After the war, Schenley continued to grow. Between the end of the war and 1950, Schenley become the distributor for Kahlua in the United States; acquired the Pebbleford Distillery in Ekron, Kentucky; 50% of Dowling Bros. Distillery in Burgin, Kentucky; Chess and Wymond Cooperage; a grain alcohol distillery in Kansas City, Missouri and the American Wine Company. They acquired the Melrose Rye trademark and the Cook’s Imperial Champagne brand. When the War in Korea started, Schenley started expanding their warehouses and production. Lewis Rosenstiel thought the Korean War would become another worldwide war and the production of beverage alcohol would be stopped and they would be forced to make industrial alcohol. This never happened and Schenley made a major mishap by heavily overproducing whiskey in the first four years of the 1950s.
Schenley continued to expand during the early 1950s. In 1952 Schenley acquired the J.W. Dant Distillery in Gethsemane, Kentucky and their brands. In 1954 Schenley built a distillery in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and gained controlling interest in Park And Tilford Co. They introduced Canadian O.F.C., Canadian Golden Wedding and Canadian MacNaughton brands. In 1956, they acquired Seager, Evans & Co., Ltd. and their brands. In 1958, after losing the bid for Jack Daniel to Brown-Forman, they decided to rebuild the Cascade Hollow Distillery near Tullahoma, Tennessee and revive the Geo. A. Dickel Tennessee Whisky brand. A consumer survey found that after the number “7”, “8” and “12” were the most popular numbers for whiskey and they create the brands “Geo. A. Dickel No. 8” and Geo. A. Dickel No 12”.
The late 1950s almost saw an end to Schenley. Due to their overproduction at the beginning of the decade they were left with huge stocks of whiskey in the warehouse. Schenley had been closing down distilleries since the end of the Korean War, but they could not sell all of the whiskey they owned before the eight year bonding period was over. The tax bill would come due after eight years and that would bankrupt the company. Rosenstiel lobbied Congress to change the bonding period from 8 to 20 years. The extra time would give them the chance to sell the whiskey in their warehouses down to a point that would not bankrupt the company. In 1958, the bonding period was increased and Schenley was saved from bankruptcy.
Schenley had survived, but still had a huge quantity of barrels of whiskey aging in the warehouse. To make matters worse, the 1960s saw the growth of spirits such as vodka and tequila, reducing the popularity of whiskey. Schenley tried to boost their sales by introducing older expressions of their brands such as Old Charter 10 and 12 year old expressions, but that did little to rid them of the excess whiskey in their warehouses. They pushed for the 1964 resolution making Bourbon a product of the United States. They created the Bourbon Institute to promote the idea and Bourbon overseas, as well as in the United States. They also took the I.W. Harper brand into the export market. They entered Harper into 110 countries by the mid-1960s. By the end of the decade, Schenley was beginning to sell off some of their assets and brands.
In 1968, Lewis Rosenstiel retired and sold his controlling interest to Glen Alden Corporation. He died in 1976 at the age of 84. Glen Alden Corporation begins to sell off Schenley assets piece by piece. In 1972, Schenley introduces several brands of “light whiskey”, but that was the last gasp of the giant. In 1983, a group of Schenley executives purchased the Ancient Age Distillery (formerly the Geo. T. Stagg Distillery) in Frankfort and went on as an independent company. In 1987, Schenley was sold to United Distillers and ceased to exist as an independent company.
Schenley had a huge impact on the spirits industry in the United States. They were a very hard-ball business to deal with as the Motlows found out during Prohibition. Their overproduction in the 1950s meant that they kept the price of Bourbon low in the 60s and 70s, cheapening the reputation of Bourbon and contributing to the decline of Bourbon sales in that period. At the same time they were a company that people liked to work for. During the war, employees who served in the military were not forgotten. Their families received a stipend equal to one week’s pay each month while the employee was in the military and was guaranteed their job back after the war. Rosenstiel encouraged the workers to form a union and was known to speak to workers during visits, knowing many of them by their first name. Schenley’s efforts to open foreign markets benefited the industry as a whole. The company was a giant of its time, but faded away and is mostly forgotten today.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller