Fortune Brands, the company which produces Jim Beam Bourbon, has issued an upbeat forecast for 2003. The company's chairman and CEO, Norman Wesley, said Fortune Brands was "off to a good start" in 2003.

Wesley said the company expects to post a "solid" double-digit earnings increase in the first quarter. According to a Thomson First Call poll, Fortune Brands is expected to post first-quarter earnings of 67 cents a share, against first-quarter earnings in 2001 of 56 cents a share.

The company's spirits business is the second largest contributor to the group's profits after its home products division.