ABOUT 290 shareholders of independent Irish whiskey maker Cooley Distillery were yesterday toasting the $95 million sale of the company to US-based Beam Inc, the world’s fourth-biggest spirits company.
The biggest beneficiaries will be its Clontarf-based chairman and co-founder John Teeling and his family, who will receive more than €20 million.
Mr Teeling stands to earn €13 million while his son Jack, Cooley’s 35-year-old managing director, will net about €3 million.
Ironically, Mr Teeling does not drink whiskey. “I’ve never tasted the stuff,” he told The Irish Times yesterday.
Other beneficiaries include Lee Mallaghan, co-owner of the Carton House leisure complex in Kildare, who stands to make about €6.2 million from the deal.
Cooley has had a stellar year, increasing sales by 50 per cent. It expects to shift 320,000 cases of its brands, which include Kilbeggan and Connemara.
Sales of Irish whiskey globally have soared in recent years. The category grew by 11.5 per cent last year to 4.86 million cases. “Irish whiskey is on fire at the moment, particularly in America,” Mr Teeling said.
Cooley has 104 staff and distilleries in Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath, and Cooley, Co Louth.
The Teelings will remain with the business for now. The deal is expected to close next month when the legal paperwork is concluded.
The price includes paying off Cooley’s €13.2 million bank debt.
Mr Teeling had the idea for Cooley in 1970 while at college but it was not set up until 1987 with an investment of £106,000.
“We bought an old alcohol plant on the Cooley peninsula that was using potatoes to make ethanol,” Mr Teeling explained. He added the Kilbeggan distillery in 1988.
Co-founder Donal Kinsella sold his shares some years ago.
Mr Teeling said Beam had courted it for four years but “serious discussions” only started in August. He said Cooley received four other approaches this year.
Mr Teeling said that he had agonised over signing the deal. “It was like walking your only daughter down the aisle and giving her to another man,” he explained.
Beam’s president and chief executive Matt Shattock said the deal was a “unique and compelling high-return opportunity to enter one of the industry’s highest growth categories”.
“We look forward to being good stewards of these iconic Irish assets,” Mr Shattock added.
Based in Illinois, Beam’s annual sales are $2.7 billion. It is best known for Jim Beam bourbon.
Mr Teeling admitted that he did not have the firepower to grow Cooley as an independent. “What they can do in 10 years would have taken us 30 years,” he said.