The takeover of Allied Domecq will see a number of the most historic scotch whiskies coming under French ownership.
Ballantine’s, Teacher’s and Laphroaig have been stalwarts of the distilling industry in Scotland for more than 100 years and fans include Prince Charles and war correspondent John Simpson.
Bosses of French group Pernod Ricard have moved to calm fears that its £7.4bn (€10.8bn) deal for Allied will spark upheaval in an industry that prides itself on continuity and tradition.
Whisky drinkers are still coming to terms with the takeover of another famous brand – Glenmorangie – for £300m (€437.9m) by French group Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) last year.
Heavy job losses are not expected to take place at distilleries operated by Allied north of the border and industry leaders have welcomed the prospect of scotch whisky reaching new drinkers and consolidating its position in overseas markets.
A spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said: “What is encouraging for scotch whisky is that companies both at home and abroad are continuing to invest in the industry.”
Ballantine’s, which traces its history back to 1865 in Glasgow and was patronised by Queen Victoria and King Edward VII, is seen by analysts as the jewel of the Allied portfolio because it generates more profits than any of its other brands.
Investment bank Merrill Lynch had expected it to be sold by Pernod to takeover partner Fortune Brands to help pay for the deal, but details today showed that it will be retained by the French firm.
The label on a bottle of Ballantine’s displays its history through the heraldic arms which recognises it as an “Incorporation Noble in the Noblesse of Scotland” and acknowledges its royal appointments.
It is not the first time that Ballantine’s has come under foreign ownership as the whisky was bought by Canadian distillers Hiram Walker Gooderham & Worts in 1937. Allied acquired the brand in 1988.
Net sales of Teacher’s whisky are only a quarter of the £300 million generated by Ballantine’s, while Laphroaig is a relative minnow despite its position as the fastest growing single-malt Scotch on the market.
Teacher’s – which is being acquired by Fortune – was registered in 1884 by William Teacher who had opened a string of “dram shops” selling wines and spirits in his native Glasgow.
Within 20 years, the brand was being exported to America and Teacher’s voluntarily joined the rationing movement in the First World War by giving customers a card which entitled them to only five glasses a week. It was acquired by Allied in 1976.
Of all the whisky brands in the Allied portfolio, Laphroaig is the oldest and dates back as far as 1815 when it was first distilled on the island of Islay in Argyll and Bute.
The distillery was acquired by Allied in 1990 and celebrated drinkers include John Simpson, who took a flask of the malt with him when reporting the Gulf War, and BBC chairman Michael Grade who named his yacht Laphroaig.
In 1994, the Prince of Wales personally went to Islay to award the company a royal warrant and bottles of Laphroaig have carried the royal coat of arms ever since.
The brand will now have US owners as it is being sold by Pernod to Fortune.