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 17, 2014 – Filipino billionaire Andrew Tan’s $724.5 million (USD) acquisition of Whyte & Mackay is a step closer to completion. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has given tentative approval to Tan’s deal to buy the Scotch Whisky and gin producer from Diageo and United Spirits of India, and has opened a two-week public comment period before giving final approval. Tan’s Alliance Global Group was selected in May as the high bidder for Whyte & Mackay, and Tan will merge the unit into his Emperador brandy unit assuming final approval from the CMA and the Reserve Bank of India. Indian regulators must still approve the sale, as it will require loans from United Spirits to Vijay Mallya’s USL Holdings Ltd. to be written off. In addition, a court challenge to Diageo’s acquisition of some USL shares pledged as collateral by Mallya-related businesses is still awaiting a final ruling by India’s Supreme Court.
Diageo and United Spirits agreed to put Whyte & Mackay up for sale following a ruling by the former Office of Fair Trading that Diageo’s acquisition of a controlling stake in United Spirits would hurt competition in the UK’s market for blended Scotch whiskies. Whyte & Mackay supplies bulk whisky for private-label retail brands, along with its own branded whiskies, and the OFT ruled that combining the unit with Bell’s and Diageo’s other blended Scotch brands would be anti-competitive. The ruling was stayed while Diageo and United Spirits sought a buyer for Whyte & Mackay. Earlier this month, Diageo completed its acquisition of a majority of the outstanding shares in United Spirits, and has now taken control of the Bangalore-based company.
Diageo’s filing with the CMA proposes to complete the deal by September 9, with the current Whyte & Mackay management team to stay with the unit as Alliance takes control. In addition, Diageo will not be allowed to acquire any interest in Whyte & Mackay for ten years following the transition, and its employees will not be allowed to become managers or directors of Whyte & Mackay. The agreement does allow for Diageo to buy bulk whisky from Whyte & Mackay, and Tan’s purchase agreement includes a three-year contract to supply malt whisky from the Dalmore and Tamnavulin malt whisky distilleries for use in United Spirits-produced whiskies. Diageo had originally planned to hold on to both distilleries following a sale, but agreed to include them as part of the Alliance bid.
The Authority’s public consultation period ends August 1, and a CMA spokesman told WhiskyCast in an email that the agency is prepared to give final approval barring any major objections. Diageo spokespersons have previously said the company will have no further comment while the CMA’s review process is underway.
July 15, 2014 – For the first time since Irish Distillers introduced the Midleton Very Rare range in 1984, there’s a very noticeable change on the label. After 30 annual releases signed by Master Distiller Barry Crockett, the 2014 edition is signed by his successor, Brian Nation. Crockett retired last year, and the main stillhouse at Midleton Distillery was named in his honor last September.
Brian Nation’s first Midleton Very Rare doesn’t stray from the tradition Crockett established, using a combination of Single Pot Still and grain whiskeys distilled at Midleton and matured for up to 22 years in lightly charred ex-Bourbon casks. In a news release, Nation described the pressure of living up to his mentor’s legacy.
“It is a real honour for me to continue the Midleton Very Rare legacy and to have my name on the label, where Barry’s signature once was. I’m very proud of the 2014 edition, as it offers real complexity with a full taste of sweet spice, vanilla, and cinnamon, which lingers before slowly giving way to notes of barley. I am confident that it will provide whiskey fans around the world with the interesting and enjoyable tasting experience that they have come to expect from Midleton Very Rare over the years – and I look forward to hearing what Barry thinks of it too!”
The 2014 Midleton Very Rare release will be available at whisky specialist retailers in Ireland and select European markets, along with the US. Pricing information has not been announced.
Links: Irish Distillers
July 14, 2014 – Haig Club, the single grain Scotch Whisky brand being launched by Diageo in partnership with soccer star David Beckham and entertainment mogul Simon Fuller, is making its world debut at Selfridges in London. Haig Club was announced earlier this year after months of collaboration between the two celebrities and Diageo’s whisky blending team. The whisky comes from Diageo’s Cameronbridge grain distillery near Edinburgh, and is blended from a series of first-fill, refill, and rejuvenated ex-Bourbon barrels.
Haig Club will be available exclusively at Selfridges’ Oxford Street store until July 28, when it will also go on sale at The Whisky Shop’s Piccadilly store, according to the chain’s Andrew Torrance. The 700ml bottles will sell for £45 ($78 USD) each. Details of the global rollout have not been released yet, but Diageo executives said earlier this year that they intend to make Haig Club a global whisky brand.
July 12, 2014 – The latest running of the Clipper Round The World Race wound up in London Friday after 11 months of sailing, with the Old Pulteney-sponsored yacht finishing sixth out of 12 teams. The Inver House-owned distillery has released a limited-edition bottling to honor its crew’s accomplishments in the grueling race, along with the Wick-based distillery’s own maritime heritage.
The commemorative edition comes from a combination of ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks matured at the distillery, and is bottled at 46% ABV with no chill-filtering. 2,700 cases will be available worldwide with a recommended retail price of £50 ($85 USD).
Team Henri Lloyd won the 16-leg event, followed closet by the Great Britain yacht, which won the final leg of sailing from Den Helder in The Netherlands to London’s St. Katharine’s Docks. The next Clipper Round The World Race is scheduled to begin in London in August 2015.
July 10, 2014 – Berry Bros. & Rudd is releasing a new expression of The Glenrothes matured exclusively in ex-Sherry casks. While the distillery is known for its extensive use of ex-Sherry casks, most of its expressions do use a small amount of malt matured in ex-Bourbon casks, and this is one of the few distillery bottlings that uses ex-Sherry casks exclusively.
The Glenrothes Sherry Cask Reserve carries no age statement, and is bottled at 40% ABV. It will be available at first in Europe and other selected markets, but the distillery’s US importer has told WhiskyCast that there are no current plans to make it available in the US market. The recommended UK pricing per 700ml bottle is £55 ($94 USD) and €65 in Euro markets.
Meanwhile, Springbank is celebrating the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, in which Robert the Bruce led an army of Scots to victory over a much larger British force near Stirling in 1314 during the First War of Scottish Independence. The distillery has revived the old “Spirit of Freedom” trademark used by J&A Mitchell & Co. many years ago for a special blend of 30-year-old whiskies from distilleries throughout Scotland. The blend was created by now-retired Springbank production director Frank McHardy as his final project before retiring last year.
2,014 bottles of Spirit of Freedom were produced with a recommended retail price of £75 ($128 USD), and availability limited to the UK and selected export markets. The first six bottles were signed by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. Five will be auctioned for charity, while the sixth will remain in the company’s archive.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with pricing information provided by Berry Bros. & Rudd.
July 9, 2014 – Glenmorangie is releasing its second single malt in the Pride series with the debut of the Pride 1978 tonight in New York City. The whisky was matured in ex-Bourbon barrels for 18 years before being transferred into French Oak wine barriques from an undisclosed vineyard in the Pouillac region of Bordeaux for the final 14 years of maturation, making it not only the oldest Glenmorangie ever released at 32 years, but also the longest to have been “finished” in a wine cask.
“It’s actually more delicate in character and has taken on less of the French Oak in spite of being in the French Oak barriques for longer (than the Pride 1981),” said Glenmorangie Director of Whisky Creation Dr. Bill Lumsden in an interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie. “The wine barriques may have been used twice, which is often the case with these top chateaus. The tannins are very soft, they’re very nicely integrated into the whisky, and there’s a lot of characteristic Glenmorangie flavors in there.” He later confirmed that the barriques were used twice before being filled with the whisky.
A total of five barriques were used for the Pride 1978, with a sixth that was set aside for use in the release falling victim to a leak that went undiscovered until the casks were removed from the warehouse for bottling. As a result, only 700 one-litre bottles will be available worldwide, with a recommended retail price in the US of $5,800 each. The Pride 1978 was removed from casks and bottled in 2012 at 46.4% ABV, but was not released this year while the distillery collaborated with artist Idris Khan on a multimedia project that will also see a limited-edition Khan print included with each decanter.
Tasting notes for the Glenmorangie Pride 1978 will be available soon.
July 8, 2014 – Campaign contribution reports released today by Scotland’s Electoral Commission show William Grant & Sons has invested more to support the anti-independence movement than first reported. The distiller has donated £185,000 ($316,442 USD) to groups opposing Scottish independence in the September 18 referendum, with £135,000 to Better Together and £25,000 each to Angus MacDonald and the No Borders Campaign. Sunday, the BBC and other news organizations reported Grant’s had donated at least £100,000, based on preliminary information. The company is owned by members of the Grant-Gordon family, and has not commented publicly other than a statement released Sunday in which it said it supports the Scotch Whisky Association’s position that the industry could be hurt by independence.
Grant’s was the only whisky company reported as having donated to either side in the referendum, while the SWA has officially remained neutral – while expressing concerns that significant questions need to be answered by the Scottish National Party-led pro-independence campaign on trade and taxation issues. Former SWA chief executive Gavin Hewitt told Channel 4 in a “Dispatches” documentary interview aired Monday night that the trade group was pressured by SNP leaders to stay on the sidelines in the independence referendum. Hewitt, who retired at the end of December, has spoken out strongly against the referendum since leaving the SWA and told Channel 4 that he and his staff had at least six meetings with the SNP’s Angus Robertson, who represents the Moray district in Parliament.
“He (Robertson) and the SNP have regularly tried to get the message to the Scotch Whisky Association that the Scotch whisky industry should stay out of the independence debate,” Hewitt said. “He was, I think, trying to neuter business comment. There was a genuine fear that in fact if we were seen to scupper by coming out publicly against independence, there would be retribution down the track.”
Robertson strongly denied the accusation. He and Richard Lochhead, who represents the district in the Scottish Parliament and serves as Scotland’s Rural Affairs Minister in the SNP-led Edinburgh government, have held a series of meetings with industry executives in recent months to discuss the potential for increasing whisky-related tourism in Speyside. The meetings were private, and it is not known whether the referendum was on the agenda for discussion – or discussed privately.
July 7, 2014 – Brown-Forman has started producing barrels for its flagship Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey at the company’s new cooperage in Trinity, Alabama. The $60 million dollar Jack Daniel Cooperage has been in the works for the past two years, and will create an estimated total of 200 new jobs when it reaches full production of around 700 barrels per day.
Brown-Forman held a ceremony to officially open the cooperage today, with Alabama Governor Robert Bentley praising the project as a much-needed economic boost for the Northern Alabama town, which recently lost its largest employer when International Paper shut down its plant earlier this year and eliminated nearly 1,100 jobs.
Brown-Forman’s existing cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky produces more than 2,000 barrels per day to supply the company’s distilleries in Tennessee and Kentucky with new barrels, but global whisky demand forced the company to invest in a second facility. “We want to be able to satisfy the world’s thirst for our premium Tennessee Whiskey, and having this state-of-the-art cooperage will help us meet that demand,” Jack Daniel’s managing director John Hayes said in a news release. “We couldn’t be happier with this new facility and the great welcome we’ve received from the people of Alabama.” Brown-Forman officials say the Alabama cooperage’s production will help supplement the supply of Louisville-built barrels being delivered to the distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, using wood from the company’s stave mills in Stevenson, Alabama and Clifton, Tennessee.
According to AL.com, Brown-Forman received $63 million dollars in state and local economic development incentives to build the cooperage in Lawrence County.
Editor’s note: This story was edited to include additional information on economic development incentives and the local job market, along with a photo of the new cooperage provided by Brown-Forman.
July 6, 2014 – While the larger Scotch Whisky industry has remained relatively neutral on Scotland’s independence referendum set for September 18th, one of the industry’s key members is backing the “Better Together” movement opposing the referendum. Family-owned William Grant & Sons has confirmed that it has donated £100,000 GBP ($171,420 USD) to Better Together, along with smaller amounts to other groups backing a “no” vote, according to the BBC. The company owns the Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie malt whisky distilleries in Speyside, the Girvan grain whisky distillery, and produces the Grant’s range of blended Scotch whiskies.
Grant’s is the first major whisky producer so far to stake out a side in the debate, while other companies have limited their comments to expressing hopes that a stable economic environment can be maintained no matter which way the vote goes. In a statement provided to the BBC, company executives expressed their belief that Scottish independence could have a negative effect on the future of the company and the larger whisky industry.
“We support the stance of the SWA over independence and would refer you to their recent statement that the Scotch whisky industry enjoys substantial support from the UK government and its worldwide embassy network and from lack of trade barriers within the EU.”
The Scotch Whisky Association has not taken an official position on the referendum, but as the trade body’s chief executive, David Frost, told WhiskyCast in April, it has concerns that have not been addressed by the Scottish National Party-led independence movement. Frost and his members are afraid that an independent Scotland would not be accepted immediately into the European Union as SNP leaders have claimed, and that could mean an end to the tariff-free export of whisky from Scotland to EU member nations. In addition, the SWA is concerned about the potential that numerous free trade agreements protecting Scotch Whisky that have been negotiated by UK diplomats with other countries over the last decade could have to be renegotiated by an independent Scotland.
So far, the SNP’s only statement on the impact of the referendum on the whisky industry has been a suggestion that Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to allow a referendum on whether the UK should remain an EU member could force Scotland out of the EU against its will. That referendum has not been officially scheduled, but could take place as early as 2017 depending on the outcome of the next Parliamentary election.
Scotland’s Electoral Commission is scheduled to release campaign finance reports from both sides Tuesday, and those reports could indicate whether other whisky producers have joined Grant’s in taking sides.
Links: William Grant & Sons
July 3, 2014 – Glasgow’s city council has approved planning permission for work to begin on the city’s first new malt whisky distillery in decades. That clears the way for veteran whisky industry leaders Tim Morrison and his team to start turning the historic pump house along the River Clyde into the first phase of the £10 million ($17.1 million USD) project, a museum and visitors centre. New construction on the site between Glasgow’s Hydro Arena and the Riverside Museum will include the distillery building and a cafe/tasting bar, with work scheduled to be completed by the autumn of 2015.
Tim Morrison is one of the sons of Stanley Morrison, who led Morrison Bowmore’s rebirth in 1964. He also owns the independent bottler A.D. Rattray, and has recruited a number of former Morrison Bowmore colleagues to work on the new venture. In a recent interview, his son Andrew Morrison explained that the site will generate tourist traffic from opening day on.
“A lot of distilleries that are new are opening in places like Lewis or Islay…being in the centre of Glasgow, our neighbor is the Riverside Museum, which has a million visitors a year, so we’re definitely looking to build an experience as well as a distillery,” Morrison said. The visitors centre/museum is being modeled on the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, with plans to focus on the history of Scotch Whisky instead of a single brand. “Most experiences we’ve visited have been so focused on particular brands from those distilleries; we really want to talk about the history of whisky, the relationship to the Clyde, the monks, and really have a compelling reason for people to come to our site, as well as, of course, a working distillery.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Andrew Morrison:
Planning permission had been anticipated earlier this year, but the Morrison team has been working with Glasgow officials on a master plan for the site. “Glasgow’s waterfront is now becoming a contemporary location,” Morrison said. “It used to be shipbuilding and very industrial, and the City Council have decided that everything along there has to be contemporary. The site we’re looking at is half listed building (historic preservation site) and the planners now want contemporary with listed, so it’s going to be a very interesting looking distillery.” The projections call for annual production of 400,000 to 450,000 litres of alcohol annually, with no maturation warehouses to be located on the site.
The Pump House site has a unique place in Glasgow’s history. Tim Morrison’s great-grandfather, John Morrison, originally built the structure in 1877. It served as the main entry point for the Queens Dock, and allowed Customs & Excise officers to monitor shipping traffic along the river. Restoring it to serve as the museum and visitors centre is expected to create 300 temporary construction jobs, while the project is expected to create 25 permanent jobs once the distillery goes into production.
The distillery does not have a web site at this time.