Bulleit Bourbon: The Birth of a Brand

The True Story of How the Brand Got its Start

I’ve known Tom Bulleit since the 1990s and it was under my watch at Seagram that Bulleit Bourbon was developed and launched. Tom is a terrific guy, a real gentleman, and a smart businessman.

I saw some Impact Databank sales information the other day and among the top 10 super-premium bourbon brands, Bulleit is second only to Maker’s Mark in case sales at 1.2 million 9-liter cases (Maker’s is at 1.5 million), but Bulleit’s growth from 2016 to 2017 was 12.7% compared to maker’s 4.7%.

What’s even more impressive is that in 2000 Bulleit sold 180,000 cases while Maker’s Mark sold 1.4 million. At this rate of growth, it is likely that Bulleit Bourbon will surpass Maker’s as the leading selling brand.

So, the brand’s remarkable achievement has been the result of Diageo’s and Tom Bulleit’s efforts. Its launch and positioning in the bourbon market was due to the folks at Seagram.

Its start has always been an enigma to me and I set out recently to get the full story and to refresh my memory.

Let’s go Down Seagram Memory Lane

If you’ve read my book (forgive the shameless self-promotion), you know that Seagram was a whisk(e)y company in a world of vodka, tequila and other non-whiskey products. Starting in the early to mid 90s, the company acquired the distribution rights to Absolut, and at the same time, Captain Morgan and Crown Royal were growing by double digits each month. By the mid to late 1990s Seagram had consolidated its whisk(e)y portfolio to Canadian Whiskies (Crown Royal, VO and its line extension), Seagram 7 Crown, and Scotch brands …

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Seagram: Down Memory Lane—Part 2

Seagram and the War Effort

Welcome to the second installment of Seagram vintage posters, ads, and products. Like most companies at the time, Seagram participated in using its advertising and promotion efforts and money on behalf of the war effort. This included ads promoting the purchase of War Bonds and public service announcements.

(Thanks again to John Hartrey who contributed these ads from his Seagram vintage collection.)

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Seagram: Down Memory Lane—Part 1

Seagram Whiskies

There are a few of us Seagram alums that meet periodically for lunch, but mainly to tell Seagram stories and, well, laugh our asses off. I’ve tried to capture some of the stories in this blog and my book although I’ve barely scratched the surface.

At almost every lunch, John Hartrey never ceases to amaze us with his collection of Seagram memorabilia including ads, promotion items and brands. John, currently doing some industry consulting work, held a wide range of important marketing positions at Seagram, and handled some of the Cuervo business at Diageo, after Seagram closed.

At the most recent lunch, I asked John (make that, begged him) to share some of his treasures with this blog audience. It turns out however, that there are too many for one posting so we decided to share them in a number of articles or should I say, viewings.

Why Care About Seagram?

Well, if you didn’t work there or had any business relationship with the company you probably don’t care. But, consider this. Until its demise, the Seagram Spirits and Wine Company was the leader in the liquor industry in the U.S. It was not the largest, but for 50 years, the company set the pace and tone for the marketing of products and building brands. What Seagram did others followed, even to this day—broadcast advertising, enhanced point of sale promotions, education and true partnership with distributors and the trade in general. Plus much more.

So without further ado, here’s a trip down memory lane, starting with North American whiskies (Canadian and American).

Seagram 83

While I’m not an historian on the brand, what I learned online was it …

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