Monday, March 19, 2007

Old Forester

Is this brand story true? Brown-Forman Distillers Company of Louisville, KY, has been running an advertising campaign for Old Forester, which the company says is “America’s First Bottled Bourbon,” complete with a trademark.

The company has got this story behind the campaign: In 1870, George Garvin Brown, a young pharmaceuticals salesman in Louisville, Kentucky, saw the need for a consistently high-quality whisky that met medicinal standards. With $5,500 in saved and borrowed money, Brown and his half brother started J.T.S. Brown and Bro. They sold Old Forester Bourbon Whisky exclusively in sealed glass bottles to assure its quality.

It’s the kind of classically designed campaign that has come to characterize the upscale liquor market – lots of emphasis on heritage and purity and very nice looking with it. Brown-Forman is working on the brand. But…is the claim factual? I seemed to recall seeing Civil War-era engravings with bottles of bourbon (so labeled) on shelves – that would pre-date the foundation of the Old Forester brand story.

I tried contacting Brown-Forman…got nothing.

Fortunately, the people at my own favorite bourbon company, Jim Beam, were much more attentive. They asked their PR agency to work the problem and I got an outstanding call from Layton Meng, one of the Directors at Qorvis working on the Jim Beam account. (She left a message that I didn’t get immediately, driving through the middle of southern Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Swamp at the time as I was.)

Meng had spoken with Jerry Dalton, Jim Beam’s Master Distiller. His research says that Abram M Bininger & Co. was actually the oldest known source of bottled bourbon: he started doing it in 1848. Nevertheless, it is Brown that’s recognized in the industry for being the first distiller to mass-produce and sell branded bourbon in bottles.

So the answer is, yes…Old Forester is the first bottled bourbon brand. Brown-Forman is correct and the story on the Old Forester website is a good one. (Always tell good stories about your brand.)

For me, though, the stars of this one are Jim Beam and Qorvis – so my special appreciation to Dalton and Meng: more responsive to customers, thank you very much. It’s way early for a drink, but mine will be Jim Beam when the time comes, not Old Forester. Maybe I should have used a photograph of a Beam bourbon bottle instead.

No comments: