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Kentucky Distillers Hurt By Temporary Barrel Shortages

An Independent Stave Company cooper inspects a Bourbon barrel at the company's Lebanon, KY cooperage in this 2008 file photo. Photo ©2008 by Mark Gillespie.December 11, 2013 – Wet weather this fall is forcing distilleries in Kentucky and other states to juggle production schedules because of a temporary shortage of barrels. According to Jim Rutledge of Four Roses Distillery, heavy rains in Arkansas and Missouri during October and November kept logging crews from getting into the forests to harvest oak trees to be made into barrels.

“Most of the lands from where the trees are planted are leased,” Rutledge told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in an interview. “Of course, the owners of this property didn’t want the heavy equipment going in there in wet conditions and tear all the property up. Of course, it takes time to dry the wood, and it put us in a temporary shortage.” Rutledge describes the problem as industry-wide, but it primarily affects distilleries which source their barrels from Independent Stave Company, one of the world’s largest cooperages with Bourbon-related operations in Missouri and Kentucky. Independent Stave president Brad Boswell declined our request for an interview, saying in an email that “Right now we’re going to stay focused on buying more high quality white oak logs.”

The Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Photo ©2012 by Mark Gillespie.

Four Roses is juggling the shortage by cutting back on daily production through the end of December, after originally considering a temporary halt in distilling that would have led to short-term layoffs of at least some of the distillery’s 56 employees. Instead, the lost production will be made up at the end of the distilling season in June and July before the annual summer shutdown for maintenance. “It’s just a little bump in the road,” Rutledge explained. “It’s not a heck of a lot different than if we had a maintenance issue that caused us to shut down, or maybe there’s a water issue with low water levels in the Salt River…any number of things can do this and have caused temporary shutdowns or slowed production in previous years.”

Virtually all of the major Kentucky distillers source their barrels from Independent Stave, with the exception of Brown-Forman, which owns its own cooperage in Louisville to supply the Brown-Forman, Woodford Reserve, and Jack Daniel’s distilleries in Kentucky and Tennessee. The company is currently building a second cooperage in Alabama that will eventually supply barrels for use at Jack Daniel’s.

Links: Four Roses | Independent Stave Company | Brown-Forman

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Dewar’s Pulls Online Video After Complaints of Sexism

December 11, 2013 – A Canadian whisky blogger has filed a complaint with DISCUS, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, over an online video ad for Dewar’s Scotch Whisky. The “Meet the Baron” video was pulled from YouTube and other web sites Tuesday evening after Johanne McInnis, Fred Minnick, and other whisky bloggers led a Twitter-based campaign accusing Dewar’s of sexism and prejudice against overweight women.

The video showed “The Baron,” a suave, charismatic man saving his friend from several predicaments, including stepping in as an overweight blonde woman approached the man at a bar — as the voiceover referred to “jumping on an explosive” to protect his friends. The video also features actress Claire Forlani as the Dewar’s spokesperson watching from the sidelines as “The Baron” and his friend meet with a group of women referred to as the “Swedish Bikini Team.” While the video has been removed from the web, along with the initial tweet from Dewar’s responding to McInnis and other critics, the comment was retweeted by McInnis on her feed with her response.

Tweets from Johanne McInnis posted on Twitter, December 9, 2013.

 McInnis’s online petition (which has also been removed from ipetitions.com) demanding that Dewar’s withdraw the video received international attention on social media sites.  When WhiskyCast asked for a Dewar’s executive to respond to the critics’ charges, the PR agency for Dewar’s parent company Bacardi provided this response by email.

Dear Mark,
In regards to your inquiry on DEWAR’S ‘Meet the Baron’ video, below please find a statement from the DEWAR’S Team. Thank you.

Regarding your inquiry about the DEWAR’S ‘Meet the Baron’ video, we value your feedback, whether it’s critical or complimentary, and appreciate your effort in taking the time to write to us.
While we strive to be inclusive of many demographics, we have a wide array of consumers who respond to a variety of unique and focused marketing messages, in different ways.
The Baron – represents a camaraderie that is important to our target consumer, and is one character under ‘The Drinking Man’s Scotch’ campaign, which features a strong and successful female icon as the spokesperson for the brand.
We understand our communications may not always appeal to everyone; however, it is feedback like yours that allows us to continuously evaluate our marketing efforts – upon further review we have decided to remove the video from our YouTube page.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write to us.

Best regards,
The Dewar’s Team

However, Dewar’s stopped short of apologizing for the ad, which prompted additional responses from McInnis, Minnick, and other critics.

Tweets criticizing the Dewar's "Meet the Baron" online video September 10, 2013.

McInnis’ complaint to DISCUS focuses on the trade body’s Code of Responsible Practices, which outlines the industry’s self-imposed standards for alcoholic beverage ads and media placement, with specific language regarding sexism:

Beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials should not degrade the image, form, or status of women, men, or of any ethnic, minority, sexually-oriented, religious, or other group.

Bacardi is a member of the Distilled Spirits Council, and the complaint will be subject to review by the Council’s Code Review Board. The only penalty the Code provides for is that a violating company would be asked to revise or withdraw the ad. However, that often results in significant costs to a company, according to DISCUS spokesman Frank Coleman. “In many cases, it can cost thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars to change placements that are found to be in violation, and that’s a very serious threat,” Coleman told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in an interview. In addition, DISCUS posts all Code complaints and the results of Code Review Board rulings on its web site for public review, and Coleman indicated that that threat serves as a deterrent to most potential violations. The trade body has a 100% compliance record among its members, with substantial compliance in complaints filed against non-members. The last whisky ad campaign to be reviewed by the Code Review Board was Wild Turkey’s “Give ‘Em The Bird” campaign in 2011, which featured people raising their middle fingers to the camera. The board decided that violated the Code’s standards on good taste, and Wild Turkey complied with a request to withdraw the ads.

As previously mentioned, Dewar’s has already removed the ad from its social media accounts on YouTube and other web sites.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional comments and information.

Links: Dewar’s’ | Distilled Spirits Council

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Glenmorangie 1963 To Be Auctioned For Forestry Charity

The Glenmorangie 1963 Extra Matured Scotch Whisky. Image courtesy Glenmorangie. December 5, 2013Online bidding has reached $3,250 USD for one of the 50 rare bottles of Glenmorangie 1963 uncovered recently in one of the company’s warehouses, with the proceeds to go to American Forests. The group focuses on preserving and expanding forest lands in the U.S., and has planted more than 40 million trees since 1990.

The whisky was first released in 1987, but 50 bottles were put away in a corner of the warehouse and forgotten about, according to Glenmorangie’s David Blackmore. “I think they probably came to our attention when we moved facilities from our old Broxburn site to our new bottling site,” he told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in an interview. “People might not believe that we find this stuff, but believe me, over the years we maybe haven’t been quite as organized as you might think.” The whisky is believed to be one of the first “finished” whiskies, having been finished in an Oloroso Sherry cask for almost two years after its original maturation in ex-Bourbon casks. The 50 bottles were re-filled into new bottles with solid silver stoppers, collars, and labels,  along with a bespoke box designed to look like a time capsule. While most of the 50 bottles have already been sold, a few remain available at an estimated price of $2,750 USD.

American Forests was chosen as the charity to benefit from the online auction through Charitybuzz. The organization has also worked on conservation projects in more than 30 other countries, and encourages sustainable forestry management as well as expanding forest lands. “It’s apt considering that we rely so much on American Oak for our products,” Blackmore said.

Update: The auction ended on December 13, 2013 with a high bid of $4,050. 

Links: Glenmorangie 1963 Auction | Glenmorangie | American Forests

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Whisky Magazine Names 2014 Scottish Icons of Whisky Winners

December 5, 2013 – Whisky Magazine has completed the second of three rounds in the 2014 Icons of Whisky Awards with the announcement of the winners from the Scotland round. Diageo was named Whisky Distiller of the Year for its massive expansion  plan involving most of the company’s Scotch whisky distilleries, while Chivas Brothers was named the “Highly Commended” runner-up. William Grant & Sons was named Whisky Brand Innovator of the Year, while Ardbeg’s Mickey Heads was named Distillery Manager of the Year.

While Laphroaig Distillery won top honors as Whisky Visitor Attraction of the Year, Highland Park’s Patricia Retson was named Visitor Centre Manager of the Year and The Balvenie’s David Mair won Whisky Ambassador of the Year honors.

Among retailers, Gordon & MacPhail’s Elgin store was named Retailer of the Year (single outlet), along with Drinkmonger for multiple-outlet retailers and the Royal Mile Whiskies online site was named online retailer of the year.

The winners will compete with the U.S. Icons winners announced in September and the World Whisky winners to be announced later for the 2014 Global Icons of Whisky Awards. The awards will be presented on the eve of Whisky Live London next March.

Note: WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie is a contributing editor for Whisky Magazine, and both nominates and votes on selections for these awards.

Links: Whisky Magazine

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George Dickel Entering “White Whiskey” Market

George Dickel No. 1 Foundation Recipe. Image courtesy Diageo. December 3, 2013 – Diageo’s George Dickel distillery in Tennessee is entering the un-aged “white whiskey” sector with a new release scheduled for launch in January. Dickel’s No. 1 Foundation Recipe is the “white dog” spirit that comes off the stills at the Tullahoma, Tennessee distillery, but unlike most other un-aged whiskies, goes through the same charcoal filtering process that the aged Dickel whiskies use before being diluted to bottling strength.

It is not being labeled as a Tennessee Whiskey, but as a Corn Whisky. Earlier this year, Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation limiting the use of the “Tennessee Whiskey” designation to whiskies that meet the federal government’s standards for Bourbons — including the requirement that those whiskies be matured in new charred oak barrels.

George Dickel No. 1 Foundation Recipe will be bottled at 45.5% ABV, and will be available throughout the U.S. at a recommended retail price of $21.99 (750ml bottle).

Links: George Dickel

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New Whiskies From Glenglassaugh & GlenDronach

Glenglassaugh 40-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch. Image courtesy Glenglassaugh Distillery.December 3, 2013 – Billy Walker’s mini-empire of Highland distilleries is releasing a new 40-year-old Glenglassaugh single malt, along with nine new single cask bottlings from GlenDronach.

Walker and his partners acquired Glenglassaugh earlier this year, and are following up on the August release of a 30-year-old expression with the 40-year-old. While just 800 bottles will be available in the first release, a news release from the distillery quotes Walker as saying the Glenglassaugh 40 will be a permanent fixture in the lineup. The whisky is non-chill filtered and bottled at 42.5% ABV.

Meanwhile, Walker’s team has selected nine single casks from GlenDronach for release this month. Six were matured in Pedro Ximenez Sherry puncheons, and the other three in Oloroso Sherry butts. They range in age from 18 to 41 years old, with the oldest being a 1972 Olororo butt bottled at 51.7% ABV.

Pricing and market availability for the Glenglassaugh and GlenDronach whiskies was not announced.

Links: Glenglassaugh | GlenDronach 

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Ballantine’s Enters Flavored Whisky Market With Brazilian Flair

Ballantine's Brasil. Image courtesy Chivas Brothers.December 3, 2013 – While most entries in the flavored whisky category so far have focused on honey, spices, or maple accents, Ballantine’s is taking a different tack with a Brazilian-influenced lime-flavored “spirit drink”. Ballantine’s Brasil is the first entry into this category for Chivas Brothers, and uses Scotch whisky infused with Brazilian lime peel. The drink will be launched starting this month in the Czech Republic, The Netherlands, and other key markets, with a global rollout planned for February.

In a news release, Ballantine’s Global Brand Director Peter Moore said the new drink is intended to attract new Scotch drinkers while still appealing to the traditional Ballantine’s consumer:

“There is a huge opportunity for spirit drinks that are made with whisky, as it’s an exceptionally dynamic new category that is already demonstrating a strong rate of growth. Ballantine’s Brasil is a venture into new territory for us, but we’re excited to have a product that can take advantage of this opportunity and one that can truly inspire those who have not yet found their perfect way to enjoy a Scotch whisky drink. We hope that Ballantine’s Brasil will excite a new generation of consumers with the combination of Scottish authenticity and Brazilian passion!”

This is the second Scotch whisky-based “spirit drink” to enter the market, following the introduction of Dewar’s Highlander Honey earlier this year. While the Dewar’s labeling caused some concerns with the Scotch Whisky Association because of its prominent tie-in with a specific brand of Dewar’s and minimal use of the “Spirit Drink” designation, the Ballantine’s entry clearly defines itself as a “Spirit Drink” on the front label. UK and European laws do not allow the addition of flavorings to “whisky”, which is the reason for labeling these expressions as “Spirit Drinks”.

Links: Ballantine’s Brasil

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Karuizawa Takes Top Honors in Malt Maniacs Awards

December 3, 2013 – A Karuizawa single malt from Number One Drinks Company has ended GlenDronach’s three-year streak of top honors in the 11th annual Malt Maniacs Awards. In blind judging, members of the Malt Maniacs selected a 1973 Karuizawa single cask bottled in 2013 by Number One Drinks Company for the Supreme Award in the Ultra Premium category (whiskies priced above €150 ($204 USD). Kavalan’s Solist Sherry Cask (#S06082) took the Supreme Award in the Premium category for whiskies priced between €51-150 ($69-204 USD), while Aberlour’s A’Bunadh Batch #45 won the Supreme Award in the Daily Dram category for whiskies priced at €50 ($67 USD) or below.

The Malt Maniacs competition is generally regarded as one of the toughest to win a gold medal in, with fewer than 10% of entries winning gold medals on average. This year, only four whiskies won gold medals with average scores above 90 from . In addition to the Karuizawa and Kavalan bottlings mentioned above, gold medals were awarded to the Glenfarclas 1989 Family Cask (bottled in 2012) and a Yamazaki 1993 single cask bottled for La Maison du Whisky in Paris. In addition to the Supreme Awards in each category, awards are given for the best Sherried Whisky, the best Peated Whisky, the best “natural cask” whisky, and the “Thumbs-Up” award for whiskies which show unusual merit while not fitting into one of the other award categories.

This year’s judging panel was made up of ten amateur members of the Malt Maniacs, a global group of whisky connoisseurs formed in 1997.  A complete list of award winners and medalists is available at the Malt Maniacs web site, along with the scores from each judge.

Editor’s note: WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie has been a member of the Malt Maniacs since 2008, but does not participate as a judge in the annual awards.

Links: Malt Maniacs

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$10,000 Reward Offered in Pappy Van Winkle Theft

December 2, 2013 – For the first time since the theft of around $26,000 worth of Pappy Van Winkle whiskey was reported from Buffalo Trace Distillery in October, a reward is being offered in the case. During a news conference today in Frankfort, Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton told reporters that a $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Melton said $9,000 was posted by an anonymous donor, with the rest by Bluegrass CrimeStoppers.

No arrests have been made, and none of the stolen whiskey has turned up since the theft was reported. Melton’s investigators have interviewed more than 100 potential suspects in the case.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Links: Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery | Franklin County Sheriff’s Department | Buffalo Trace

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Diageo To Put Muscle & Millions Into Mortlach Single Malts

The Mortlach Distillery at night, with the former maltings and kiln shown at right. Photo ©2013 by Mark Gillespie.December 2, 2013 – Ask any member of Diageo’s Scotch whisky team which distillery whisky lovers beg them to most to make available as a single malt, and the answer is likely to be Mortlach. The distillery is one of the legendary “Seven Stills of Dufftown”, and its whisky has been prized by blenders for decades because of the muscular quality it gives their blends with its rich and beefy texture. While small amounts of Mortlach have been released as official distillery bottlings in the past, that is about to change.

Diageo’s Scotch whisky team intends to make Mortlach a major competitor in the global market for single malts, and is announcing today that four Mortlach expressions will be available starting in July of 2014. The range will include Mortlach Rare Old, a no-age-statement single malt, 18 and 25-year-old expressions, and Rare Old Special Strength as an exclusive to the travel retail market. Rare Old, Mortlach 18, and Mortlach 25 will be available in North America, Northern Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region, along with the global travel retail market. Pricing has not been announced yet, but is expected to be competitive with similar malts.

“You think about how we’ve used Mortlach in blends, and how the Walkers and the blending houses going back hundreds of years will have used Mortlach in blends,” Diageo whisky blender Dr. Matthew Crow said in an interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie. “It’s used at different ages, it’s used with different wood types trying to draw out different characters…and if you think about the possibility in terms of the options that opens up to you as someone who’s going to try and create a single malt from there, it’s just so much opportunity for working with flavor.” Diageo executives describe the Mortlach launch as the company’s most important Scotch whisky venture since the launch of the Singleton range 10 years ago and the original launch of the Classic Malts series 25 years ago.

Mortlach is known for its beefy, muscular character that can add texture and depth to a blend, but Crow and his colleagues used a variety of casks to bring out other elements of Mortlach while keeping the distillery’s traditional strengths. The four expressions offer a varying palate of fruitiness, along with tropical touches of coconut, banana, and spices.

Crow and his colleagues are balancing their needs for Mortlach casks to be used in the various Johnnie Walker blends with the need for casks to be used in the new single malt expressions, but that will become less of a problem over time. Diageo managers are finishing plans for a multi-million dollar expansion at Mortlach that will double the distillery’s annual production, with a second still house to be built starting later this year. The new still house will replicate the original set of six stills with the unique Mortlach method of distillation, which combines three different distilling streams using a complex series of still runs.

The Mortlach still house. Photo ©2013 by Mark Gillespie.“It is really complex, and that’s what the uniqueness is, as well as worm tubs…which we have going out the back as the way we cool the spirit also helps,” Mortlach manager Sean Phillips said in an interview. “But the extra distillation process is one of the biggest keys.” The new still house will be built next to the current one, on a site currently occupied by two maturation warehouses. Those warehouses are in the process of being demolished and recycled, with construction of the new distillery to begin in the fall of 2014 assuming that planning permission is received in time.

The original Mortlach distillery was licensed in 1823, and is the oldest licensed distillery in Dufftown. George Cowie, known for his engineering work in developing Great Britain’s railway system, became the distillery’s sole owner in 1867. His son Alexander later took over the distillery in 1896, and used his training in chemistry and medicine to create the “2.81 times distillation” technique that is still used today. Alexander Cowie later sold the distillery to John Walker & Sons in 1923, making Mortlach one of only two distilleries the Walker family owned (along with Cardhu) before merging their business into the Distillers Company Limited in 1925.

For more on this story, including a tour of Mortlach with Sean Phillips and Steve McGingle, listen to Episode 454 of WhiskyCast. Tasting notes for the four Mortlach expressions are available in the Tasting Notes section at WhiskyCast.com.

Editor’s note: WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie was one of a few whisky writers invited to visit Mortlach as a guest of Diageo for a preview of the plans for the Mortlach single malts in mid-November, and this story was subject to an embargo until December 2, 2013. However, WhiskyCast retained complete editorial control over all of the content in this story. For more details, please read our Statement of Principles

Links: Diageo

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