Saluting the man who persuaded us to pay more for booze

By Published on .

The colorful character who turned Jagermeister and Grey Goose into hot brands, Sidney Frank, died Jan. 10 in San Diego. He was 86 years old.

Mr. Frank grew up poor, married rich, was kicked out of the spirits business he loved and clawed his way back in. He was known for his eccentricities, whether vicariously playing golf by paying pros to act as his proxies or conducting business from bed while smoking cigars.

But it was that man who, with the launch of Grey Goose, almost single-handedly created the pricing-up trend that still drives the spirits industry.

And he never stopped trying to stir up the next big drink. He sold Grey Goose vodka to Bacardi for $2 billion just seven years after launching the vodka. But he kept plugging away, flogging a high-end tequila called Corazon de Agave, an Irish whisky named Michael Collins and, with rapper Lil' John, an energy drink called Crunk.

"When you retire, you die," Mr. Frank told Advertising Age's Point magazine last fall.

Mr. Frank entered the business when he married Louise "Skippy" Rosenstiel, daughter of Shenley Distillers owner Lewis Rosenstiel. He helped build Dewar's White Label into a major brand, but was fired in 1972 after a falling out with his father-in-law.

Early struggles

He started Sidney Frank Importing. It was an uphill struggle, but a decade after he started, the medicinal tasting Jagermeister liqueur inexplicably took off among college students in Louisiana. Mr. Frank stoked the flames by distributing press reports referring to it as "liquid valium" and sending young women to bars to push the drink.

His second hit came in the late 1990s when, amid the dot-com boom, Mr. Frank recognized people would pay to have the best of everything and invented Grey Goose. Every aspect-the French provenance, the frosted bottle, the wooden case-conveyed it was a quality product, and Grey Goose swiftly became the country's best-selling premium vodka.

Most Popular
In this article: