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Ex-Lark chairman and Founders First create new whisky venture

Australian investment firm Founders First has partnered with the former chairman of Tasmania’s Lark Distillery to develop a new whisky business.

The venture, called New Co, included the purchase of new make spirit from Australian producer Nant

Founders First has teamed up with Chris Malcolm, former CEO of private equity group Australian Whisky Holdings, on the new venture, currently named New Co. The agreement saw Founders First invest AU$525,000 (US$377,840) for a 60% equity stake in the business. After five years, Founders First has the option to buy Malcolm’s shares in the company and become the full owner.

Malcolm said: “Having a passion and long-term association with the whisky industry I am looking forward to working with the Founders First team to realise our shared vision of building a high-quality globally recognised whisky brand.”

The deal includes the purchase and rebranding of 68 barrels (just over 7,400 litres) of maturing new make spirit originally distilled at Tasmania’s Nant Distillery. Each barrel has been inspected and is said to be of high quality. The first small batch release from the stock is planned for December 2020.

“It’s exciting to be part of building a new brand which already has access to such high quality whisky in barrels, some of which will be ready for release as early as December this year,” added Malcolm.

“We are fortunate to have 12 barrels in virgin white oak which were part of the Nant exclusive programme, the only one of its kind in Australia using virgin white oak. A 500ml bottle of this whisky retails for around AU$400 [US$288] a bottle.”

In July this year, Founders First unveiled an AU$3 million (US$2.1m) expansion plan for Australia’s Kangaroo Island Distillery, which will be completed next year. The site, which produces Kangaroo Island Spirits (KIS), was acquired by Founders First in March 2020. KIS is set to release a single malt whisky this year.

Founders First CEO and managing director Mark Haysman said: “Whisky is the largest spirits category in Australia and growing in popularity globally.

“Our combined position with New Co and Kangaroo Island Distillery, along with our sales and distribution capability places us in a strong position to scale and grow in this exciting category in both domestic and export markets.

“Both businesses have strong whisky credentials and capabilities to barrel age premium offerings that originate in two of the most respected craft provenances in Australia – the pristine altitudes of the Tasmanian highlands and unspoilt natural surrounds of Kangaroo Island. Few people know the business of whisky better than Chris. We look forward to working with him to bring our new whisky vision to life.”

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