Since the end of the Seagram battle, the destination of the distribution rights to Absolut vodka, one of the world's most sought after spirits brands, has become the most closely watched contest in the industry.

And, a report today in the Wall Street Journal has named the US-based Fortune Brands as the frontrunner to clinch a deal with the vodka's owner Vin & Sprit (V&S).

The article states that a deal between the Swedish spirit and wine group and Fortune Brands's subsidiary Jim Beam Brands (JBB) could be sealed in the next two weeks, according to industry sources. However neither Fortune Brands nor V&S commented on the news.

A Fortune Brands deal would be a major surprise to the industry. Most of the speculation has revolved around Pernod Ricard and Bacardi so far, both much larger concerns than the Illinois-based Fortune Brands.

Absolut's distribution rights have been the source of speculation since it was revealed that a change in the ownership of Seagram, the current distributors, could precursor a renegotiation of the worldwide rights to the brand by V&S.

V&S may be tempted by a Fortune deal because of the greater control it could exercise over Absolut outside Sweden, than if it was with a giant like Bacardi. The brand would probably also benefit from being part of Maxxium, JBB's distribution agreement with Remy and Highland Distillers.