June 29, 2015 – A legal battle lasting more than two years over supplies of bulk whiskey for the former Michael Collins Irish Whiskey brand has ended with both sides declaring a draw. In a motion filed Friday in US District Court in New York, Sidney Frank Importing Company and Beam Suntory jointly dismissed the suit filed by Sidney Frank on March 1, 2013 seeking $100 million in damages. The move came three days after Sidney Frank agreed to be acquired by Mast-Jägermeister, the German-based producer of Jägermeister liqueur, for an undisclosed amount. The two companies had been closely aligned for 40 years, as the late Sidney Frank was responsible for introducing Jägermeister to the United States as its importer and distributor in 1974.
That lawsuit was filed after Beam started limiting bulk whiskey sales from Ireland’s Cooley Distillery following its deal with Cooley’s owners to acquire the company in late 2012. Under John Teeling’s leadership, Cooley generated income by selling whiskey in bulk to independent bottlers like Sidney Frank, which built the Michael Collins brand based on having a long-term supply of whiskey from Cooley. Beam executives decided after acquiring Cooley to stop the practice and use Cooley’s production to build up its Kilbeggan, Tyrconnell, and Connemara brands instead. In the original lawsuit, lawyers for Sidney Frank claimed Beam tried to undermine its relationships with distributors by telling them that “Michael Collins is going away.” The brand was named for the Irish revolutionary leader, and Sidney Frank was forced to withdraw it from the market after being unable to replace the whiskey supply from Cooley.
The case never reached the trial stage, with Beam fighting vigorously against the Sidney Frank claims to the point of seeking legal authority in Ireland to compel former Michael Collins brand manager Abaigeal Hendron to testify in the case as recently as last month. No reason was given in the filing for the joint motion to dismiss the case, and each party will be responsible for its own legal fees and costs. A Beam Suntory spokesman declined to give more specifics beyond a news release announcing the withdrawal of the lawsuit, and executives at Sidney Frank have not returned our requests for more information.
This story will be updated as necessary.