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By Kendra Barnett | Senior Reporter

September 14, 2021 | 6 min read

As part of a larger effort to support the financial recovery of the hospitality sector in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, bourbon brand Bulleit has debuted a new rebate program that rewards consumers for drinking at their local dives. The move could also further parent company Diageo’s sales streak in North America.

Popular Kentucky bourbon Bulleit wants you to support your local bar. Its new initiative, dubbed Local Bar Sundays, promises a free drink on Bulleit if you head to your favorite watering hole or restaurant. The project aims to support independent dining and drinking establishments as they recover from the financial and social impacts of the Covid-19 crisis.

“Bulleit is a brand that has been built by bartenders,” says the company’s global and US brand director Ricky Collett. “If you go back to the origin of the brand, that’s kind of where the success came from. It was really grown by word of mouth from the trading community. So the trade community has always been a group of people that is really close to our hearts. When the pandemic hit ... we really had to look at ourselves and what our role was to help the community, probably through their toughest time ever.”

‘A rallying cry’ to get the bar business back on track

The brand’s first major foray into supporting the community was the Bulleit Frontier Fund. It was launched last summer to support the restaurant and bar industry through the financial strains of Covid and the broader social and digital transformations shaping the sector. Efforts were kicked off with a $250,000 donation spread across a number of organizations, including the United States Bartenders Guild, Another Round Another Rally and Southern Smoke.

But Collett says the brand wanted to do more to support local bars and the trade industry more broadly. “That’s where we really started to think about how we could use the power of our voice to help create a kind of a mission and a rallying cry for consumers that would get them out ... supporting their bars each and every week.”

So Bulleit decided to launch a new rebate program, ‘First Drink’s on Us’, to incentivize drinkers to frequent their local bars and restaurants. Starting today, drinking-age consumers who visit their favorite local restaurant or bar on a Sunday will be reimbursed for any Bulleit cocktail up to $10. All they need to do is upload a receipt to after making their purchase. Bulleit has pledged $250,000 for the initiative, which will run through the end of the year.

Woman pouring bourbon drink in bar

The Local Bar Sundays initiative will be promoted across a range of touchpoints. For starters, Bulleit today debuts a new national ad campaign that will appear across TV, digital and social channels – and will also include a handful of out-of-home (OOH) placements. Created by the team at Anomaly New York, the films and images depict the feeling of being welcomed into a local bar – whether it’s a jazz bar, a cocktail lounge or a sports bar.

“There is no better feeling than stepping into your local bar and being welcomed like you’re family,” says Seth Jacobs, executive creative director and managing partner at Anomaly New York. “In our film, we cast all real bartenders to recreate that very feeling and to remind viewers to get back to supporting their local bars. Those amazing establishments are a cornerstone of our communities, and very much need our support. We can’t let them disappear, because honestly there’s nothing better than a nice drink with friends on a Sunday, in a welcoming place you know and love.”

In addition to the creative campaign, the Local Bar Sundays initiative involves a few other activations, including some interactive elements. In select neighborhoods, consumers can scan a QR code to explore an interactive digital map of curated local bars to try out. Plus, Bulleit is launching a partnership with the United States Bartenders Guild to launch a special content series in which real bartenders share cocktail recipes inspired by their local cities or communities. Drinkers at home can follow along to up their own mixology game.

Additionally, Bulleit will host a number of immersive experiences with the Bulleit Woody tailgate trailer in tow – as well as some 1,300 on-site sampling events – at bars and restaurants around the country. The brand is also bringing back its Frontier Bartender Labs, an educational program that involves workshops to equip the trade community with skills and support.

Stimulating The Hospitality Industry & Distilling Sales Success

While the effort is designed to help stimulate economic movement within the hospitality industry, it probably won’t hurt Bulleit’s business, either. The brand is owned by beverage giant Diageo – the world’s largest liquor maker – which has seen impressive year-on-year performance. According to the company’s 2021 fiscal year results, net sales spiked over 8.3% compared to the prior year. The growth was driven primarily by success in the North American market, where year-on-year organic growth leaped 20.2%, which the company attributes to resilient consumer demand and growth of the spirits sector at large.

Initiatives such as Bulleit’s new Local Bar Sundays project, which create brand awareness and consumer engagement in local markets across the US, could help continue the hot streak Diageo is enjoying in North America.

However, Collett says Bulleit sees the campaign as part of “a really long-term mission” to support the hospitality sector – and, in particular, the trade professionals who run America’s favorite bars.

“We call ourselves a ‘frontier whiskey’ – you can read that on the bottle, too. And what we really mean by ‘frontier whiskey’ is that we’re a brand that’s really about supporting and enabling those communities on the frontier,” he says. “There’s no community that’s closer to our hearts than the bartending community. This campaign is one of many initiatives that we’ve put together over the years that have been about trying to enable that collective of people and play a positive role in the world that they work within. As we look to get consumers back into bars – whether that’s physically or digitally – [we want to help] rebuild that community.”

Man pours drink in bar

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