Bacardi set to win American whisky giant Dewar's for pounds 800m

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BACARDI, the drinks giant which produces the famous white rum, is set to buy Dewar's, America's leading whisky brand. The Bermuda-based group has fought off intense competition from the world's leading drinks groups to emerge as front-runner to buy Dewar's in what will be one of the biggest deals the industry has seen.

Bacardi is willing to pay around pounds 800m for the brand, industry sources say.

A deal is believed to be imminent. Bacardi is close to finalising an agreement and could seal the acquisition within the next few days - barring a last-minute blockbuster bid from a trade rival or one of several financial buyers which have cast their eyes over the group.

Dewar's has been put up for sale by Diageo, the world's largest drinks group which was formed last December when Grand Metropolitan merged with Guinness. Diageo has also been forced to dispose of Dewar's in order to get the European and American competition authorities to approve its mega-merger.

The sale of Dewar's offered a unique opportunity to buy one of the world's leading spirits brands and attracted interest from around the globe. Up until a few weeks ago Diageo was still talking to a number of drinks groups about the sale of Dewar's. Now, however, Bacardi seems to have beaten Pernod Ricard, the French drinks group, and Seagram of Canada in the race to capture the whisky brand. Allied Domecq was also interested in Dewar's but dropped out of the race after the price sailed above pounds 600m.

Bacardi is a private group run by descendants of Don Facundo Bacardi, the group's founder. He created Cuba's first rum in 1862. However the family fled Cuba in 1960 when Fidel Castro took over the country and seized the company's assets.

Since then the family has built up Bacardi to become the world's leading drinks brand, with annual sales of 19.5 million cases.

In 1993 Bacardi expanded its empire by buying Martini & Rossi which sells the world renowned vermouth. It also produces Asti sparkling wine and Hatuey beer. However it has always lacked a major whisky brand in its spirits portfolio.

Dewar's is the leading scotch brand in the US, selling just under 3 million cases a year and making annual operating profits of around pounds 55m. The pounds 800m price tag smashes analysts' earlier forecasts.

A Diageo spokesman refused to comment on any sale and said that talks between the drinks groups were confidential.

If Bacardi does buy Dewar's it could be welcome news for the Scotch whisky industry as the spirits group is likely to maintain a large part of the existing business in Scotland.

The creation of Diageo is likely to lead to a worldwide consolidation of the drinks industry. Allied Domecq is looking to find a drinks partner to take on the new industry Goliath and could increase its efforts to establish a tie up with Bacardi in the wake of the Dewar's deal.