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!
November 16, 2014 – While newly re-elected Senator Mitch McConnell told Kentucky Republican Party leaders Saturday the “Bourbon Summit” with President Barack Obama will take place, it’s a safe bet that the meeting will not wind up the way NBC’s Saturday Night Live portrayed it during the show’s cold opening last night. After the Republicans scored a decisive victory in the midterm elections two weeks ago, President Obama told reporters he would welcome the chance to enjoy a glass of Kentucky Bourbon with McConnell, expected to become Senate Majority Leader when Republicans take control of the Senate in January.
NBC’s parody of the summit featured Taran Killam as McConnell, Jay Pharoah as Obama, and two uncredited bottles of Woodford Reserve as the Bourbon. The summit included nine drinks each, a prank call to Hillary Clinton and ended with the traditional “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch praised the show’s choice of Woodford Reserve, telling WhiskyCast in an email that “SNL has already decided which Bourbon the President and Senator McConnell should drink at the “Bourbon Summit” – Woodford Reserve. So that’s one issue that doesn’t need further debate.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated with comment from Brown-Forman.
Links: Saturday Night Live
November 14, 2014 – Balcones Distilling founder Chip Tate has won a key battle in his fight with the majority investors who now control 73% of the Waco distillery’s ownership. In a ruling issued earlier this week, Texas 170th District Court Judge Meyer ruled that the majority owners violated company bylaws by making decisions in board meetings that Tate had boycotted. The bylaws require Tate to be present at a board meeting in order for action taken at that meeting to be binding.
Tate last attended a board meeting in July, making all board actions since August invalid according to Judge Meyer’s ruling according to the Waco Tribune. That would include the decision to suspend Tate for 90 days August 22 and seek the restraining order barring Tate from the distillery’s premises and contacting Balcones employees. In addition, it invalidates the distillery’s plan to raise an additional $15 million dollars in financing from the majority owners with debt that could be converted into equity in Balcones, which would have reduced Tate’s ownership stake from 23% to 9% and limited his control of the company. It is not clear whether the restraining order remains in effect. Judge Meyer’s contempt of court citation against Tate for failing to promptly return a company-owned computer, hard drive, and mobile phone is on hold while the two sides are in mediation.
As Tate told WhiskyCast last month after the restraining order was modified to allow him to speak publicly about the case, the Oklahoma City-based investor group led by Balcones Chairman Greg Allen started holding board meetings and making decisions that violated the management agreement giving Tate final authority over Balcones operations. The two sides are discussing a settlement expected to lead to one side buying the other out, but a previously scheduled board meeting set for this past Tuesday was cancelled after Tate refused to attend.
In a statement provided to WhiskyCast by Balcones attorney Jeffrey Armstrong, Greg Allen said the judge’s ruling jeopardizes the distillery’s immediate future:
“We were surprised and naturally disappointed by the court’s ruling. But given this ruling, it does make sense for Chip to either buy us out, or be bought out, because the court essentially has declared that the current owners can’t put any more of their money into the Company. Staying in a holding pattern is also not the best thing for the employees, customers and our loyal consumers because at some point we will run out of money. There are many people who depend on their paychecks coming each week from Balcones, and our decisions need to continue to have these people and their families in mind. So, our hope is that we will have something good to announce with Chip within the next few weeks. In the meantime, and most importantly, the Company is doing great. Our production is improving in quality and quantity over 2013, and our customers and loyal consumers remain thrilled. Bottom line is that Balcones will continue to do great things regardless who is in charge in the board room.”
We have reached out to Chip Tate and his attorney, David Clouston, for their response to the ruling. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a response from Balcones Distilling Chairman Greg Allen.
Links: Balcones Distilling
November 12, 2014 – Glenmorangie is launching a new travel retail range over the next two years, with the first expression in the series to be available later this month exclusively at World Duty Free’s World of Whiskies stores at airports in the UK and Spain. Glenmorangie Dornoch will be exclusive to the World Duty Free stores for two months starting November 26, and will be available in global travel retail and at the Tain distillery’s gift shop after that.
The whisky is a combination of unpeated and lightly peated Glenmorangie spirit matured in ex-American Oak barrels and Amontillado Sherry casks. It takes its name from the Dornoch Firth, which the distillery overlooks. The recommended retail price is £59.99 ($95 USD), and a portion of sales will be donated to the Marine Conservation Society to help preserve the firth.
November 4, 2014 – Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman wasn’t alive when his predecessors introduced the concept of a single malt Scotch Whisky to the world in 1963, but he was tasked with the challenge of re-creating what was known back then as a “straight malt” for a limited-edition release marking that key time in Scotch Whisky history. Kinsman researched the notes of former Master Distiller Hamish Robertson from the distillery’s archives to create “The Original”, which will be available in the US, Taiwan, and Australia starting this month with a recommended retail price of $99 USD.
“When you go to the distillery and see all of the amazing things we’ve done, one of the things we haven’t really talked about a lot is the role Glenfiddich played in creating the single malt category,” said Andy Nash, Scotch Whisky category director for William Grant & Sons USA, during an interview at Monday night’s launch event in New York City. “Many talk about it and give us the credit for that, and it’s great to actually go back into our archives and see all of those elements and recreate them for a new audience now. It’s really showing the pioneering that Glenfiddich was doing back in the 60’s and that we’re continuing today. ”
While the original 1963 straight malt was released that year, the plans for that whisky dated back to shortly after brothers Charles and Alexander Grant Gordon inherited control of the family business following the death of their father. “The idea came from Charlie and his younger brother, my father, realizing that when they were taking people around the distillery, people were saying “Blimey, that’s completely different!”, Peter Grant Gordon said Monday night. Gordon is part of the current generation of family members who own the company. “It was not that they said “oh, why don’t you make this available”, but it became an idea that, OK, if we made it a little bit older, this could be something special…and looking back on it now, that decision was probably made back in 1956 and 1957.” At the time, the only Glenfiddich “straight malt” was a 5-year-old version sold only in Northeast Scotland, and Gordon said the decision was made to produce a new whisky based on 8-year-old malt blended with 12 and 13-year-old casks. That whisky is widely regarded as the first “straight malt” to be widely exported outside of Scotland, starting with the 1963 launch in the US.
The US version will have special packaging that includes a booklet on the whisky’s origins. 24,000 bottles will be available worldwide.
Tasting notes for The Original will be available soon at WhiskyCast.com.
November 3, 2014 – As expected, Diageo has announced a deal in which it will swap the Bushmills Irish Whiskey brand with Jose Cuervo Overseas for the remaining 50% of the Don Julio Tequila brand and $408 million (USD) in cash. The deal was first reported Saturday by the Wall Street Journal, and confirmed by Diageo before the start of stock trading in London this morning. The swap is expected to be completed in early 2015, and Diageo spokeswoman Lisa Crane told Bloomberg News that all of the current Bushmills employees will stay with the brand once the transition is completed.
The move gives Diageo complete control of one of the fastest-growing premium tequila brands, while shedding an underperforming asset in Bushmills. During a conference call with analysts and reporters last July, Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes acknowledged that Bushmills has failed to capitalize on the recent boom in Irish Whiskey sales. “We have tried hard over the years to get this brand into growth, and we’ve struggled,” he said at the time. Diageo acquired Bushmills in 2005, just as the Irish Whiskey market was starting to record double-digit sales increases annually based on renewed worldwide interest in Irish Whiskey. Bushmills sales remained relatively stagnant, though, and the brand is #3 in sales behind Jameson and Tullamore Dew.
The two companies have been partners in Don Julio since 2003, when Diageo sold a 50% interest in the brand to the Beckmann family-controlled Jose Cuervo. They spent almost two years negotiating a sale of the flagship Jose Cuervo brand, in which Diageo owns a 45% interest, but broke off talks at the end of 2012 after failing to reach an agreement that would have seen Diageo pay more than $3 billion for control of the brand.
November 1, 2014 – Diageo has declined to comment on a Wall Street Journal report that the drinks giant and Mexico’s Beckmann family-controlled Casa Cuervo are close to announcing a deal that would give Diageo full control of the Don Julio tequila brand and cash in exchange for the Bushmills Irish Whiskey brand and the Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, Ireland. The Beckmann family, which traces its roots back to Jose Cuervo founder Don Jose Antonio de Cuervo, has been a partner with Diageo in Jose Cuervo since 1989, and the two each own 50% of the Don Julio brand following a 2003 deal in which Diageo sold Casa Cuervo half of the brand for $100 million (USD). Diageo spokeswoman Zsoka McDonald declined via email Saturday night to comment on the Journal’s report, citing a company policy against commenting “on speculation.”
The WSJ story, citing sources familiar with the deal, indicates an announcement could come as early as this week and would give Diageo the larger stake of the US tequila market that company executives have sought for several years. During 2011 and 2012, Diageo had offered the Beckmanns more than $3 billion to acquire the remaining 55% stake in Jose Cuervo, according to various news reports. After talks broke down at the end of 2012, Diageo ended its US distribution deal for Jose Cuervo on July 1, 2013.
While this would be the largest whisky investment for the Beckmann family, they are not strangers to the whisky business. The family also owns Proximo Spirits, which produces Stranahan’s at its distillery in Denver and bottles Tin Cup in Colorado from spirit distilled at MGP-I in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Proximo also owns the Lawrenceburg bottling plant that was historically part of the former Seagram’s complex, but which MGP Ingredients chose to sell when it acquired the distillery.
If the deal is completed, it would get Diageo out of the Irish Whiskey sector, which it entered when it acquired Bushmills from Pernod Ricard in 2005. Pernod Ricard acquired Bushmills in 1988 as part of its deal with Irish Distillers, but agreed to sell the brand and distillery to help clear the way for its acquisition of Allied Domecq later that year. While Diageo had high hopes for success with Bushmills initially, the brand has not been a major player in the global boom in Irish Whiskey sales over the last ten years. Pernod Ricard’s Jameson brand has increased its market share, while William Grant & Sons-owned Tullamore Dew has cemented its hold on second place in the Irish Whiskey market.
This story will be updated as more details are available.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a response from Diageo.
October 24, 2014 – Redbreast 21 Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey took overall top honors at the second annual Irish Whiskey Awards presented by the Irish Whiskey Society and Dublin’s Celtic Whiskey Shop last night during a dinner at Kilbeggan Distillery. Redbreast 21 was also named Single Pot Still Whiskey of the Year, narrowly beating out the Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy.
Teeling Whiskey Company took home three awards for Best Single Grain, Best Single Malt 13 Years and Over, and Best Poitín (unaged whiskey). Powers 12 Special Reserve took top honors for Blended Irish Whiskies under €60 ($76 USD), while Jameson Gold Reserve won the award for blends priced over €60. Jack Ryan’s 12 was named Best Single Malt Under 13 Years, while the Celtic Cask Naoi was selected as the Single Cask Whiskey of the Year.
Franciscan Well Jameson Stout was named the Irish Whiskey Barrel Aged Craft Beer of the Year, while Cooley’s Coole Swan was named the Irish Whiskey Liqueur of the Year. Dick Mack’s Pub in Dingle was named the Irish Whiskey Bar of the Year.
A complete list of honorees can be found at the competition’s web site.
Links: Irish Whiskey Awards
October 24, 2014 – 2014 marks two milestones for the Midleton Very Rare range from Irish Distillers: the 30th anniversary of the very first edition released in 1984 and the first release for Brian Nation as the Master Distiller for Irish Distillers following Barry Crockett’s retirement in 2013. Crockett now holds the title of Master Distiller Emeritus, and briefly came out of retirement to team up with Nation to create the most exclusive (and expensive) whiskey ever produced by Irish Distillers, the Midleton Very Rare 30th Anniversary Pearl Edition.
Just 117 bottles were produced, with a recommended retail price of €6,000 ($7,600 USD), with availability limited to retailers in Ireland, the UK, France, Germany, and China.
Crockett and Nation blended the Pearl from two casks: a 1984 pot still whiskey cask and a 1981 grain whiskey cask that was filled during Crockett’s first year as Master Distiller. “I have finished my part of the movement in terms of the overall symphony,” Crockett said during an interview at Midleton Distillery during the unveiling of the Pearl. “Brian has taken over, and I think it’s very nice to see, as it were, ending and a new phase developing under Brian’s mastership.” Crockett created the original Midleton Very Rare range in 1984 following a decision by the board of Irish Distillers to revive the Midleton name, which had not been used on a whiskey since the company centered production at the new Midleton distillery in 1975.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s entire interview with Barry Crockett:
While the US market will not be getting the Pearl Edition, Nation confirmed reports that Yellow Spot, another one of the single pot still Irish whiskies from Midleton, will be available in the US starting in January. Yellow Spot was reintroduced in 2012 after the original Mitchell & Sons blend disappeared from the Irish market years earlier, and stems from the days when the Mitchell family blended casks of whiskies from the various distilleries in Dublin and marked them with a spot of paint to denote the recipe before sending them on to pubs and grocers around Ireland.
Brian Nation discusses Pearl and Yellow Spot in this interview with Mark Gillespie:
US pricing for Yellow Spot has not been announced. For more details on the history of Yellow Spot, listen to our interview with Kevin O’Gorman of Irish Distillers in Episode 371 of WhiskyCast.
October 21, 2014 – The global boom in Bourbon sales has turned Kentucky’s Bourbon industry into one of the Commonwealth’s leading economic engines, according to a new University of Louisville Urban Studies Institute economic impact study. The study was commissioned by the Kentucky Distillers Association, which released the findings at a news conference today in Frankfort at Beam Suntory’s new 600,000 square foot warehousing and logistics center scheduled to open in early 2015.
“It’s a great success story for Kentucky,” said KDA President Eric Gregory in a telephone interview. “The surge in Bourbon unfortunately coincided with the economic downturn, and at a time when the rest of the state was losing 28 to 29 percent of its work force, Bourbon was actually up 21 percent, and as one of our speakers said today, Bourbon helped cushion the blow.” The report found a 77% increase in distillery-related employment since the last study in 2012, with more than 15,000 people working in industry-related jobs. The industry’s overall impact on Kentucky’s gross state product grew 67%, from $1.8 billion in the 2012 study to $3 billion in 2014.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s entire interview with Eric Gregory:
The number of licensed distillers has jumped from 10 in 2012 to 31 now, with much of that growth coming from the craft distilling sector. The study found approximately 127 jobs have been created by craft distillers so far with an annual payroll of more than $4 million, and estimates new capital investment in craft distilleries of up to $30 million over the next five years. That’s a pittance compared to the $630 million currently planned in capital projects during the same period by the state’s larger distilleries following the passage earlier this year of an income tax credit for distillers to offset the “ad valorem” taxes they pay to local governments and school districts on maturing barrels of whisky. Distillers are required to reinvest that money in new capital projects within Kentucky to be able to claim the credits.
The study also examined the industry’s role on Kentucky farmers for the first time. 40% of the grain used by the state’s distilleries comes from Kentucky farmers, with a $60 million economic impact. That could grow to 80%, as distillers would like to source more grain locally assuming that price and quality are the same as out-of-state suppliers. In addition, the report found a sharp increase in tourism-related spending from visitors to the state’s distilleries, with a 43% increase in Kentucky Bourbon Trail visitors since 2012.
The entire report is available to review online.
October 20, 2014 – With a gag order banning him from speaking publicly about the legal battle for control of Balcones Distilling lifted, Balcones founder Chip Tate is comparing the battle to an ugly divorce and predicts a buyout of one side by the other is inevitable. Tate remains under a restraining order issued August 22 by Texas 170th District Court Judge Jim Meyer banning him from the Balcones facilities or communicating with distillery employees, but part of the order banning him from speaking to the media or members of the public about the case has been lifted as the dispute heads for mediation.
Tate was suspended by the distillery’s majority investors in August for what was termed in court filings as “actions detrimental to the distillery”, including skipping board meetings and allegedly threatening to shoot Balcones chairman Greg Allen. While under the gag order, Tate could only respond in court filings. Today, he told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in a wide-ranging telephone interview that not being able to defend himself against those allegations was “extremely frustrating.” “I just had to wait it out and hope that people would realize how dubious it is to make such incredibly strong claims against someone on one hand and then restrain them from being able to comment on the other, ” Tate said. He called last week’s move by Balcones to relax the gag order and propose mediation a “pleasant surprise”.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s entire interview with Chip Tate:
A contempt of court finding issued by Judge Meyer earlier this month stemmed from the distillery’s claim that Tate did not return a Balcones-owned computer, hard drive, and mobile phone promptly as required by the restraining order. However, a hearing set for Wednesday at which Judge Meyer wanted to hear more testimony on the claim and possibly sentence Tate has been cancelled. Instead, a hearing will be held November 6 on whether the majority investors violated the company’s bylaws by suspending Tate and a separate hearing will be held November 20 on whether to turn the temporary restraining order into a longer-lasting injunction.
The current restraining order is scheduled to expire around November 22, but Tate doesn’t see any scenario in which he returns to the distillery under the current ownership structure. He holds a 27% stake in the company, while Michael Rockafellow and the 29 members of PE Investors II LLC hold the remaining 73%. However, the company bylaws require that Tate be present at any board meeting for decisions to be binding. Tate said he stopped attending the meetings when the other investors started ignoring the system of checks and balances set up in the bylaws. “They couldn’t do certain things without my permission, and I couldn’t do certain things without theirs,” he said. “When those started to be exercised, I guess they didn’t like what the operating agreement said any more.”
Tate predicted that either he will be bought out of his ownership stake by the majority investors and be released from a non-compete agreement, or that he will find new investors and buy out the Oklahoma City-based group. He noted that even after Balcones Chairman Greg Allen brought sheriff’s deputies to the distillery on August 5 to remove him from the premises, Allen offered a proposal to let Tate buy his group out.
In the weeks since the restraining order was issued, Tate has received widespread support on social media, and a grassroots campaign to raise funds for his legal bills raised more than $1,000 in the first five days. “I can’t say how incredibly edifying and heartwarming it is,” he said. “That’s just been huge…that makes you understand that your love of the product, of the process, everything else, is appreciated by others, and that’s a big part of why I do what I do. Thank you to everyone who’s been out there doing that…I just can’t say that enough.”
In response to our request for a response to Tate’s comments, Balcones provided a statement from director and investor Michael Rockafellow, who is not part of the Oklahoma City-based investment group, but was one of the early investors in Balcones. Rockafellow owns 15% of the company, while PE Investors II LLC owns 58%.
“All of us at Balcones Distilling understand and appreciate the interest in the recent litigation activity; however, we believe that it is not appropriate or fair at the current time to discuss the pending case beyond referring to details that are readily available in public filings and court rulings. After Judge Myers held Chip in contempt of court for violating the Court’s TRO, we agreed to pursue mediation as a next step in the process. At the same time, we also agreed to narrow some of the TRO restrictions imposed on Chip in return for his agreement to abide by some other restrictions as part of an attempt to move forward.”
The entire statement is available to read here at WhiskyCast.com, but did not address what the “other restrictions” are.
This story will be updated as necessary.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a statement from Balcones, along with clarification on the ownership structure of the distillery based on information provided by Balcones Distilling.