Heublein is one of the forgotten success stories in the American spirits industry.
Based in Connecticut, Heublein started off as a restaurant and hotel business in 1862. The company began selling premixed cocktails in 1892. Three years later, it buys up A1 Steak Sauce, in a fortuitous move that eventually helps it survive Prohibition.
Then in 1939, Heublein makes a deal that at the time seemed crazy, but today looks very much like the large vat of gold coins that Scrooge McDuck likes to swim in; in 1939, Heublein buys the rights to Smirnoff Vodka. Heublein eventually has either full ownership of, or the distribution rights to, an impressive portfolio of spirits, wines, and beers: Don Q rum, Cuervo tequila, Black & White blended scotch, Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry, Guinness stout, Bass ale, Hamm’s beer, and Inglenook wines. Further, Heublein diversified into foods, owning KFC, Ortega Mexican foods, and Grey Poupon, among others.
Heublein may be the biggest name you’ve (probably) never heard of. So what happened to Heublein? Mergers and acquisitions. In 1982, RJ Reynolds purchased the company. After Reynolds merged with Nabisco in 1985, RJRNabisco started selling off its Heublein holdings. Finally, in 1987, RJRN sold Heublein’s booze portfolio to Grand Metropolitan … which may be another biggest name you’ve (probably) never heard of.
So, what then happened to Grand Met? A 1997 merger with Guinness happened, forming a company you probably have heard of: Diageo. (If you haven’t, you’ve heard of its brands: Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Ketel One, Tanqueray, Captain Morgan, Crown Royal, Seagram’s, and Bushmills, among others.)
But Heublein marketed its own line of spirits. Here’s an ad from January 11, 1937, for one of its gin brands. Note that the ad even mentions the premixed cocktails that Heublein offers.
Incidentally, I do have some ads that feature the Club Cocktail line, and I’ll get to them soon enough, but there’s already a great write-up of the line at 12 Bottle Bar.