Bruichladdich was sold to Remy Cointreau for GBP58m (US$90m)

Bruichladdich was sold to Remy Cointreau for GBP58m (US$90m)

Two months ago, French spirits and Champagne firm Remy Cointreau paid GBP58m (US$90.3m) for Islay Scotch maker Bruichladdich. The sale of the independent distillery, only reopened for 12 years, sent ripples through the whisky industry and saw the departure of co-founder and MD Mark Reynier.

just-drinks sat down with new boss Simon Coughlin, also a co-founder, and commercial director Douglas Taylor to talk about Reynier's exit, Bruichladdich's influence on the industry and how selling to Remy was one of the least exciting days of their lives.

just-drinks: Your management team is still in place since the Remy sale, except for Mark Reynier. Why did he leave?

Simon Coughlin: This was Mark's baby. He brought us all in to help deliver that project. I think the fruition of bringing it to a point where it was ready for sale meant that his job was done. There are still things that he would have like to have done, but I think he had the realisation that it was time to move on. He had a great relationship with Remy, there are no issues there. He just thought: “I'll go find something else to do.” 

j-d: So the intention from the start was to sell?

Bruichladdich's co-founder and CEO, Simon Coughlin

SC: The honest answer is, yes. We thought that in this industry the liquid has been separated from the production and the ingredients - it's been taken over by marketing. Mark (who was previously MD of his own wine retailer) said: “But hang on, what we did in the wine business was all about understanding ingredients, the connection of what's in the glass with the ground and the people who make it." The whisky industry has lost all of that - it's just a drink. We thought there was a chance to do it differently.

That was the vision Mark had, and that's precisely what we achieved. What we were doing differently came to the attention of a bigger company that got it, and went: “You know what? We get that completely and we can take that somewhere else to a much bigger place with our distribution." And that is the beauty of our relationship with Remy Cointreau - they totally get what we do. They love it, they want us to do more. 

j-d: Were other companies knocking on the door?

We've always had people knocking on the door. We've had to have a view of what we're doing with the business. It wasn't a lifestyle business.

j-d: Were you fortunate the whisky market changed around you?

SC: I don't think it was fortunate. I think it's happened. Some of it we were influential in.

j-d: Do you think Bruichladdich helped change the industry?

SC: I believe so, yes, absolutely. I utterly believe that.

Douglas Taylor: If you look at the things we've done - non-aged statements, unconventional packaging, aquamarine bottles, 46% abv. And bringing products that have authenticity, traceability and provenance. If what you want is a whisky with the monarch of the glen and gold foil, then the world is full of that kind of whisky. 

SC: But if you want knowledge of a whisky, then ours has that. But it's not anorak detail. People want to know more about what they are eating and drinking. That's what we did in wine. 

Bruichladdich's commercial director, Douglas Taylor

j-d: It's been a short space of time since Remy bought you. Is it all still a bit chaotic?

In terms of the distillery and bottling, there's absolutely no change except we are going to increase production significantly. On the commercial side, there's a lot going on. A lot of conversations - are we going to keep the same distributors, are we going to merge quickly in some area? Most are still up in the air, which is very exciting.

j-d: Did you stipulate to Remy that what you have worked towards will be protected?

SC: No. (Remy CEO) Jean-Marie Laborde did. They think it is an extraordinary thing that we've achieved. 

DT: They've invested in Bruichladdich for what it is. If you start bottling on the mainland, trying to bring in efficiency then you end up with a pretty run-of-the-mill distillery that they wouldn't have had to pay so much for and could have gone to market and sourced. The thing they find most appealing is the part they want to protect. And that gives us great confidence.

SC: They want us to keep our edge, to be challenging. Someone said to me the other day: "I'll see you at the next SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) meeting, because Remy will want you to join." But I have no idea. It's the least important thing at the moment. We probably won't join, because it'll mean conforming.

j-d: How did the sale come about?

SC: We had talked to them in the past. We've talked to a whole range of people in the past, about 20 in the last five or six years. To all intents and purposes, we got a call.

j-d: It must have been an exciting moment for you.

SC: When we came out of the board meeting where we decided to put it to shareholders, I have never been less excited in my life because we all thought that that was it. We had started a process that would end in us selling the company. If you'd been there you would have thought that somebody had died. It was more than just a business to us.