Report of Bacardi's interest in acquiring bourbon linked to months-old comments

jpatton1@herald-leader.comFebruary 24, 2014 

A British newspaper seems to have stirred months-old comments with anonymous analysis to create a cocktail of idle speculation about Louisville-based Brown-Forman Corp., parent of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey and Woodford Reserve bourbon.

The Sunday Telegraph of London reported over the weekend that Ed Shirley, CEO of privately held Bacardi, said in an interview that the company wants to expand its whiskey portfolio, which already includes Dewar's Scotch, various single-malts and William Lawson's, the top-selling blended Scotch in Russia.

"The obvious gap that we have would be in bourbons and ryes," Shirley said.

The comments apparently were from September, when Bacardi celebrated the 150th anniversary of Martini-brand vermouth.

With Beam Inc., maker of Jim Beam bourbon, being bought by Japan's Suntory, the obvious target, according to the report citing unnamed market analysts, would be Louisville-based Brown-Forman Corp., which is publicly traded but largely family held.

Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch said Monday that the company had no comment on the speculation.

"Our position is that one of our long-stated goals is to remain an independent company," Lynch said.

Bermuda-based Bacardi also had no comment on the report.

This isn't the first time the two have been linked by market matchmakers: In 2009, the Daily Telegraph reported that Brown-Forman had hired an investment banking guru to advise on everything from selling off particular brands to exploring a potential merger.

In Sunday's report, Shirley did not name any company or brand specifically but said, "We have a track record in participation in industry consolidation, as we have shown with Martini, Dewar's, Bombay Sapphire and Grey Goose. If it's right for us, we will do something."

The Bacardi group distributes its brands in 136 countries.

Brown-Forman, which will release its third-quarter earnings March 5, sells its brands in about 160 countries. Besides Jack Daniel's, the Kentucky company's portfolio includes rising brand Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey flavored whiskey, Old Forester bourbon, Finlandia vodka, Canadian Mist Canadian whiskey, Korbel sparkling wine, el Jimador and Herradura tequilas, Sonoma-Cutrer wines, and Chambord and Southern Comfort liqueurs.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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