Friday, July 10, 2009

Buffalo Trace Welcomes Old Taylor Home.

Although it remains unclear what Sazerac is going to do long-term with the recently-acquired Old Taylor brand, in the short term they are having some fun with it.

On Wednesday, July 29, there will be a "welcome home" event for Old Taylor at Sazerac's Buffalo Trace Distillery. That's the day the barrels of whiskey they're receiving from Jim Beam arrive. As part of the deal, Trace got 1,800 barrels of aging bourbon, although no one has revealed the age or ages of the whiskey.

An event like this, on a Wednesday afternoon, is mostly intended for the local community. There will be cocktails, of course, hors d'oeuvres, and a special "Taylor Tour." Having events for the local community is smart. Community goodwill is valuable for any business, but Buffalo Trace is in Frankfort, the state capital, so the "local community" includes legislators and other government officials.

Edmund Haynes Taylor, the man behind the Old Taylor brand, played a major role in the development of what is now Buffalo Trace. He was also in many ways the father of the modern bourbon industry, as well as a prominent and respected community leader. Taylor was first elected as Frankfort's mayor in 1871 and succeeded himself seven times. (It was a two-year term.) After that he was elected to the state legislature, first as a representative, later as a senator. During his senate career he depleted a significant part of his fortune lobbying for the capital to remain in Frankfort as his fellow lawmakers tried to move it to the much larger community of Lexington.

Taylor's story is a reminder that whiskey-making is a respectable business and a signature industry for the commonwealth. Most of the companies today are not locally owned but they have local employees and pay a fortune in local taxes.

Beam, which owned the Taylor brand for a bit more than 20 years, never had a natural connection to its heritage and never did anything with it, the heritage or the product itself. Buffalo Trace is certainly a better fit and perhaps trying to figure out their long-term plan is pointless. Old Taylor today is a very small brand and unlikely to become a much larger one. The price Trace paid for it was not very high and may have been worth it just for these little PR nuggets.

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