DISCUS 50th Anniversary Timeline
As DISCUS celebrates 50 years, we look back at how much the industry has evolved – and our role in that change – over the last five decades. This timeline illustrates how DISCUS has been a driving force for change in support of the entire spirits industry for the past 50 years. Cheers to 50 more!
Three organizations – the Bourbon Institute, the Distilled Spirits Institute and the Licensed Beverage Industries, Inc. – merged to form the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).
DISCUS partnered with the National Football League (NFL) for several consecutive seasons to co-sponsor national TV and radio messages helping parents educate young people about alcohol. The award-winning broadcast ads featured famous football players including Walter Payton, Rocky Bleir, Joe Theismann and Fran Tarkenton.
DISCUS joined other beverage alcohol industry members in creating the Licensed Beverage Information Council (LBIC), a non-profit organization with educational programs on alcohol and pregnancy, drunk driving and alcoholism.
DISCUS President Fred Meister was one of 30 Americans appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve on the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving.
Distillers co-sponsored with the DOT the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” campaign to combat drunk driving and to promote the use of designated drivers. The campaign included billboard, television and radio public service messages.
Distillers, through LBIC, worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the “Healthy Mothers/Healthy Babies” campaign. The campaign, endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General, included posters and consumer information cards on drinking and pregnancy that were distributed to 8,000 health clinics nationwide.
DISCUS established the Code Review Board to implement and administer the DISCUS “Code of Good Practice” and deliberate on all complaints from every source: private citizens, public officials and advocacy groups, as well as industry member competitors.
America’s leading distillers create The Century Council, a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to fighting drunk driving and under age drinking.
The distillers funded a two-part television series written and produced by the American Medical Association entitled, “Understanding and Treating Alcoholism.” The program, which provided continuing medical education credits for physicians, was provided to every medical school in the nation.
On March 28, DISCUS praised the U.S.-European community agreement on trade in distilled spirits, which provided for recognition and protection for distinctive American and European spirits including Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey as distinctive American products.
On July 11, DISCUS crafted and promoted state-by-state model legislation, “The Drunk Driving Prevention Act,” designed to strengthen drunk driving laws in all states. To date, most states have adopted provisions outlined in the model legislation. “We commend the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States for taking the initiative to develop this five-provision act designed to deter and stop impaired drivers, and we applaud you for introducing it in all 50 states.” – Nelba Chavez, SAMHSA Administrator
On October 24, DISCUS led the fight to oppose a Senate proposal to repeal Section 5010 of the tax code, the wine and flavors tax credit, stating, “Tax increases on distilled spirits in 1985 and 1991 exacted a huge price on our industry and the government in the form of lost jobs and decreased federal revenues. Repeal of Section 5010 could be devastating. The entire industry must say to Congress, in the strongest possible terms, that enough is enough.”
On January 18, DISCUS announced that its “World Wide Web Site Launched into Cyberspace” stating, “the internet is becoming an indispensable source for consumers, government and media. According to industry experts, over 9 million people use the Internet and over 1,000 new sites are launched daily.”
On March 7, invited by President Clinton, DISCUS President Fred Meister participated in the White House Leadership Conference on Youth, Drug Use and Violence.
On November 7, in a move to end discrimination against distilled spirits products, DISCUS updated its “Code of Good Practice for Distilled Spirits Advertising and Marketing” to include television and radio advertising, advancing equal treatment of beverage alcohol products.
On February 14, DISCUS commended the World Trade Organization arbitrator’s ruling on Japan’s liquor tax system, which required Japan to eliminate its discriminatory tax treatment against distilled spirits within 15 months.
On March 13, DISCUS commended the completion of the final agreement by the U.S. and EU to eliminate tariffs on most distilled spirits by the year 2000. DISCUS stated, “Securing the elimination of EU tariffs will provide a big boost to U.S. distillers seeking to expand their sales in this strong market.”
On April 1, President Clinton called for a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) probe into spirits advertising. DISCUS responded, “The president’s call for a probe into spirits advertising further demonstrates the desperate need for alcohol equivalence education among policy makers. A FCC review of spirits advertising would contradict federal alcohol policy that clearly recognizes that ‘alcohol is alcohol is alcohol.’”
On July 9, the FCC voted against a Notice of Inquiry into distilled spirits advertising on television and radio. The vote was heralded by DISCUS as a clear sign “the FCC did not have jurisdiction or the expertise to regulate alcohol advertising.”
On May 1, DISCUS launched the “Simple Pleasures” public relations campaign, a national media outreach campaign which supported the revival of cocktail culture and the American Whiskey renaissance.
On October 26, DISCUS, working together with five universities, sponsored and convened, “The American Campus and Alcohol Conference” in Washington, D.C., attended by 34 universities including 28 university presidents. The conference, spearheaded by DISCUS President and CEO Dr. Peter H. Cressy, teamed together the beverage alcohol industry, government, campuses and their communities to address alcohol abuse on our nation’s campuses.
On April 10, DISCUS and The Century Council joined with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in a historic agreement to support a .08 BAC limit.
On May 21, DISCUS launched “Spirits Around the Globe,” its first-ever global distillery media tours program with the first stop to Kentucky bourbon distilleries: Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Labrot & Graham, and Wild Turkey.
On July 3, DISCUS acquired a rare Washington distillery letter from Christies Auction House for $18,800. The letter, which describes Washington’s successful distillery operation, is one of only a few pieces of correspondence know in existence that discusses the distillery.
On October 8, charter inductees of the George Washington Spirits Society were honored at a Mount Vernon celebration. Ambassador W.L. Lyons Brown, Jr., former Brown-Forman CEO; General Alfred M. Gray, USMC (Ret.), former commandant of the Marine Corps; A. Raymond Tye, chair, The United Group, and Charles Bailes, Jr. of ABC Fine Wine and Spirits were recognized.
On May 15, the New York Legislature overrode Governor Pataki’s budget veto, making six-day sales of spirits and wine legal.
On September 9, DISCUS strengthened its “Code of Good Practice for Distilled Spirits Advertising and Marketing” by raising the adult demographic to 70%, expanding to an all drink Code, issuing transparent reports and adding an outside external advisory board.
On August 31, DISCUS partnered with The Weekly Standard, The Economist and Roll Call to host the “Spirits of New York” signature event at the Republican National Convention at the New York Yacht Club attended by hundreds.
On December 16, DISCUS held its inaugural economic briefing at the New York Yacht Club for trade and business media and Wall Street analysts.
On November 16, DISCUS hosted its first Best Practices Media Buying Summit bringing together industry leaders to share best practices for responsible placement under the rigorous demographic provision of the voluntary DISCUS Code of Responsible Practices for Beverage Alcohol Advertising and Marketing. Since its inaugural event, DISCUS has hosted seven Best Practices Media Summits.
On December 6, DISCUS hailed the passage of the Stop Act, federal legislation that provides for programs and activities aimed at preventing underage drinking.
On March 30, after 10 years of research, excavation and reconstruction, Mount Vernon officially fired up the stills at George Washington’s Distillery as part of a DISCUS co-hosted grand opening ceremony – 210 years after Washington began distilling corn and rye whiskey.
On August 2, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution, introduced by Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning, officially declaring September as “National Bourbon Heritage Month,” celebrating the uniquely American history of the spirit.
On September 10, DISCUS member companies joined together to support the FTC’s “We Don’t Serve Teens Week,” an underage drinking prevention campaign supported by thousands of donated public service announcements in national newspapers, consumer magazines, television and radio stations, billboards and professional sports stadiums.
On January 1, DISCUS became the first industry trade group to develop and adopt internet/digital buying guidelines as part of its Code of Good Practice for Distilled Spirits Advertising and Marketing.
On June 10, DISCUS was selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a Charter MyPyramid Corporate Challenge Partner at a formal media unveiling.
In February, DISCUS launched its Craft Distiller Affiliate Membership Program with Fritz Maytag, president of Anchor Steam Distilling, serving as chair of the Advisory Council.
On May 26, DISCUS increased the demographic placement standard in its Code of Good Practice for Distilled Spirits Advertising and Marketing to reflect 2010 Census data showing that 71.6 percent of the U.S. population is 21 years of age and older.
On May 26, The Distillery Innovation and Excise Tax Reform Act of 2015, legislation to reduce the spirits federal excise tax, was introduced by Rep. Todd Young (R-IN) and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY).
On June 15, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a DISCUS-backed measure expanding the number of retail liquor licenses an individual may own in the Lone Star State from 5 to 250.
In 2020 and 2021, Kentucky passed bills expanding its direct-to-consumer shipping law to allow direct shipments to consumers in the state by distillers, brewers, vintners, and importers.
On June 29, Governor Kim Reynolds signed legislation making Iowa the first state in the nation to make cocktails to-go permanent. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 23 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to permanently allow cocktails to-go and numerous others have extended the DISCUS-initiated measure.
On December 27, President Trump signed into law the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act of 2019, making permanent the federal excise tax reduction for distillers. Quote: “While distilleries have faced extraordinary challenges this year, this legislation making their reduced tax rates permanent will give these distillers a renewed sense of certainty and hopefulness for the future” – Chris Swonger, DISCUS President & CEO
On March 11, President Biden signed the DISCUS-backed Covid relief package into law which included $28.6 billion for hospitality businesses.
On May 24, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a measure increasing market access to spirits-based RTDs and reducing their taxes, representing a big win on the new lobbying issue for DISCUS. Since 2019, 5 states (IA, MS, MI, NE And VT) have enacted laws providing expanded market access and/or fairer tax rates for spirits-based RTDs. “This is a great example of bipartisan legislation that will create jobs and help our small businesses grow, and shows what we can do when we work together,” Said Governor Whitmer. “Distillers are a growing industry in Michigan, and these bills make it easier for distillers to distribute their products. These bills will make canned mixed spirits more affordable and accessible, creating jobs and helping Michigan small businesses.”
On October 3, the first ever bottle of distilled spirits was sold on a Sunday in North Carolina following the passage of HB 890 which allowed distilleries to sell distilled spirits bottles on Sundays. Since 2002, 21 states have passed laws permitting Sunday sales of distilled spirits, bringing the total to 44 states.
On June 1, DISCUS and the Scotch Whisky Association toasted to the end of the debilitating retaliatory tariffs on American Whiskey and Scotch Whisky, which had been in place since June 2018.
On June 17, Alaska approved off-premise tastings. Since 1999, 28 states have passed or expanded consumer spirits tastings laws.
In April, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed a 20% alcohol excise tax increase – the latest in a long history of DISCUS tax victories. Since, 2001, 461 out of 489 of spirits tax increase threats have been defeated totaling $18.5+ billion in money saved.