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Spirits firm Corby closes deal for Ungava gin maker

Quebec cider maker Domaines Pinnacle selling spirits, maple liqueur assets


Toronto spirits manufacturer Corby Spirit and Wine has closed on its deal for the spirits assets of cider maker Domaines Pinnacle, including the Quebec company’s flagship Ungava gin brand.

Corby, whose brands include J.P. Wiser’s whisky, Lamb’s rum and Polar Ice vodka, announced in late August it would pay $12 million cash for the Pinnacle assets and hive them off into a separate Corby subsidiary, to be called Ungava Spirits and based at Cowansville, about 80 km west of Sherbrooke.

The Pinnacle assets included in the deal, which closed Friday, include the Ungava Premium Canadian gin and Chic Choc spiced rum brands, plus maple-based liqueur brands such as Coureur des Bois and Cabot Trail, plus related production assets and inventory.

Pinnacle’s cider business, with which the company started operating in 2000 near Frelighsburg, Que., in the Eastern Townships before expanding into artisanal spirits, is not part of the deal.

Charles Crawford, who co-founded Pinnacle, will join the new Ungava Spirits subsidiary as its president, reporting to Corby CEO Patrick O’Driscoll.

Corby — which is also the Canadian distributor for Pernod Ricard spirits such as Absolut vodka, Kahlua liqueurs, Beefeater gin, Malibu rum and Jameson Irish whisky — “possesses an extensive distribution network that will enable our brands to continue to grow,” Crawford said in August.

Pinnacle, he said, had “actively sought out a company who would commit to the success of our brands and who would enable us to invest and continue to grow from our facilities in Cowansville.”

The Ungava brand, now billed as Canada’s No. 2 brand by sales at the “deluxe” end of the gin market, has become known for its distinctive yellow colour, stemming from its use of botanical ingredients harvested from the Ungava Peninsula in far northern Quebec.

“These emerging brands are highly complementary to Corby’s existing Canadian portfolio and we are looking forward to working together with Charles and his team to take them to the next level,” O’Driscoll said in late August.

The deal for Pinnacle’s spirits portfolio, he said, “demonstrates that we are committed to developing new income streams with the addition an entrepreneurial unit to our existing strategies of innovation, export and base brand rejuvenation.”

Pinnacle recently ran into controversy over a past advertising and promotional campaign for Ungava gin, which spurred allegations that the company had improperly appropriated Inuit culture for marketing purposes.

Earlier this month, Crawford wrote on the company’s website that it “recognize(d) the campaign crossed an important line and has offended many people,” and the company plans to engage “key cultural influencers” for “explicit feedback on our use of Inuit symbology.” — Network

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