Each week, we bring you the latest whisky news on WhiskyCast, but a lot can happen during the week. Now, you can keep up with whisky news as it happens here on WhiskyCast.com!
July 4, 2015 – Chef David Bouley is one of America’s leading chefs, and it’s almost impossible to get reservations at his namesake restaurant in New York City’s TriBeCa neighborhood. Before opening the original Bouley in 1987, the Sorbonne-trained Connecticut native worked at some of Manhattan’s legendary restaurants and has a wall full of awards for both his culinary and writing prowess.
For Suntory’s New York City launch of the Hibiki Japanese Harmony blended whisky at a dinner on June 30, 2015, Chef Bouley and his colleague, Chef Isao Yamada, prepared a dinner featuring smoked salmon, Colorado Lamb, and other courses using the Hibiki as both an ingredient and a complementing drink. However, what may have been the most memorable dish of the evening wasn’t found on the menu…Chef Bouley and his team prepared ice cream using the Hibiki and organic prunes – just because they had some whisky left to work with.
After dinner, New York Daily News reporter Jeannette Settembre and WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie had a chance to talk with Chef Bouley about whisky, food, and that ice cream. Here’s the interview:
Chef Bouley owns his namesake restaurant in Manhattan, along with Brushstroke, the Bouley Test Kitchen, and the Bouley Botanical event space.
July 3, 2015 – Shinji Fukuyo was named Suntory’s chief blender in 2009, and is only the fourth person to hold that title in the company’s history. His responsibilities include the Yamazaki and Hakushu single malts, along with the Hibiki range of blended Japanese whiskies and the entire Suntory Whisky portfolio.
His whiskies have won numerous awards over the years, and he is regarded as one of Japanese whisky’s leading innovators. His latest creation is the Hibiki Japanese Harmony blend, which is being released this month worldwide.
Earlier this year, we sat down for a conversation in New York City with the help of interpreter Hidemi Harada.
Links: Suntory Whisky
July 3, 2015 – The Law of Unintended Consequences – better known as the saying “it seemed like a good idea at the time” – has raised its ugly head again. France’s Glann ar Mor Distillery in Brittany will close next month, not for economic reasons, but because of what the distillery’s founders claim are political and regulatory reasons. A new “protected geographical indication” for Brittany whiskies is in the final stages of implementation by the French government, and the Donnay family believes the standards will make it impossible for them to continue to produce their whiskies in the region.
Jean and Martine Donnay founded Glann ar Mor 18 years ago, and joined with three other area distillers in 2009 to pursue the “Whisky de Bretagne” geographical indication as a way to promote their products and protect themselves from unfair competition. Jean Donnay said that process fell apart in early 2012 after Glann ar Mor and two other members of the group decided to drop out. “The drawbacks and disadvantages of the geographical indication were stronger than the advantages,” he explained in a telephone interview.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Jean Donnay:
As with wine appellations, geographical indications for whiskies in France are controlled by the Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO). Donnay claims the agency decided last year to revisit the issue with the support of one of the three distillers who had initially backed out, and he claims the agency established requirements for the “Whisky Breton/Whisky de Bretagne” designation that favor large-scale distillers at the expense of artisan distillers like Glann ar Mor. “We found ourselves in a situation where we knew the geographical indication would happen, and it had become unacceptable,” he said. The proposed geographical indication has been submitted to European Union officials in Brussels for approval, and could take effect in early 2016 if approved.
Without signing on to accept the geographical indication and its requirements, Glann ar Mor would be unable to not only refer to its whiskies as “Breton Whisky”, but would have to remove all references to Brittany from its labels and packaging. Donnay was told by a regulator that would include a graphic showing a map of the Brittany region that appears on the back of Glann ar Mor and the Kornog peated whisky bottles, but that he still would be able to list the distillery’s address. “We must present our whisky labeling in a way that nobody can know where it comes from,” he said. In addition, Donnay would be forced to stop producing his single malt rye whisky and mothball his alembic still, since the requirements mandate the exclusive use of malted barley and pot stills.
The Donnays are still exploring options for the future, and are not ruling out the possibility of moving the distillery out of Brittany. They are also progressing with work on their Gartbreck Distillery on Islay, though Donnay declined to link the two projects for now and said more news on Gartbreck will be announced in coming weeks.
WhiskyCast has contacted the INAO for a response to Donnay’s claims, and this story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the French terms for Breton Whisky. In addition, we are making available a PDF file (in French) of the INAO’s proposed standards for “Whisky de Bretagne” that have been submitted to the European Union for approval.
July 1, 2015 – David Beam, the last distiller at Jim Beam to carry the family name, passed away at his farm near Bardstown, Kentucky on Monday (June 29) at the age of 74. Born Daniel David Beam on January 23, 1941 at his family’s home on the distillery grounds in Clermont, he spent 38 years working at the Jim Beam Distillery before retiring in 1996. He and his wife Belle also owned the Old Kentucky Home Motel in Bardstown for 21 years, according to his obituary in the Nelson County Gazette.
As longtime Bourbon historian and writer Chuck Cowdery noted in his blog, David Beam and his brother Baker succeeded their father Carl as the head distillers at Beam, with Baker working the 12-hour day shift and David working the night shift to keep the distillery running 24 hours a day.
David Beam is survived by his brother, along with a daughter, three sons, and seven grandchildren. Our condolences go out to the entire Beam family.
Links: Jim Beam
July 1, 2015 – “I’ll be 72 in December, and when you get to be 71, you’ll understand…right now, I don’t know if I can make you understand. 50 doesn’t mean that big a deal to me…”
That’s how longtime Four Roses Distillery Master Distiller Jim Rutledge describes his decision to retire after 49 years in the whiskey business. He will step down on September 1 after more than 20 years as Master Distiller and be succeeded by current Operations Director Brent Elliott. Rutledge has agreed to remain as the distillery’s “Master Distiller Emeritus” and do promotional work for Four Roses, but is also keeping his future options open. “Like Elmer T. (Lee of Buffalo Trace)…and I’m not comparing myself to him, he was a legend, but they had things for him, put his name on bottles after he retired…look at Booker (Noe), he was around 20-25 years after he retired as the face of Jim Beam,” Rutledge said in a telephone interview. “I’m retiring, but I wouldn’t know how to put a fishing pole in my hand and go fishing every day.”
Rutledge said there were years when he took just four days of vacation time because of commitments to the distillery, and he wants to be able to spend time with his family while he’s healthy enough to enjoy it. “I’ve felt like I cheated my family over the years because I was too committed to what I was doing at the distillery, so this gives me the opportunities to do both…I may be able to work as much as I want, more than I want, but it certainly won’t be every day.”
In a news release, Four Roses CEO Satoko Yoshida praised Jim’s contributions to the distillery and the industry. “ “He will be missed as the ‘face of Four Roses Bourbon,’ but we now wish him much happiness and success in his retirement years. I am also excited to have the opportunity to work with Brent in his new capacity as Master Distiller,” she said. The move comes as Four Roses is preparing to launch a $55 million expansion that will double the distillery’s capacity and add new warehouses at its Coxs Creek maturation complex near Bardstown.
Overseeing that work will rest with Elliott, who gets nothing but praise from Jim Rutledge. “He’ll make up the Limited Edition Small Batch samples…I do the easy part, yes or no, approve or not approve.” Elliott has been responsible for selecting the barrels used in the regular Four Roses Bourbons, and Rutledge said “he has been very involved…whether it’s the distillate that goes into the barrel, the Bourbon that comes out of the barrel…all along, he’s been involved.”
Rutledge started his career at Seagram’s, which owned the Lawrenceburg, Kentucky distillery until the company’s breakup and its sale to Japan’s Kirin Brewing in 2003. He was instrumental in reviving the brand’s stature in the US market when it was reintroduced as a premium Bourbon under Kirin’s ownership. For decades, only export markets received the Four Roses Bourbons, while the Bronfman family insisted on marketing Four Roses in the US as a cheaply blended American Whiskey. Rutledge’s leadership in the industry resulted in his being named to the inaugural 2001 class of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, and he also served as chairman of the Kentucky Distillers Association board.
The entire interview with Jim Rutledge will be part of this week’s WhiskyCast.
Editor’s note: This story was updated following an interview with Jim Rutledge.
Links: Four Roses
July 1, 2015 – Diageo Chief Financial Officer Deirdre Mahlan has been named as the drinks giant’s new North American president following the announcement last month that current president Larry Schwartz will retire later this year. Mahlan will relocate from the company’s London headquarters to New York once her successor is in place. She previously served as the North American unit’s CFO during a stint in New York lasting from 2002 through 2007, and moved through senior roles as the company’s head of tax and treasury issues and Deputy CFO before being promoted to her current role in 2010.
In a news release, Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes made the announcement as one in a series of organizational changes for the North American unit. “Deirdre has been an exceptional CFO and has the skills, together with experience of the market, to lead the next stage of growth in North America,” he said.
June 29, 2015 – A legal battle lasting more than two years over supplies of bulk whiskey for the former Michael Collins Irish Whiskey brand has ended with both sides declaring a draw. In a motion filed Friday in US District Court in New York, Sidney Frank Importing Company and Beam Suntory jointly dismissed the suit filed by Sidney Frank on March 1, 2013 seeking $100 million in damages. The move came three days after Sidney Frank agreed to be acquired by Mast-Jägermeister, the German-based producer of Jägermeister liqueur, for an undisclosed amount. The two companies had been closely aligned for 40 years, as the late Sidney Frank was responsible for introducing Jägermeister to the United States as its importer and distributor in 1974.
That lawsuit was filed after Beam started limiting bulk whiskey sales from Ireland’s Cooley Distillery following its deal with Cooley’s owners to acquire the company in late 2012. Under John Teeling’s leadership, Cooley generated income by selling whiskey in bulk to independent bottlers like Sidney Frank, which built the Michael Collins brand based on having a long-term supply of whiskey from Cooley. Beam executives decided after acquiring Cooley to stop the practice and use Cooley’s production to build up its Kilbeggan, Tyrconnell, and Connemara brands instead. In the original lawsuit, lawyers for Sidney Frank claimed Beam tried to undermine its relationships with distributors by telling them that “Michael Collins is going away.” The brand was named for the Irish revolutionary leader, and Sidney Frank was forced to withdraw it from the market after being unable to replace the whiskey supply from Cooley.
The case never reached the trial stage, with Beam fighting vigorously against the Sidney Frank claims to the point of seeking legal authority in Ireland to compel former Michael Collins brand manager Abaigeal Hendron to testify in the case as recently as last month. No reason was given in the filing for the joint motion to dismiss the case, and each party will be responsible for its own legal fees and costs. A Beam Suntory spokesman declined to give more specifics beyond a news release announcing the withdrawal of the lawsuit, and executives at Sidney Frank have not returned our requests for more information.
This story will be updated as necessary.
June 29, 2015 – Tomatin is releasing a new 36-year-old single malt from the distillery near Inverness, with just 800 bottles in the initial batch. The new expression will be available worldwide with a recommended retail price of £499.99 ($789 USD) when it hits retailers later this month.
The Tomatin 36 Year Old will replace the distillery’s 30-year-old expression, which was discontinued earlier this year. While the initial batch will have just 800 numbered bottles, the distillery has enough stock of older whisky available to make it available on an ongoing basis, according to sales director Stephen Bremner. The whisky is tatted from a combination of Oloroso Sherry and ex-Bourbon casks, and is bottled at 46% ABV with no chill-filtering or caramel coloring.
Tasting notes will be available at a later date.
June 29, 2015 – Scotch Whisky Association CEO David Frost and his predecessor, Sir Gavin Hewitt, both came to the association following service in the UK Diplomatic Service, so it comes as little surprise that Frost and the SWA’s directors would select another diplomat to head up the association’s new London office. Ambassador Sarah Dickson will join the association once she wraps up her service as the Queen’s Ambassador to Guatemala and Honduras.
As Director of Global Affairs, Dickson will be responsible for the association’s lobbying efforts on trade and taxation worldwide. Her speciality is European and Latin American affairs, and she served at the UK’s embassies in Spain, Argentina, and Serbia before being appointed to her current post.
In addition, Graeme Littlejohn has been named to head up the London office’s external affairs unit with responsibility for relationships with the UK Government and Parliament. Littlejohn was chief of staff for former MP and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander. Trade policy manager Helena Mumdzjana will move from the SWA’s Edinburgh headquarters to London, and the association is hiring additional trade and regulation analysts to staff the London office when it opens next month.
In a news release, Frost and his colleagues repeated their intention to keep the Association’s headquarters in Edinburgh. Plans are in the works to move from the longtime office in Atholl Crescent to new offices in Edinburgh’s Quartermile development later this summer.
Links: Scotch Whisky Association
June 28, 2015 – While the exact timetable hasn’t been set, Heaven Hill is planning the third phase in its expansion of the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville in the past seven years. The second phase completed in 2014 added four new fermenters and brought the distillery’s capacity to 300,000 barrels a year, which is equal to 19.8 million gallons based on 66 proof gallons per standard barrel. The next phase is expected to double that capacity, according to Denny Potter, who doubles as Bernheim’s manager as well as Heaven Hill’s co-master distiller. That phase is expected to include new mash tuns, an additional column still and “doubler” style pot still, and will require expanding the current distillery building into the facility’s parking lot.
Heaven Hill acquired the distillery in 1999 from Diageo following the 1996 fire that destroyed Heaven Hill’s original distillery in Bardstown. Spirit distilled at Bernheim is taken by tanker truck to the company’s Bardstown campus for filling into barrels and maturation in the warehouses Heaven Hill owns around the region, as well as blending, bottling and distribution once the whiskey is ready. The Bernheim expansion will require additional work at the Bardstown campus, according to Heaven Hill CEO Max Shapira. “Of course, that means you’d have to build additional warehouses for stock,” he said, noting that the family-owned company already has nearly 1.2 million barrels of whiskey aging in its warehouses and that may not be enough to meet future demand.
“It’s almost – not quite 25 percent of the world’s supply, and frankly, we don’t know if we’ve got enough. It’s a difficult thing…the category is exploding both domestically and around the world…and as I say, despite the growth we’ve had, if you go anywhere around the world…you could be in Buenos Aires, Sydney, Australia, London, England, or wherever…if you go to your hotel bar or restaurant or whatever and ask for a whiskey and water or whatever, 99 times out of 100 you’re likely to get Scotch. Great product, Scotch is…no question about it, but all we have to do to turn that 99 times out of 100 into 96 times out of 100…Scotch people will continue to do great, but we won’t have enough whiskey to satisfy that demand for a long time to come.”
Heaven Hill CEO Max Shapira
In fact, there are already signs that the industry may not be satisfying the global demand. US Customs Service data for March (the most recent month available) shows a decline of 5.5% in Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey exports from March of 2014, while exports of other American whiskies (mostly flavored and non-Bourbon craft whiskies) nearly doubled from 241,555 proof gallons to 428,479 (a 92.6% increase). The report released by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States shows Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey exports in March of this year totaled 3,225,230 proof gallons, compared to 3,271,432 in the same month during 2014. Exports of Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey to the UK, France, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, South Africa, South Korea, and Singapore all declined during the first quarter of 2015 compared to the previous year. Exports to Australia, New Zealand, and Spain showed gains during the quarter.
Last month, Heaven Hill was forced to change the usual distribution pattern for its Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, which is distilled at Bernheim along with all of Heaven Hill’s other whiskies. Traditionally, each annual release came from whiskey distilled around 10 years earlier, including the release of the 2005 Vintage earlier this year. However, a combination of high demand and short supplies of the 2005 whiskey forced the company to release the 2006 Vintage in May – about seven months earlier than usual, and company officials admit that the move will have an impact on the long-term plans for the brand while not providing any specifics on future releases.
While the next Bernheim expansion will take up a significant portion of the facility’s parking lot, the distillery is landlocked to a certain extent. It’s located in a mixed neighborhood of residential and industrial use, and is bordered to the west by Brown-Forman’s Dixie Highway distillery and corporate headquarters, homes to the south, other industrial use on the north and maturation warehouses on the east side. That would appear to make future significant expansion of the distillery difficult, but Shapira said there are no plans at the time to build a new distillery on the Bardstown campus while admitting that “anything’s possible.”