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Josh
11-30-2008, 18:50
Many drinkers and especially writers seem to regard them as such so I thought I 'd get the opinion of the forum. Is Diageo evil? At least from the Bourbon drinker's perspective.

theBOURBONreview
11-30-2008, 18:55
I would make the argument that Diageo is not evil. Their corporate responsibility platform is respectable. They educate their consumers on the effects of alcohol and responsible alcohol consumption.

barturtle
11-30-2008, 19:09
I thought polls were disabled...?!?

Josh
11-30-2008, 19:15
I thought polls were disabled...?!?

Sorry, if I breached protocol I'll delete the thread. Just thought it was a fun, irreverent topic. Hope I don't get phone calls from lawyers in the morning!

shoshani
11-30-2008, 20:33
I would make the argument that Diageo is not evil. Their corporate responsibility platform is respectable. They educate their consumers on the effects of alcohol and responsible alcohol consumption.

That isn't what this is about; I would guess that it's more about their corporate predecessor (United Distillers) and various actions that they took that wound up needlessly shuttering a much-beloved distillery, ie Stitzel-Weller.

Rughi
11-30-2008, 20:49
That isn't what this is about; I would guess that it's more about their corporate predecessor (United Distillers) and various actions that they took that wound up needlessly shuttering a much-beloved distillery, ie Stitzel-Weller.

I believe the negative image of Diageo has been mostly formed in their Scotch portfolio.

If I'm not mistaken it was Diageo that closed Rosebank, which I would say is the Lowland Scotch equivalent of SW, more or less. In my minimal Scotch experiences, I can't say I ever tasted a Rosebank that I didn't think was delightful, and I can't say I've tasted a different Lowlander that I thought was.
Roger

Josh
12-01-2008, 06:48
I believe the negative image of Diageo has been mostly formed in their Scotch portfolio.

If I'm not mistaken it was Diageo that closed Rosebank, which I would say is the Lowland Scotch equivalent of SW, more or less. In my minimal Scotch experiences, I can't say I ever tasted a Rosebank that I didn't think was delightful, and I can't say I've tasted a different Lowlander that I thought was.
Roger

Yeah, that was the thrust of my question. It wasn't about their responsible drinking program or their healthcare plan or anything like that (although if ppl want to use those things to support their answer that's fine). It's a question as to whether they have shown themselves to be evil by their actions, such as closing distilleries, treatment of their brands, etc.

barturtle
12-01-2008, 08:00
I believe the negative image of Diageo has been mostly formed in their Scotch portfolio.

If I'm not mistaken it was Diageo that closed Rosebank, which I would say is the Lowland Scotch equivalent of SW, more or less. In my minimal Scotch experiences, I can't say I ever tasted a Rosebank that I didn't think was delightful, and I can't say I've tasted a different Lowlander that I thought was.
Roger

Scotch Distilleries destroyed by Diageo:
Banff
Glen Albyn
Glenesk
Glenlochy
Glenury Royal
Glen Mhor
Millburn
North Port
Pittyvaich
St. Magdalene

Mothballed:
Mannochmore

Closed:
Brora
Coleburn
Port Ellen
Rosebank


They've also attempted several times to close St. James Gate Brewery (the home of Guinness), but luckily have caved to public pressure to keep it open...so far.

To follow the history of Diageo in the USA you gotta got back and start with Schenley.

By 1933 when Schenley Distillers Corp. was founded it consisted of the following companies: (thanks to Mike Veach)
Schenley Products Co., Inc.
Schenley Wine & Spirit Import Corporation
Jos. S. Finch Co.
Geo. T Stagg Co.
Jas. E Pepper & Co.
John T Barbee Co.
A B Blanton Small Tub Distilling Co.
Cove Spring Distilling Co.
Greenbrier Distilling Co.
Melvale Distilling Co.
Sam Thompson Gibson Distilleries Co.
Old Quaker Co.
Napa Valley Wine and Brandy Co.
Eastern Distillers Syndicate
Monticello Distillery Co.

Over the next few years they add:
New England Distilling Co.
Bernheim Distilling Co.
American Eagle Distillery
Oldtyme Distilling Corp. (two distilleries)
John A Wathen Distillery Co.
Buffalo Springs Distillery
Bardstown, Ky Distillery
Pebbleford Distillery
Limestone Springs Distillery
JW Dant
Park and Tillford
(plus several wine/beer/other companies)

Then they merged with UDV (1987) which brought with them Stitzel Weller.

How many of those are still in operation? And how many by Diageo?

Vange
12-01-2008, 12:42
Port Ellen gets that SW stigma as well.
It is disturbing when you list them all out what Diageo has done to some fine distilleries.

cowdery
12-01-2008, 13:12
The illegal acquisition of Distiller's Company Limited (DCL) by Guinness in 1986 still hangs over Diageo's head, in my opinion. As for Stitzel, in 1984 DCL acquired Somerset Importers, which owned Stitzel, so Stitzel became part of Guinness in 1986 as part of that same illegal deal.

But if anyone "ruined" Stitzel-Weller it was probably the dissident shareholders who forced it out of the family in 1972.

bourbonv
12-01-2008, 13:47
Timothy,
In Diageo's defense, most of those distilleries listed were closed by Schenley in the 1960's and early 70's. When they became part of U.D. they really only had Dickel, Bernheim and Old Quaker. Of course U.D. made it a point to sell off Old Quaker and after purchasing Glenmore, they sold Yeloowstone and Medley distilleries and the bottling operation at the Glenmore distillery in Owensboro (the distillery had already been dismantled.) The closed Stitzel-Weller and has been looking for a buyer, but maybe not after purchasing Crown Royal.

The corporate philosphy at Diageo is short term profits to make the investors happy and no real plan to invest in the future of the brands or distilleries.


Mike Veach

barturtle
12-01-2008, 14:40
True, and many of the closed/destroyed Scotch distilleries were actually done by DLC, but I think it is very indicative that a company with a reputation of closing distilleries also buys companies with a background of doing the same.

If one was to buy a company with a history of closing distilleries and reopen its holdings, then you would be heralded as a savior, if you simply keep to the course of the previous management, then the reputation you inherit is justified.

pepcycle
12-01-2008, 14:48
What would have happened to the brown liquor industry had there been little or no consolidation???

In a Darwinian fashion, only the strong would survive.

Its a shame a few unicorns became extinct.

I'd rather blame Cold Duck, Gallo wine, cheap marijuana, tequila, Budweiser, designer vodka and TV for the demise of those distilleries.

Your Grandfather's whiskey represented the establishment.

The 60's and 70's were all about rebellion against that image.

OscarV
12-01-2008, 15:09
I'd rather blame Cold Duck, Gallo wine, cheap marijuana, tequila, Budweiser, designer vodka and TV for the demise of those distilleries.

Your Grandfather's whiskey represented the establishment.

The 60's and 70's were all about rebellion against that image.

Ah yes, whiskey on the rocks, drank while wearing a tuxcedo, that's what we used to call the Death Culture.

(btw, TV still sucks!)

bourbonv
12-02-2008, 09:59
Timothy,
I agree with you that United Distillers squandered many great oportunities. I W Harper was the best selling whiskey (not just bourbon) imported into Japan in 1996. Now it is hardly 25% of that amount. They missed a chance to take a brand like Weller or Old Fitzgerald and turn it into a great international brand and instead took Rebel Yell. They then dropped sales support for Rebel Yell and got stuck with a sea of wheated bourbon, that was good for Julian Van Winkle, but horrible for the company. Diageo is not evil just short sighted to the point of being stupid.

Mike Veach

Josh
12-03-2008, 11:15
Timothy,
I agree with you that United Distillers squandered many great oportunities. I W Harper was the best selling whiskey (not just bourbon) imported into Japan in 1996. Now it is hardly 25% of that amount. They missed a chance to take a brand like Weller or Old Fitzgerald and turn it into a great international brand and instead took Rebel Yell. They then dropped sales support for Rebel Yell and got stuck with a sea of wheated bourbon, that was good for Julian Van Winkle, but horrible for the company. Diageo is not evil just short sighted to the point of being stupid.

Mike Veach

Great discussion! The consesus seems to be that they are indeed evil for being stupid, being born out of an illegal deal, closing oodles of Scotch distilleries, the beloved S-W and assorted nefarious deeds.

The point about consolidation is a good one. It has happened over the years in just about every industry under the sun. Every time I head down to Indiana I pass the Auburn-Cord-Dusenberg Museum in Auburn, IN that stands as a testimony to that fact. But for most people that doesn't seem to justify the foolish & destructive actions of the company. Anyway, getting off the soapbox.

bourbonv
12-03-2008, 13:16
If you count Diageo as evil, then you have to say the same thing about Beam. Look at what they have done with Old Crow, Old Taylor and to a lesser extent, Old Grand Dad. It can be argued that E H Taylor, Jr was the most important person in the bourbon industry in the late 19th century. The same could be said for Crow in the earlier part of the century. Beam took over these brands and sold the Old Taylor Distillery, closed Old Crow and neglected the Old Grand Dad. I won't even go into they rye side of the business that Beam purchased from National.

The point is that short term corporate profits for the last couple of decades have been more important than long range growth. This is a deadly combination in an industry that has long range production cycles. Bourbon is not made in a day and short term thinking is bad.

Mike Veach

OscarV
12-03-2008, 13:45
The point is that short term corporate profits for the last couple of decades have been more important than long range growth. This is a deadly combination in an industry that has long range production cycles. Bourbon is not made in a day and short term thinking is bad.

Mike Veach

Agreed 100%.

Do you think it would be possible for Beam to revive the old Old Crow recipe/mashbill?
I think it is to late, Old crow is dead and to reintroduce it with that name I think it would be DOA.

bourbonv
12-03-2008, 13:47
Four Roses was re-introduced after years of being a blended whiskey on par with Old Crow. It could be done, but Beam will not do it. I wish they would sell these labels to someone who would right by them.

Mike Veach

OscarV
12-03-2008, 13:54
Four Roses was re-introduced after years of being a blended whiskey on par with Old Crow. It could be done, but Beam will not do it. I wish they would sell these labels to someone who would right by them.

Mike Veach

Yeah, you are right.
You say the name Four Roses up in these parts and they laff in your face.
"...that rotgut swill." is the typical responce.
You would think that if FR's could do it then OC could do it.
But that name, maybe it would work maybe it wouldn't.
The "Old" is a handicap, but the "Crow" is a winner.

Josh
12-03-2008, 14:05
If you count Diageo as evil, then you have to say the same thing about Beam. Look at what they have done with Old Crow, Old Taylor and to a lesser extent, Old Grand Dad. It can be argued that E H Taylor, Jr was the most important person in the bourbon industry in the late 19th century. The same could be said for Crow in the earlier part of the century. Beam took over these brands and sold the Old Taylor Distillery, closed Old Crow and neglected the Old Grand Dad. I won't even go into they rye side of the business that Beam purchased from National.

The point is that short term corporate profits for the last couple of decades have been more important than long range growth. This is a deadly combination in an industry that has long range production cycles. Bourbon is not made in a day and short term thinking is bad.

Mike Veach

I agree with you about short-term thinking, but from what I've read, I'm not sure if Old Crow was viable anymore or if keeping the Taylor property as a working distillery was really a viable option for Beam at the time. It certainly could and should have been kept up, maybe donated to the state or something, so I think Beam could be faulted for that.

I have never tasted any of the pre-Beam OGD (to my knowledge) so I can't speak to the differences, but I think Beam should be commended for keeping OGD alive and keeping its own distinct mashbill and continuing to offer it as a BIB and in the 114 expression. They even extended the line and created BH as a premium version.

So for me, Beam falls short of the standards of evil-ness, but might deserve a wag of the finger for what happened after it bought ND.

OscarV
12-03-2008, 14:10
So for me, Beam falls short of the standards of evil-ness, but might deserve a wag of the finger for what happened after it bought ND.

If you ever drank any pre-Beam Crow you would say that Beam is truly evil.

Josh
12-03-2008, 14:14
If you ever drank any pre-Beam Crow you would say that Beam is truly evil.

Does that mean you're going to bring some to the get together on Saturday?

OscarV
12-03-2008, 14:40
Does that mean you're going to bring some to the get together on Saturday?

I'll just be bringin' my memory of Old Crow.

shoshani
12-03-2008, 16:02
I have never tasted any of the pre-Beam OGD (to my knowledge) so I can't speak to the differences, but I think Beam should be commended for keeping OGD alive and keeping its own distinct mashbill and continuing to offer it as a BIB and in the 114 expression. They even extended the line and created BH as a premium version.

Stop and think about what sort of mindset will put out a 100 proof Bottled in Bond whiskey, then offer an 80 proof expression as a *premium* version. This was clearly a decision arrived at by marketers, not distillers....

OscarV
12-03-2008, 16:06
Stop and think about what sort of mindset will put out a 100 proof Bottled in Bond whiskey, then offer an 80 proof expression as a *premium* version. This was clearly a decision arrived at by marketers, not distillers....



Maybe, maybe not.
All that Old Grand-Dad stands on it's own "two feet".

shoshani
12-03-2008, 16:14
Do you think it would be possible for Beam to revive the old Old Crow recipe/mashbill?
I think it is to late, Old crow is dead and to reintroduce it with that name I think it would be DOA.


I don't know if Beam even has the old Old Crow mashbill; I believe conventional history has it that when Old Crow expanded their distillery in the early 1960s they somehow Schlitzed* their recipe, and despite a few protests continued to make a noticeably inferior version. There is a website with oodles of magazine ads that has some Old Crow ads, and curiously in the late 1950s or early 60s, the Bottled in Bond version simply disappeared....the ads are all for the 80 or 86 proof version (I forget which one it is.)

Then there's this curiosity: http://graphic-design.tjs-labs.com/show-picture?id=1192238600&size=FULL .... this is a 1936 ad for National Distillers Old Crow, which was being bottled at 93 proof at 3 1/2 years old, ie distilled just after Prohibition. Old Crow was available as a bourbon and a rye as well.

Jim Murray's "Classic Bourbon Tennessee and Rye" has a section that quotes a legal paper from 1904 in which one Van Johnson gave the recipe and process for making Old Crow, having gotten both from William Mitchell who had actually worked with James Crow. His version calls for 75 to 80 percent corn, 8 to 10 percent rye and 12 to 15 percent barley malt.

*The Schlitz brewery is famous for taking their highly-regarded brewing process and introducing significant shortcuts in the 1970s that ruined the quality of their beer.

Slob
12-03-2008, 19:06
*The Schlitz brewery is famous for taking their highly-regarded brewing process and introducing significant shortcuts in the 1970s that ruined the quality of their beer.

Schlitz is in the process of rectifying that situation. They have reverted to their 1960's formula.

bourbonv
12-04-2008, 06:31
Josh,
You got my point exactly - If you are going to call Diageo evil for closing distilleries during bad economic times for the industry, then you have to say the same for Beam. It is the same thing for the most part. In both cases though, it was short sighted decisions that led to some of the worse abuses and closings. Neither are evil, just short sighted... and need I say again pretty stupid.

The story about "Old" being a bad term dates to the 1960's and personally I think that it is that generation that keeps the stigma alive. Most of the younger people I know have no problem with the term "Old" in the brand name. I do not think that reviving the Old Crow brand would be any harder than reviving Four Roses. The first step would be to put a decent whiskey in the bottle. I personally think that a Beam "Bonded Classics" collection with Old Crow at 6yo, Old Taylor at 8yo and Old Grand Dad at 10yo would sell well. You could throw in a bonded 8yo Old Overholt rye and a 10yo Mount Vernon rye for the complete American Whiskey Bonded Classics Collection.

Mike Veach

shoshani
12-04-2008, 08:01
I personally think that a Beam "Bonded Classics" collection with Old Crow at 6yo, Old Taylor at 8yo and Old Grand Dad at 10yo would sell well. You could throw in a bonded 8yo Old Overholt rye and a 10yo Mount Vernon rye for the complete American Whiskey Bonded Classics Collection.

Someone's been drooling over vintage National Distillers ads where all their major BiB brands were showcased. :P And I think it's an excellent idea, but it will never fly. The "brand portfolio managers" at Beam have their hands full with takers of shelf space; they probably won't welcome this sort of idea at all because where would they PUT it?

ILLfarmboy
12-04-2008, 08:41
I have no problem with the word "Old" in a name and I never understood why anyone would. Being hung up on such a thing seems absurdly vain.

OscarV
12-05-2008, 12:48
Schlitz is in the process of rectifying that situation. They have reverted to their 1960's formula.

Is this recent news?
Where did you get this info?
I loved Schlitz before they screwed it up.
Of course there is no Schlitz Brewery so who ever makes it now dug up the old recipe?

boss302
12-05-2008, 12:56
Port Ellen gets that SW stigma as well.
It is disturbing when you list them all out what Diageo has done to some fine distilleries.

I didn't know Port Ellen was a distiller-- I thought they were just a malter who supplied peated malt to the Islay distilleries, occasionally releasing a spirit under their own name, but likely distilled by Lagavulin?

barturtle
12-05-2008, 13:14
Is this recent news?
Where did you get this info?
I loved Schlitz before they screwed it up.
Of course there is no Schlitz Brewery so who ever makes it now dug up the old recipe?

Here's a decent link on it.

http://beeradvocate.com/news/1312036

cowdery
12-08-2008, 10:47
In 1991, I had a conversation with a man who was then employed by Beam at the Old Grand-Dad plant in Frankfort. He identified himself as the last master distiller at Old Crow. He said that when they expanded they changed (reduced) the percentage of backset in the mash and that changed the product's taste. They got complaints from consumers and even their own internal taste panel raised an alarm, but the bosses just wanted to produce as much as possible as fast as possible. Self-servingly, perhaps, he told me that under his tenure they had set things right and for several years prior to the 1987 closing, they were making good whiskey again.

As for the term "old," maketers are pretty simple creatures. When sales of American whiskey started to collapse, they looked at the different brands and how much their sales and market share had declined. The biggest losers all had the word "old" in their name. The brighter lights--Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam, Early Times--did not. Ergo, "old" is the kiss of death.

By the way, no brand fell harder than Old Crow.

Also, you can't really point to an old brand that has been successfully revived. The success stories in the industry--Maker's Mark, Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve--are all new brands, not revivals of historical brands.

Josh
12-08-2008, 10:59
Self-servingly, perhaps, he told me that under his tenure they had set things right and for several years prior to the 1987 closing, they were making good whiskey again.

So maybe Beam's evil-ness could be mitagated by the fact that the Crow being produced at the time of the acquisition wasn't all that great anyway? Or are they doubly evil for scrapping the "newly improved" mash that the man above spoke of?

cowdery
12-09-2008, 20:05
Note that I'm participating in this discussion without agreeing that any company is evil, especially if the measure of evil is closing distilleries. We're talking about businesses, not charities. Why shouldn't they close distilleries that are no longer productive?

One thing you have to remember about Beam's acquisition of National is that if they could have picked and chosen, they wouldn't have taken the National bourbons at all. In 1987, the last thing any beverage company wanted was another bourbon. Likewise they didn't want the distilleries, but they didn't have a choice. They bought the whole company, which was selling something like 40 different brands of American whiskey alone at the time. It was a real culture shock because, at that time, Beam had something like ten brands of any kind, period.

Beam did sell some of the brands for whatever they could get and simply discontinued others. I suspect that if anyone made them an even remotely reasonable offer for Crow, Grand-Dad or Taylor they would take it, even today.

The funniest part of this story is what Beam did want out of the National acquisition: the DeKuyper liqueurs line, specifically DeKuyper Peachtree Schnapps.

OscarV
12-10-2008, 11:38
Also, you can't really point to an old brand that has been successfully revived.

How about Four Roses (rot-gut) Blended Whiskey and today's Four Roses Single Barrel?
Yes the Blended is different than the Single Barrel but they both share the Four Roses name.

barturtle
12-10-2008, 11:52
How about Four Roses (rot-gut) Blended Whiskey and today's Four Roses Single Barrel?
Yes the Blended is different than the Single Barrel but they both share the Four Roses name.

Actually, Stagg is an old, discontinued brand that was revived, and wasn't Weller on a downward slide before BT got hold of it, as was Eagle Rare getting to be a run down brand before the SB and 17yo versions got released...

Josh
12-10-2008, 12:35
Actually, Stagg is an old, discontinued brand that was revived, and wasn't Weller on a downward slide before BT got hold of it, as was Eagle Rare getting to be a run down brand before the SB and 17yo versions got released...

Was the old Stagg anything like the new Stagg? Four Roses I think could be the best example, but even it is not fully revived yet, as most of the country still can't find it on their liquor store shelves.

Still, Chuck's point is a good one. Beam and Diageo aren't charities. There's no good reason from an economic standpoint to keep the old distilleries open just for sentimental reasons. Again, that's not to say Old Crow and Old Taylor should have been left to fall into ruin.

The same goes for Old Crow and the other whiskeys themselves. The example that comes to mind is GM. They've announced that they're basically scrapping Pontiac & Saturn, and they've already gotten rid of Olds. They realized that it's no good competing with yourself, and unless there's some brand (like Cadillac or OGD) that brings something special to the table, then you should stick to one basic line of products.

cowdery
12-11-2008, 16:19
I concede Four Roses as a good example, but when it was reintroduced into the United States only people above a certain age had any memory of it, and it had a good reputation in non-U.S. markets upon which to build.

A perhaps more instructive example is Evan Williams, a value brand for which Heaven Hill was able to successfully introduce an upmarket line extension.

Dramiel McHinson
12-11-2008, 17:49
Gentlemen,

Thank you for the extensive education into the corporate side of our beloved bourbon. One of the things that appeals to me about scotch and bourbon is the artisanal approach to making it. There is still a master at the helm directing our bourbon into the barrel and out to the bottle. In the whole process of making bourbon there is art and craftsmanship. Intertwined with this age old making of spirits is technology and corporate business.

Here is where I believe our beloved bourbon begins to suffer. History is littered with the skeletal remains of distilleries. It appears finances were often the root cause of demise. A bottle may have, "Since 1825" on it but since 1825 multiple companies have owned it. The great whiskey in that bottle is at the mercy of the company leadership of the moment, often, more so than at the hands of the master distiller.

The huge uptick in premium and super premium brands is good spirits with premium or super premium marketing and prices. They'll be there as long as we spend enough money to own it and drink it. When sales drop below a certain ROI, more skeletons will haunt those that loved the bourbon that came out of that once proud distillery.

Are they evil or is it just business as usual? Only our tastebuds and wallets know for sure.

Disclaimer: Just my opinion. No research, analysis, or mathmatical algorythms were used. No animals were harmed and no bourbon was spilled.