FRENCH drinks giant Rémy Cointreau has agreed to buy Islay-based whisky maker Bruichladdich for £58 million in what is believed to be the highest price ever paid for a distillery.
Under the deal, Paris-listed Rémy is paying the distiller’s 60 investors a total of £48m for their shares and taking on Bruichladdich’s £10m debt.
The pay-out is considerably higher than the €43m (£34m) price tag analysts had predicted when the deal was first mooted earlier this month,
Managing director Mark Reynier, who led the group that bought the distillery in 2000 for £6.5m, said the sale had a “bittersweet” taste to it.
“Of course I have mixed emotions about the sale, but I couldn’t have picked a better buyer than Rémy,” he told The Scotsman. “This is very positive for Bruichladdich as a brand, as a distillery and as a workforce.
“I don’t think it’s the end of an era because they’ve going to carry on what we’ve been doing. They haven’t bought Bruichladdich to un-Bruichladdich it.
“They’ve bought it for the brand. We’ve got the materials and they’ve got the distribution.”
Reynier said he has the option of continuing to be involved with the distillery but that he was still considering his future.
He also revealed that he was the only one of the company’s eight directors to vote against the offer, which was received after January’s board meeting and was recommended to shareholders in April by chairman Sir John Mactaggart.
Reynier was instead keen to try to continue with the firm’s rapid growth, which he said could have resulted in a flotation on the Alternative Investment Market, possibly as soon as 2014.
He claimed he had received about “three approaches a year” for the business, including one from Glenfiddich-maker William Grant & Sons.
Rémy has been mulling a bid for Bruichladdich since 2007, Reynier added. He praised the firm’s “dynamic” team, led by chief executive Jean-Marie Laborde and chairwoman Dominique Hériard Dubreuil.
Bruichladdich’s investors initially pumped about £100,000 each into the firm, giving them a seven-times return on their investments. The company had paid no dividends since its inception, instead reinvesting cash.
Reynier believes the return on the shareholders’ investment is the highest ever seen in the Scotch whisky industry.
Profits at Bruichladdich hit £1.44m in 2011, edging up from £1.43m in 2010, while turnover jumped by 24 per cent to £8.7m, according to recently-filed accounts at Companies House.
Reynier said sales had soared by a further 60 per cent in the first six months of the year, adding that Rémy has the firepower to double production from the current 55,000 cases a year.
Bruichladdich – which employs about 50 staff, making it Islay’s second-largest employer – was built in 1881, but was mothballed by Jim Beam in 1995.
The brand is expected to benefit from Rémy’s distribution network, especially in Asia.
Rémy – which owns brands including Remy Martin brandy, Cointreau orange-flavoured liqueur and Mount Gay rum – is sitting on a €1 billion (£790m) war chest following the sale last year of its champagne business.