Whisky Advocate

Campari Buys Forty Creek

March 12th, 2014

Author - Davin de KergommeauxNews today that Italy’s Campari Group has bought Canada’s Forty Creek Distillery, should come as no surprise. After decades of marginal decline, Canadian whisky sales have rebounded strongly in recent years. Much of the credit for this must go to Forty Creek’s whisky maker, John K. Hall.

JohnHall_106It is more than a decade since Hall began taking his whisky from bar to bar in New Orleans and Texas. At the time Canadian retailers had shown little interest in the upstart Canadian whisky maker. As he pounded the pavement, selling a case here and a case there, Hall effectively became the face of Canadian whisky in the U.S. Happily, despite the sale of his distillery, this will continue.

From the firm base he began building in America, Hall returned to Canada to conquer his home market. Forty Creek is not the largest, but it is now the fastest-growing whisky brand in Canada. Today, Campari, which also owns Wild Turkey bourbon, confirmed Hall’s unshakable faith in Forty Creek by purchasing 100% of the distillery, its brands, and holdings for $185.6 million Canadian. Forty Creek, as the consultants say, was low-hanging fruit, ripe for the picking.

Campari was one of a number of firms that was interested in purchasing the distillery. Hall was looking for a buyer that would keep the Grimsby facility open and ensure that all the employees could keep their jobs. The deal was sealed when Campari committed to those objectives.

When I met Hall in Victoria this past January, he seemed tired. “I just can’t keep this up,” he said of the non-stop pace of appearances at whisky shows and liquor stores across Canada and the U.S. “I want to spend more time with my family. When I’m in my distillery now I spend half my time behind a computer.”

“You need to hire a CEO and get back to tending your stills,” I offered. And I guess, in a way, that is what he has done. Little will change in day-to-day operations at the distillery and Hall will remain as company chairman and whisky maker. With the full strength of Campari’s sales force supporting him, Hall will likely have more time to do what he loves best: make whisky.

“I am very excited about my 2014 Limited Release,” Hall told me recently. “It will be bottled in July, and then after two and a half months of bottle rest I’ll release it.” That’s typical John Hall. Ever the wine maker, he wants to be sure his whisky has time to recover from bottle shock.

Forty Creek is a small distillery. With two pots and one column still, it has yet to reach its annual production capacity of 555,000 cases of whisky, but with the Campari deal, that can’t be far off. Watch for expansion plans in the not-too-distant future as Campari uses its global resources to grow Forty Creek in Canada, and around the world.

Meanwhile, congratulations are due to Canada’s hardest-working and best-known whisky maker, John K. Hall, and the whole Forty Creek family. For that’s what it feels like when you visit the distillery.

11 Responses to “Campari Buys Forty Creek”

  1. two-bit cowboy says:

    Many congrats to John, a peach of a guy. And best wishes to Campari, may they not go the way of Remy and its ‘laddie.

  2. Rick Duff says:

    Many congratulations to John. He’s always been my hero. I like Campari, I hope they keep the formula for success the same there.

    John really does things right there… makes a very high quality affordable every day whisky. Makes an annual release to the highest quality and keeps the price affordable for that too. Releases some special little things at the distillery only. Just a great recipe for success.

    I love stopping at the distillery anytime I’m up that way. It’s a beautiful area.

  3. Seems an almost eye-popping sum for a small distillery, much like the sale of Bruichladdich; but regardless kudos to John and his team. They’ve really built something impressive here!

  4. Louis says:

    Wow, $185.6 million, that’s Major League Baseball free agent money. Nice to see it goiing to one of the good guys. Maybe now we can get more of the special releases in the US.

  5. Great news – a validation of Canadian whisky in the growing global whisky market and a testament to John Hall’s commitment to producing exceptional whisky his way.

  6. paddockjudge says:

    Congratulations to John Hall and his Forty Creek Team.

    The purchase by Campari is a validation of the world class product and incredible craftsmanship.

    Please give us a high test flavour-bomb Mr. Hall, if only once….a Grimsby Gorilla – 100% Canadian goodness at 100 proof (or more).

    Forty Creek Supporter,

  7. Paul Davis says:

    I met john in Halifax a year ago. he was a engaging and a generous man with his time/knowledge. a willingness to share of forty creek and himself unmatched. i was first disappointed that we might have lost the greatest thing to happen to Canadian whiskey in a generation. my initial reaction to hearing he had sold / sold out. was one of surprise and dismay, perhaps a tinge of anger at losing john and his vision to mass bottling and big business. Realizing now that this deal has prob saved John K Hall and his ability to continue to raise the bar and make some of the best whiskey in the world.instead now i’m thankful. i will continue to support 40 creek and will instead look forward to seeing john do what he dose best .make whiskey not draft board room agenda’s.

  8. R. Camillone says:

    Its been a great journey form the time Forty Creek was launched in TX. LA GA and AR.back in 2003 with John Hall.
    Many days and NIGHTS were spent on the road selling Forty Creek,
    1 drink, 1 bottle 1 case at a time.
    Great news for chapter 2 of Forty Creek and John Hall’s whisky making talents.
    40 CHEERS !

  9. Rand B. says:

    Many Thanks to John and Forty Creek Whisky! Also to Bobby C for awakening our taste buds to some of the finest whisky to wet the parched lips of many a Texan!

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