Chivas Gin?

No, there’s no such thing. But the idea almost got me fired.

I read in Drink Spirits that they selected a Scottish gin among the best new spirits introduced at Tales of the Cocktail. Caorunn Small Batch Scottish Gin joins Hendricks as Scottish made. The brand is made from the traditional botanical mix plus distinctly Scottish botanicals.

So here’s the Chivas gin story.

When I ran new products at Seagram, as I’m sure you’ve noticed from the tequila postings, filling gaps in the portfolio was a top item on the agenda. Oh sure, we had the top seller in domestic gin but with the exception of Boodles, we did not have an imported brand to compete with Beefeater’s, Tanqueray, Bombay and others.

Our research revealed that a strong overlap in preferences existed among scotch and gin drinkers. A scotch drinker was most likely to drink gin as a second choice and vice versa.

Based on this insight and lots of concept development work, my friend Sam Ellias recommended a Chivas Gin. Before I could say a word, he quickly added that it would not be Chivas Regal Gin, but rather, a gin from Chivas Brothers. The brand would use the Chivas heritage of distilling expertise and skill and apply it to a “white goods” product. Further, his research showed that attitudes toward Chivas Regal Scotch itself improved as a result of the more contemporary gin brand idea. Trust me, at that time, Chivas Regal could use all the help it could get.

I was convinced.

At the next new products review meeting we put the idea on the table for discussion and approval to proceed to the next development stage. There was strong support but something wasn’t right. Those in the room with doctorate degrees in “Owner Anger Detection” (OAD) became uneasy. I couldn’t understand it but knew enough to drop the subject based on instinct.

But not Sam Ellias.

A number of years later when I was running marketing and he was in charge of new products, he brought up the subject of a gin by Chivas Brothers once again. Not only was the research even more compelling but he also found a name that made the product clearly by Chivas. All he wanted was a real world test market with an action standard that if this gin product failed to improve Chivas’ sales, the idea would be dropped. Reasonable.

While I still didn’t have a PHD in OAD, I had a Master’s and strong survival instincts. I approached the subject gingerly and discussed it with a family confidante/consultant to gauge the reaction. Instead of debating the merits or concerns, he must have gone to the head owner complaining about the idea.

The next thing I know, I get a poison pen email from the owner, the content of which I will never forget:

If I ever hear the words Chivas and gin used again in the same sentence, heads will roll, starting with yours.

This missive came from the same office that had pushed such brilliant new product ideas as Von Konig Silberwasser (I think it was supposed to be a vodka), Bourbon Street Bourbon (billed as a New Orleans style bourbon, whatever that is), and my personal favorite, Chivas Danu, whose relationship to scotch continues to elude me.

Despite the amused reaction from my management, who assured me not to be concerned, the dispatch rankled me and I avoided new products and Sam for some time afterward.

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1 comment

  1. I remember when I was division marketing mgr, Bob Dubin used to have discussions on some of these ideas. previously I help launch Captain Morgan in Massachusetts when I was sales manager.

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