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Jim Beam is huge get for Suntory. Indeed.

on 15/01/14 at 4:18 pm

Booze News

indexWith its purchase of the maker of the Jim Beam brand, Japan’s Suntory Holdings has its eyes on both American culture — and global sales.

You can offer a toast to this mega-deal for its sheer audacity. And its cultural smarts.

With news that the Japanese whiskey and beer giant Suntory Holdings has agreed to purchase the maker of the legendary Jim Beam bourbon for $13.6 billion, another chunk of Americana falls into foreign hands. But, in this case, perhaps, ably so.

Suntory — which makes Yamazaki whiskey and Premium Malt’s beer — totally gets American shtick. It was, after all, among the earliest major Asian marketers to cozy-up to American celebrities to sell stuff in Japan. Way back in the “Rat Pack” heyday of the early 1970s, no less than Sammy Davis Jr., showed up in ads for Suntory brands in Japan.

Even folks who don’t have the name Suntory at the tips of their tongues, probably are familiar with actor Bill Murray, whose character in the 2003 film Lost in Translation, so perfectly depicted the image of a fading American actor seeking redemption — and a few bucks — overseas. His most famous line from the film: “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”

Clearly, with this move, it is Suntory’s time. Never mind that this deal between Suntory and Beam ranks among the biggest of 2014 so far. So eager was Suntory Holdings to get its hands on Beam Inc., that the maker of Jim Beam and Canadian Club liquor walks off with a $83.50 cash per share — which is about 25% above Beam’s closing price on Friday. Competing bids could be on tap, too. The combined company is expected to have annual liquor sales of more than $4.3 billion.

But even if Suntory has master plans to make Beam more of a global brand, the key is to not let the brand stray one iota from its American roots. The bourbon, produced in Kentucky, has been linked to some seven generations of the Beam family for more than two centuries. And, yes, Jim Beam was named for a real person — James B. Beam, best-known for lifting the business from the ashes shortly after the end of Prohibition..

Beam, which also owns Maker’s Mark bourbons, has had its own history of celebrity adulation. Even with agent 007.