Ten of the biggest spirits acquisitions
From billion-dollar Tequila deals to the sale of a celebrity-backed Irish whiskey, we look back at 10 high-profile spirits acquisitions.
Merger and acquisition (M&A) activity has been rife in the spirits sector over the past decade with major firms expanding into fast-growing sectors such as agave spirits and American whiskey.
There have been plenty of moves in the Tequila sector with two deals even surpassing the eye-watering sum of US$1 billion.
Celebrity-founded brands have also been successfully acquired as drinks companies recognise the potential of star-studded marketing.
Categories such as rum are attracting investment from major players, including Jack Daniel’s owner Brown-Forman, which recently entered the category.
Notable omissions from the list include Diageo’s agreement to buy Philippine brand Don Papa Rum in January this year for an initial €260 million (US$254.6m), and its purchase of Texas whiskey distiller Balcones in November.
There has also been significant takeover activity in the online space following the pandemic, with Pernod Ricard snapping up retailer The Whisky Exchange, and Campari Group and Moët Hennessy jointly acquiring the remaining stake in Italian e-commerce alcohol platform Tannico.
We round up some of the most headline-grabbing acquisitions in the spirits sector in recent years.
Diageo and Casamigos
Price: up to US$1 billion
In August 2017, London-headquartered Diageo completed its acquisition of George Clooney-founded Casamigos in a deal that valued the Tequila brand for up to US$1bn.
The brand has seen its volumes nearly double on an annual basis since 2017. After becoming a million-case brand in 2020, it climbed by an impressive 50.3% to 2.7m nine-litre cases the following year. It was named Supreme Brand Champion in last year’s Brand Champions report.
According to Diageo’s sales for the first half of fiscal 2023, Casamigos’s organic net sales rose by 28%, driven by the US.
Casamigos was the top-selling Tequila and celebrity-backed spirits brand on US alcohol e-commerce platform Drizly in 2022, with a 22% share of the Tequila segment on the platform.
The brand’s most expensive style, añejo, is the second best-selling añejo Tequila on Drizly after Diageo’s Don Julio 1948.
Bacardi and Patrón
Price: US$5.1 billion
Bacardi’s multi-billion-dollar purchase of Patrón Spirits International and its namesake ultra-premium Tequila brand turned heads when it was announced in January 2018.
Citing IWSR data, Bacardi said the acquisition would make it the second-largest spirits company by value market share in the US, and the number-one super-premium spirits firm in the country.
After Jose Cuervo, Patrón was the second biggest-selling Tequila brand in the world with 3.2m nine-litre cases sold in 2021, according to Brand Champions 2022 data.
Prior to Bacardi’s purchase in April 2018, Patrón sold 2.6m cases in 2017. It has recorded consistent growth every year since 2018.
Pernod Ricard and Castle Brands
Price: US$223 million
October 2019 saw Pernod Ricard complete its acquisition of US spirits firm Castle Brands, the owner of Jefferson’s Bourbon, Knappogue Castle Irish whiskey and Goslings rum.
The move marked Pernod Ricard’s continued expansion into the American whiskey segment, following the announcement of its acquisition of the Texas-based Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co in August 2019, Kentucky distillery Rabbit Hole in June 2019 and West Virginia-based Smooth Ambler in 2017.
Since its acquisition of the brand, Pernod Ricard said sales of Jefferson’s have doubled in the US.
The company recently revealed plans to build a US$250m (€238m) distillery for Jefferson’s in Kentucky.
The news of the new facility followed Pernod Ricard’s creation of the company’s dedicated American arm, The American Whiskey Collective.
American whiskey volume in the US has skyrocketed from 16m nine-litre cases in 2011 to 31.2m in 2022, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the US’ (Discus) data.
Diageo and Aviation Gin
Diageo continued its acquisition of celebrity-backed brands with the addition of Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin to its portfolio in August 2020.
Reynolds remains involved in the brand with the Deadpool star featuring in a number of amusing ads for Aviation Gin.
Since the deal, the brand has revealed limited edition bottle designs, partnered with Virgin Voyages and British Airways, and opened a distillery.
It is not known how the brand has performed recently as Diageo didn’t mention Aviation in its latest financial results.
However, it seems to be doing well in its key US market, with Aviation holding a 9% share of the gin category on Drizly in 2022. Aviation is the third top-selling gin brand to date on Drizly’s platform.
Becle and Proper No. Twelve
Price: up to US$600 million
Proper No. Twelve, the brand founded by former professional fighter Conor McGregor, was sold to Jose Cuervo Tequila maker Becle in April 2021.
Mexican spirits group Becle confirmed it had purchased the remaining 51% stake in Eire Born Spirits (EBS), the company behind Proper No. Twelve, during the publication of its first quarter results.
At the time, the company said McGregor would ‘retain an interest’ in the brand and ‘remain actively engaged in the promotion’ of Proper No. Twelve.
Since its launch in September 2018, Proper No. Twelve has achieved ‘record-breaking growth’, shipping more than 500,000 nine-litre cases (more than six million bottles) in eight global markets.
Proper No. Twelve had a 3% share of the Irish whiskey category on Drizly in 2022, 2021 and 2020, and is among the top five celebrity-backed whiskies on the platform.
Heaven Hill and Samson & Surrey
Last February, Kentucky-based Heaven Hill Brands purchased Samson & Surrey, owner of Tequila Ocho and Few Spirits.
Through the deal, Heaven Hill has purchased Samson & Surrey’s six-brand portfolio, which also includes Widow Jane American Whiskey, Brenne French Whisky, Bluecoat Gin and Mezcal Vago, and the firm’s facilities.
According to the announcement, Samson & Surrey is growing at a rate of 60% per year, with US$40m in sales. Its brands are currently available in 30 markets globally.
Speaking to The Spirits Business last year, Heaven Hill co-president Allan Latts said of the deal: “The founders of Samson & Surrey bought brands that had national and international growth opportunities in the hottest spirits categories across the board.
“In American whiskey, Widow Jane and Few are both in this super-premium price point, growing a bit of differentiation for us, as they were Bourbon products not centred around Kentucky; Few is in Chicago, and Widow Jane is out of Brooklyn, New York.”
He also noted that Tequila is “arguably growing faster than American whiskey in the US” with Ocho being “one of the really sought-after, up-and-coming brands” in the category.
Pernod Ricard and Código 1530
French firm Pernod Ricard also tapped into the celebrity spirits market, as well as the fast-growing Tequila segment, with its purchase of a majority stake in Código 1530 in October 2022.
American country music singer George Strait founded the ultra-premium Tequila brand in 2016, alongside Ron Snyder and Federico Vaughan.
The move by Pernod was made to expand and diversify its Tequila portfolio, which includes Olmeca, Altos and Avión.
Código 1530 also brings two mezcals to Pernod Ricard, which invested in Ojo de Tigre mezcal in 2020.
The Tequila is available in 50 US states and is said to be in the early stage of its global expansion with a presence in more than 30 markets.
The deal was also announced in the same month that the group acquired a minority stake in Nocheluna Sotol, a brand created by American singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz and Mexican producer Casa Lumbre.
Campari Group and Wilderness Trail Distillery
Price: US$420 million
Italian firm Campari Group agreed to buy a 70% stake in Kentucky-based Wilderness Trail Distillery for US$420m in October 2022.
The company has the option of buying the remaining 30% stake in the whiskey distillery in 2031.
Bob Kunze-Concewitz, CEO of Aperol owner Campari Group, said Bourbon was poised to become the company’s “second major leg after the apéritif portfolio”.
Campari said American whiskey is among the ‘hottest’ spirits categories in the States. Citing figures from Discus, Campari said the category accounted for 13% of the country’s total spirits markets in 2021 by value, up 7% versus the previous year. The super-premium price segment climbed by 17%.
The purchase would allow Campari to “significantly expand” its production capacity and ageing inventory to meet future growth of its premium Bourbons, the group’s CEO said.
In 2021, Wilderness Trail’s full-year net sales reached US$40.8m, with the company’s Bourbon and rye brands generating US$7.2m in sales.
The CEO said the company would “definitely be open” to making further deals in the American whiskey category.
Brown-Forman and Gin Mare
The purchase of Gin Mare in November 2022 marked US firm Brown-Forman’s first acquisition since it bought Fords Gin in June 2019.
The Spanish brand is the world’s number-one ultra-premium gin, according to Brown-Forman. It is sold in more than 70 countries.
Brown-Forman president and CEO Lawson Whiting said the products have “impressive sales growth and strong distribution in important European markets”.
The acquisition could enable Brown-Forman to have a stronger foothold in the European gin market, as Fords has a bigger presence in the US.
In July 2020, Brown-Forman’s managing director of the global emerging brands division said the company was “very open” to additional gin acquisitions.
Brown-Forman and Diplomático
Brown-Forman swiftly followed the gin purchase with its first move into rum with Diplomático.
The company closed its agreement to buy Venezuelan brand Diplomático from Spain’s Destillers United Group at the start of 2023.
According to IWSR 2021 data, Venezuelan brand Diplomático is the number-one super- and ultra-premium rum and the second biggest-selling super-premium-plus rum worldwide.
Ryan Van Arnam, vice-president and managing director, Brown-Forman UK and Ireland, said golden rum, “where Diplomático plays”, is outperforming total rum in the UK on-trade, growing by 36% (IWSR data) over the last 12 months, compared to three years ago.
The brand is available in more than 100 countries, with France, Germany and the US being its biggest markets.