The world has changed considerably since William Grant & Sons Ltd. was established in 1887. But not everything has changed. Now, just as then, William Grant & Sons is committed to operating a passionate organization that is devoted to quality and building the most coveted portfolio of spirits in the industry.
“We are an independent, privately-held company that has been built with our founder William Grant's passion for spirits at the core,” Senior Vice President of Marketing – North America Jonathan Yusen says. “We invest heavily not only in building our brands but also in crafting the best products for our consumers, our bartenders and our trade partners.”
Headquartered in the United Kingdom, William Grant & Sons is a super-premium spirits company. Run by the fifth generation of the Grant family, the company has been named Distiller of the Year nine times in the past 12 years by the International Spirits Challenge and International Wine & Spirits Competition. Because it remains family owned, the company does not answer to shareholders in the way publicly listed companies do; William Grant & Sons’ shareholders are the descendants of William Grant, who share his passion and dedication. This allows the company to continuously strive to pioneer and innovate.
In the United States, the company’s William Grant & Sons USA wholly owned subsidiary was founded in 1964. It has sales and marketing offices in New York City and bottling and warehouse facilities in Edison, N.J.
William Grant & Sons operates with financial flexibility and has a core mission of producing spirits that put quality first. It strives to be responsive to consumer trends, an attitude that has allowed the company to grow from a single distillery to an industry leader.
The company’s brands are among the most recognizable in the industry. Its core global brands include Glenfiddich, The Balvenie, Tullamore Dew, Hendrick's, Sailor Jerry and Grant's. The company’s local, agency and innovation brands include Stolichnaya, Milagro, Clan MacGregor, Hudson Whiskey, Monkey Shoulder, Gibson’s Finest, Art in the Age, Reyka Vodka, The Knot, Bols Liqueurs, Lillet and Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur.
The Glenfiddich range of single-malt whiskies has become one of the world’s most awarded collections of whiskies. It is today the world’s best-selling single malt Scotch whisky. The Glenfiddich 12 Year Old is aged for at least 12 years in oak barrels before being bottled and exported. It has a presence in more than 180 countries around the world.
“William Grant's dream was that one day he would create the best dram in the valley,” Yusen says. “Today, Glenfiddich is the world’s most awarded single malt and his dream now serves as inspiration for our ‘One Day You Will’ brand campaign.”
The Glenfiddich 15 Year Old is created using a unique process – the Glenfiddich Solera System. Matured in three different types of oak cask (sherry, traditional bourbon and new oak), the whiskey then goes into the large, handcrafted wooden Solera Vat. The vat is always kept at least half full to ensure consistency and balance before the process is completed in smaller Solera Tuns.
The Glenfiddich 18 Year Old is a rare single malt that matures in Oloroso sherry casks and traditional bourbon casks. The Glenfiddich 21 Year Old matures in casks previously used for aged Caribbean rum. The Glenfiddich 30 Year Old is known for an aroma of oakiness matched by fruit and sherry notes; a taste of woody, dark chocolate and floral sweetness; and a long, honeyed and warm finish.
Glenfiddich has received plenty of recognition over the years. This includes double gold medals for the 15-year-old and 21-year-old Scotch at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and gold best-in-class awards for the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old, Glenfiddich Rich Oak and Glenfiddich 40 Year Old at the International Wine & Spirits Competition.
Beyond the core Glenfiddich offerings lies a pioneering spirit. Such is the story of the Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix, which came into being after a snow-filled winter caused some warehouse roofs to collapse and exposed spirit-filled casks to low temperatures. The company created a special edition to commemorate the event.
“Our malt master Brian Kinsman saw this event as a unique opportunity to craft a pioneering whiskey with our very precious aging stock,” Yusen says. “Snow Phoenix sold out within months of hitting the market, appealing to Scotch enthusiasts and collectors alike.”
The company also created a 55-year-old Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve whiskey in honor of the 110th birthday of Janet Sheed Roberts, who was the granddaughter of William Grant and at one time the oldest woman in Scotland. The company sold a bottle for $94,000 at a charity auction held on New York’s Liberty Island.
Moving on from Glenfiddich, The Balvenie is considered to be the most handcrafted single-malt Scotch. It is created practicing the five rare crafts of homegrown barley, floor malting, coppersmith, on-site cooperage and a malt master, David Stewart. The Balvenie has grown to become the sixth-largest single malt by value and the 10th by volume, according to the company.
“The Balvenie is widely regarded as the world's most handcrafted single malt scotch,” Yusen says. “This is because we're the only distillery to use what we call our five rare crafts. Nowhere else will you find a distillery that still grows its own barley, malts in its own traditional malting floor, employs coopers to tend every cask, a coppersmith to maintain the stills, and a malt master, in our case the esteemed David Stewart, to ensure that the resulting spirit is consistently excellent. Many people say The Balvenie makes scotch the old-fashioned way – we like to say it's the right way.”
The Balvenie has received many international awards. At the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, it received double gold medals for The Balvenie 14 Year Old Single Malt Scotch, Caribbean Cask, as well as The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch, Thirty. It also received gold medals for The Balvenie 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch and The Balvenie 15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch, Single Barrel.
At the International Wine & Spirits Competition, The Balvenie earned the single-malt Scotch whiskey 15 Years-and-over trophy for The Balvenie 30 Year Old. The company also earned the gold best-in-class award for The Balvenie Portwood 21 Year Old and The Balvenie Peated Cask 17 Year Old.
The company’s portfolio also includes Tullamore Dew. Created by Daniel E. Williams and founded in 1829, it has been part of the William Grant & Sons portfolio since 2010. It is the second-largest Irish whiskey in the global market and sells more than 650,000 cases each year.
This year, Tullamore Dew is in the midst of a renovation of its global communications campaign and packaging. Tullamore Dew is also being returned to its home in Tullamore, as William Grant & Sons is building a state-of-the-art distillery in Tullamore and continues to invest in Ireland through the Heritage Centre in Tullamore. An award-winning spirit, Tullamore Dew has taken home the gold best-in-class at the International Wine and Spirits Competition for the Tullamore Dew 10 Year Old.
As for Hendrick’s Gin, it was created in 2003 and has seen significant growth in a category that has otherwise stagnated. It is the world’s fastest-growing super-premium gin with 50 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR). Hendrick’s has been recognized for quality with medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and International Wine & Spirits Competition, was proclaimed the world’s best gin by the Wall Street Journal in 2003 and was named Distillery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast in 2010.
“The success of Hendrick’s can be tied directly to being a bartender favorite,” Yusen says. “It has a unique, fresh nose which makes for a great premium martini, but mixologists have also turned the versatility of Hendrick’s into countless delicious cocktails – always with our trademark cucumber as a garnish.”
“Hendrick’s Gin is a great case study that exemplifies our commitment to and investment in our brands, particularly our unwillingness to sacrifice long-term growth over short-term gain,” adds Simon Hunt, president of William Grant & Sons USA and managing director of North America. “When Hendrick’s was first released, it wasn’t a runaway hit. But we saw potential and continued to cultivate the brand, allowing it to grow organically with help from smart sales and marketing strategies.”
Sailor Jerry, on the other hand, is a spiced rum that has become a lifestyle brand. It was launched in 2001 and named after Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, a prominent American tattoo artist who passed away in 1973. William Grant & Sons acquired the brand in 2008.
The brand had the highest five-year CAGR of all international rum brands from 2005 to 2010, selling 750,000 cases in 2010. It is another brand in the William Grant & Sons portfolio that has been recognized for quality, having earned a gold best-in-class award at the International Wine & Spirits Competition.
The last of the company’s core global brands is its namesake, Grant’s blended Scotch. It is the third most popular blended Scotch in the world. Grant’s 25 Year Old earned a gold at the International Wine & Spirits Competition.
Across the board, sales for these brands are up and either leading the category or outperforming it in almost all cases. Year over year, Hendrick’s is up 31 percent – making it the fastest-growing spirit in the United States – Sailor Jerry is up 24 percent and Glenfiddich is up 10 percent. The Balvenie is up 23.5 percent in the last month alone.
Beyond the global brands are the local, agency and innovation brands. The brands are indicative of William Grant & Sons’ belief in the importance of investing in the brands for the long term.
“Unlike other spirits companies who focus solely on the immediate sales results of a new product, we are able to give these unique brands the resources and confidence to grow on their own terms,” Hunt says. “This approach nurtures the relationship that the brands have with consumers, creating drinkers who are not only loyal customers but also fierce advocates.”
The local brands include Milagro Tequila, Clan MacGregor and Bennett Family wines. William Grant & Sons acquired a 100 percent stake in Milagro Tequila, which was founded in 1997 and is made from 100 percent estate-grown, hand-selected blue agave in Tepatitlan in Mexico’s Jalisco region. Milagro Tequila is triple distilled and aged longer than any other tequila.
“Milagro is truly tequila, evolved,” Yusen says. “With a very agave-forward flavor, Milagro is a tequila-lovers tequila, whether it’s Milagro Silver, often used in a delicious margarita; Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Reposado, to be sipped and savored. Most recently, we've crafted Milagro Unico, a joven with tequila from our unique micro-distillation process, and the limited production brand sells for $300 per bottle.”
Clan MacGregor is a Scotch whisky that can be found in 30 countries. It is a popular blended Scotch whisky in the United States. Bennett is based in California and produces chardonnay in the Russian River Valley and cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley.
William Grant & Sons agency brands includes Stolichnaya, Lillet and Bols. Stolichnaya, known to most of us as Stoli, is one of the world’s leading vodka brands. It is known for quality, innovation, premium ingredients, consistency and a unique filtration process. As the category has evolved, Stoli has been an industry leader in the creation of premium flavored vodkas.
Lillet is a French wine-based aperitif made with a blend of 85 percent wine and 15 percent citrus liqueurs. Bols is an extensive line of cordials, schnapps and brandies that began in Holland 400 years ago.
The innovation brands are where William Grant & Sons sees much potential for the future. They include Solerno, Reyka, The Knot, Hudson Whiskey and Art in the Age. Solerno is a blood orange liqueur from Sicily, while Reyka is an Icelandic vodka. The Knot, meanwhile, is an Irish shot drink that is a 100 proof blend of Irish whiskey, other spirits, vanilla and spices.
Hudson Whiskey is a line of aged and unaged American spirits produced at Tuthilltown Distillery in Gardiner, N.Y. Lastly, Art in the Age is a line of spirits grounded in American traditions; Root is an 80-proof liqueur that stems from an 18th century root tea recipe.
William Grant & Sons’ core global brands aren’t the only award-winning brands in its family of spirits. Milagro Silver Tequila and Hudson Baby Bourbon have won double gold medals, while Lillet Rosé and Stolichnaya Vodka Red took home single gold medals, at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Milagro tequila took home the tequila trophy for its Reposado and Reyka Vodka recently took the vodka trophy at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.
With offices, distilleries and a global network that has the company situated around the world, it is always looking for ways to make prudent investments that can help with everything from supply chain issues and quality assurance to corporate oversight and communications. William Grant & Sons operates a series of global distribution networks that allow for efficient transport.
“By using a combination of wholly owned, joint ventures and third-party distribution companies, we have been able to seamlessly meet consumer demands,” Hunt says.
The fact that William Grant & Sons was founded as a whiskey company has influenced the development of a corporate culture that takes a long view in all business decisions. Just like whiskey takes years to mature and become profitable, William Grant & Sons takes a measured approach to investing in the future. The opportunity and challenge in front of the company is one and the same: to build brands based on fantastic liquid and a passionate bartender, retailer and consumer base.
In the end, the company’s signature strength is the fact that it really does focus on doing things the right way. Hunt and Yusen agree that the company has a strong team in place with stellar expertise. This ensures that William Grant & Sons is employing the best practices, abiding by rules and regulations and taking steps to grow the business and bettering its strategies and ways of working.
At the core is a dedication to social responsibility and responsible marketing. William Grant & Sons abides by the DISCUS code but further developed its own, more stringent code to responsible marketing.
“Our primary goal still remains – to be the most coveted spirits portfolio,” Hunt says.