Bottle #25: Seagram’s Cherry Cola Schnapps

Bottle #25 is Seagram’s Cherry Cola Schnapps. When I searched for that combination of words online, I found exactly one hit, referencing a photographic print in Box 37 of the Seagram company archive located at the Hagley Museum in Delaware. It is dated 1986, so that’s what I’m going to assume for this bottle.

And that timing makes perfect sense. The Coca-Cola company released Cherry Coke in 1985, so it would have been a perfect opportunity to capitalize on the new drink’s popularity. Cherry Coke was the first flavored Coke product, although of course in the days of soda fountains cherry syrup was a common addition to cola. Coke tested a variety of flavors at the World’s Fair held in Knoxville, TN in 1982, and cherry won out over lemon, lime and vanilla. And while it wasn’t a groundbreaking idea, it did position them to fight another cherry flavored cola – Dr Pepper.

Read the rest of the story

I could tell you more about Cherry Coke’s history, but that’s not the point of this project. You can check out this link for lots of fun facts, like just how many Cherry Cokes Warren Buffet drinks every day. And if you come back next week, you’ll be able to find out how this one tasted! But since there’s not much more to say about the product itself, I’m going to start telling you about Seagram’s.

In My Tiny Bottle land, Seagram’s first comes up with bottle #16, Chemineaud Fine Brandy, which was one of their many brands. I’d heard the name before, of course – Seagram’s 7 and Seagram’s Gin are ubiquitous brands even today. But for decades the Seagram’s name was the biggest in the liquor industry in the world. How that happened, and how it fell apart, is a soap-opera worthy story.

Although Seagram is the name all this is happening under, this story isn’t really about anybody named Seagram. It’s really about the Bronfman family.

In 1898 Ekiel Bronfman brought his family from Czarist Russia to Manitoba, Canada, fleeing antisemitism. After a variety of jobs like trading horses and selling firewood, the family eventually invested in hotels. As described by a family member later, “hotel” in this case was best thought of as “a euphemism for a bar, a pool table, a kitchen and a couple of rooms upstairs,” with the businesses catering to the railway boom of the early 1900s. But it was a successful venture for them.

Until 1915, that is, when Saskatchewan imposed Prohibition, followed by Manitoba a year later. (Yes, Canada had a Prohibition phase too! It wasn’t just a US thing, although Canada didn’t enforce it with nearly as much zeal.) Bar revenues and liquor sales had been key to the success of the family’s hotels, so when that dried up, they had to figure out what to do next. And strangely enough, it was Prohibition that led them to liquor.

You can read all about Prohibition in Canada here, but suffice it to say that it was a hot mess. The Bronfman family became experts at exploiting the loopholes, purchasing a drug wholesale company which allowed them to buy so-called “medicinal alcohol” in bulk to sell to druggists. One of the brothers, Sam, headed to still-wet Montreal, Quebec where he set up a store to allow travelers to stock up before train trips to the dry provinces out west. Then they set up a mail order business involving warehouses in Montreal and Saskatchewan, since inter-provincial sales weren’t prohibited. By the time that loophole closed, a much bigger opportunity had opened up – US Prohibition.

While Canada was facing its own Prohibition, the authorities knew an opportunity when they saw one, and for a while there were no restrictions on Canadian distilleries and wholesalers selling to American customers, with various taxes and duties being collected. When the US government successfully pressured Canada to close that loophole, the Bronfmans started selling to a pair of French owned islands off the coast of Newfoundland.

The Bronfmans have been characterized as bootleggers by many, but they always insisted that they acted within the bounds of the law, and a 1933 court case against them was eventually thrown out. But business was definitely booming, and they opened their first distillery in Quebec in 1924. And just a few years later they would purchase a Waterloo, Ontario distilling company called Seagram, and the next phase of the story would begin. Stay tuned for the next bottle of Seagram’s product to hear more about that.

Watch me taste this bottle with Camper English.

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Bottle #25: Seagram’s Cherry Cola Schnapps

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Bottle #25 is Seagram’s Cherry Cola Schnapps. When I searched for that combination of words online, I found exactly one hit, referencing a photographic print in Box 37 of the Seagram company archive located at the Hagley Museum in Delaware. It is dated 1986, so that’s what I’m going to assume for this bottle.

And that timing makes perfect sense. The Coca-Cola company released Cherry Coke in 1985, so it would have been a perfect opportunity to capitalize on the new drink’s popularity. Cherry Coke was the first flavored Coke product, although of course in the days of soda fountains cherry syrup was a common addition to cola. Coke tested a variety of flavors at the World’s Fair held in Knoxville, TN in 1982, and cherry won out over lemon, lime and vanilla. And while it wasn’t a groundbreaking idea, it did position them to fight another cherry flavored cola – Dr Pepper.

I could tell you more about Cherry Coke’s history, but that’s not the point of this project. You can check out this link for lots of fun facts, like just how many Cherry Cokes Warren Buffet drinks every day. And if you come back next week, you’ll be able to find out how this one tasted! But since there’s not much more to say about the product itself, I’m going to start telling you about Seagram’s.

In My Tiny Bottle land, Seagram’s first comes up with bottle #16, Chemineaud Fine Brandy, which was one of their many brands. I’d heard the name before, of course – Seagram’s 7 and Seagram’s Gin are ubiquitous brands even today. But for decades the Seagram’s name was the biggest in the liquor industry in the world. How that happened, and how it fell apart, is a soap-opera worthy story.

Although Seagram is the name all this is happening under, this story isn’t really about anybody named Seagram. It’s really about the Bronfman family.

In 1898 Ekiel Bronfman brought his family from Czarist Russia to Manitoba, Canada, fleeing antisemitism. After a variety of jobs like trading horses and selling firewood, the family eventually invested in hotels. As described by a family member later, “hotel” in this case was best thought of as “a euphemism for a bar, a pool table, a kitchen and a couple of rooms upstairs,” with the businesses catering to the railway boom of the early 1900s. But it was a successful venture for them.

Until 1915, that is, when Saskatchewan imposed Prohibition, followed by Manitoba a year later. (Yes, Canada had a Prohibition phase too! It wasn’t just a US thing, although Canada didn’t enforce it with nearly as much zeal.) Bar revenues and liquor sales had been key to the success of the family’s hotels, so when that dried up, they had to figure out what to do next. And strangely enough, it was Prohibition that led them to liquor.

You can read all about Prohibition in Canada here, but suffice it to say that it was a hot mess. The Bronfman family became experts at exploiting the loopholes, purchasing a drug wholesale company which allowed them to buy so-called “medicinal alcohol” in bulk to sell to druggists. One of the brothers, Sam, headed to still-wet Montreal, Quebec where he set up a store to allow travelers to stock up before train trips to the dry provinces out west. Then they set up a mail order business involving warehouses in Montreal and Saskatchewan, since inter-provincial sales weren’t prohibited. By the time that loophole closed, a much bigger opportunity had opened up – US Prohibition.

While Canada was facing its own Prohibition, the authorities knew an opportunity when they saw one, and for a while there were no restrictions on Canadian distilleries and wholesalers selling to American customers, with various taxes and duties being collected. When the US government successfully pressured Canada to close that loophole, the Bronfmans started selling to a pair of French owned islands off the coast of Newfoundland.

The Bronfmans have been characterized as bootleggers by many, but they always insisted that they acted within the bounds of the law, and a 1933 court case against them was eventually thrown out. But business was definitely booming, and they opened their first distillery in Quebec in 1924. And just a few years later they would purchase a Waterloo, Ontario distilling company called Seagram, and the next phase of the story would begin. Stay tuned for the next bottle of Seagram’s product to hear more about that.

Watch me taste this bottle with Camper English.

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