Did Jim Beam Break the Spell of its Own Mythology?


The news of Suntory’s  $13.6 billion acquisition of Jim Beam made a cannonball wave early this week as the first major market acquisition of 2014. The deal included the sale of Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Teacher’s and Laphroaig—all brands with significant history and, presumably, a dedication to authenticity. Though a Beam representative promised no changes would be implemented in Beam’s bourbon production, Ian Crouch at the New Yorker argues that the company may have damaged its relationship with longtime drinkers who have, up until now, bought into the pleasant (mostly) myth of American whiskey evoking “tax rebels sticking it to Alexander Hamilton; or outlaws at their stills, deep in the hollers of Kentucky; or Junior Johnson outrunning the law on the back roads of North Carolina, packing illegal hooch in the trunk. It is the stuff of cowboy saloons and city dive bars and a thousand country songs.” These are romantic tales of yore and, what we would call in present-day terms, marketing. Even if Jim Beam—a 7-million-case-a-year brand—bourbon remains the same, its own participation in the myth of American self-reliance and independence has lost a bit of its rebel swagger. [The New Yorker]


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