Beam Sued by Importer for $100 Million Over Whiskey Deal

Beam Inc., the U.S. maker of Jim Beam, Canadian Club and Maker’s Mark, was sued for $100 million by an importer that claims Beam and its Cooley Distillery unit broke a contract to supply it with Michael Collins Irish Whiskey.

The importer, New Rochelle, New York-based Sidney Frank Importing Co., said the defendants cut off its access to the private-label whiskey brand after Beam acquired Cooley last year, according to a complaint filed today in Manhattan federal court.

“Cooley unilaterally and wholly without justification abandoned its supply contract with SFIC,” the importer said in its complaint. “Beam orchestrated this move in order to monopolize Cooley’s production capacity for the benefit of its Kilbeggan brand, which Beam is aggressively promoting in the U.S. where Michael Collins had been ascending rapidly.”

SFIC claimed the move is part of Deerfield, Illinois-based Beam’s strategy to challenge the top-selling Jameson Irish Whiskey brand and rid the market of private-label whiskeys including Michael Collins.

SFIC sued Beam and Cooley for breach of contract, unfair competition and tortious interference with the importer’s business relationships with distributors throughout the U.S.

“We have been in commercial discussions with Sidney Frank regarding this matter,” said Clarkson Hine, a Beam spokesman. “We are confident in our position and that we will prevail.”

The case is Sidney Frank Importing Co. v. Beam Inc., 13-CV-1391, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).