Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What a Difference 24 Years Makes.

Twenty-four years ago, American Brands, Inc., through its subsidiary Jim Beam Brands Co. acquired National Distillers. National was the bigger company and it was billed as a merger, but it was Beam's deal all the way.

At that time, "Jim Beam Brands Co." was a misnomer, suggesting as it did that the company had brands other than Jim Beam Bourbon.

It didn't.

Their #2 brand was Kamora Coffee Liqueur.

In the deal, Beam grudgingly accepted National's bourbons, the biggest of which were Old Grand-Dad, Old Taylor and Old Crow. Beam bought National to get the DeKuyper cordials and schnapps line, in particular DeKuyper Peachtree Schnapps, which at the time was bigger than Kahlua and selling more than 1,000,000 cases a year.

Whiskey was a dead category. Schnapps, now that's where the action was.

Yesterday, Fortune Brands announced that when it spins off its home/security and golf businesses to become a pure-play spirits company later this year, the new corporate name will be Beam Inc.

The name of an American straight whiskey brand will be the corporate name of the world's fourth largest spirits company. Maybe that means nothing, the even larger Pernod is named after a tiny brand, after all.

More significant than the name is this. The largest American-owned distilled spirits company (and #4 worldwide) will have an American straight whiskey as its flagship product and an American straight whiskey portfolio as its key portfolio, much as Diageo's key portfolio is its scotch whiskeys.

It's a good day for whiskey when the largest spirits company in the world and the largest American-owned spirits company are both whiskey companies.

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