National Beverage Giant Constellation Brands Buys Minority Stake In Durham Distillery

Posted: Aug 29, 2019

North Carolina’s growing craft spirits industry has attracted the attention of one of the nation’s largest alcohol companies.

Beverage conglomerate Constellation Brands has purchased a minority stake in Durham Distillery, makers of the award-winning Conniption Gin.

Constellation is a Fortune 500 company that also includes brands like Svedka Vodka, High West Distillery, large wine producers Woodbridge and Meiomi, and Mexican beers Modelo and Corona. In 2015, it paid a reported $1 billion for California craft brewery Ballast Point.

Durham Distillery is owned by wife and husband Melissa and Lee Katrincic, who founded the company in 2013. The distillery is best known for its pair of Conniption Gins, an American dry and a navy strength, and in the past year has started canning cocktails like gin and tonic and a rose spritz.

When North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed this year’s bill expanding the state’s liquor laws, Durham Distillery was the first to announce plans for a cocktail bar.

“We set out to create a world-class gin brand ... and view this investment by Constellation as recognition that we have what it takes to lead in our category, and as the critical next step towards Conniption Gins’ growth,” said Melissa Katrincic in a release.

Constellation’s deal with Durham Distillery is part of the company’s Focus on Female Founders program, which seeks to invest $100 million in women-owned or run companies by 2028. The conglomerate reached out a couple of years ago, Melissa said, and talks continued until this year when the deal was struck.

In an interview, Melissa declined to disclose the terms of the purchase, except to note that she and her husband remain majority owners. Though they are a distillery, some moments always call for champagne, as the Durham Distillery team toasted the news Wednesday morning.

“Everybody feels so overjoyed for the future,” Melissa Katrincic said in an interview. “We set a foundation for Conniption and have had great community support. We can now grow into the national brand we believe we are.”

Melissa said the purchase allows for new equipment, salaries and benefits for current workers and an open door to a national market. Conniption Gin is currently available in nine states, but growth can be slow for a small distillery, the Katrincics said. With Constellation’s backing, they expect distribution deals to be easier.

“Lee and I thought, naively, four or so years ago, that with recognition in competitions, accolades and an invitation to the London Gin Guild, all those steps along the way gave us confidence that distribution partners would give us a shot, that we’d have a warm welcome,” Katrincic said. “And that just wasn’t the case. It’s just not that easy.”

The labyrinth of contradictory ABC laws state by state also didn’t help, Lee Katrincic said.

“This opens a lot of opportunity we didn’t previously have,” Lee said.

The words craft and conglomerate are inherently at odds, but the Katrincics said the products won’t change and that they will remain in charge.

“Frankly, to have someone in your corner who believes in you and your future and is willing to invest in you, we couldn’t ask for more,” Melissa Katrincic said. “Our ethos is not changing. ... Lee and I still hold the reins.”

By Drew Jackson
August 28, 2019

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