Pinnacle Vodka was one of White Rocks last remaining brands

Pinnacle Vodka was one of White Rock's last remaining brands

It was the automated switchboard that suggested something had changed. A couple of weeks ago it answered calls with a cheery “Welcome to White Rock Distilleries”. When I called last week it said: “Thank you for calling Jim Beam, Maine.”

So, what's happened at White Rock? Has it ceased to exist? A source I spoke to at White Rock told me that Beam Inc has indeed taken over. White Rock owner Paul Coulombe, whose father bought the company in 1971, is retiring and Beam is moving in to the Maine headquarters. Employees were informed on 1 June, the source said.

This was big news for staff, and something of a surprise, though all have been assured that they will keep their jobs and little will change. Beam will keep the factory running, where it will continue to produce the Pinnacle Vodka range it bought from White Rock earlier this year.

It made less of a splash in the newsphere. There was plenty of coverage of Beam's completion of the US$605m deal to buy Pinnacle as well as the Calico Jack brand, but nothing on the apparent demise of a once-sizable alcohol brand owner and distributor: In 2010, White Rock owned about 100 brands that generated sales of about $185m, according to this profile on CEO Coulombe.

Then, at the end of September last year, something changed, and the next few months took on the appearance of a White Rock firesale.

Sazerac bought 32 brands and, in May, picked up a whole lot more. At the time Coulombe said the company was streamlining so it could focus on Pinnacle and Calico Jack, which were posting impressive numbers: Pinnacle's volume growth almost doubled in 2011, thanks to the whipped cream lines that White Rock launched in the year.

But, in April, came news of the Beam deal, and at the end of last month, Campari announced it was taking over distribution of Morrison Bowmore's McClelland's Scotch brand in the US from White Rock. The brand quietly departed, and with it the final redoubt of the White Rock empire. 

When asked about the sale, a spokesperson for Beam said: "We did not acquire White Rock Distilleries, just the two brands [Calico Jack and Pinnacle] and related assets (bottling plant, IP, inventory, etc).

The spokesperson was unable to confirm if White Rock has any remaining assets following the sale, but added that "the bottling operations in Maine, including related payroll, have seamlessly become part of Beam and our supply chain".

Surely a drinks company that has no brands can no longer be considered a company? If this applies to White Rock, then we wish the 'company' and all its employees the best for the future.