A Brown will once again be hands-on selling Old Forester, for the first time in nearly 100 years.
Brown-Forman announced Tuesday that Campbell Brown, a fifth-generation descendant of company founder George Garvin Brown, will take over the helm of the iconic brand, which still bears George Garvin Brown's signature.
Calling it a jewel of the portfolio, Campbell Brown said in an interview that Old Forester "is certainly a special brand. This is the brand that has our name on the bottle etched in glass, been in our family for five, six generations, and is the one responsible for getting us into the position where we are today."
Effective May 1, Brown will become the president of Old Forester and will be responsible for firing growth of the label, which was the company's first brand.
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Originally "Old Forrester" with two Rs and named for a renowned local doctor, was the first bourbon sold exclusively in a bottle in the 1870s when many people bought whiskey straight out of the barrel, often by prescription.
Always popular in Kentucky and in Alabama, thanks to legendary football coach Bear Bryant who drank Old Forester, the brand has recently experienced a surge in popularity for the first time in decades and the company is putting millions into the brand with the immediate goal of reaching 500,000 cases a year, roughly five times current volume, and eventually climbing back to the brand's peak of more than 1 million cases in the 1970s.
Brown said he would focus first on the United States, especially key urban markets like Brooklyn, Chicago and San Francisco, but there is also opportunity for growth in the United Kingdom and in international duty-free sales. Old Forester will benefit in particular from the appeal to younger consumers who want to "step back in time" with an authentic original brand, Brown said.
Master distiller Chris Morris said that many bourbon enthusiasts, used to the sweeter taste of contemporary bourbons like Woodford Reserve, want to explore the bourbon that the classic cocktails were built for, one that is crisp, dry, woody and spicy.
"Of all the historic brands that are on the market today that have their origins in the 19th century, not a single one is made today by the company that founded them," Morris said. Except Old Forester. Brown also will guide the development of the Old Forester Distillery, a $30 million project including a visitors center, going in on Whiskey Row in downtown Louisville.
"This will be a state-of-the-art facility as well as a working distillery," Brown said. "We do have a knack for putting the location on display, the process on display, the people on display."
The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Brown-Forman will put an additional $20 million into pushing the brand with capital, promotions, people and sales tools in local markets. Brown confirmed that the total investment could be in the neighborhood of $50 million.
Already there is Old Forester Signature, a 100 proof version, another permanent line extension — the Whiskey Row series based on previous versions of Old Forester — and the brand will be the official bourbon of the mint julep, replacing Early Times.
According to the release, Brown will report to Lawson Whiting, chief brands and strategy officer.
"With the bourbon business booming and Brown-Forman's commitment to Old Forester evident in our substantial investment in building the Old Forester Distillery, Campbell is very well suited to lead this venerable brand to national and global growth," Whiting said.
Brown has more than 20 years of experience in the spirits business, most recently managing Brown-Forman's wine and spirits portfolio in Canada and the Midwest. He is one of 11 fifth-generation Brown family members working in the company.
"I am very pleased to take on the assignment of leading Old Forester back to the prominence it once had within Brown-Forman and in the bourbon industry," Brown said. "It has remained a favorite among true bourbon aficionados, as well as a source of great pride among company employees and Brown family members."
Brown also is on the board of Republic Bank and Trust and The James Graham Brown Cancer Center. He earned degrees from Rollins College and the University of Miami.