Brown-Forman Corp. has seen a lot in 153 years, from World Wars, Prohibition and pandemics to what it calls “the dark ages for dark spirits.” That’s the period from 1965 to 2000, when sales of dark spirits like whiskey slipped, forcing Brown-Forman to diversify into other categories.
Fast forward to 2023 and bourbon is booming. Consumers cannot get enough of American whiskey, and Louisville, KY-based Brown-Forman is well positioned for the trend, with brands such as the venerable Tennessee whiskey Jack Daniel’s, acquired in 1956, and the bourbon Woodford Reserve, launched in 1996.
Whiskey is in the company’s DNA: Founded by George Garvin Brown as J.T.S. Brown & Brother, it was the first company to sell whiskey in sealed glass bottles. A partnership in 1890 with Brown’s friend and accountant George Forman created the company’s name.
Brown-Forman today employs about 5,200 people globally; the brands are sold in more than 170 countries worldwide. Its imported whiskies include GlenDronach, Benriach, Glenglassaugh and Slane. But the company is best known for its flagship American whiskey brands.
For instance, Jack Daniel’s Bonded Tennessee Whiskey, is a Rising Star Growth Brands winner this year, as is Jack Daniel’s ready-to-drink beverages. A new Jack Daniel’s & Coca-Cola RTD hit the market in March; the company expects this line extension to do well. Jack Daniel’s also entered our Hall of Fame in 2022 by winning its 15th Growth Brands Award.
Brown-Forman bourbons Old Forester and Woodford Reserve were among the fastest-growing Growth Brands this year, increasing 36% and 26%, respectively, in 2022 over 2021. (The company’s Sonoma-Cutrer was among the fastest-growing wine brands, with a 12% rise.)
Coopers’ Craft Bourbon, the company’s first new bourbon brand in 20 years when it launched in 2016, won a Rising Star winner this year. The brand honors the men and women who raise the barrels at the zero-waste Brown-Forman cooperage.
Tequila and Other Categories
In addition to riding the wave of newfound love for brown spirits, Brown-Forman also benefits from the exploding popularity of tequila, thanks to its two seasoned brands. El Jimador tequila took an Established Growth brand in 2023, while Herradura took a Fast Track award. Brown-Forman acquired the brands when it purchased Casa Herradura in 2007.
What’s next for Brown-Forman? Gin, apparently. The company, which bought Fords Gin in 2019, announced in September that it was acquiring Gin Mare, a Mediterranean-style gin. Why?
Jeremy Shepherd, promoted to Brown-Forman’s senior vice president/president USA & Canada in July 2022, had previously served as the company’s vice president, general manager, for the U.K. and Ireland. “Coming from Europe, I saw how popular gin is,” Shepherd noted in an interview with Cheers magazine last fall, adding that it was a relatively untapped market in the U.S.
Rum was also a gap in Brown-Forman’s portfolio — until the company acquired Diplomático, a super-premium rum from Venezuela, in January. Diplomático is sold in more than 100 countries; its top markets include France, Germany and the U.S.
Brown-Forman, which had acquired Finlandia vodka in 2004, and raspberry liqueur Chambord in 2006, has amassed a diverse and robust spirits portfolio, and it’s got a stable of Growth Brands Awards as proof of its enduring success. Here’s to the next 150 years.