View Full Version : Where are they now?
Apropos of nothing, it occurred to me that in the years following Prohibition, the North American liquor business was dominated by four companies, two American and two Canadian. The American companies were National and Schenley. The Canadians were Seagrams and Hiram Walker.
Where are they now?
Not one of the four still exists as an independent company. To the extent pieces of them live on in successor companies, National and Hiram live on in Fortune Brands/Jim Beam, while Seagrams and Schenley live on in Diageo. Smaller chunks live on in Pernod, Heaven Hill, Sazerac/Buffalo Trace, and Constellation/Barton.
It is interesting that for an industry that prides itself on its heritage and tradition, the only American Whiskey company that can say that it existed in its present form before prohibition is Brown-Forman. There are several others that have distilleries that existed before then such as Buffalo Trace, but the rest were pretty much formed after prohibition.
The "big four" dominated the industry during the golden age of bourbon in the 1950's but came victims of their own success after the market declined. Since they could not keep making the profits they made during the 50's and the aging managment that started to retire, they began to be sold off, piece by piece in some cases, and dwindle away.
Heaven Hill has always been an extrordinary distillery, in my opinion because of its business history. It started after prohibition without a famous brand to build upon and survived the hard times of the depression and World War. It remained independent in a time when other small distilleries were being bought up and closed and even thrived. This has to be due as much to the business skills of the Shapira family and the distilling skills of their distillers as to luck and other good fortune.
Barton Brands was bought by the Getz family in the 40's and Wild Turkey was not even created as a brand until the 1940's and never owned a distillery until the 60's or 70's. Maker's Mark also was not created until the 1950's. They are the last examples of new distilleries making it to the big time, so to speak. The industry as we know it today really does not have very deep historical roots.
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