Just before January is out, Ian Buxton is here for his first comment piece of 2014, and he's keen to consider what the fist big M&A transacion of the year will mean in the Scotch whisky industry.

There’s no denying the surprise that greeted the announcement of Suntory Holdings’ agreed cash bid for Beam Inc. Not that anyone was surprised to see Beam snapped up; ever since its October 2011 flotation, it has been more a matter of who would move for it, when and at what price. 

Suntory was not expected to feature as a suitor, certainly not to emerge as the sole buyer, and the price does seem sufficiently full to see off any competitor interest, notwithstanding the predictable sound and fury from some theatrically enraged shareholders. A multiple of more than 20 times Beam’s most recent EBITDA will likely deter any further interest.

So, now that the dust has settled, let us consider what this might mean for whisky in general, and Scotch in particular. With Beam, Suntory acquires a stable of highly-rated Bourbons, both mainstream and small batch; Canadian Club, the sole Canadian whiskey with any meaningful pretensions to international status, and some small but promising Irish whiskies, thanks to its ownership of Cooley (a minor complicating factor for any Diageo or Pernod Ricard counter bid).

In Scotland, the portfolio includes Laphroaig and Ardmore single malts and the Teacher’s blend. Once a dominant force in the UK market, Teacher's is now more focused on India, but still sells over 2.5m cases annually. However, Suntory also own Glasgow’s Morrison Bowmore, which specialises in premium single malt: The company controls the Bowmore, Glen Garioch and Auchentoshan distilleries and brands. Talk of Whyte & Mackay coming into their sights seems little more than over-excited speculation. The Dalmore and Jura brands aside, it’s hard to see where Whyte & Mackay might fit into the business.

Let’s not forget what Suntory has done for Japanese whisky, leading the global revival of interest amongst whisky connoisseurs with their award-winning Yamazaki and Hakashu malts and Hibiki blend. Suntory is now recognised as a world-class distiller of whisky and more than capable of taking the long-term decisions essential in whisky production and marketing. Their reputation here goes before them.

Moreover, their management style has hitherto been to devolve local responsibility to local management. I understand that Morrison Bowmore is left largely to run its own operations, subject naturally to achieving agreed plans and targets. The Suntory way, then, is to let the managers manage.

That was the tenor of the official announcement, with the Beam management anticipated to remain in place while distribution arrangements are co-ordinated and the synergies - if, indeed, there are any - start to become evident. Perhaps significantly, there was no mention of Morrison Bowmore in the media statements: important though Bowmore and its stable mates are to single malt fans, they are hardly material to this deal and, conveniently, MB doesn’t bring any blended business to conflict with Teachers.

So, what could we expect? Based on past history, I’d expect to see further investment at Laphroaig in particular to boost production for long-term sales. We might expect to see the positioning of Teacher’s to come under review. With its heritage, there must be opportunities to reposition the brand and launch more premium line extensions.

There would be logic in moving Ardmore under Morrison Bowmore's aegis, where it could receive the close attention needed to build single malt brands from a team with the skills and experience of this specialist sector. Laphroaig, though, already enjoys international branded status and would sit uncomfortably close to Bowmore in the Glasgow company’s portfolio, so seems likely to stay managed from the US.

The Irish brands are well-placed to benefit from Suntory’s added muscle and slipstream the exciting growth in this sector. Again, production could well be increased. Canadian Club too can only look positively on this move.

It’s hard to see very much that isn’t either good for whisky, or neutral at worst, from this mega-deal. Any changes, especially in the short-term, will lack drama and both Suntory and Beam’s incumbent management will be looking for a period of stability.

Overall, Beam is going to a very good place, with lengthy planning horizons and committed management with great whisky credentials. The move may have been surprising, but the more one thinks about it, the better it seems.