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Seagram's and Sazerac

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Guest **DONOTDELETE**

Ken, I have a history question that you may be able to answer. Or at least have some fun trying to find out...

Once upon a time, way back before single barrels and small batches, there were basically two "premium" bourbons. They were the same two that most dull, uninteresting bars still stock as their only premium bourbons to this day -- Wild Turkey and Maker's Mark. Three, actually, if you count Jack Daniel's as a bourbon, which virtually all of these bars did (and still do).

Now sometime in the late '60s I believe, Seagram's began marketing blatant knockoffs of these popular brands, or at least two of them. The marketing was directed toward the same people who buy imitations of well-known designer cologne brands. Eagle Rare 101 (their alternative to Wild Turkey) was a good one and Benchmark (their version of Maker's Mark) was, well, not. At least that seems to be true of those brands today. Seagram's sold them to Sazerac at some point and production moved to Buffalo Trace (Ancient Age then) from the Old Prentice distillary outside of Lawrenceburg (well, they called it the Old Prentice; I imagine it was really the Spanish mission distillery where they make Four Roses now). Both brands are still being made and sold by Sazerac, but there doesn't seem to be any attempt to associate them with other brands anymore. In fact, the single-barrel version of Benchmark isn't bad at all, and the recent release of Eagle Rare 17-year-old has brought new (and well-deserved) attention to this fine brand.

Please don't think I'm being derrogatory here. What I casually call "knockoffs" are just clever marketing (at least they were at that time) of what still needs to be decent bourbon if it's ever going to last. Which these have. And it should also be mentioned here that Seagram's has long had a reputation for, shall we say, inventive use of brand names in marketing that goes beyond what other bourbon distillers seem to feel is really necessary.

So my questions are,

(1) Just when did Sazerac purchase the brands from Seagram's?

(2) Is the 17-year-old Eagle Rare from the old Seagram's stock?

(3) Will anything like this be done with any remaining Benchmark stock?

(4) Did Seagram's ever release a similar knockoff of Jack Daniel (like just about everyone else did)? If so, whatever happened to it? Did Sazerac buy that one?

(5) What can you tell us about a Buffalo Trace brand called "Kentucky Rain"?

=John=

http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

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cowdery

It has never occurred to me that Benchmark and Eagle Rare were supposed to capitalize on the popularity of Maker's Mark and Wild Turkey. I'm not even sure the timing is right. I don't know if Maker's was really a factor when Benchmark was introduced. I recall that introduction, i.e., the advertising for it. I don't recall the introduction of Eagle Rare. Do you know them to have been introduced at about the same time? I do recall hearing that Bechmark was the last new major bourbon brand until Booker's, Blanton's and their ilk were coined in the late 1980s. My recollection of that period is that Daniel's, Turkey and Old Grand-Dad were the leading premiums; with Jim Beam, Old Crow and Early Times being the leading popular brands.

Of course it is well known (and pretty obvious) that Evan Williams and Ezra Brooks were conceived as Jack Daniel's knockoffs. Jeremiah Weed was one of many Southern Comfort knockoffs.

According to my records, Sazerac acquired Benchmark and Eagle Rare from Seagram's in 1989, when Seagram's unloaded quite a number of its lesser brands. I believe Heaven Hill acquired Henry McKenna and others in that same sale.

--Chuck Cowdery

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Ken Weber

I have spoken with Sazerac president, Mark Brown, and can report the following.

1. Sazerac bought Eagle Rare and Benchmark from Seagram in 1989.

2. The Eagle Rare 17 was made here from Mash Bill Rye-1 (1981).

3. Benchmark, recently awarded the Best of Show at the International Spirits Challenge 2000 (London), will continue to be released under the same name.

4. Seagram's did release a knockoff of Jack Daniel's - #1 Bourbon Street. It did not live up to expectations. Perhaps Benchmark was also intended to battle JD, however, we can't verify that. Seagram had been trying to break into the premium bourbon category and they apparently thought a contempory package was the answer. It was not. Also, we did not buy it.

5. Kentucky Rain was a bourbon that was introduced primarily because we wanted to legally protect the name "Rain". You see, we are the only distillery in Kentucky that also produces vodka, namely, Rain Vodka. This product is made of 100% organically grown corn and is consistently rated in the top 10 internationally. It is generally rated as the #1 vodka produced in the states.

Some general information. Seymour Leikind ran Austin Nichols and was then hired by Seagram's to run General Wine and Spirit. This outfit introduced Eagle Rare. So, my assumption is that Eagle Rare was to compete with Wild Turkey. We have changed that strategy. Not only is the eagle a distinct American icon, it also flys better than a turkey.

Old Prentice is the original name for the "Spanish Mission". Originally owned by J.T.S. Brown, when we bought Eagle Rare from Seagram, they sold us the name. I can't say when Four Roses was first made there.

Finally, Benchmark was introduced in the 60s and Eagle Rare in the 80s.

Ken

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Guest **DONOTDELETE**

I have been tracking the home of Bulleit, wonder if you might have some info. I went to Buffalo Trace for a tour on the day after Christmas-- thought a tour would enlighten me. Unfortunately they were closed, so I headed down to Wild Turkey for a tour. Our hostess there did not give up any info on where it is made, though she mentioned something about Four Roses Distillery. I have read several postings at this site which gave Bulleit negative remarks. My research leads me to believe it is owned by Seagram's or was until lately.

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kitzg

I hate to post this without actually checking my facts but I'm pretty sure it has been a Seagrams product (based on my reading about Seagrams a couple of weeks back). I'd expect it may be up for grabs as Diageo/Pernod sells off some brands.

Greg

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cowdery

Here's what I know about Bulleit:

Bulleit bourbons debuted in late 1995. There were two expressions, Bulleit and Thoroughbred. They were the brainchild of a Lexington, KY, tax lawyer named Tom Bulleit Jr., who grew up in Louisville and as a kid worked at the old Bernheim Distillery during summer vacation. Making his own bourbon was a lifelong ambition.

In 1989, a 4,000 case batch of bourbon was made by the Ancient Age Distillery (now called Buffalo Trace) on Bulleit's behalf. It was dumped and bottled in the summer of 1995. The Thoroughbred expression was 86 proof and the Bulleit expression was 90 proof.

Bulleit touted his brand as "re-engineered bourbon." He said it was aged using a special process that allowed it to gain the equivalent of eight to ten years of age in only four to six years. Though he would not disclose the process, he obviously was talking about the common practice, when bourbon is aged in masonry warehouses, of periodically heating the warehouses during the winter to simulate the heating and cooling of summer.

I reviewed the Bulleit expression at the time and found it undistinguished, possessing an industrial solvent aroma that was, needless to say, pretty unpleasant and distracting.

I didn't hear much more about Bulleit until a few months ago, when someone on this board reported seeing it at WhiskeyFest in New York, at the Seagram's table.

That's everything I know.

--Chuck Cowdery

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kitzg

Chuck, I found a quote about Bulleit in a London newspaper -- though I could not find it this morning to verify. It was reported as a Seagram product in the UK. I'll check again.

Greg

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Ken Weber

Chuck pretty much hit the nail on the head. I was really never impressed with the initial bottling of Bulleit, nor the Seagram's version. It just didn't have the body, or depth. I do like the "re-engineered" line. You can tell this came from a marketing type! The special process is well over a century old, and as Chuck points out, it consists of heating the warehouses in the winter to encourage additional cycling of the bourbon.

Seagram has owned the brand for the last few years and it has contained their bourbon.

Ken

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Guest **DONOTDELETE**

Thankyou so much for the information. I am learning that there is alot to learn about Bourbons. But it is fun researching. This board has given me lots to ponder and read.

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kitzg

Glad you "discovered" us. You'll find a lot in the old threads here and some great links on the main pages of this site. As you can see, we try to provide in depth and accurate information. And you're absolutely right. There is a lot more to bourbon than most people realize (I've found most bartenders can't even correctly define bourbon) and learning plus tasting is a lot of fun! Welcome aboard.

Greg

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kitzg

I found these tasting notes in a London trade magazine called The Grocer:

Here's the whole article.

HEADLINE: Tasting panel: Bulleit

From Seagram, a single batch bourbon whisky

TARGET CONSUMER

Mark Gilbert, 32, is an information systems manager for an outdoor advertising company. He lives in north London

I'm usually a Scotch drinker as bourbon in the UK tends not to be as distinctive compared with the full range in the US. However, this has a lot more facets to it, and it's a bit like Jack Daniels single barrel which is only available in the US. The bottle appeals as it's got an uncommercial look. And the cork stopper gives a nice effect. The only suggestion I'd make is just put the label on the back. The bourbon is a rich amber colour, it smells fresh (almost like marzipan) and it tastes really smooth. It will do well with people who drink bourbon already but otherwise the Jack Daniels and Coke brigade will be a hard market to crack.

Rating out of 25 19

The Expert:

Sally Easton

Master of Wine and wine buyer for Berry Brothers and Rudd

This bourbon comes in a stylishly packaged bottle with "wild west" style writing and an awkward to read story on the capsule. Its rich colour is set off by the clear glass. As "frontier whiskey" one is almost led to anticipate something rough and the nose is consistent with this pungent raw, sandy wood phenolics are the dominant aromas with attractive sweet coconut and caramel notes underneath. On the palate the texture is initially smooth and is quickly followed by the grainy tannins, caramel sweetness and high spirit kick and there is a defined balance and quality character to this product. Success rating out of 25 17

The designer: Graham Shearsby

Board creative director, graphics, at Design Bridge

At last something has arrived for the panel's scrutiny that, in my opinion, probably ticks all the boxes and presses all the buttons. The overall spirit of the brand's Frontier image has been extremely well executed avoiding too many obvious "Yee Ha" cliches. The bottle, clearly inspired by medicine show roots has been crafted with a stylish taper and elegant proportions. Attention to typographic detail topped with a single minded orange and black label. This all adds up to an extremely well considered enigmatic pack with real character. Well done. Success rating out of 25 25

The buyer: Steve Mayes

Category controller at Landmark

Until now I thought the only decent bourbon was a biscuit, but Bulleit has changed that. This is a smooth yet fiery, sweet yet smoky drink that caused much interest among selected tasters. The packaging was referred to as classic "Paint Your Wagon" and the consensus was that Bulleit had immediate brand appeal. Scores varied from 14 to 18 out of 25 and the key statements were "rsp is too high" and "I wouldn't buy it unless I tried it first". So if Seagram (or whoever) take heed with an extensive sampling programme and reduced prices this should succeed. Success rating out of 25 16

Total score out of 100 77

Copyright 2000 William Reed Publishing Ltd.

The Grocer

November 18, 2000

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Ken Weber

Greg,

Your comment about most bartenders not knowing their product is unfortunately true. Recently, while in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, we made stops in several bars and engaged the bartenders in some serious bourbon banter. If I didn't count on these people to sell my product, I would have thought it was funnier than @*$!. I was told that Southern Comfort was perhaps the best bourbon on the back bar. The bartender who said this was immediately corrected by his associate. This made me feel good, until he admonished his friend that Southern Comfort was in fact a Tennessee Whiskey. When I mentioned that the brand did not contain a single drop of whiskey, they were somewhat taken aback by my obvious lack of intelligence!

Several bartenders told us that the most popular bourbons included Jack Daniel's, Crown Royal, Southern Comfort, Jim Beam, Early Times, and W.L.Weller. The only reason they got Weller right is because it is a huge brand in Texas, otherwise, Beam was the only one they stumbled upon.

We have long thought that bartender and waitstaff training is vital to the success of our brands. You can win all the awards you want, but if you can't sell your product, you don't stay in business. It has become apparent to us that to get most servers to endorse your products, they must be convinced that it is good. The way many people are convinced is by spending lots of money on advertising and promotional giveaways. Actual taste is relegated to the back seat.

After "previewing this post", it is apparent that I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I have no intention of stepping on anyone's toes, nor do I want to make general blanket statements. I guess I just needed to vent today!

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kitzg

Ken, I think your post is exactly right. I spent a lot less on Gatorade in the early days than was spent on Coke or Pepsi but every NFL player was drinking the stuff and holding up the cup on the sidelines. A-B (you know, the big brewer :-]) spends lots of money influencing bartenders and waitstaff. I've actually had a couple of bar managers ask me what I thought they should be carrying and why with bourbon because they found out I knew a lot more than they did.

The correct approach is similar to what is called "category management" in the food business. Every brand wants their share of the category and you can't push your competitor out because no bar would get rid of Jack and Jim . But the key is whether they have the right mix for their bar and know a top shelf product? I've stared at Bookers and had waitstaff and bartenders tell me they didn't carry it. No offense to anyone but I'd guess I could move Old Grand Dad in a Moose Lodge but possibly not Bookers. On the other hand if Pappy 20 isn't in a high-end martini bar Julian should be out whipping his distributors.

Oops, now I'm on a soapbox! Remember I teach Marketing after years of praciticing it. And I insist on teaching practical marketing, not just what some textbook author who's never grown a brand might think.

So thanks for getting me emotional about it.

To finish, Jim Beam Brands have done a nice job with their small batch because they had the muscle to tell a lot of bars that they needed it. They already had JB White in the bar and they'd give you a nice little case for the small batch. Then they built demand from the bottom up.

Bourbon awards are a little like advertising awards. They make the creator feel good. But if the potential customer does not know the product and can't find the product the award is useless.

sorry for the speech.

Greg

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Guest **DONOTDELETE**

Ken,

That's OK. We all need to vent sometimes. (Like against Yankees and Brits ruining several good brands!!! Thank God Weller is in better hands now. Sorry, just venting). The fact of the matter is that advertising and image does play such a great role in the sales of the product of bourbon. When it is done right it really sells the bourbon. No offense, but I hope that no marketing person is too successful otherwise it may force small brands off the market giving us less choices when what I would like to see is more choices. Heaven forbid if we are forced down to only Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam White label and Early Times.

Mike Veach

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Andy Traxel

Ken,

I tended bar recreationally in my early 20's. On the job training only. Nobody at the places I worked at knew anything about American whiskey (or much else). Quality was assumed to be a function of price.

Contrast this with what it takes to be a cook at a resturant that actually makes what they serve. There has to be somebody in the kitchen that knows something about food and what to do with it. The rest of the staff picks things up from the "resource" person.

Where would a young person tending bar learn about American whiskey or any other spirit? In 8 pages or less? Do you think you could develop some promo pieces for bar staff that would help explain and differentiate your products?

Andy

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Guest **DONOTDELETE**

Thank you so much, I really enjoyed the article and descriptions. In my tastings which I admit are limited I chose Bulleit over Old Grand Dad what we drank for years and over Maker's Mark. But after my last trip to Cork N' Bottle where after a suggestion I brought home a bottle of Hirsch 12 y.o. Now that is good. But I am still trying others as I am sure I can't afford Hirsch all the time if it is even available. My next trial will be from Buffalo Trace. Thank you again for your information. Oldchel

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Ken Weber

Andy,

You are absolutely correct, bartenders and consumers alike believe that quality is a direct reflection of price, and vice-versa. I have also learned that when you find a knowledgeable bartender, he/she is truly respected by the waitstaff and customers. The tips this person receives makes it worthwhile to get "whiskey smart".

We are developing several educational pieces for the waitstaff. Let me know where you are and I will send some to you.

Ken

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cowdery

Ken,

From 1980 to 1986, I worked for a Louisville sales promotion agency on the Brown-Forman business. I have since done work for Jim Beam, a little for Barton, so I know the industry pretty well. Ninety percent of the time, "sales promotion" means dealer spiff. In other words, whatever you do has to be something the retailer wants. Most retailers, on- or off-premise, don't respond well to marketer-supplied employee training. They think their staff is as trained as they need to be or, if they need more training, it will come from the account, not from some marketer. The same money spent on case cards goes further. To me, that is the primary obstacle to better training of bartenders, waitstaff, etc., you can't get the account's management to really buy into the need.

And, by the way, we didn't exactly discourage the misconception that Southern Comfort is a whiskey.

--Chuck Cowdery

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Guest **DONOTDELETE**

Chuck what are "case cards"?

Linn Spencer

Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

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kitzg

It is always dangerous to disagree when I cannot claim I am intimate with all of the retail side of the industry. And I certainly agree with Chuck that spiffs (payment for placement and displays) is easier and can generate volume. A display in a liquor store is like gold just as signage in a bar draws volume. This is because many in the masses are not very knowledgable and will consume whatever they perceive to be popular.

I am thinking maybe this posting really is not valuable but I started this topic of bartenders who don't know their bourbon and I think it is worth it for marketers to help them learn.

But I am a good acquaintance with a number of on-premise (bar) owners including one of the highest volume facilities in the U.S. I also am acquainted with a couple of high volume off-premise (liqor store) managements. These rather progressive operators are fiercely independent and certainly won't let the spirits marketer have their way. But these particular owners and managements are open to increasing personnel product knowledge. And the high-volume bar has time and time again shown that suggested selling of call brand vs. well increases their profit with very little effort (in other words if I asked for a gin and tonic they might say "do you want a Bombay & tonic?"). Having a bartender or server that can answer a question such as, "what's the difference between Bombay and Tanqueray" impresses the customer and can lead to premium sales.

Just in closing, that bar owner of the high volume bar (in the millions yearly) was furious upon learning that I was in the establishment with my son who asked for Bookers and the server said they did not have any (of course, they did).

Okay, enough of my running on. Most regulars to this forum know more about bourbon than most bartenders I've run into except at D Marie's of course or in Bardstown (or at, say, a martini bar).

thanks for the discussion.

Greg

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Andy Traxel

Ken,

I'm real curious to see what you're developing for educational material.

I tried to send you a private message with my mailing address in it. This forum spit it back. Something about not having a profile for "Ken". And I don't see your e-mail address in your posts. If you'd write me back at a.traxel@att.net, I'll get you my address.

Thanks,

Andy

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kitzg

Andy, use "Ken Weber" in your private posts -- not just the first name.

Ken's a great addition to our forum!

Greg

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kitzg

Me again, I used the word "disagree" in my previous post and I really don't think Chuck and I disagree. Chuck is correct that retailers will tell you what they want, and often it is money. Naturally they want anything that they KNOW will move product and reducing the price and helping build displays and signage will move product.

My point is suppliers can learn from the high volume places and take that news to lower volume places. I've known a couple of bar owners who were absolutely sure they knew what they were doing (buying drinks for their friends, carrying the cheapest products) until they had to sell their license to someone because they weren't making enough money (I'm not making this up, I knew two of them).

Chuck's point is, here's what they tell you they want and you have to give some of it to them. My point is product knowledge can help them upsell and I've personally seen the proof. Convincing some of them may be a "hard sell."

Ken, I'll be interested in what you develop. Hope to come down and see you this Spring.

Greg

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Guest **DONOTDELETE**

Andy,

Doubleclick on Ken's name in the message (or anywhere else where it's highlighted) and that'll take you to his profile. You can send a private message to him from there.

=John=

http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

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Guest **DONOTDELETE**

That should work, but it doesn't. You get an error message.

Linn Spencer

Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

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