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Whiskey Rebranding, Brand Evolution & History Part 7 - The US - Old Stagg, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Jim Beam & Eagle Rare

Whiskey brand and rebranding history four roses

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Brand development and rebranding are essential for any successful and long-lasting brand's evolution. Whiskey brands often tweak their labels, introduce new expressions, and adjust their approach to stay relevant and attract consumers. However, not all changes have been positive.


In this ongoing series dedicated to whiskey rebranding and brand evolution, we will take a closer look at some of the most beloved American bourbon brands. Some brands have survived Prohibition by producing medicinal whiskey or going on hiatus, while others were introduced during the post-war years.


Without further ado, let's start digging.


Please note that we have decided to exclude the Van Winkle and Pappy Van Winkle ranges from these articles, but to learn about the brand's history and story, please click here.



 

Old Stagg Bourbon


First bottled in the late 1910s, Old Stagg was bottled during Prohibition as 'medicinal whiskey'. It replaced O.F.C. bourbon towards the end of Prohibition, and it inspired George T. Stagg, Stagg Jr., and the now-discontinued Stagg bourbons. The namesake of the flagship brand, George T. Stagg, was the former owner and operator of the distillery for the last 25 years of the 1800s.


The brand was initially bottled at cask strength between 18 and 24 before being sold as four- to eight-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon expressions. The last bottlings were introduced in the mid-70s.


The brand was bottled under multiple labels, which in the 1960s were produced with easily damaged paper. We know this since only a few of the labels still seem to be in good condition.


To surprise many bourbon lovers, Buffalo Trace distillery resurrected some of the old whiskey brands once bottled by George T. Stagg distillery in 2023 - one of them being Old Stagg. The 2023 edition of Old Stagg bourbon has a high alcohol content of 132.4 proof or 66.2%. Its label closely resembles the original and does not indicate the age of the whiskey. Like other Staggs that followed, this whiskey may be made with a low-rye bourbon mashbill.


Old Stagg bourbon brand evolution and rebranding

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



 

Four Roses Bourbon


The Four Roses brand history is tricky but also incredibly interesting. The brand started in 1884, when Paul Jones Jr. moved his grocery business from Atlanta, Georgia, to Kentucky's famous whisky row in Louisville. In 1888, he trademarked his Four Roses bourbon. Unfortunately, he died in 1895 and never saw the bourbon in its glory days. The business was passed on to Jones' nephew, Lawrence Lavelle Jones, who ceased the grocery side of the Paul Jones Company by the time Prohibition hit.


Two years into Prohibition, Lawrence acquired the Frankfort Distilling Co. and its Old Prentice distillery, as well as one of the few licenses in the US to bottle whiskies for medicinal purposes. Prohibition was suitable for the Four Roses brand since it accounted for every one of six bottles sold domestically. After Prohibition was overturned in 1933, the brand flourished, and during the 30s, 40s, and 50s, it became one of the best-selling bourbon products on the market. Lawrence died in 1941, and the company was sold to the Canadian company Seagram's two years later.


In 1945, Seagram's introduced a 100% American blended whisky to sell alongside Four Roses bourbon. By the end of the 1950s, Seagram CEO Samuel Bronfman - who made his fortune by selling Canadian whiskies to the US market during Prohibition - removed Four Roses Bourbon from the domestic market, replacing it with a blended whiskey made with 60% neutral grain spirit. The blend was produced in the company's Maryland and Lawrenceburg, Indiana distillery plants. This was done to make space in the market for the company's Canadian whiskey brands, which they wished to take on the coveted place of market leaders. The new Four Roses blended whiskey significantly affected the brand's popularity, which rapidly declined.



Thankfully, the Four Roses bourbon produced in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, was still made for export markets - making it the best-selling Kentucky bourbon in Spain and Japan. In 1996, the frustrated Four Roses master distiller, Jim Rutledge, persuaded Seagram's to make the bourbon available in Kentucky so his staff could enjoy the whiskey they were making. Unfortunately, it took Seagram's demise in 2001 to make the bourbon again available across the US.


In December 2001, Kirin Group purchased the Old Prentice distillery and the Four Roses brand. In 2002, they stopped producing blended whiskey and bought back every bottle they could find from retailers—ceasing the sale of the blend to reintroduce bourbon to the market from a clean plate. Since the early 2000s, the whisky bottled under Four Roses has only been Kentucky straight bourbon, with the single barrel launched in 2004 and the small batch following in 2006.


Four Roses bourbon brand evolution

Four Roses blended whiskey brand evolution

Images by The Whisky Ardvark



 

Wild Turkey Bourbon


Although the brand's origins can be traced back to 1855 when wholesale grocer Austin Nichols established his business, it wasn't until almost a century later that Wild Turkey bourbon was introduced.


The Ripy brothers, who had acquired the Austin Nichols Distilling Company, established their family distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, in 1869 and created their bourbon brand. The bourbon was renamed in 1940 after a turkey hunting trip by a distillery executive named Thomas McCarthy inspired him. The first Wild Turkey brand whiskies were launched in 1942.


In the 1950s, some bottlings of Wild Turkey were produced in Maryland and were straight ryes. Along with the rye, an eight-year-old bourbon was released, reportedly at 101 proof, which became the bourbon's signature bottling strength for years to come.


In 1954, master distiller Jimmy Russell, who would later become a bourbon hall of famer, took over the reins of the distillery. His son Eddie joined the distillery under his father's guidance in 1981. Under the father-son duo, Austin Nichols Company started producing rye whiskey in Kentucky in 1974.


Wild Turkey introduced the first bourbon liqueur in 1976, followed in the early 1990s by the premium expression 12-year-old and Rare Breed under Pernod Ricard, which had acquired the distillery in 1980. The range was expanded again in 1995 when Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit and a single-barrel 101-proof bourbon were launched. Brought to market in 2001, Russell's Reserve was created in 1998 by the distilling duo Jimmy and Eddie Russell.


In 2009, Campari purchased the Austin Nichols Distilling Company (from Pernod Ricard), whose name was proudly displayed on the label's front. However, the new owners soon removed the iconic company name from the labels when they launched the rebranded range and made the eight-year-old 101 a limited release.


Following actor Matthew McConaughey's appointment as Wild Turkey's creative director in 2016, Longbranch small-batch bourbon was launched in 2018, and Rare Breed Rye whiskey was also introduced in 2020.


brand evolution wild turkey 101 bourbon

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Jim Beam Bourbon


The Boehm family members first arrived in the colonies from Germany in 1740 but migrated to the Kentucky commonwealth in 1748 to grow corn and changed their name to Beam. The first corn whiskey, Old Jake Beam Sour Mash, was sold in 1795, making Jacob Beam a well-respected figure.


Jacob handed the reigns to his son, David Beam, in 1820. A decade later, he installed column stills and rebranded the whiskey to Old Tub after the distillery. David relocated the distillery to Nelson County in 1854 under the name D. M. Beam & Company, close to the newly built railroad tracks. The move made it possible to ship his bourbon across the US and make his whiskey famous.


Finally, in 1894, Colonel James Beauregard Beam took over the family business and the nationally known bourbon brand. Unfortunately, he was forced to shut down the distillery for Prohibition and to support his family, but he unsuccessfully took a shot at coal mining and citrus farming. The rights to the name Old Tub were lost.


After Prohibition, James returned to distilling and built his new distillery in 1933 in Clermont. A few years later, he introduced his namesake, Colonel James B. Beam Bourbon. Following the change, with the help of his son T. Jeremiah, James re-established the distillery in 1935 as the Jim B. Beam Distilling Company and named the bourbon Jim Beam. The first Jim Beam whisky, Bonded Beam, was presented with a golden label and the rye was launched in 1938 due to the popularity of the Mint Julep cocktail. Jeremiah took over the ownership of his father's business in 1946.


By 1960, the company owned two distilleries, one in Clermont under Carl Beam and one in Boston, Kentucky, (established in 1954) under master distiller Frederick Booker Noe II. The white-labelled Jim Beam bourbon was first introduced in the 1960s. In 1978, Booker began crafting bourbon the way it was initially made: in small batches. It led to the release of Booker's in 1987 and the introduction of Basil Hayden's and Knob Creek in 1992.


2009 the company launched a cherry-infused Red Stag, followed by Devil's Cut and Jim Beam Black in 2011. The Old Tub bourbon brand was revived in 2020 for first time after the start of Prohibition.


brand evolution jim beam bourbon

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Eagle Rare 10-year-old Bourbon


Eagle Rare is often regarded as one of the last bourbons to be created before the era of small-batch bourbons. It was made by the Seagram's Four Roses (then known as the Old Prentice) distillery's master distiller, Charles L. Beam, in 1975 to compete against Wild Turkey, which was highly popular at the time.


In 1989, Sazerac, with headquarters in New Orleans, acquired Seagram's Benchmark and Eagle Rare brands. However, Sazerac did not have its own distillery, so the two brands were temporarily produced at Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. Bottles of Eagle Rare produced from 1989 to 1992 were labelled as coming from New Orleans—the final bottles were reportedly offered to retailers in 1997.


After Sazerac purchased the George T. Stagg distillery (renamed Buffalo Trace in 1999) in 1992, Eagle Rare became one of the most popular bourbon brands produced at the facility. Eagle Rare is a low-rye bourbon that is aged for at least ten years in heavily charred virgin oak barrels.


The 10-year-old 101-proof version of Eagle Rare was discontinued in 2005 and replaced by a 90-proof (45%) version. Since then, the label has undergone only minor changes, such as moving the promise of 10 years of age from the neck of the bottle to the back label in 2012. Limited edition bottlings have also been labelled as 'single barrel' for specialist outlets.


You can read the article here if you want to learn more about the intriguing history of Eagle Rare bourbon and its older variations.

brand evolution and rebranding of Eagle Rare 10 year old bourbon

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

 

Thank you for reading The Whisky Ardvark. Be sure to check out some of our other informative article listed below, and stay tuned for more.



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