Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Revenge of The Olds

They say the best revenge is living well.

Sometimes the best revenge is just living.

Back when the American whiskey business was collapsing, in the 1970s and 80s, a lot of smart people tried to figure out why fewer and fewer consumers wanted to drink American whiskey, and what could be done about it. They gathered all the data they could. One thing they discovered was this: the brands losing market share the fastest all had the word 'old' in their name.They became known collectively as 'The Olds.'

They were everything you didn't want your brand to be.

In contrast, what sort of brands were holding their own? The ones whose first name was a Christian name, not 'Old,' but Jack, Jim, Ezra, or Evan.

Many of the Olds went away. A few survived. Three of the biggest 'Olds' were Old Crow, Old Grand-Dad, and Old Overholt, all products of the National Distillers Corporation. Back before the fall, Old Crow was the best-selling bourbon in America, Old Grand-Dad was the best-selling premium bourbon as well as the best-selling bond, and Old Overholt was the best-selling rye whiskey.

Flash forward to 2013. The Olds are back. Beam Inc., which acquired National Distillers in 1987, has given the Olds a new home on the internet.

"We launched the 'Olds' first-ever web site with the intention of introducing three iconic whiskey brands to those who haven’t yet experienced them," says Dan Cohen, Beam Inc. Senior PR Manager. "Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow and Old Overholt are three of our finest and most legendary whiskey brands, each of which has seen tremendous momentum recently – especially on-premise and among bartenders."

"Explorers" searching for "new options" are the target audience. The site is intentionally over-the-top. It features content developed in partnership with The Onion, America's Finest News Source.

The basic idea is to personify the three brands as three twenty-something guys who enjoy a good time. Old Overholt looks like a 19th century stevedore, Old Grand-Dad looks like a degenerate riverboat gambler, and Old Crow looks like the counterpart degenerate riverboat skipper. Their antics (in short films that can be viewed on the site) are as old as "A Hard Day's Night," but they get the idea across.

Beam has spent next to nothing promoting these three brands in the 26 years it has owned them, so it's good to see them finally do something. Old Overholt is good whiskey. Old Grand-Dad is very good whiskey. Old Crow not so much, although Old Crow Reserve is an improvement on the standard version.

Since all three brands are growing without support, Beam decided to see if it could boost them even more with a modest spend.

Will it work? Who knows? If we've learned anything these last few years, it's that anything is possible.


Alex said...

Is a price increase next? I guess I'm glad Old Grand-Dad hasn't been discontinued.

sam k said...

Interesting that this "new" website lists Old Overholt as a 4 year old when it's been 3 for a while now. Glad to see them making an effort on promoting these legacy brands, anyway.

JDL said...

Chuck-are the current receipes that are being used for the Olds anything like the originals? Old Granddad tastes similar to the Beam receipe. Or are the old original receipes lost to time?

Anonymous said...

Richnimrod said;

Not being a fan of Rye whiskey in general, I'm unmoved by any of the support (albeit belated) now being shown this brand by Beam. The Old Crow brand would be FAR better served by improving the liquid inside the bottle than making 'him' a cartoon character. As for Old Grand Dad; I LOVE it, so I hope this sudden interest ensures Beam carries the brand into the future and supports it; without raising the price.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Old Grand-Dad is the most nearly like the original, or at least like the way National was making it 26 years ago. Overholt and Beam are standard Beam recipes.

nmisscommenter said...

I prefer Beam's rye to Overholt, but have not tasted them side by side (I think the Beam rye is one of the best bargains in whiskey... My go-to for a reasonably priced Manhattan. In fact, pricier rye often has too much going on for my taste for a mixed drink).

Oddly enough, I haven't tried Old Grand-dad. Will have to do so.

Ben said...

Question: When did Old Crow start being awful? It seems like it must have at least been palatable in the past, given its popularity.

Anonymous said...

If/when twenty-something hipsters decide to embrace the "Olds" like they've done with Pabst Blue Ribbon, the future looks bright indeed for these fuddy-duddies! (I mean the bourbons, not the hipsters - though sadly, hipsters' cultural influence will also continue to grow apace :-/)

Anonymous said...

What caused people stop liking whiskeys with "Old" name in it in 1970s-80s?

Chuck Cowdery said...

The 60s generation didn't want anything old.

EllenJ said...

Says Chuck: "Their antics (in short films that can be viewed on the site) are as old as "A Hard Day's Night," but they get the idea across."

More like the Monkees.
Not quite sure I understand just what idea it is that they're getting across, but then I guess it's probably because I'm just... uh, well... old.

Anonymous said...

This is good news across the board. Thank you.

When my wife's phone rings, her photo of me is the OGD 100 label.

Original Joe's in San Francisco publishes their Manhattan receipe right in the menu: Bourbon is Old Crow, and apparently has been for decades.


Chuck Cowdery said...

I received this interesting note from whiskey historian Chris Middleton: "Over 450 whisky brand names have used the prefix 'Old' over the past 150 years. It was the most popular, followed in distant second by 'Glen.'"

EllenJ said...

While I'm sure that most of the brands that use "Old" are just me-too-ing it, I suspect that the original purpose was to differentiate aged whiskey (i.e., old) from what most folks considered "real" whiskey (i.e. white dog). Aged whiskey, at one time, was a product rarely seen in the places whiskey was actually made. "Old" whiskey was marketed to drinkers who wouldn't be caught dead drinking "real whiskey" -- not unlike many bourbon afficianados today.

Of course, there were many in those days who equated "old" with "brown", and there were just as many bottlers with access to caramel coloring (and other, far worse, things) to accomodate them.

Anonymous said...

@EllenJ I think there is truth in your comment. I know from experience that years ago, in Netherlands, one ordered the aged genever (we call it gin) by calling for "oud genever", quite a different spirit (and price point)from conventional gin. If you didn't specify, you got the white stuff.

I don't know if this is still the case over there. But it's proof that improving with age is not limited to whiskies. A similar principal applies to aquavit.