Bourbon Industry

Bacardi buying Angel's Envy bourbon and new Louisville distillery

Stacey Call prepared to box bottles of Angel's Envy Rye Whiskey finished in Caribbean Rum casks in July 2013.
Stacey Call prepared to box bottles of Angel's Envy Rye Whiskey finished in Caribbean Rum casks in July 2013. Herald-Leader

Angel's Envy, the Louisville-based brand built by the family of the late master distiller Lincoln Henderson into a hugely popular bourbon and rye, has been bought for an undisclosed price by Bacardi.

This marks the entry of Bermuda-based Bacardi, known worldwide for its rums, into bourbon. Bacardi also is the parent of Dewar's scotch, Grey Goose vodka, Bombay Sapphire gin and more than 200 other brands.

The family-owned Bacardi Limited, the largest privately held spirits company in the world, announced the purchase Monday morning but said the deal closed Friday. Bacardi will acquire Angel's Share Brands, subsidiary Louisville Distilling Co., and the Angel's Envy brand.

Angel's Envy will continue as a stand-alone operation, Bacardi said in a news release. That means the business structure, employee base, production, distribution, commercial and marketing activities will remain unchanged.

Under the guidance of former Brown-Forman distiller Lincoln Henderson, the Henderson family built a successful brand by buying whiskey and finishing it in port or rum barrels. The company is building a $12 million distillery and brand experience center in downtown Louisville that is scheduled to open in 2016.

This will give Bacardi a foothold in the growing bourbon tourism market as well.

Angel's Envy is not a member of the Kentucky Distillers' Association because it was not yet distilling, but KDA president Eric Gregory said company officials have met with representatives about future involvement.

"It is our hope that Bacardi will be joining the KDA and our Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience," Gregory said Monday.

Wes Henderson, the chief operating officer, will continue as the brand's ambassador, and the family will remain involved in the brand. Henderson said Monday that he was euphoric over the deal, which has been in the works for a few months.

"Bacardi had been an investor in the brand early on, and it got to a point where it felt like it would be a great idea to take the next step," he said. His son, Kyle, will continue with blending and bottling, which has moved from Bardstown to a temporary site in Louisville down the street from the distillery building, which is under construction.

"Progress on the building has been phenomenal. The new roof is being constructed; all day there's work going on," he said.

There is no planned major expansion of the amount of Angel's Envy released until after the distillery is in operation, but eventually both the quantity and the number of batches, or "expressions," will grow, Henderson said.

"That's always been part of the plan — to look at other creative things to do with Angel's Envy. We're just trying to decide when is the best time to bring to market," Henderson said. "We'll continue with the same business plan. Bacardi has been very clear they want us to continue operating as an independent company. ... The Bacardi family could not be a better fit, with their entrepreneurial spirit. It wasn't just a financial deal. It's a great place for us to be in, with great things for the future."

Angel's Envy is blended in small batches of eight to 12 barrels. Each expression is allowed to develop naturally, creating nuances in the bourbon from year to year. There are three expressions on the market: a bourbon, a rye and a "cask strength" or undiluted version.

In 2013, when the distillery was announced, Henderson said it would be capable of producing at least 30 barrels a day; he anticipated that sales by 2016 would top 100,000 cases. Sales are projected at 65,000 cases this year, up from 45,000 last year, according to published reports.

Facundo L. Bacardi, chairman of Bacardi and a fifth-generation Bacardi family member, said he's "thrilled that the Henderson family, under the stewardship of global brand ambassador Wes Henderson, will continue to be directly involved with the Angel's Envy brand."

Bacardi CEO Mike Dolan said the purchase aligns with the company's strategy of building its portfolio of premium spirits.

Angel's Envy port-finished bourbon is one of the 10 fastest-growing super-premium bourbons in the United States, attracted Bacardi. The American straight whiskey category as a whole has surged in the past five years, with a nearly 5 percent sales growth rate, and super-premiums — which are much more profitable — have grown at nearly 10 percent over the same period.

"Bacardi has a long history of successful acquisitions of cutting-edge brands. Bacardi looks for the gems of innovation in the spirits world to complement our premium and super-premium brands, and Angel's Envy is a natural fit for our portfolio," said Barry Kabalkin, vice chairman of Bacardi.