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Constellation Brands ups stake in Nelson’s Green Brier

US drinks firm Constellation Brands has expanded its footprint in American whiskey with the acquisition of a majority stake in Tennessee-based Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery.

Brothers Charlie and Andy Nelson brought the Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery back into production in 2014

The Svedka vodka owner first purchased a minority stake in the US distillery in January 2016 through Constellation Brands’ venture capital arm.

The acquisition – terms of which have not been disclosed – marks the US firm’s first investment through Constellation Ventures to be fully integrated into the business.

The ‘craft’ Tennessee whiskey distillery was founded by Charles Nelson in 1850 and revived by his great-great-great grandsons, brothers Charlie and Andy Nelson in 2014.

Nashville-based Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery produces a range of Bourbons under the Belle Meade brand, the Louisa’s Liqueur line and will launch a four-year-old Tennessee whiskey later this year using Charles Nelson’s original recipe from before Prohibition.

Constellation’s investment will allow the distillery to continue operating with its existing management team led by the Nelson brothers, and its employees running the day-to-day operations.

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery and Constellation Brands have worked together for more than three years, sharing consumer insights, and “gaining deeper knowledge” of top spirits trends – ‘craft’ and whiskey.

“Our ventures group was created to identify up-and-coming brands, and we’re excited about one of our first ventures investments being folded into our portfolio,” said Constellation Brands’ president and CEO Bill Newlands.

“Whiskey is a red-hot category, and Tennessee whiskey fills a white space for us. Once integrated into our wine and spirits division and benefitting from our market reach, distributor partnerships and consumer insights, we see Nelson’s Green Brier scaling even further in the next few years.”

Charlie Nelson said: “Our family distillery was one of the largest producers of whiskey and spirits in the country prior to Prohibition.

“Ever since we revived the company, our dream has been to return the Nelson’s Green Brier profile to the national, and even international, marketplace.

“The relationship we’ve enjoyed over the past several years with Constellation has made it clear they’re the ideal partners to help us achieve the kind of growth we’ve been moving toward all along, while honouring the principles our customers have come to appreciate.”

The group has a number of minority stake acquisitions in the American whiskey market. It is part-owner of Kentucky’s Bardstown Bourbon Company and Virginia-based Catoctin Creek Distilling Company. Most recently, Constellation acquired a minority stake in New York-based whiskey and gin producer Black Button Distilling in February 2019.

In October 2016, Constellation Brands acquired Utah-based whiskey maker High West Distillery for about US$160 million.

The investment in Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery comes just weeks after Constellation Brands purchased a minority stake in Los Angeles-based Mezcal El Silencio.

Constellation’s sales grew 7% in its fiscal 2018/19 – though wine and spirits sales are forecast to fall by up to 30% for fiscal 2020.

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