Beverage company Lion has bought the remaining 50 per cent stake it did not already hold in craft spirit brand Four Pillars, a decade on from when the distillery was founded by three friends in the Yarra Valley.
The announcement comes a little over four years since Lion acquired half of the business, which was founded by Cameron Mackenzie, Matt Jones and Stuart Gregor in 2013 starting with the purchase of a custom-built still made by Carl of Germany.
Following the transaction, Mackenzie and Jones will remain in their roles of chief distiller and brand and strategy director respectively, while trade director Gregor will stay for the short-term before taking an extended sabbatical.
Lion is owned by Tokyo-headquartered giant Kirin, which has also just received two regulatory approvals for its proposed takeover of another iconic Australian company, vitamin and supplement brand Blackmores (ASX: BKL).
The acquisition of Four Pillars also includes ownership of the world class distillery in Healesville and all domestic and international sales and marketing of the brand, which will join the Lion-owned Vanguard Luxury Brands distribution business.
Lion claims this incorporation will provide a solid foundation for growth in premium spirits, operating as a standalone spirits division called Four Corners Global Spirits that will be headed up by former Beam Suntory executive Ed Stening.
"It’s not every day you get to buy the world’s best gin distillery but today Lion is absolutely thrilled to add Four Pillars to our portfolio. Twice winners of the International Gin Distillery of the year, on the shortlist again this year, and Australia’s benchmark craft spirit – it is a great day for our business," says Lion CEO Sam Fischer.
"We look forward to supporting the continued growth of this remarkable brand, working with Cam and Matt to help drive our future plans. Alongside continued investment behind our core beer business, we see premium spirits as a real opportunity for future growth."
Mackenzie says the move feels like the "absolute right next step" after a whirlwind 10 years.
"This is a great day for our brand, the business, our home in Healesville, our investors, families and staff," Mackenzie says.
"Lion has played an integral part in us expanding our Healesville home, increasing our footprint across Australia and now increasingly New Zealand, as well as helping us plug into some great opportunities internationally and in Global Travel Retail through the wider Lion network."
Mixed fortunes for Lion's beer brands
On the brewing front, last month Lion announced a multi-million dollar upgrade and expansion plan for the Stone & Wood brewery in Murwillumbah, with construction due to break ground later this year on a new site purchase in Kites Crescent. The transformation will include a tasting room and beer garden on site by 2024, while plant tours are also in the company's plans.
The operational and sustainable upgrades for the brewery will include CO2 collection, brewhouse energy recovery, further beer waste reduction and a larger water re-use water reticulation system.
Less than two weeks ago Lion also announced plans to cease brewing Two Birds beer and close ‘The Nest’ taproom and brewery in Spotswood, VIC, putting an end to a brand it acquired in 2021 through the purchase of Fermentum in 2021.
"While Two Birds Brewing has won a number of local and international brewing awards, sales have been on a downtrend for several years," Fermentum's head of marketing Ed Jamison said at the time.
"Despite continued marketing investment, it is not showing signs of a turnaround, and we’ve made the difficult decision to cease brewing Two Birds and close ‘The Nest’ taproom in Spotswood, Victoria.
"I’d like to recognise the Two Birds Brewing founders, Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen, who have blazed a trail for diversity and inclusion in brewing in opening Australia’s first female founded brewery. Closing Two Birds is a difficult decision that has not been taken lightly and we want to continue to acknowledge and celebrate their unique contribution both to the Fermentum team and the wider industry," added Fermentum’s supply chain leader Rich Crowe.
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