Sidney Frank was a genius. He created Grey Goose Vodka and sold it to Bacardi for $2.3 billion, the highest price ever paid for a single liquor brand. He also built Jägermeister into a 2-million-case brand.
Frank, who died in 2006, was the son of an orchard keeper who developed a taste for luxury during his one year at Brown University because his roommate’s father was president of RCA. He resolved then to marry rich. (These are all stories he told on himself.) He set his sights on Louise Rosenstiel, whose father Lewis owned Schenley, the largest distilled spirits company in the country.
After running his father-in-law’s business for a while Frank started his own in 1972. It still has Jägermeister and a portfolio of other products. He was preparing to launch Michael Collins Irish Whiskey when he died.
This month, Frank’s company re-launched the brand, named after one of the heroes of Irish independence. It’s still made at Cooley, Ireland’s only independent, Irish-owned distillery. And it still consists of two expressions, a blend and a single malt.
Promotion materials for the re-launch emphasize the new packaging, which is very nice and much more whiskey-like than the old one. The former package was beautiful but over designed and there was another, bigger problem: the whiskey inside wasn’t very good.
The re-launch materials say nothing about changing the whiskey but they clearly did. The former malt was hot, harsh and immature. The new one bears a 10-year-old age statement (the former was NAS) and tastes every bit of it. It is lightly peated, well balanced, and altogether pleasant. The blend has a similar profile. It is full-flavored, sweet, nutty and also very enjoyable. Together they make an excellent introduction to the high quality yet still mainstream Irish Whiskey segment, exactly where this brand should play.
The original was a product Sidney Frank himself approved, but even the great ones make mistakes. This new iteration is much improved. If you previously decided that Michael Collins is mediocre whiskey in a fancy bottle, give it another try. The bottle is not as fancy but the whiskey is much, much better.