Bardstown Bourbon Company Acquired

As announced in a press release today, Bardstown Bourbon Company has been acquired by a private-equity firm, Pritzker Private Capital.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed and according to the press release the management team at BBC will continue to lead that company. 

There are a lot more layers to this acquisition environment than what I’ll cover here today.  However, I’ll try to quickly hit on a few key points on this deal as well as some trends to look for. 

The Chairman of Pritzker Private Capital (PPC) is Tony Pritzker, brother to Illinois governor, J.B. Prtizker.  The Pritzker family made their family wealth through the Hyatt Hotel chain.  PPC targets family-owned or management-owned companies in the manufactured products or services sector.  (While Bourbon enthusiasts don’t think of it that way, whiskey is a “manufactured product”.)  PPC also seeks to acquire companies based in North America with strong growth trends.  Bardstown Bourbon Company checks all of these boxes. 

According to the press release, BBC approached PPC a few years ago to initiate discussions on a possible acquisition.  BBC’s growth track record has been impressive on its own having quadrupled capacity since 2016 and, in addition to its own line of products, distills for more than 30 other brands.  If PPC’s history is any indication, we can look for the purchase of BBC to be followed by multiple acquisitions in the sector. 

For example, PPC acquired a company called Vertellus (a supplier of chemical products) in January of 2021.  PPC has made five add-on acquisition to Vertellus since then.  That is a significant number of transactions in a relatively short period of time.

So, what kind of activity might we see from the BBC-PPC group going forward?  My thoughts here are only conjecture, but the conjecture is half the fun. 

One area of activity could be going deeper into the American whiskey market.  BBC certainly has intimate knowledge of multiple brands through their contract distilling operations.  That creates some natural acquisition targets for BBC. 

There are also whiskey distilling operations that fit the PPC profile (family-owned, high-growth) in Kentucky and throughout the United States.  Michter’s, Willett, Garrison Brothers are a few that come to mind.  Acquisitions outside of the Kentucky market could help expand distribution for BBC and the acquired distilleries. 

Another possibility could be the expansion into other lines of spirits.  While Heaven Hill’s acquisition of Samson & Surrey came with growing Bourbon brands Few and Widow Jane, the primary targets were likely agave-based brands Mezcal Vago and Tequila Ocho.  Those brands gave Heaven Hill entry into the tequila/mezcal market which is the fastest growing spirits segment.  Yes, even faster than Bourbon.  Much faster, actually. 

According to the Distilled Sprits Council, tequila/mezcal grew 21% from 2020 to 2021.  That is over 4 times the growth of American whiskey.  So, finding an acquisition target in agave spirits would seem like something that would be on the BBC-PPC radar. 

It is safe to say that acquisitions by strategic buyers or private equity concerns are here to stay in the whiskey landscape.  And, conjecture aside, it will be interesting to watch what happens next following the Pritzker acquisition of Bardstown Bourbon Company.   BBC has been making bold moves since their start in 2014.  With the resources of Pritzker Private Capital’s deep pockets, we can certainly expect the bold moves to continue and likely at a much more rapid pace. 

Please share any thoughts you might have on this or other acquisitions in the whiskey world or what you might think we’ll see down the road.  Cheers!

At the End of the Trail: Wilderness Trail

It was to be the 2nd Annual Bourbon Fellowship Bottled in Bond Blind Tasting Bracket (BFBIBBTB).  It was to be the first Thursday of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  It was…not to be.

The basketball tournament was cancelled.  Bourbon Fellowship was cancelled.  The whole stinkin’ world was cancelled. Everyone had a blast with this blind tasting event the first time we did it last year.  So when the world became less of a “cancelled” place we rescheduled BFBIBBTB a few months later.  Just like last year, there were some surprises along the way.

First Round Pairings & Results

The eight Bourbons selected for the blind tasting had to: (a) be a Bourbon, (b) be Bottled-in-Bond, and (c) not have been in last year’s bracket, with the exception of the champ, New Riff. (For last year’s bracket and results, click here).

There were no other criteria for inclusion other than what I thought would be interesting.  Here were the first round match-ups.  You can judge how interesting they are:

  • Match-up 1: (A) Heaven Hill 7 year vs. (B) Heaven Hill 6 year
  • Match-up 2: (C ) A.D. Laws vs. (D) Old Grand Dad
  • Match-up 3: (E) Wilderness Trail Wheated vs. (F) Wilderness Trail High Rye
  • Match-up 4: (G) New Riff vs. (H) Evan Williams

When we got started, we had eight participants.   What are the odds of anything ending in a tie?  Pretty good, as it turned out.

Heaven Hill vs. Heaven Hill

After the group completed their tasting of these two products – one new (expensive and difficult to find) and the other old (a discontinued bargain) – it was a tie.  Four preferred 7 year and four cast their lot for 6 year.  So, I re-poured the samples and let the participants re-taste and re-vote.  In the second go-around, the 7 year walloped the 6-year by a count of 7-1.  Everyone commented that it was a coin flip decision for them; it just happened that more of the coins landed on 7 than 6.  To me, this says that there is a marginal difference between the quality and taste of the two products. 

A.D. Laws vs Old Grand Dad

I like to throw something into blind tastings that the participants haven’t had before.  The A.D. Laws certainly fit that bill, but faced a wily veteran in Old Grand Dad.  We ended up with a 4-4 tie on this one, too.  I was beginning to think the guys were planning it that way just to get more Bourbon!

In the re-taste / re-vote one person changed their choice and A.D. Laws would advance.  A.D. Laws was easily the most divisive Bourbon of the night and maybe the most divisive Bourbon our group has ever shared.  This is a four-grain, bottled-in-bond (60% corn / 20% heirloom wheat / 10% heirloom rye / 10% malted barley) and it has very distinct chocolate notes on the palate.  It was definitely a love-it-or-hate-it whiskey.  It got just enough love to move on in the bracket.

Wilderness Trail Wheated vs. Wilderness Trail High Rye

I couldn’t decide which Wilderness Trail product to include in the bracket, so I went with both.  There was a clear consensus of opinion on this one.  The High Rye was the top choice by a 6-2 count.  Comments from the group certainly gave a lot of love to its wheated brother, but the high rye was the decisive winner and would advance.

New Riff vs. Evan Williams

They say repeating a championship is more difficult than winning the championship in the first place.  It’s true in sports.  It’s true in Bourbon. Last year’s champ, New Riff, went down to one of the most underrated Bourbons on the planet: Evan Williams bottled-in-bond. EW won by a 5-3 margin.  Take heart, New Riff.  No one can take last year’s title away from you.

Final Four

Heaven Hill 7 year vs. A.D. Laws

By the time we started the Final Four, a late-comer joined the group (so…no more ties).  The five tasters who stood by A.D. Laws in the first round, stayed by A.D. Laws in the Final Four.  Heaven Hill’s 7 year fell 5-4 to A.D. Laws.

Wilderness Trail High Rye vs. Evan Williams

The experienced bottom-shelfer could not get past the young stud.  Evan Williams could only muster two votes as Wilderness Trail garnered seven and moved on to the Finals.

Finals

A.D. Laws vs. Wilderness Trail High Rye

All good runs come to an end.  Cinderella turned into a pumpkin…or something like that.  The unlikely journey to the BFBIBBTB Finals is over.  The loyal following gathered by A.D. Laws couldn’t survive the momentum of Wilderness Trail.  By a score of 7-2, Wilderness Trail High Rye claimed the crown of 2020 Bottled in Bond champ. 

Both Wilderness Trail bottled-in-bond products are very good and their cask strength rye may be my favorite of anything they produce.  In a very short time, it seems Wilderness Trail has become synonymous with quality whiskey.  There are a small handful of distilleries that are on a considerable roll right now (despite COVID-19) and Wilderness Trail is certainly one of those.  In a very short time, Shane Baker and Pat Heist have made their brand into one that truly moves the needle.  Congratulations to Wilderness Trail High Rye Bourbon, deserving of the title: Best Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon for 2020.