How the Financial Crisis of 2007 Reshaped the Rum World

In the course of researching various rum-related topics, there’s some recent history that I keep bumping up against. Between 1997 and 2006, one company purchased several extremely important rum companies such as Angostura and Appleton. It also acquired a few other well known spirits brands. It then went bankrupt during the world financial crisis that started in 2007. The echoes of this bankruptcy have been heard as recently as 2017.

Very few people these days are aware of this story. It’s time for me to publish the basics so that I can refer to it in other writing.

What follows are some bare-bone details of what I’ve turned up from several sources. Unfortunately, no one news story paints a complete picture, so I’ve pieced it together from various linked sources.

The common denominator to all these stories is a set of related companies:

CL Financial was a privately owned Trinidad and Tobago conglomerate, and one of the largest privately held Caribbean corporations. Between 1997 and 2006, it went on a buying spree, purchasing numerous distilled spirits makers and brands. It also owned many companies unrelated to spirits. Angostura Holdings was the primary container for holding other spirits companies.

In 2009, facing a liquidity crisis, it was taken over by the government and central bank of Trinidad, which continues to own it ten years later. (More on this at the end.)

In what follows, I will use “CL Financial” to represent this group of companies, even though legal ownership may have been with a subsidiary.

The Rum Companies

Angostura – In 1997, CL Financial purchased Angostura and Trinidad Distillers, and still owns it today.

Cruzan: In 2000, Angostura acquired a majority stake in Todhunter, a U.S. based company previously known as Cruzan.

in September 2005, Cruzan was sold to V&S Sprit AB, the then parent company of Absolut vodka. The Cruzan brand is now owned by Beam Suntory.

Caroni: In 2001, CL Financial (Angostura) bid to purchase a 49 percent stake of the Caroni (75) rum division, the only other operating Trinidad rum distiller. The owner at the time was the Trinidad government. The proposed sale was controversial, and ultimately did not go through.

However, Angostura did purchase a fair amount of Caroni’s rum stocks. Caroni stopped distilling around 2000, and the rum division was closed down by 2003.

Appleton – In 2008, CL Financial purchased an 86.6 percent stake in Lascelles de Mercado & Company Limited, the parent company of J. Wray & Nephew and Appleton Estate.

In 2013, Campari purchased Lascelles de Mercado from CL Financial for US $415 million. See this story also.

Saint Lucia Distillers: Circa 1997, CL Financial (in the form of Angostura) bought 35 percent of Saint Lucia Distillers. In 2005, the Barnard Family sold the remaining to CL Financial. Third-generation rum-maker Laurie Barnard stayed on as Managing Director.

In 2017, Spiribam (part of GBH) purchased Saint Lucia Distillers. It’s now a sibling to Rhum Clemént and Rhum J.M.

E&A Scheer: Amsterdam-based Rum Master Blenders and Worldwide Suppliers of bulk Rum, Cachaça & Batavia Arrack. Originally a family owned company, CL Financial purchased Scheer in 2006. It was sold back to the owning family and current management in 2010.

Suriname Alcoholic Beverages (Borgoe): In 2007, CL Financial (Angostura) owned 75 percent of Suriname Alcoholic Beverages, known for the Borgoe rum brand.

The Rest of the Story

In addition to rum-related companies, CL Financial also owned other spirit companies:

  • Lawrence­burg Dis­tillers In­di­ana (LDI). Now known as MGP. Acquired from Pernod-Ricard in 2007. Sold to Midwest Grain Products (MGP) in 2011. MGP is a major supplier of American whiskey to various brands.
  • Burn Stewart Distillers Ltd – Scotch Whisky producers based in Scotland
  • Thomas Hine & Co. Ltd. – cognac producers based in France
  • Fassbind – Eaux-de-Vie producers based in Switzerland
  • Belvedere -By 2007, CL Financial had divested its investment in Belvedere Vodka.

In 2009, the Trinidad government took over CL Financial. In 2018 they announced plans to sell it. The legal battles between shareholders continue to this day.

A good 2009 overview of CL Financials’ holdings can be found here.

As I learn more, I’ll update this story with more information.

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