Templeton Rye ramps up focus on innovation

Templeton Rye has released a limited-edition Caribbean Rum Cask Finish expression into the domestic and export markets.

The rye was matured for five years in flame-charred American oak barrels and then finished in dark rum casks sourced in Jamaica.

It is bottled at 46% abv, with tropical fruit notes and banana bread accentuating the rye spice.

Iowa-based Templeton Rye has produced 3,500 cases for the US market and 500 cases for international markets, of which 150 cases will head to the EU.

“We are thrilled to be launching the second limited-edition expression in our Barrel Finish Series, following the success of our Maple Cask Finish release last fall,” said Tim Grimes, senior brand ambassador. “Quality was key as we wanted to ensure that our secondary maturation would impart the rum characteristics and flavors that we envisioned in the whiskey. We are delighted with the result and look forward to sharing with our fans.”

Drinks International caught up with Shane Fitzharris, executive vice president for global sales at Templeton Rye, to find out how the business has fared durng the pandemic.

“No one could have foreseen a global pandemic and the challenge that the spirits business globally has faced over the last 4 months and at Templeton we were no different,” said Fitzharris. “We quickly pivoted our 2020 brand plans, focusing more on social media and ecommerce. Online brand training and tasting seminars have also being a key element for us to continue to build brand awareness in international markets.

“While we are confident in our long term strategy for the brand we have also been able to be agile with the ability to move quick on our feet through a challenging environment. This is vital for any brand that needs to turn the ship when needed.”

Many distilleries were forced to close their doors to visitors during 2020, and Templeton was no different. “Like many other distilleries and visitor centers we took the decision to suspend our Templeton distillery tours and visitor center,” said Fitzharris. “The safety of both our employees and the visitors was paramount so we did not hesitate in making that decision quickly. Thankfully, since the end of June we have re-opened the distillery, museum and visitor center for tours. We have put important and responsible social distance measures in place of course but it is great to see people back through the door of our fantastic distillery.”

We asked if the business has had to explore new ways of reaching consumers during the current trading climate. “There is little doubt that the goal posts have moved in relation to connecting with consumers due to the pandemic,” he said. “Brands have had to move fast on their feet and be agile in relation to this new environment and landscape, and Templeton Rye is no different.

“We have worked hard on innovative engagement through our social media and digital platforms and also conducted extensive online brand training and tasting seminars across key markets. 

“Our off-premise focus has intensified as of course our direct to consumer and e commerce activities have stepped up. We are lucky enough that we can have that all-important agility as a brand and re-direct the strategy as needed.

“With many consumers staying at home and the virtual happy hour here to stay, Templeton Rye as a perfect cocktail component can be at the fore of this new reality.”

In terms of export markets, Templeton has not been unduly affected by the retaliatory tariffs imposed in the EU following the trade war with the US. “We implemented a global roll out of Templeton Rye in early 2018. It has been a great success so far with distribution for the brand sitting at 35 countries across 5 continents. 

“Although the tariffs have had an impact on the overall American whiskey category , our long term plan for Templeton has not changed with us entering many new international markets for the first time.

“We have worked closely and strategically with our distribution partners around the world to introduce and build the Templeton brand in the correct way and this will continue.

“That said , with the Covid 19 impact on the hospitality sector as a whole I do feel it is the right time for both the EU and US to remove all tariffs on spirits so producers on both sides of the pond can continue to grow and stimulate local economies.

“Despite the very real challenges of both tariffs and the more recent Covid 19 impact,  American whiskey still remains in growth mode globally with the premium category performing solidly.

“There has been a culture shift where American whiskey consumers value quality over quantity and this is what has driven premiumization in American whiskey sales globally. “The cocktail renaissance around the world has also lended itself to this with many bartenders and mixologists looking to American whiskey due to its versatility and quality.

“Rye whiskey of course was the predominant whiskey in the USA before Prohibition, so many mixologists have reached for Templeton Rye with a nod to the past as many of the classic American cocktails were originally made with Rye whiskey. American whiskey is and will continue to be a dynamic category with the global consumer becoming more and more interested in the flavor profile that bourbon and rye delivers.

“These consumers will continue to trade up for higher quality with home consumption on the rise and I think we will see a shift to how consumers purchase their alcohol as well as how they consume them. Obviously on premise has been impacted severely but we have seen a significant increase in off premise and online sales.  

“There will continue to be a movement towards home consumption and online sales of course and brands will refocus their efforts around this new normal. We have experienced this first hand with Templeton Rye, especially in the US market.

“We are very confident that overall whiskey sales will continue to grow with only the channel split changing dramatically.  

“It remains to be seen what the long-term impact of Covid-19 will have as it is relatively a live situation. What I would say is that our industry has been through many challenges down through the years and has always come through.”

Innovation will remain central to the business going forward, as evidenced by the release of Templeton Rye Caribbean Rum Cask Finish. “Innovation is and will continue to be at the heart of what we at Templeton , both as a brand and a distillery.

“In late 2018 we first introduced our Templeton Rye Barrel Proof vintage, where we personally select the finest barrels from our aging sourced stocks of rye whiskey. Once selected we then blend these together and bottle at a natural non chill filtered cask strength.

“Each year the barrels used will vary in ages and taste profile and each yearly release will have its own unique flavor profile. This has been a great success for the team. We have also introduced an innovative Barrel Finish Series into the Templeton portfolio, with a focus on innovation and experimentation  through secondary maturation.

“Series 1 was a collaboration with Woods Maple syrup company in Vermont, where we seasoned ex-Templeton Rye barrels with the finest Maple syrup. After turning each barrel once a day for over a month we then emptied the barrels of Maple syrup and refilled them with Templeton Rye.

“With a further three-month additional maturation we released an authentic Maple Cask Finish Rye whiskey. Series 2 is the Templeton Rye Caribbean Rum Cask Finish, and we are already working on Series 3, so keep an eye out for that.

“In relation to the distillery , we can now control our own destiny and we want to explore new avenues of flavor creation at Templeton with our own distillate, there will be a  lot of focus on innovation through our distillation techniques, grain types, fermentation and of course maturation. We are taking a flavor driven approach to it so it will be exciting to see how this all comes together over the coming years.”