Goldring is chairman and owner of Sazerac, the second largest spirits producer in the U.S. Its brands include Southern Comfort, Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, Fris vodka and Fireball cinnamon whisky, the fastest growing spirit in the U.S. He also owns has ownership interest in beer distributors along the gulf coast.
In 2010, Goldring sold his ownership stake in Republic National Distributing Co., the successor to Magnolia Liquor Co. and at the time the nation’s second-largest wholesaler of wine and spirits.
With nearly 2,000 employees, 300 brands and revenues that have doubled every five years for the last 30 years, the Sazerac Co. isn’t just the largest producer of distilled spirits in America. It’s one of the largest in the world, with a diverse portfolio of top-selling brands including Buffalo Trace, Fireball, Blanton’s, Taaka, Eagle Rare, Margaritaville, Old Mr. Boston and its latest acquisitions, Southern Comfort and Paddy Irish Whiskey.
It’s also, perhaps surprisingly, one of the oldest family-owned businesses in New Orleans; the company traces its origins to 1850.
It was that tiny manufacturing company that the founders of Magnolia Liquor Co., Stephen Goldring and Malcolm Woldenberg, purchased in 1948 to complement their fledgling wholesale business.
For much of its 20th century existence, the Sazerac Co. was known primarily for one product: Taaka vodka, the value brand that Goldring and Woldenberg introduced in 1958 and which eventually became one of the top-selling vodkas in America.
On the strength of Taaka, the Sazerac Co. grew modestly through the 1970s and 1980s, but it was a decision Goldring made in 1992 that ultimately set the company on its current trajectory.
That was the year Goldring purchased a dilapidated distillery on the banks of the Kentucky River in Frankfort, Kentucky. At first glance, Goldring’s decision to acquire the former Ancient Age distillery was ill-conceived at best. Bourbon sales were nearing an all-time low, and the antiquated facility was drowning in its own costly inventory. But Goldring’s vision for Sazerac had always involved bourbon.
Rechristening it Buffalo Trace Distillery, the Sazerac Co. spent seven years and millions of dollars renovating and modernizing the historic facility. In 1999, the distillery rolled out its first new product, the super-premium Buffalo Trace bourbon, and purchased two well-regarded brands, W. L. Weller and Old Charter.
Tennessee whiskey sales in the U.S. climbed 87 percent between 2005 and 2015, to $2.9 billion, while exports nearly doubled to $1.1 billion. Today, Buffalo Trace produces more than 25 different bourbons, from Eagle Rare, Blanton’s and George T. Stagg to E.H. Taylor, W.L. Weller and the most celebrated of all, Pappy Van Winkle, whose ridiculously rare 23-year-old reserve can retail for as much as $2,500 a bottle.
When the Sazerac Co. purchased Southern Comfort in March 2016, the acquisition doubled the company’s international distribution to 102 countries and set the stage for its next horizon: the world. Buffalo Trace is already popular in London and Tokyo, and with global interest in American whiskey projected to rise steadily, the Sazerac Co. has been building new warehouses every five months to keep up with expected demand.