Business

Gin distiller Sipsmith bought by Beam Suntory

Sipsmith Gin founders Image copyright Sipsmith Gin
Image caption Sipsmith is one of hundreds of artisan distillers to have set up in recent years

Japanese spirits conglomerate Beam Suntory is to buy the London craft gin distiller Sipsmith.

Beam - which also owns the Jim Beam and Maker's Mark bourbon brands - will pay an undisclosed sum for the company as it aims to cash in on the rising demand for artisan spirits.

Sipsmith is one of hundreds of craft distillers to have set up in the UK in recent years.

It said it would work with Beam to boost its exports.

Sam Galsworthy, a Sipsmith co-founder, said the firm would continue to control its brand and operate out of its Chiswick distillery.

"Nothing's going to change about the way we make it, but they are going to take us internationally in a way that we haven't been able to achieve so far," he told the BBC.

"They have given us reassurances they don't want to jeopardise this brand we have built," he added.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Beam Suntory brands include Jim Bean, Maker's Mark and Yamazaki

Started in 2009, Sipsmith claims to have pioneered a resurgence in gin brewing in London, which was historically an international centre for producing the spirit.

The firm says it founded the city's first copper distillery for nearly 200 years, and all of its spirits are made by hand and in small batches.

These include varieties such as London Dry Gin, Sloe Gin and V.J.O.P (Very Junipery Over Proof) Gin.

Beam, which is the third largest spirits company in the world, is the latest company to try to cash in on the rising demand for craft spirits and beer.

Under the deal, it aims to sell Sipsmith in markets around the world alongside its other brands, which include Yamazaki whisky, Laphroaig Scotch and Courvoisier cognac.

This would include markets where Sipsmith is already sold - such as North America, pockets of Europe and Asia - as well as new ones such as South and Central America.

More than two-thirds of Sipsmith's sales are currently within the UK.

Image copyright Thinkstock

Sales of gin have grown in recent years, surpassing £1bn in the UK for the first time in 2016, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association.

Experts say the rise of craft distilleries has helped to fuel the trend, with their emphasis on local ingredients and artisan techniques.

Growing market

This has attracted a younger demographic to the spirit, which has long been been favoured by the over-40s.

"Eight years ago I couldn't get a distributor, so I had to distribute Sipsmith around London on the back of my scooter," Mr Galsworthy said.

"Gin suffered a reputational problem - one's grandparents drank it and vodka was much more popular - but that's changed."

He also said he was not concerned a sale to a major conglomerate would harm the the brand's credibility,

"We don't think people will knee-jerk about this - we made a lot of sacrifices, quit our jobs, sold our flats to make this happen.

"And importantly we are not going to change the quality of the gin a single jot."

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