Mr. Boston Comes A-Calling

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If liquor distilling companies were ships, then it could be said that this past week the SS Sazerac fired a shot glass of coffee brandy across the bow of the M.S. Walker.

Bold move for such an upstart.

New Orleans-based Sazerac, maker of Mr. Boston Coffee Flavored Brandy, has decided to set up shop in M.S. Walker’s backyard. Or, perhaps more accurately, right in the front yard of the Somerville, Mass., distiller that makes Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy. Or perhaps even more accurately still, right in their liquor cabinet.

M.S. Walker has owned (I can’t stress it enough) the top spot in liquor sales in Maine for the past couple of decades. As I have reported before, Allen’s CFB is far and away the most popular brand of booze in the state, even though its popularity plummets as soon as you cross the New Hampshire border. Stranger still, outside New England, no one has ever heard of it. It is truly a regional phenomenon.

Anyway, some facts. In 2013 Allen’s CFB sold nearly 965,000 bottles of various sizes in Maine for a gross revenue of $11.47 million. Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, the second most popular and lucrative brand sold in Maine last year, sold 403,000 bottles of various sizes for $6.42 million in revenue. That’s a difference of roughly 560,000 bottles and $5 million in revenue.

Allen’s CFB sales totals last year even exceeded the combined sales totals for the second-most and third-most popular brands of alcohol. Bacardi Light was third in revenue, with $4.64 million in sales, while Orloff Vodka was third in number of bottles sold with 390,000.

So it comes across as a bold move when Sazerac announced this past week that it plans to start distilling its Mr. Boston Coffee Flavored Brandy in Lewiston. It clearly wants a bigger slice of Maine’s sizable coffee brandy pie.

Last year Sazerac purchased the distillery in Lewiston from Beam Inc., which had acquired it from White Rock Distilleries in 2012. This week’s announcement that Mr. Boston is moving to Maine is good news for the former Beam workers at the plant, many of whom have been offered jobs with Sazerac, and for people intrigued (as I am) by Maine’s never-ending love affair with coffee flavored brandy.

This is not the first shot Mr. Boston has taken at Allen’s dominance. Last year, they were offering steep discounts for their product. [See photo above, which includes former White Rock brand Gold Crown, the third most popular CFB in Maine]. A Sazerac official acknowledged at the time that the firm has been “making a concerted effort” to build the Mr. Boston brand in Maine since 2009.

In yet another move to compete with Allen’s, Sazerac said in its announcement this past week that its plans to reduce the proof (alcohol content) from 70 to 60 – the same as Allen’s – and will flavor it with beans roasted right in Portland, Maine.

Still, as I indicated in a story I wrote a year ago, Mr. Boston was a long way off from giving Allen’s a run for its money. This continues to be the case.

In 2012, Mr. Boston sold $646,756 worth of coffee flavored brandy in the state. Allen’s, on the other hand, sold $11,373,000 worth.

Last year, Mr. Boston’s CFB sales in Maine grew by nearly $82,000, to $728,700, but Allen’s widened the gap.  Their sales revenue in Maine last year was $11,472,000, which was an increase of more than $99,000.

NOTE: For most of the past 10 years or so that I have been tracking Allen’s annual sales figures in Maine, I have been relying only on the state Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations’ list of Top 25 best sellers. BABLO tracks each brand and size of bottle separately, which is why many brands (Allen’s CFB, Orloff Vodka, Captain Morgan’s, etc.) appear on the list more than once.

This year, however, I got the entire list, not just the Top 25. It contains sales info for 996 different brands and bottle sizes, and is 32 pages long. Previously, I missed popular brands whose relatively unpopular bottle sizes – such as Allen’s CFB 100ml bottle, which appears on page 22 – might not have appeared in the Top 25.

This year, however, I can include low-sellers of popular brands in the brands totals. This enables me to present a more accurate picture in terms of numeric totals, but does not change the conclusions of my prior stories, which is that the annual sales totals for Allen’s CFB far outpace those for every other brand, without fail. 

If you want to look at the sales data that I’ve accumulated over the years, click here.

Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 15 years, Bill Trotter keeps track of how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coast shape the lives, lifestyles and livelihoods of coastal Maine residents and visitors. A resident of Ellsworth, Bill covers Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park, Hancock County, fisheries, marine-related topics and more for the BDN. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.