By Andy Young
The on-going story of Australian Whisky Holdings (AWH) proposed takeover of the Nant Distillery has taken another twist as receivers and managers of Nant Distilling Pty Ltd have been appointed.
The saga has been running since October last year when AWH first entered into an agreement to buy the Nant Distillery business and the Nant Estate. After AWH first carried out due diligence and then sought an extension on the agreement, the deal to buy the business was terminated earlier this month, but only after AWH had bought the Nant Estate, which houses the distillery and barrel stores.
Then last week AWH said that its due diligence of the business discovered that more than 700 barrels which were part of the Nant barrel investment scheme, had never been filled. Nant’s founder Keith Batt then contacted TheShout to explain his side of the story and said that AWH were aware of this in October, that the barrels had been bought with a view to being filled as part of the distillery’s production schedule and that the return to investors starts from when they pay their money and not when the barrel is filled.
This latest twist has seen secured creditor, Eclipx Commercial Pty Ltd, appoint receivers and managers of Nant Distilling Pty Ltd, which Nant founder Keith Batt has told TheShout, is a "deliberate strategy", to help secure access to plant, equipment and barrels.
A spokesperson for FTI Consulting told TheShout: “Quentin Olde and Joseph Hansell of FTI Consulting have been appointed receivers and managers of Nant Distilling Pty Ltd by its secured creditor, Eclipx Commercial Pty Ltd.
“The appointment follows an ongoing dispute between Nant and Australian Whisky Holdings, and has been made in order to secure the commercial interests of its secured creditor.
“Australian Whisky Holdings owns the property at Bothwell in Tasmania where the Nant Distillery is currently located. AWH does not own Nant Distilling Pty Ltd or the assets of that business, including names and trademarks.
“The receivers will secure the assets of Nant Distilling Pty Ltd, including all barrels and their contents, and have them relocated to a secure bond store while ownership is determined.
“It is too early to say what the status of the assets is and the receivers are not in a position to make any definitive statements about ownership at this stage.”
FTI were unable to confirm at this stage specifically which assets Eclipx’s credit is secured against, and it is unclear exactly what this move will mean for investors in the Nant barrel investment scheme.
Batt told TheShout that this was a "drastic move" but it was also a "deliberate strategy" to try and get access again to the distilling equipment on the Nant Estate.
"Drastic times call for drastic measures, so we decided to put Nant Distillery Pty Ltd into receivership for the sole purpose of rescuing the plant and equipment and the barrels from the clutches of AWH. We've done that quite deliberately to take enforcement action to actually recover the plant and equipment and barrels etc.
"It is pretty drastic, but it's the only avenue we felt we could use to successfully take back the business and give the barrel investors some security around knowing what's happening with their barrels.
"Eclipx is an equipment financier of ours and they work quite closely with us, we have discussed this strategy with them and we gave consent for it to happen and it means they will pay the costs to go and fight the battles."
Batt added: "It's a deliberate strategy because we feel it is the only way that we could secure the plant and equipment and the barrels from AWH. The only way we could do something like this is to work with our banks and that is what we are doing with Eclipx. But the concept is not to dismantle Nant Distillery and sell it all off, the idea is to put it back into a trading business again and sell it that way, which is what the intent always was."
Meanwhile, in a statement to the ASX yesterday, AWH provided the following information "with respect to the current status of the acquisition of the Nant Distillery Business.
The company said: "[AWH] has commenced its own distillery operations on Nant Estate under an excise licence granted by ATO, as well as other activities such as cellar door, marketing, tourism, hospitality and sale activities at Nant Estate and will continue to do so in the future.
"[AWH]'s subsidiary has been licensed to use and trade under the name 'Nant' in accordance with the transaction agreements. This licence to use the name 'Nant' is not exclusive.
"With the termination of the Business Sale Agreement, there are two main outstanding groups of assets that [AWH] has not been able to purchase from the Nant Distillery Business including intellectual property, mainly the 'Nant' trademarks and plant and equipment for [the] distillery."
The group added that it is "still open for further negotiations with secured creditors with respect to the purchase of the trademarks and certain plant and equipment although these is currently no formal agreement.
"If [AWH] is unable to procure the purchase of trademarks and certain plant and equipment:
a. [AWH] will commission alternative plant and equipment for its operations.
b. [AWH] may have to make a commercial decision on whether it continues to use the 'Nant' brand in its trading activities (which will include an assessment of legacy issues associated with the brand)."
TheShout has contacted AWH, Eclipx and Nant for further comment.