Smirnoff owner Diageo is reportedly eyeing a slice of US-based whisky producer Beam.
The drinks giant, which also owns Guinness and Baileys, has held talks with Japanese brewer Suntory about striking a $10bn deal to acquire some of Beam’s brands, according to The Sunday Telegraph.
Diageo, which trades in 180 markets worldwide, is not believed to have made a formal offer yet and is not in talks with Beam.
The historic Beam brand dates back to 1788 when Jacob Beam developed bourbon in the hills of Kentucky. Last year Beam’s former parent company, Fortune Brands, split itself into two US-listed companies – Fortune Brands Home & Security and Beam Inc.
Any Beam deal would be a departure from Diageo’s recent strategy to move into emerging markets amid falling UK sales.
Last month the London-based group announced it was targeting a thirst for spirits among the Indian middle classes by taking a stake in Asian drinks giant United Spirit.
Diageo’s £1.3bn deal will give it a 53.4% slice of India’s largest spirits company.
And in February Diageo announced a £1.3bn deal to snap up Turkey’s biggest spirits producer Mey Icki.
Suntory, which owns Japanese whisky brand Yamazaki and fizzy drink group Orangina, is understood to have spoken to other parties about a joint bid since it ended talks with Diageo in the summer.
And Diageo is also believed to have had discussions with other companies including private equity firms.
Diageo, which is the world’s largest whisky producer, is reportedly only interested in some of Beam’s brands, which include the bourbon whisky Jim Beam.
In August Diageo reported an 11% profits hike in the year to June 30, with spirits fuelling more than 80% of its growth.
Johnnie Walker whisky enjoyed a 15% sales surge, driven by strong demand in countries such as South Africa, Brazil and Asia Pacific.
Diageo declined to comment.