Fortune Brands is the favourite of four remaining candidates to buy state-owned Vin & Sprit, according to sources in Stockholm.

The sources told just-drinks today (19 February) that Fortune is most likely to beat out Pernod Ricard, Bacardi and Swedish private equity group EQT, which is applying in cooperation with investment company Investor. The Swedish companies are influential at home but are thought to prefer buying Vin & Sprit to break it up while the government hopes it will remain in one piece.

"Fortune Brands already distributes Absolut in the US and that's a very important factor," said the source. Pernod Ricard was seen as the second strongest candidate because of a pledge it had made not to break up the company and to continue production of Absolut in Sweden. Both companies are listed but Bacardi's corporate structure - as a private, family-owned company - is not thought to be favoured by the Swedish state, which is aiming to raise between US$5bn and $6.5bn from the sale.

Several other candidates, including Diageo, Carlsberg and France's LVMH, dropped their interest after a first round of indicative bidding that attracted about 25 expressions of interest.