September 12, 2018 – Diageo’s Distill Ventures unit has made its first investment in the North American whiskey market with a minority stake in Westward American Single Malt Whiskey. Westward is distilled by Portland, Oregon-based House Spirits Distillery, and the current House Spirits management team led by CEO Tom Mooney and founder Christian Krogstad will continue to own the majority of Westward and oversee day-to-day operations.
“We certainly weren’t looking for another investor in a generic sense,” Mooney said in a telephone interview following the announcement. “Years ago, we set out on the journey to establish the leading American Single Malt program and brand in Westward, and we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished up to now,” he said. Westward is distributed by Redwood Brands, another Distill Ventures partner, while Park Street handles distribution for the remainder of the House Spirits portfolio. That portfolio includes Volstead Vodka, Casa Magdalena Rum, and Krogstad Aquavit, and will remain separate from the Distill Ventures/Westward partnership.
“In Diageo, we found somebody who is the world’s leading malt whisky producer … they’re also, somewhat unusually in the spirits world, one of the leading brewers in the world,” Mooney said. “We’re very committed to the beer program that is the basis for Westward and the quality of the beer that we make to distill into whiskey.”
Distill Ventures is Diageo’s in-house venture capital unit, investing more than $75 million in emerging drinks brands so far. The unit owns minority stakes in Denmark’s Stauning and Australia’s Starward whisky brands, along with the Seedlip non-alcohol distilled spirits brand.
“Our team is deeply committed to working with strong founders like Westward’s Thomas Mooney and Christian Krogstad, who deliver on innovation and excel at brand building. Westward American Single Malt whiskey is an unparalleled spirit that perfectly delivers on the vision of placing a US brand amongst the world’s most coveted single malts,” Distill Ventures North America managing director Gonzalo de la Pezuela said in a statement announcing the deal.
According to Mooney, the Distill Ventures investment will allow Westward to complete its capital investment plan. That plan began with the construction of the current distillery in Portland’s “Distillery Row” neighborhood, which opened in 2015. The next step will be to add fermenters in the distillery with the goal of increasing production capacity by around 40 percent annually.
The announcement is the second in the past week involving a major spirits industry teaming up with a smaller US distiller. Last Thursday, Edrington announced a similar minority investment in Wyoming Whiskey that will bring the Kirby, Wyoming distillery’s whiskies into the Edrington Americas distribution network.
Listen to our midweek episode of WhiskyCast for our interview with Westward’s Tom Mooney. You can also listen to our recent tour of the House Spirits Distillery with head distiller Miles Munroe in Episode 719 of WhiskyCast.