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Jim Beam Buy Helps Suntory Tap Bourbon Craze

If anyone should find it odd that a Japanese distillery was planning to merge with a U.S. bourbon brand steeped in the history of the American South, the answer could be found on a cocktail menu.Suntory Pacific Ltd won U.S. antitrust approval this month to buy Jim Beam (NYSE:BEAM), the No. 4 premium spirits company in the world, just as the liquor known as "America's whiskey" is enjoying a surge in U.S. interest -- and sales.Prices for bourbon, a type of whiskey distilled from at least 51 percent corn, have risen faster than inflation in the United States for years. Analysts believe prices will increase from 3 percent to 10 percent annually over the next three to five years.This is partially because bourbon, which by law must be produced in the United States, must be aged typically for two to nine years but sometimes for longer. That makes a sudden ramping up of production impossible even if demand rises.Higher corn prices in recent years raised production costs, although the impact va...

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