Hibiki. One of the world's greatest whiskeys.
In the 2003 film Lost In Translation, Bill Murray's character went to Japan to film whiskey commercials with the tagline "For relaxing times, make it Suntory Time."
Over the weekend Suntory announced its planned $16 billion takeover of American whiskey giant Beam. If the deal goes through as planned, Suntory Time will soon refer not just to Suntory's famed Japanese whiskeys like Yamazaki and Hibiki, but also to Jim Beam, Maker's Mark and even Laphroaig scotch.
The family that will control these brands is the second-richest in Japan. According to Forbes research, Suntory is controlled by 18 members of the combined Saji and Torii clan, descended from Shinjiro Torii, who founded the company now known as Suntory back in 1899.
The family enjoys a net worth calculated by Forbes last year at $10.7 billion. The head of the family, and chairman of Suntory, is Nobutada Saji, 68, whose individual stake in Suntory we estimated last year to be worth $1.4 billion.
Nobutada Saji's father Keizo was the adopted son of founder Torii, but as is customary in Japan he was given his adoptive mother's family name. He grew the business from 1961 to 1990. Nobutada has run the operation since his father's death 1999.
Inspired by company motto "Yatteminahare," translated as "Go for it," Saji has pushed Suntory into some big deals in recent years, including the $4 billion takeover of Orangina Schweppes Group in 2009 and the $600 million buy of Frucor Beverages, in 2008. Last year Suntory bought Lucozade and Ribena soft drinks from GlaxoSmithKline for about $1.7 billion. He pursued a merger with rival Kirin Holdings, but that deal fell apart in 2010. Last year Suntory held an IPO of its soft drinks business, raising $4 billion.
Suntory's annual sales are in the neighborhood of $20 billion, with net income believed to be on the order of $500 million.
Shares of Beam Inc. shot up 24% today to $83.07 in late morning trading. Suntory's bid is $83.50 per share in cash, valuing the company at more than 20 times EBITDA.
The two companies have been getting to know each other for awhile. In 2012 Beam entered a marketing alliance with Suntory under which Suntory distributed Jim Beam and Maker's Mark in Japan. Because Suntory's whiskeys are more similar to scotch than to Beam's famous American bourbons, the brands should complement rather than compete with each other.
Suntory's whiskeys have become more popular in the United States in recent years as Suntory has sent more product into the U.S. market. Quality helps as well. In my opinion, Suntory's single malt Yamazaki, and blended Hibiki and Hakushu whiskeys can stand up to any fine scotch when it comes to complexity of character and drinkability. Suntory's first master distiller, Masataka Taketsuru, studied in Scotland and located his distilleries in some of Japan's most "Scottish" locales.
If you haven't tried them before, but do enjoy a peaty scotch (like those from Islay), look for the Hakushu. The Whisky Advocate says the peatiness of Hakushu compares with that of the well known Bowmore single malt. As for Laphroaig, that richest and most peaty of Scotch whiskeys from Islay -- it now joins the Suntory stable.
The other famous Beam brands include Courvoisier, Gilbey's, DeKuyper, Skinnygirl, Sauza, Hornitos, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden's, Booker's, Baker's, Old Crow, Canadian Club, Pinnacle and Old Overholt.
For some real Suntory Times, check out this 1974 Sammy Davis, Jr. Ad For Suntory Whiskey