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WhistlePig sells stake to investment firm

Vermont-based rye whiskey producer WhistlePig has sold a minority stake of its business to investment banking firm BDT Capital Partners to expand its international reach.

The deal will help farm-to-bottle producer WhistlePig accelerate its growth

Chicago-headquartered BDT invested in the single-estate whiskey producer “through a structured equity investment that includes a significant minority common equity stake”. Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

The partnership with BDT gives WhistlePig the “opportunity to offer liquidity to all shareholders”, including co-founder Raj Bhakta, who has “now fully exited his remaining stake” after retiring from the firm in 2017.

The vast majority of backers will remain investors in WhistlePig.

“We remain committed to crafting and ageing the world’s finest and most enjoyable rye whiskeys and believe our partnership with BDT will allow us to further accelerate our growth and momentum in the fast-growing, ultra-premium American whiskey category,” said Jeff Kozak, WhistlePig’s CEO.

“2018 was another stellar year for WhistlePig, with our revenues growing by more than 40%, more than twice the category, and our operating cash flow close to doubling, allowing us to further expand our distillery and build out our inventory of high quality and ageing whiskey as well as expand our distribution.

“Also, BDT’s experience partnering with founders and entrepreneurs of some of the world’s most iconic brands, their long-term focus as well as their network of successful global business owners, will help us further accelerate our future growth potential.”

WhistlePig was founded in 2007 and opened its grain-to-glass distillery in October 2015 after a period of renovation and conversion by Bhakta.

In June 2017, WhistlePig had reportedly invited interested parties to submit a formal bid following takeover propositions.

Wilco Faessen, WhistlePig co-founder, said: “This partnership is another important step in WhistlePig’s transition from a start-up to a leading craft distiller. In addition to getting the right partner in BDT, we are very pleased and grateful that the hard work of many contributors over the last 10 years has created tremendous value for our long-term investors.”

The news comes just months after the death of Dave Pickerell, master distiller of WhistlePig and a key figure in the American distilling industry, who passed away in November.

The whiskey producer received a US$25 million asset-based line of credit from JP Morgan Chase to increase production at its Vermont site in May 2017.

In May 2016, board members attempted to remove Bhakta from leadership. The dispute was settled and a new leadership structure was created in which Bhakta remained on the board as founder and chief steward.

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