The Seagram sale and bourbon in perspective
Some have wondered what the sale of Seagram may mean to the world of bourbon. While we can speculate that some small batch bourbons might be of interest to Brown-Forman (and it might be of interest if they'd get Four Roses or, perhaps better, Bulleit) in the grand scheme of things this huge business change has very little to do with bourbon. In fact it might put the business of bourbon in perspective.
Recently the Gatorade business, the largest single brand of Quaker Oats, along with all other brands Quaker Oats company owns, was acquired by PepsiCo for about $14 billion. In contrast, the deal Diageo and Pernod put together to acquire Seagrams spirits was "only" $8 billion (yes, I know, 8.14 but that is almost a rounding error at that level).
Gatorade sells about $2 billion. The largest valued Seagrams brand is Chivas Regal (blended scotch whisky) at just over $1 billion. The entire business of Fortune Brands, non-bidders and owners of Jim Beam products, is worth $23 billion. Brown-Forman (losing bidders and owner of Jack Daniels, etc) sales are about $13 billion. The largest American whiskey involved in the transaction is Seagrams 7 Crown (blended American whiskey) at approx. $345 million. Pernod's Wild Turkey does about $195 million.
Many of the bourbon brands written about on these pages would be considered niche brands. Why does UDV not really seem to care about bourbon? The answer...portfolio management. When you are dealing with brands worth $1.9 billion (Smirnoff), $1.3 billion (Johnnie Walker Red) or even $865 million (Gordon's), it is difficult to throw resources at niche brands. On the other hand, more entrepreneurial firms running brands that are flagship to their smaller operations (Heaven Hill, Sazerac, etc.) find innovating ways to bring news to the bourbon category. Hat's off to B-F for their work with Woodford Reserve (and for winning the competition in the bourbon category in San Francisco recently).
Editorial comment -- bourbon lovers will be best served if more bourbons are in the hands of smaller, more entrepreneurial firms. Again, it is to B-F's credit that they keep their eyes on multiple businesses in their porfolio: getting more folks to say, "Jack and Coke" not "Beam and Coke" while tinkering with L&G. But hats off to Sazerac and the Shapiras along with Bill Samuels and the Wild Turkey Folks for continuing to nurture the American Bourbon industry. Finally, thanks to Julian VanWinkle and Chas. Medley for bringing us other interesting niche products.
So...let the corporate types build Capt. Morgan into an even bigger world brand and those in this forum will be interested in products that are not on that brand manager's radar scope.