Bruichladdich is one of eight Islay distilleries

Bruichladdich is one of eight Islay distilleries

This week brought news of another Big Drinks swoop for a one of those free-wheeling, independent companies that all too often end up joining someone else's portfolio.

It was a relatively small deal, financially, at GBP58m (US$90.3m). But this takeover was for Bruichladdich, the last of the independent Islay Scotch distillers and a lightning rod for many people's fond feelings for the whisky industry.

When the distillery reopened its doors in 2000 after a six-year mothballing, the purists celebrated. In charge was the loquacious Mark Reynier, who clubbed together with about 60 independent investors to raise the GBP6.5m asking price. In tow was Jim McEwan, a former Bowmore man who'd worked every post in the business.

“I've never met a distiller with the same levels of passionate commitment as McEwan has, nor one with the same far-reaching cultural perspectives,” just-drinks' whisky expert Andrew Jefford said back in 2001.

Those sentiments changed slightly at the beginning of the month when French Cognac and liquour maker Rémy Cointreau announced it had entered “exclusive negotiations” with Bruichladdich to buy the distillery.

However, many realised this was how the modern drinks industry worked.

“Am I sad about this?” asked whisky blogger John Hansell. “Sure, a little bit. But this is the nature of the business. Distilleries get bought and sold. Even fiercely independent ones… Hopefully, a deal like this will be good for the consumer in the long run.”

Patience Gould on this site went so far as to say: “It’s definitely time for Rémy.” Bruichladdich's release of an Islay gin did not help the focus of the company, and Patience said the distillery should secure its own future “in the more-than-capable hands” of the French group.

Rémy's own intentions with the brand may have been revealed in the company's Q1 results, released last week.

Sales jumped by about a quarter, thanks to its Cognac, which has bucked trends of decelerating economic growth in China. The premium-priced Rémy Martin has so far proved recession proof in the world's largest market. “Although there have been numerous chats in the press recently about a slowdown for the luxury industry in China, Rémy Cointreau is yet to see any sign of slowdown,” one analyst said

With premium whiskies still looking for share in China, Rémy Cointreau could see Bruichladdich's strong heritage as a key to the countries still-booming luxury beverage sector. 

Three days after the results, on 23 July, Rémy confirmed it had bought Bruichladdich.  

“Although it didn't quite end up as I imagined, Remy are a good bunch and the future of Bruichladdich the brand, distillery and staff is assured,” said Reynier on his Twitter feed.

The future of Reynier's role is not yet known. However, a note on his blog hinted that not much will change in Islay.

“In essence, Bruichladdich has merely exchanged 60 small shareholders for one bigger one,” he wrote. “Bruichladdich will carry on as before.”