It was announced yesterday that Constellation Brands has acquired a minority interest in Nelson's Green Brier Distillery through its investment unit, Constellation Ventures. The Nashville distiller and non-distiller producer (NDP) will continue to operate independently, according to the company.
Constellation Brands launched Constellation Ventures in August of last year to identify small-scale investment opportunities related to ‘innovative concepts’ and ‘emerging categories.’ Its first investment was bottled cocktail brand Crafthouse Cocktails (Charles Joly’s operation).
Constellation, known primarily for wine (Robert Mondavi) and imported beer (Corona), also has a small spirits portfolio (Svedka Vodka, Black Velvet Canadian Whisky, Paul Masson Brandy). It used to have a much larger spirits portfolio and owned the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown, and Glenmore in Owensboro (both Kentucky, of course). It sold those facilities, and a bucket full of ‘value’ brands, to Sazerac in 2009.
Nelson's Green Brier is known primarily for Belle Meade Bourbon, an NDP product made with whiskey sourced from MGP of Indiana. They started distilling in mid-2014 with a 750 gallon hybrid still from Vendome, and can fill about two barrels a day. Nothing they sell now was made by them.
Nelson's Green Brier is run by two descendants of Charles Nelson, who founded the company in 1860. Belle Meade was one of his brands. Nelson's Green Brier was a major whiskey producer until it closed in 1909. (Prohibition came early to Tennessee.)
"Nelson's Green Brier Distillery brings together two of today's hottest trends in spirits - whiskey and craft," said Bill Newlands, executive vice president and chief growth officer of Constellation Brands. Newlands joined Constellation about a year ago from what is now Beam Suntory. He was running Beam’s North American business unit but left after the Suntory acquisition.
This deal is similar in some ways to Bacardi’s acquisition of Angel’s Envy and also to Luxco’s investment in Limestone Branch. As in the case of Angel’s Envy, Green Brier’s main asset is a successful NDP brand, and like Limestone Branch with Yellowstone, which Luxco transferred to Limestone as part of the deal, the Nelsons have an authentic family history linking them to whiskey-making in Tennessee and the Belle Meade brand.
In the press release, Newlands also says, "The entrepreneurial spirit that made Nelson's Green Brier Distillery great nearly 150 years ago is winning accolades and enthusiasts again today. Constellation Brands' support of this entrepreneurial spirit will help Nelson's Green Brier Distillery accelerate growth as they continue to re-introduce these unique whiskies."
Charlie Nelson, CEO of Nelson's Green Brier Distillery, added: "Nelson's Green Brier Distillery was an established whiskey business pioneered by our great-great-great grandfather, and we are honored to continue his legacy.
"With the support and business acumen of Constellation Ventures, we are eager to progress to the next level in re-establishing our family business while building a strong portfolio of whiskeys."