Heublein Tower, built by company president Gilbert Heublein
|Industry||Food and Beverage
Quick Service Restaurants
|Fate||Merged with R. J. Reynolds Co. (1982)|
|Successor(s)||RJR Nabisco then
Grand Metropolitan (1987)
|Defunct||1982 (as independent co.)
|Headquarters||Hartford, Connecticut, USA|
|Key people||John A. Powers, (Chairman and CEO)
Robert M. Furek, (President & COO)
Heublein Inc. (also known as Heublein Spirits) was an American producer and distributor of alcoholic beverages and food throughout the 20th century. During the 1960s and 1970s its stock was regarded as one of the most stable financial investments, earning it inclusion in the Nifty Fifty.
Heublein was originally a restaurant in Hartford, Connecticut founded in 1862 by Andrew Heublein, a German American entrepreneur. He was soon joined in business by his two sons Gilbert F. and Louis Heublein. In 1875 they took an order to prepare a quantity of pre-mixed martini and manhattan cocktails for the annual picnic of the Governor's Foot Guard.[note 1] The event had to be cancelled due to rain. A few days later, a restaurant employee was instructed to dispose of the stored cocktails. But his curiosity led to the discovery and declaration that the alcoholic drinks were "still good". It had been duly noted by the two brothers, who started selling pre-mixed cocktails in the restaurant. These ready-made cocktails were so popular that a distillery was built just to satisfy the increasing demand. The business became Gilbert F. Heublein and Bro. upon its transfer to Andrew's sons Gilbert and Louis Heublein in 1890, when the focus was turning towards their lucrative line of "ready-made" alcoholic cocktail drinks. In 1906 the business gained the rights to distribute (and later produce) A1 Steak Sauce for the US market, under license from Brand & Co. Ltd. of Vauxhall, London, UK. Heublein started sales in the US under the name "Brand's A.1. Sauce" .[note 2] Early in the 20th century, A.1. sauce was a decidedly secondary sideline to Heublein's thriving cocktail business, with its promotions and advertising copy aimed at the carriage trade, delivering to hotels and even directly to the "consumer" at home. When they incorporated in the State of Connecticut on December 2, 1915, they already had offices in New York as well as Hartford.[note 3] As the 1920s dawned, Heublein's business encountered a major problem, but an unexpected savior appeared from within. The US rights for A.1. Sauce proved fortuitous when their "secondary sideline" became the only product item they were legally permitted to sell for the next thirteen years. The production, transportation and sale of all other Heublein products became illegal in the USA upon enactment of a national prohibition of alcoholic drinks in 1920 and lasting until its repeal in 1933.
In 1938 Heublein acquired all rights to Smirnoff Vodka, a brand that had been produced in Russia prior to the October Revolution. Heublein is credited with popularizing vodka in the United States by marketing Smirnoff as "White Whiskey", and with the phrase "leaves you breathless" the probable source of the mistaken belief that vodka consumption leaves no tell-tale odor. Smirnoff became one of Heublein's most successful brands. Heublein also acquired distribution rights in the United States to many other international spirit, wine, and beer brands including Don Q Rum, Jose Cuervo, Black & White, Harvey's Bristol Cream, Irish Mist liqueur, Bell's whisky, Guinness Stout, Lancer's wines, and Bass Ale. Heublein also held American import and distribution rights to non-alcoholic beverages such as Perrier mineral water and Rose's Lime Juice.
Heublein's line of pre-mixed alcoholic cocktails included traditional drinks like Manhattans, martinis, stingers, sidecars, and daiquiris, as well as trendier drinks such as the popular Brass Monkey, Star Stream Tiki and Hobo's Wife. In 1969, Heublein began selling some of these cocktails in eight-ounce cans. In the 1970s, Heublein introduced a new line of drinks named "Malcolm Hereford's Cow". This was a flavored, 30-proof alcoholic milk drink that was mostly popular with women and college students regardless of gender. It enjoyed a brief fad before vanishing into obscurity.
It also made many acquisitions outside of the liquor market, acquiring Grey Poupon in 1936, Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1971, and Hart's Bakeries in 1972. In 1969, Heublein purchased a majority stake in United Vintners, which owned Inglenook, for $100 million. That same year, Heublein also purchased Beaulieu Vineyards for $8.5 million. These acquisitions gave Heublein one of the largest winemaking operations in the United States.
Heublein owned the fast-food chain KFC in the 1970s.
Acquisition and Selloff
In 1982, the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company acquired Heublein Inc. for $1.4 billion. In the corporate reorganizations that followed the merger of R.J. Reynolds and Nabisco, the resulting corporation, RJR Nabisco, began selling off many of Heublein's assets. RJR Nabisco sold Kentucky Fried Chicken to Pepsico in 1986 and sold the Heublein division and its alcoholic beverage brands to Grand Metropolitan in 1987. In 1995, RJ Reynolds sold the Ortega Mexican foods product line.
- The Connecticut Governor's Foot Guard is a unit in the Connecticut state militia, originally charged with guarding and escorting the Governor of Connecticut.
- Some sources have 1895 for the year of acquiring A1 Sauce rights, but 1895 doesn't fit well in the originating Brand & Co. Ltd.'s historical timeline in Britain, and is not supported by advertising collectibles on eBay until 1907. The source of the more likely A1 Sauce license date of 1906 describes it not as a license or rights, but that Heublein bought the whole company from England, something easily shown to be untrue by the English company and product's continued exitence until 1959. Heublein kept the product name of Brand's A.1. Sauce into the middle of the 1930s, when the original brand name of Brand's was removed, along with the second of the two now larger dots in A•1•, as it became known as just A•1 Sauce. In the middle of the 1960s, the word "Steak" was inserted, just as the remaining dot was removed. By 1966, it had the almost iconic "A1 Steak Sauce" name that would take it into the 21st century. The 1906 introduction into America, along with minor name changes in the middle of the 1930s and 1960s decades are all well supported by a correlation between dates and the brand name in the advertising itself (not in the seller's loose description) of pertinent advertising collectibles, usually available on the eBay online auction web site.
- Some older descriptions of the company claimed Heublein had offices in London, UK and Frankfurt, Germany as soon as they incorporated, but there seems to be no reliable source indication or advertising evidence of this. The First World War had already been raging in Europe for eighteen months by the time of incorporation, and with its immediate aftermath establishing a new business market in Europe was impossible for the rest of the 1910s decade, as Europe's needs went beyond American condiment offices. In the 1920s, Heublein could only sell A1 Sauce, and for that they only held the US rights. It seems unlikely that they could get or would need a London and Frankfurt office until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 at the earliest.
- "Heublein, Inc.". International Directory of Company Histories.1988. Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
- "Brand & Co - Historical Timeline)". Grace's Guide to British Industrial History. Grace's Guide Online Library, Oxford, UK. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
- Blue, Anthony (2004). The Complete Book of Spirits: A Guide to Their History, Production, and Enjoyment. HarperCollins. p. 336. ISBN 978-0-06-054218-4.
- "Modern Living: Cows with a Kick". Time. 1976-04-19.
- Steven Kolpan (1999). A Sense Of Place. Psychology Press. p. 97.
- Hicks, Jonathan (1987-01-17). "Grand met to buy nabisco's heublein". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-19.