Bottle #53: Seagram’s Cara Mia

Bottle #53 is Seagram’s Cara Mia. I’d never heard of it before, but it’s a chocolate almond cream liqueur. Like the Seagram’s Amandine from Bottle #32, it’s in a totally generic “Seagram’s” bottle, with no flair. It’s like they thought they didn’t even need to try. Being Seagram’s was enough.

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In terms of dating, just like with the other Seagram’s bottles I’ve found from this period, there’s a photograph of it in the archives of the Hagley Museum & Library in Delaware. This one is dated 1978. So that’s a start date, and one that makes sense, since the original cream liqueur Bailey’s had come out in the mid-1970s, spawning dozens of copycats like this one. However, that 1978 date might have been just a concept drawing; the only other evidence I can find of Cara Mia’s existence is an article from 1985, where it is included in an article talking about new products. One amusing side note: the company quoted in the article is none other than Product Initiatives, who featured prominently in Bottle #46 – Mandalay. Anyway, let’s say 1980s for this bottle.

And that’s about all there is to say about it. But I’m not done saying stuff about Seagram. Clearly a company that releases Cara Mia cream liqueur is a different kind of company than it was when we last left off their story. In the Seagram’s Amandine episode we left the Bronfman family at the end of the 1940s, when they had recently released the hugely popular and carefully crafted Five Crown and Seven Crown blended whiskies and were reigning kings of the Big Four that dominated the North American market.

So how do you get from there, to chocolate almond cream liqueur?

In the 1950s, Seagram was all about growth. As I noted in Bottle #33 – Captain Morgan, Seagram has already started expanding into rum in the 1940s. That continued in the 1950s, when they picked up Myers Rum (and eventually turned that into a cream liqueur too – see Bottle #45). In 1958 they acquired Chemineaud Freres brandy, and it was my tiny bottle of that (see Bottle #16) that made me realize that the Seagram company was going to be a regular recurring character in this project! The 40s and 50s also saw them expand heavily into wine.

They also diversified into non-beverage fields. In the 1950s they made their first investment into oil, when they purchased Frankfort Oil in Oklahoma, and followed that up in the 1960s with the purchase of the much larger Texas Pacific Coal & Oil. This kind of diversification was not unique to Seagram; many of their competitors were making acquisitions outside their core product as well. But what was different was the extent to which those actions were taken not necessarily for strategic reasons, but because that’s what Mr. Sam wanted.

Because the OTHER thing Seagram’s was all about in the 1950s and 60s was Sam Bronfman. I mentioned in my last episode about Seagram that Mr. Sam positioned himself as a power broker and cut other family members out, and that was even more so in these years. Sam was brutal in forcing family members to give up shares and rights to leadership in the company, and groomed his own sons Charles and Edgar to assume his mantle.

I don’t think it would be wrong to describe the company as a cult of personality during those years. Sam had his fingers in everything, and no decisions would be made without him, even minor ones that in other companies would be taken care of lower down the ladder. The Seagram Board was full of his cronies, with the typical meeting agenda being “declare a dividend and have a drink.”

Seagram was something of a multi-headed hydra. Distillers Corporation Seagram Limited in Montreal was the parent company, and Joseph E Seagram & Sons Inc was its (much larger) US affiliate, located in New York. The company built a much-lauded skyscraper in NYC to serve as their headquarters. The construction was overseen by Sam’s daughter Phyllis, and the building was designed by famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The New York Times would call it one of the city’s “most copied” buildings. Located at 375 Park Avenue, it’s still referred to as the Seagram Building today.

The US operation had three “autonomous” subsidiaries – Seagram, Calvert, and Frankfort – who produced their own product lines and to a certain extent competed against each other. Which was fine, because all the profits eventually landed in the same pot. And Sam had opinions about all of it. But he was getting older, and in 1957 officially named his younger son, Edgar, as his successor. Edgar took over as President, and took charge of the American operation, while eldest son Charles headed up the Canadian side. But Edgar would later say he didn’t have any real control over the company until at least 1963. And perhaps not the real power until Sam Bronfman’s death in 1971.

So what did Edgar do with that power? That will have to wait until next time I find a boring Seagram’s bottle. Which I’m sure I will!

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Bottle #53: Seagram’s Cara Mia

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Bottle #53 is Seagram’s Cara Mia. I’d never heard of it before, but it’s a chocolate almond cream liqueur. Like the Seagram’s Amandine from Bottle #32, it’s in a totally generic “Seagram’s” bottle, with no flair. It’s like they thought they didn’t even need to try. Being Seagram’s was enough.

In terms of dating, just like with the other Seagram’s bottles I’ve found from this period, there’s a photograph of it in the archives of the Hagley Museum & Library in Delaware. This one is dated 1978. So that’s a start date, and one that makes sense, since the original cream liqueur Bailey’s had come out in the mid-1970s, spawning dozens of copycats like this one. However, that 1978 date might have been just a concept drawing; the only other evidence I can find of Cara Mia’s existence is an article from 1985, where it is included in an article talking about new products. One amusing side note: the company quoted in the article is none other than Product Initiatives, who featured prominently in Bottle #46 – Mandalay. Anyway, let’s say 1980s for this bottle.

And that’s about all there is to say about it. But I’m not done saying stuff about Seagram. Clearly a company that releases Cara Mia cream liqueur is a different kind of company than it was when we last left off their story. In the Seagram’s Amandine episode we left the Bronfman family at the end of the 1940s, when they had recently released the hugely popular and carefully crafted Five Crown and Seven Crown blended whiskies and were reigning kings of the Big Four that dominated the North American market.

So how do you get from there, to chocolate almond cream liqueur?

In the 1950s, Seagram was all about growth. As I noted in Bottle #33 – Captain Morgan, Seagram has already started expanding into rum in the 1940s. That continued in the 1950s, when they picked up Myers Rum (and eventually turned that into a cream liqueur too – see Bottle #45). In 1958 they acquired Chemineaud Freres brandy, and it was my tiny bottle of that (see Bottle #16) that made me realize that the Seagram company was going to be a regular recurring character in this project! The 40s and 50s also saw them expand heavily into wine.

They also diversified into non-beverage fields. In the 1950s they made their first investment into oil, when they purchased Frankfort Oil in Oklahoma, and followed that up in the 1960s with the purchase of the much larger Texas Pacific Coal & Oil. This kind of diversification was not unique to Seagram; many of their competitors were making acquisitions outside their core product as well. But what was different was the extent to which those actions were taken not necessarily for strategic reasons, but because that’s what Mr. Sam wanted.

Because the OTHER thing Seagram’s was all about in the 1950s and 60s was Sam Bronfman. I mentioned in my last episode about Seagram that Mr. Sam positioned himself as a power broker and cut other family members out, and that was even more so in these years. Sam was brutal in forcing family members to give up shares and rights to leadership in the company, and groomed his own sons Charles and Edgar to assume his mantle.

I don’t think it would be wrong to describe the company as a cult of personality during those years. Sam had his fingers in everything, and no decisions would be made without him, even minor ones that in other companies would be taken care of lower down the ladder. The Seagram Board was full of his cronies, with the typical meeting agenda being “declare a dividend and have a drink.”

Seagram was something of a multi-headed hydra. Distillers Corporation Seagram Limited in Montreal was the parent company, and Joseph E Seagram & Sons Inc was its (much larger) US affiliate, located in New York. The company built a much-lauded skyscraper in NYC to serve as their headquarters. The construction was overseen by Sam’s daughter Phyllis, and the building was designed by famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The New York Times would call it one of the city’s “most copied” buildings. Located at 375 Park Avenue, it’s still referred to as the Seagram Building today.

The US operation had three “autonomous” subsidiaries – Seagram, Calvert, and Frankfort – who produced their own product lines and to a certain extent competed against each other. Which was fine, because all the profits eventually landed in the same pot. And Sam had opinions about all of it. But he was getting older, and in 1957 officially named his younger son, Edgar, as his successor. Edgar took over as President, and took charge of the American operation, while eldest son Charles headed up the Canadian side. But Edgar would later say he didn’t have any real control over the company until at least 1963. And perhaps not the real power until Sam Bronfman’s death in 1971.

So what did Edgar do with that power? That will have to wait until next time I find a boring Seagram’s bottle. Which I’m sure I will!

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