Apr 2012 10

by Justin Beckner

[Above: Erin Cooper – photo by Amina]

Over the past decade Sailor Jerry has turned itself into one of the greatest success stories of the industry while miraculously staying true to its roots. This is largely due to grassroots style underground marketing campaigns and the relentless work put in by people who believe in the product. But let us not forget that marketing campaigns are not what ultimately sells rum, the uncompromised flavor of Sailor Jerry’s is what sets it above its competitors and is fast making it one of the top selling brands of rum in the country.

Our story starts with a man named Norman Collins, known to friends and clients as “Sailor Jerry.” Jerry was a seafaring tattoo artist, musician, and poet, who schooled himself on the Asian art of tattooing during his time in the Navy. Everything Jerry pursued he did with valor and passion, but it was his work doing tattoos that garnered him his iconic and legendary status within the annals of the tattoo industry and beyond. Designers like Ed Hardy have been heavily influenced by Jerry’s work, Converse has put his designs on shoes and clothing, and the use of anchors, compasses, and ships are staples in tattoo shops around the world. Jerry was also very insistent on the sterilization of equipment, especially needles. This helped to decrease the spread of infection and clean up the image society had of tattooing.

The tattoo work of Norman Collins contains a resonance of the passion and valor which he put into everything he pursued. So it makes sense that those who played such a vital role in making Sailor Jerry’s Rum would share those same principles. The rum itself is a work of art. A gentle blend of caramel and vanilla flavors that are so smooth, you can actually enjoy this rum straight on the rocks. It also tastes great with a cola or in any sort of mix which calls for rum.

The following is an interview conducted with Sailor Jerry’s Rum Brand Ambassador and marketing mastermind, Erin Cooper.

Justin R. Beckner: How did the Norman Collins namesake become a brand of rum?

Erin Cooper: A company called CCM owns the Sailor Jerry brand. They bought the artwork and the name and started off as a clothing company. A few years into this, they decided that they wanted to have an alcohol in honor of Norman Collins. They went to William Grant, who are known for their Scotches, and of course Hendricks Gin, and they put together this amazing spiced rum to honor Sailor Jerry.

JB: Tell us a bit about Norman Collins, the original Sailor Jerry.

EC: He was the grandfather of Americana style tattooing. A lot of people don’t know that and are somewhat jaded because of Ed Hardy and how they blew up that form of artwork into this commercial thing rather than a respected artform. Norman Collins actually taught Ed Hardy how to tattoo, so many of the things that Ed is known for were learned from Norman Collins. Norman traveled a lot, especially around Japan, and learned their tattooing styles and techniques and made them his own. Around the time of Norman’s hayday, during World War Two, the pinup culture was booming. So that’s where we get the pin-ups incorporated with the anchors and compasses and other symbols of Americana.

JB: I’m told that the recipe for this rum is kept under lock and key.

EC: What’s great about William Grant is that we are a family owned company and our Scotchers will talk your ear off about how our Scotches are made and the distilling process. But with Sailor Jerry, the recipe and the process are kept under lock and key, and even the Ambassadors aren’t allowed to share them. I can say that we do our blending in New Jersey. Of course the flavor is no secret; it’s got a rich vanilla flavor with some caramel and a hint of lime. A lot of people assume that because Sailor Jerry is 92 Proof that it’s really sharp and you can’t get any of the flavors. But in spite of the high proof, you can really pick out the flavors and see the scope of the awesome profile of the rum. One of Sailor Jerry’s mottos was “My work speaks for itself.” That’s what we like to say about the brand. When you mix it with cola or have it straight up or however you choose to drink it, you’re going to taste it for what it is. We make it the way it’s supposed to be made.

JB: The marketing strategy for Sailor Jerry is very grassroots. How did this brand grow so quickly to rival some of the more commercial rum brands?

EC: We started underground with Sailor Jerry and we hit the dive bars where we thought would be a great place to put it. We gave bands the rum and they promoted it on tour – it was definitely a snowball effect from there. We won’t put advertisements on TV or magazines and the brand has gone further than they ever imagined it would. We still want to stay underground and we want to stay true to the people who know Sailor Jerry’s for what it is. We want to stay true to the punk rockers and the rockabilly geeks and the people who made Sailor Jerry’s what it is today. But at the same time, it is a rum for everybody and we want to make it available to the general market. What’s cool is that recently we’ve been seeing Sailor Jerry’s in high end bars here in Las Vegas and many of the casinos and it’s been getting picked up by corporate beverage programs, and it’s not because of the label or because of Norman, it’s because of the liquid inside. It’s the same way with music; the bands that who drink Sailor Jerry and help promote it are always a natural fit.

JB: I think Sailor Jerry’s philosophy fits quite well with the philosophy at SuicideGirls.

EC: I totally agree. I think that when Missy and Sean started the site it was very underground and it was based on this alternative lifestyle and the art that goes with it. Sailor Jerry’s stated out the same way. I also would like to say that Amina is fantastic. She’s a great photographer and if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I started out in modeling and she was a great inspiration for me and it’s been so amazing to have her and AmberLynn on our staff at SJ.

JB: Let’s talk a bit more about how you got your start and how you came to be the Ambassador for William Grant.

EC: I started out modeling here and there and did some work with Inked Magazine. One day I got a phone call from one of my friends who knew an agent who was looking for tattoo models for this company called Sailor Jerry. I had never done modeling for a liquor company before and I was super nervous but I did it and pretty soon I was working at all the Sailor Jerry promos that were going on in Las Vegas. Then when New York decided that they wanted a brand ambassador for Nevada, my name came up and I went to New York, interviewed, and got the job. Around that same time they were doing a casting call for the 2011 Sailor Jerry Calendar, so I sent my picture in and crossed my fingers that I would get it and I got a phone call like a week later saying that I was going to be in the SJ Calendar. All these great things happened all within a short span of time. I love my job and everything that the company it. I’m very glad to work for a company that fits me so well because I am a terrible liar. When I worked in retail, it was hard for me to sell things if I didn’t really like the way it looked. With Sailor Jerry’s, it’s so easy for me to sell because I believe so strongly in the product.

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