well organised product design, market activation scheme and product launch it seems like a very odd hurdle to fall at. I imagine these issues will have to be rectified soon.
Ultimately, this product will move. The Notorious still has the ability to mobilise his market at the flick of an app. I’m interested to see how this develops during his official launch during his bout against Nurmagomedov. One way or another, this is the opportunity for Irish whiskey to become majorly mainstream. Millions of non-whiskey drinkers are going to have this whiskey in their social media and in their social circles. Hopefully it impresses consumers enough to have a massively positive impact on the industry as a whole.
Until next time,
For more background on this release, check out our post examining the background of the brand here.
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