January 24, 2017

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Welch’s Grape Juice

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Why was America’s most famous fruit drink created? To take the alcohol out of communion!

Thomas Bramwell Welch

Thomas Bramwell Welch

Thomas Welch was quite a guy. Born in Glastonbury England, he came to America with his father in the 1830’s, settling in Watertown, New York. Over the course of his life he was an ordained minister, a dentist, a physician and an entrepreneur. His business career sprung from deeply held beliefs.

Welch hated slavery and was active in the Underground Railroad. He also hated alcohol. His Wesleyan branch of the Methodist church actively opposed “manufacturing, buying, selling, or using intoxicating liquors.”  That included wine – one of the two basic elements of church communion. The drink used in communion, it stated, must be “pure juice” from grapes – that is, no alcohol.

So in 1869 Welch set out on a mission to remove alcohol from wine.

While others of his time tried to reverse-engineer the fermentation process – Welch invented a way to pasteurize grapes to prevent fermentation entirely — an achievement that eventually launched the processed fruit juice industry.

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Working in his kitchen, he pressed juice from Concord grapes, filtered it and bottled it. Then, using Louis Pasteur’s innovative new pasteurization technique, Welch boiled the bottles of grape juice. That killed off all of the yeast in the bottles – preventing fermentation.

The resulting drink was pleasant — and non-alcoholic. Welch called it “Dr. Welch’s unfermented  wine.” By 1875, Welch was advertising it in Methodist publications. Many churches were quick to embrace it for communion, as alternative to wine, which, of course does have alcohol.

This went on for nearly twenty years — but it was just one of Dr. Welch’s pursuits. In fact, he didn’t think grape juice had much of a future. In the 1880’s, when his son Charles took took an interest in it, Welch cautioned him:

Now don’t think I’m trying to discourage your pushing the grape juice (but) do so as far as you can, without interfering with your profession or your health.

But Welch’s son did just the opposite. In fact, he quit his profession – also dentistry – to focus on the product. He abandoned the idea of selling Welch’s as fake wine. Instead, he marketed the juice as … well … juice!

In today’s business parlance – it was a pivot!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe big coming out party for the new Welch’s Grape Juice Company came at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, where thousands sampled the product and it became an instant hit.

As its popularity grew, so did the offshoot products. In 1918 – Grapelade was introduced as a grape jam and its supply was bought out by the US Army. Jelly came a few years later, and Welch’s popularity has never waned since.

1918 Welches GrapeladeIn 2012, 32,904 baseball fans at Fenway Park’s anniversary raised their glass of Welch’s to set the world’s record for the largest toast in one venue!

Welch’s invention has enjoyed more than a century of success. Today Welch’s Grape Juice is so well loved, some folks are finding ways to add alcohol to it! One claims to have invented a process to do it within 48 hours!

Thomas Welch exemplifies an axiom featured on our websiteSolve a Problem in Your Profession. He invented a non-alcoholic wine for church communion: Welch’s Grape Juice.

There’s more than one way to use a grape! Welch’s Grape Juice!

Now why didn’t I think of that?

 

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