Saturday, June 24, 2023

"Have We Reached Peak Bourbon?": Private Equity, CapEx and Venture Capital In The Booze Biz

From VinePair, June 20, 2023:

The bourbon boom has been going on for so long that by now it’s old news. After decades in the doldrums, American whiskey sales — of which bourbon makes up the overwhelming majority — have been rising since the 21st century began, accelerating in the last decade to reach $5.1 billion in 2023, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. To keep those bottles flying off shelves, bourbon producers — both established and start-up — have sunk billions into expanding capacity and filling ever more barrels: over 2 million a year for the last four years.

The investments are numerous and often massive. Buffalo Trace is in the midst of a $1.2 billion expansion that is expected to double capacity when complete. Beam Suntory announced a $400 million project to increase capacity at its Boston, Ky., distillery by 50 percent — this just a couple of years after opening the Fred B. Noe Distillery, a specialized production facility, on its Clermont campus. Heaven Hill is building a second distillery at an estimated cost of $135 million with the goal of doubling capacity, and Wild Turkey just announced plans to do the same, constructing a second plant with a 5 million proof-gallon capacity and a $161 million price tag. Willett is adding a new $93 million facility, and Diageo has built not one, but two whiskey distilleries in Kentucky since 2017.

And that doesn’t even take into account the sizeable new distillery projects that have been announced: Blue Run ($50 million), Kentucky Owl ($150 million), Horse Soldier ($200 million), and a distillery for Jefferson’s from Pernod Ricard ($250 million) are among the splashiest of these up-and-comers, though only Horse Soldier has started construction so far.

Bourbon country is clearly betting big on the future. And with today’s rosy conditions, why shouldn’t it? Most folks seem to think the wave hasn’t yet crested. “Bourbon’s been on a run for a long time, but I think all of us that are in it are still betting on a long time to come,” says Mark Erwin, CEO of Bardstown Bourbon Co., which has been in a constant state of expansion since its founding in 2014.

Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA), says the massive investments are proof of the industry’s confidence. “They’re spending billions of dollars over the next few years to expand and grow, and I don’t think they’d be doing that unless they had some pretty secure feelings that we still have a good, positive trajectory over the next 10 years or more.”....