Actor George Clooney says he started his upscale tequila company Casamigos with two friends simply because they wanted to make a better tasting tequila.
Four years later, their product has a fast-growing following and Clooney and his partners Wednesday agreed to sell Casamigos — or “house of friends” — for up to $1 billion to British liquor giant Diageo.
“If you asked us four years ago if we had a billion-dollar company, I don’t think we would have said ‘yes,’” Clooney, 56, said in a statement. “This reflects Diageo’s belief in our company and our belief in Diageo.
“But we’re not going anywhere,” Clooney said. “We’ll still be very much a part of Casamigos. Starting with a shot tonight. Maybe two.”
Diageo wants to better tap into the market for “super-premium” tequila, whose sales have soared in the last decade and now account for 18% of U.S. volume shipments of tequila, according to the Distilled Spirits Council trade group.
The upscale tequilas in turn have led to a doubling of the overall tequila market since 2003, to nearly 16 million cases last year. U.S. tequila sales at the supplier level totaled $2.5 billion in 2016, council data show.
Diageo’s other liquor brands include Johnnie Walker and Crown Royal whiskies, Smirnoff and Ketel One vodkas, Guinness stout and Captain Morgan rum.
“With the global strength of Diageo, we expect to expand the reach of Casamigos to markets beyond the U.S. to capitalize on the significant international potential of the brand,” Diageo Chief Executive Ivan Menezes said in a statement.
Casamigos, whose tequila is imported from Mexico and typically retails for $45 to $55 per bottle, expects its shipments to soar 42% this year to 170,000 cases from 120,000 last year, Diageo said.
Clooney, star of such movies as “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Up in the Air,” started Casamigos with Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman, and they own equal shares of the company.
Diageo agreed to pay $700 million for Casamigos and potentially an additional $300 million if certain performance measures are met in the next 10 years.
Other super-premium tequila brands include Patron Spirits, which was co-founded by billionaire John Paul DeJoria, who also co-founded the Paul Mitchell line of hair-care products.