The odds of one of Scotland's last major independent whisky distillers falling into Indian hands shortened yesterday after the head of India's United Breweries flew into Glasgow to discuss a potential £600m bid with Whyte & Mackay.
Vijay Mallya, the colourful Indian billionaire who is a member of the country's upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, is keen to acquire the Scottish distiller to get its hands on its vast aged single malt cellar and its distribution network so he can sell his own whiskies and rums in Europe.
Mr Mallya met Vivian Immerman, Whyte & Mackay's chairman, and other senior managers. He also had a tour of the distiller's central Scotland bottling plant in Grangemouth. Other options on the table for discussion were a strategic alliance or distribution deal.
As well as the approach from Mr Mallya, the Scottish company has had bids for other parts of its business, which includes the Jura and Dalmore single malt whiskies, Vladivar vodka, Glayva liqueur and an own-label whisky operation. Mr Immerman has said the business, in which he has invested £110m, is worth at least £600m based on a sum-of-the parts valuation.
It is Mr Mallya's first visit to Scotland. Buying Whyte & Mackay would enable him to blend its single malts with his own Indian-produced whiskies, which would improve their flavour and given them authenticity. India's fast-growing middle class is fuelling demand for more expensive and imported whisky brands. Scottish whisky accounts for just 1 per cent of the Indian market because of the high tariffs imposed by national and state governments.
Mr Immerman has owned Whyte & Mackay with his brother-in-law, Robert Tchenguiz, the Iranian property tycoon, since 2001 when a group of investors paid £208m for the company. The duo took full control of the business, which has a 9 per cent share of the global Scotch whisky market, in June last year when they purchased WestLB's 30 per cent stake.
United Breweries is the third biggest spirits group after the UK's Diageo and France's Pernod Ricard. But compared to the top two the group is a minnow.