July News – Bruichladdich Sold

The big news in July was the confirmation of the sale of Islay whisky distillery Bruichladdich to the French company Remy-Cointreau for £58 million. Remy Cointreau is the result of the merger of Remy Martin and Cointreau in 1991 and is responsible for both those brands as well as Barbados Mount Gay rum and Greek Metaxa Brandy. The acquisition of Bruichladdich amounts to £48million with Remy covering the current Bruichladdich debt of £10 million. Originally 60 investors put up £100,000 each which means they’ll get a seven times return on their investment.

It has been reported that this may be the highest price paid for a whisky distillery. Although it should be noted that Irish distiller Cooley was sold to Beam (the company behind Jim Beam brand) in December 2011 for 73million euro (around £61 million at the time). In a somewhat odd twist of fate it was Beam that originally mothballed Bruichladdich in January 1995 after it came to the conclusion it did not need ownership of two Islay distilleries – the other being Laphroaig.

Bruichladdich was built in 1881, the same year as Bunnahabhain, at the height of the phylloxera crisis that had blighted France’s vineyards and decimated the production of wine and brandy. A modern distillery, built around a central courtyard, out of a new building substance: concrete. It had a turbulent history, being sold, passed around from company to company and closed for a number of years. On 19th December 2000, Mark Reynier, a London wine merchant who had independently bottled whisky under the Murray McDavid label, agreed the sale of the distillery for either £6.5 million or £7.5 million (depending on the source). This included stock of 1.4 million litres of whisky dating back to 1964. In 2001 Jim McEwan famously leaves Bowmore to become the production director and at 8:26am on  29th May 2001 distilling resumes. Hence it has not been until very recently that Bruichladdich have been able to release a product that has been made under the new ownership. With the exception of the Port Charlotte and Octomore most of the releases have had to come from the old stock that was bought with the distillery.

Bruichladdich have always styled themselves as being independent and somewhat rebellious. The lack or a core range, the diversity of releases and striking bottle design are key elements to the brand. Unsurprisingly there has been accusations directed at Mark of “selling out” but on the whole the responses seem to have been positive with congratulations aimed at Mark at having the courage to revitalise and bring back to life a dormant distillery. It has been reported that Mark was one of only shareholders to vote against the buy-out. With the company posting record profits year on year, it is interesting to speculate, what with the growth in both sales and value of single malt, where any buy-out would be a few years down the line. Additionally it would be interesting to know what decisions will be made about Bruichladdich’s plans to build a new distillery on the old Port Charlotte site now that Remy are at the helm.

Sources:

“Malt Whisky Yearbook” (various editions) – Ingvar Ronde

“Peat Smoke and Spirit” – Andrew Jefford

http://www.armin-grewe.com (Bruichladdich photograph)

Websites listed within body of text.

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Society for Whisky drinkers and malt enthusiasts in Sheffield.
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