Early Times is a brand that can be dated all the way back to 1860. Just stop and think about that. In 1860 Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and South Carolina seceded from the union and formed the Confederate States of America. So to say that this brand has been around for a long time would be an understatement. They remained in production until prohibition was passed in 1918.
During prohibition only six distilleries were allowed to continue producing whiskey for medicinal purposes. Brown – Forman was one of the distilleries lucky enough to be granted the medical exemption, and in 1923 they purchased the brand and bourbon stocks from Early Times. Brown-Forman has owned the brand since that time, and has seen varying degrees of success with it. During a period in the 1950’s Early Times was actually the #1 Kentucky bourbon in the U.S.
As bourbon began to fall out of favor with consumers the Early Times brand fell by the way side and became a whiskey that was looked down on as being low quality and even lost the ability to call itself bourbon. Fast forward to 2017 and Brown-Forman released Early Times Bottled in Bond to great fanfare (read my review here), and began talking about resurrecting the storied brand.
Today it was announced that Brown-Forman has sold the early times brand to Sazerac. So what does that mean for the brand? Obviously first and foremost the whiskey in the bottle will be changing. The deal to purchase the brand most likely including some stock of what is currently being bottled as Early Times Bottled in Bond, but that stock will be exhausted and will be replaced with stock from most likely the Barton 1792 Distillery. What will this mean for quality? There is no way of really knowing. Beyond that I would imagine several brand extensions coming in the next few years. That has been Sazerac’s MO in recent years as they have expanded the 1792 and Weller lines, and plan on doing the same with the Benchmark brand this year. Barton is sitting on a stockpile of 12 year plus bourbon that they have sourcing out to people as well. It would make a lot of sense for them to use some of that stock to release a highly aged Early Times label at a premium price. All in all I would say this is a good pick up by Sazerac, and will be good for the Early Times brand in the long term. Brown-Forman has resurrected the brand from the ashes, and Sazerac has the marketing juice to really make this brand fly.