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Seagram's Whisky

The revived version of the famous blend, ‘Seagram's VO’ is produced at Diageo’s distillery in Valleyfield, Quebec. However, many will remember a time when the Seagram’s brand was a major force within in the alcohol world, before disastrous investment choices and ventures into the entertainment market spelt the end for the family-owned industry giant. The Bronfman family that were famed in the 20th Century for leading the company to success were not the original founders. Neither was the distillery’s namesake, Seagram himself. The distillery was established in Waterloo, Ontario Canada in 1857, before a certain Joseph E. Seagram became a partner in 1869. It wasn’t until he became sole owner in 1883 and renamed the company Joseph E. Seagram & Sons that the beginnings of the brand we know now began to take shape. The acquisition of the family business in 1928 by Distillers Corporation Ltd was to prove to be the catalyst for the success of Seagrams. The Montreal-based family business was established by the Bronfman brothers as a joint venture with the UK-based Distillers Company Ltd (DCL), which enabled them to distribute Scotch whisky brands the DCL owned in Canada. Following the purchase of the Seagram brand the senior brother in the family operation, Sam Bronfman, eventually came to steward the company in his direction, where it established itself as an international name. Sam Bronfman strengthened the brand over a number of years with the purchase of Chivas Brothers and Milton distillery (now known as Strathisla), as well as Robert Brown Ltd of Paisley, William Walker & Co and the Highland Bonding Co for the whisky stocks they held. Further improvements were made to ensure the success of the brand, such as the construction of a new Seagram distillery next door to Strathisla, Glen Keith, alongside a new headquarters, bottling and warehouse complex near Paisley. A further warehouse and bottling site in Dalmuir, Clydebank were added to the profolio in 1970, before Sam Bronfman would sadly pass away in 1971. However, thanks to his son Edgar, Seagram’s wasn’t finished yet. In the same year he took charge, Edgar began the planning phase for a new distillery in Glenlivet, which opened in 1973 as Braes of Glenlivet (it’s now known as Braeval), which was soon joined by the Glenrinnes-based Allt-a-Bhainne distillery in 1975. Major expansion occurred in 1977 with the purchase of Glenlivet Distillers Ltd – a group formed by the 1970 merger of The Glenlivet, Glen Grant, Longmorn, Caperdonich and BenRiach distilleries, with blender Hill, Thompson & Co. of Edinburgh. By the time Edgar Bronfman’s son, Edgar Jr., took over as CEO in June 1994 Seagram’s was the largest owner of alcoholic beverage lines in the world. However, the glory years came to a sharp end in this era. Edgar Jr. had a vision that Seagram would become a diversified business with assets in the film and television industry, so he sold a highly lucrative 25% holding of chemical leader DuPont to finance the purchase of a controlling stake in MCA, which owned Universal Pictures and its theme parks, in 1995. Purchases of Polygram and Deutsche Grammophon soon followed, but in just five years it became clear this gamble had failed to pay off. The failure to make adequate return on its investments meant that by 2000 Seagram was forced to sell its entertainment assets to the French company Vivendi. The result was more than just a surrender of the portfolio it assembled in the 1990s, however. Sadly, such was the state of this financial and business disaster the company was forced to cease its operations which led to the sale of Seagram’s wine and spirits assets to Diageo and Pernod Ricard, signalling the end of an era for a family business and of a remarkable and tragic story.

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