From left: Mark Sawford, Casey Overeem, Jane Sawford
EXCLUSIVE: The Overeem family have regained ownership of Overeem Whisky after Australian Whisky Holdings, owner of Lark Distillery, Nant Distillery and Forty Spotted Gin, sold the brand back to the family. News of the acquisition broke today with Jane Sawford (nee Overeem) and her husband Mark confirming they had reacquired the business Jane’s father, Casey, started in 2007.
Speaking to Oz Whisky Review, Jane said she was thrilled to have the brand back under family control.
‘When we sold Overeem I never expected to be able to get it back, but I think a part of me always wished that we could,’ says Jane. ‘I’m excited that the brand will now be back under family ownership, and Dad’s really excited to hear the news.’ (Read our full, exclusive interview with Jane Sawford).
Overeem Whisky, which began life in Casey’s Old Hobart Distillery (his suburban garage), was sold to Lark Distillery Pty Ltd in 2014. The self-described ‘hobby-business’ had rapidly developed a cult following in Australia and overseas, growing well beyond its founder’s original intention.
Casey retired in 2013 and the sale of the business was seen as an appropriate progression, with Jane, who had been managing sales and marketing for Overeem, continuing in that role when Lark took control of the brand.
Jane and Casey Overeem – Supplied
But Australian Whisky Holdings (AWH), a private equity group, had steadily been increasing its shareholding in Lark Distillery Pty Ltd. In 2015 it gained effective control of the business and then finalised a complete takeover in 2018, which included Lark Distillery, Overeem Whisky and a 12% share in what was then Redlands Estate (now Old Kempton).
Although the road has been rocky for AWH. In recent years, their investment-driven expansion has collided with limited distillery infrastructure and whisky stocks. These issues were then compounded when AWH acquired The Nant Group in late 2016. The fiasco that ensued over Nant’s botched barrel-scheme and the bankruptcy and business dealings of Nant founder Keith Batt created headaches for AWH.
When an AWH boardroom stoush then hit the news in early 2019, Overeem fans were left wondering where this foundational Tasmanian whisky fit into the AWH equation.
Meanwhile, Jane and her husband Mark Sawford had forged a new path in whisky, with their creation of Sawford Distillery and Jane’s role at White Label, a Hobart-based contract distillery. But when the opportunity to regain the Overeem brand materialised, they jumped at it.
Sawford stills – Oz Whisky Review
‘Mark and I keep thinking that we can’t believe that we’ve been given this opportunity to buy Overeem back,’ says Jane.
They’ve been distilling at Sawford (also based in Kingston, where Overeem was founded) for the past two and a half years under Casey Overeem’s guidance. That whisky (once it reaches maturity in 2022) will help to satisfy future Overeem demand, along with specific stock that’s been purchased from AWH and can be traced back to the original still house.
‘Our focus [with Sawford Distillery] was to create a spirit equal to or greater than the premium quality, delicacy and complexity of Overeem,’ says Mark Sawford. ‘Now, to regain the Overeem brand, it’s incredibly fortuitous, makes for a seamless transition, and presents exciting opportunities into the future.’
On the future of the Sawford brand, Jane told Oz Whisky Review: ‘We’re just going to park Sawford for a little while and see how everything goes with Overeem.’
Geoff Bainbridge, managing director of Australian Whisky Holdings, said the sale will allow the company to increase its focus on Lark and return Overeem to its founding family.
‘On our vision to Lark becoming what Penfolds is to Australia wine, AWY is taking a holistic approach to growth, and where appropriate disposing of non-core assets while maintaining our connection to the Tasmanian distilling community…’ Bainbridge said.
Casey Overeem will also join Jane and Mark as a ‘casual’ brand ambassador. Jane says their number one priority is to now reconnect with old customers and establish close relationships with many new ones.
The acquisition will be completed by June 30th, 2020.