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Fortune Brands' Jim Beam Brands Worldwide says it has gained U.S. distributorship for Absolut. The country's No. 1 imported vodka had been distributed by Seagram Spirits & Wine Co., but that arrangement had been expected to end with the sale of Seagram's spirits unit to United Distillers & Vintners and Pernod Ricard. Absolut had been considered the crown jewel in the Seagram portfolio and is believed to have been courted by companies such as Brown-Forman Corp.

The deal between Jim Beam and Absolut owner Vin & Sprit does not cover foreign distribution, which has been given to Maxxium Worldwide, a joint venture of Jim Beam, Remy Cointreau and Highland Distributors.

Sweden's V&S is buying stock in Fortune Brands. It will become a fourth and equal partner in Maxxium.

Prior to the deal, Jim Beam had been the country's No. 3 spirits company, after Seagram and UDV. This deal moves it to second place. -- Hillary Chura

Copyright March 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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