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!
February 6, 2015 – A class-action lawsuit against Louisville Distilling Co., the producer of Angel’s Envy whiskies, has been moved to Federal District Court in Chicago. The suit accusing Louisville Distilling of misleading consumers about the origin of its Angel’s Envy Rye was originally filed last October in Cook County Circuit Court by plaintiffs Mario Aliano and Due Fratelli, Inc. However, lawyers for Louisville Distilling successfully challenged the local court’s jurisdiction over the case under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. The law gives federal courts jurisdiction over class-action lawsuits seeking more than $5 million in damages or when fewer than two-thirds of the proposed class of plaintiffs live in the same state as the defendant.
According to Legal Newsline, the plaintiffs claim Louisville Distilling lied about the source of Angel’s Envy Rye by claiming that it was a “small-batch” whiskey made by the late Lincoln Henderson in Bardstown, Kentucky, when it actually comes from the MGP-I distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana using the same recipe as other Rye whiskies made there. The lawsuit is similar to one filed in Chicago last September against the makers of Iowa’s Templeton Rye, and that lawsuit has also been moved to Federal Court.
In a statement provided Friday to WhiskyCast, Marc Bushala, the CEO of Louisville Distilling’s parent company Angel’s Share Brands LLC, said the company will fight a lawsuit that he claims lacks merit.
“We do not claim to distill our rye- we claim to barrel finish our rye in Caribbean rum casks in very small quantities. Our final product is unique and ‘small batch’ by anyone’s definition.” Indeed, the label on the bottle clearly states: “This rare rye starts like every other, but it’s then finished in vintage casks…”
The statement acknowledged the origin of the Rye whiskey as MGP-I, noting that Lincoln Henderson was able to secure a supply of 6-year-old Rye from the distillery before the recent boom in demand for Rye whiskey. There is no definition under US Federal regulations for “small-batch” whiskies, and the definition of the term is generally left to the producer of a whiskey brand. Louisville Distilling has sourced all of the whiskey used in its Angel’s Envy expressions from other distillers, and is building a new distillery of its own in downtown Louisville. Lincoln Henderson passed away in September of 2013. His son Wes Henderson and grandson Kyle Henderson are continuing to produce Angel’s Envy to Lincoln Henderson’s specifications.
The case was re-filed in the US District Court for Northern Illinois on January 27. No date has been set for a hearing in the case.
Editor’s note: The complete text of the Angel’s Envy statement is available here.
Links: Angel’s Envy
February 5, 2015 – Maker’s Mark will continue its annual tradition of producing special bottles for fans of the winning Super Bowl team following New England’s 28-24 win over Seattle Sunday night in Super Bowl XLIX. 6,000 bottles featuring a red and blue wax dip will be available in the next several weeks, according to Maker’s Mark global brand manager Gigi DaDan. In an email, she confirmed that the bottles will be available at retailers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, along with the New Hampshire state-owned liquor outlets.
The bottles are expected to be similar to those shown in a Twitter post (pictured at right) before Sunday’s game with the copy “It all comes down to this…” As with all Maker’s Mark bottles, the commemorative bottles are being produced at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky.
While the annual release is highly sought after by fans of each year’s winning team, the most collectible release in the series is likely to be the 2013 bottle featuring black and purple wax honoring the Baltimore Ravens’ victory that year. Those bottles were filled during the brief period when the distillery lowered the bottling proof of Maker’s Mark from 45% ABV to 42% before reversing the decision following consumer protests.
Links: Maker’s Mark
February 5, 2015 – Beam Suntory and Maxxium Travel Retail are making the Kilbeggan 8-year-old single grain Irish whiskey available in European travel retail outlets for the first time. The move also completes a rebranding for the single grain whiskies produced at Beam Suntory’s Cooley Distillery, which had previously been sold under the Greenore brand name.
Kilbeggan’s 8-year-old is made from 100% corn, matured in ex-Bourbon barrels, and bottled at 40% ABV. No pricing details were announced.
February 5, 2015 – For the last ten years, visitors to Islay’s Bruichladdich Distillery have been greeted with an unusual sight…a huge still with a pair of Duncan McGillivray’s old Welly boots sticking out of the top as part of the distillery’s sign. Now, that still has been taken off the island with plans to put it back into service.
In a post on the distillery’s blog, Bruichladdich announced that the still, along with another unused still that had been stored in nearby Port Charlotte, has been shipped to Forsyths in Rothes for refurbishing and repairs. From there, the stills will be shipped to Waterford, Ireland, where they will be used in former Bruichladdich managing director Mark Reynier’s new Waterford Distillery. Reynier and his investor group acquired Diageo’s mothballed Guinness Brewery in Waterford last year with plans to convert it into a distillery. Reynier noted on his Twitter feed that using the vintage stills will allow Waterford to begin production in January of 2016, two years earlier than would have been possible with brand-new stills. Reynier plans to have six new Forsyths stills in place at Waterford in 2021.
The stills were acquired when Bruichladdich bought pieces of the former Inverleven Distillery as it was being dismantled. In the blog post, Bruichladdich managing director Simon Coughlin said “there will of course be a touch of sadness at the departure of what became an iconic symbol of the renaissance of Bruichladdich, but it is going to a good home and we hope that it can help in getting Mark’s new Irish whiskey project into production sooner than would otherwise be the case. We now have the enjoyable task of deciding what to do to replace it.”
The second still that had been stored in Port Charlotte had been intended for use in the long-planned Port Charlotte Distillery that has been in the planning stages for many years. Bruichladdich has routinely renewed planning permits for the Port Charlotte project, but has yet to move forward with construction.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information and a photo provided by Mark Reynier.
February 5, 2015 – Berry Bros. & Rudd is releasing the third expression in The Glenrothes Extraordinary Cask Collection series, a 1968 second-fill hogshead cask that produced just 145 bottles. The cask was selected by Malt Master Gordon Motion and Brands Heritage Director Ronnie Cox from a range of vintage casks previously identified as possible candidates for single cask bottlings.
The two previous releases in the series were single cask bottlings from 1970 and 1969, and both are now sold out. The 1968 bottling will be available exclusively at DFS in Singapore’s Changhi Airport through the end of February, with remaining bottles to be available at select whisky specialist retailers in Asia and the rest of the world beginning in March. The expression carries a recommended retail price of 11,275 SGD (£5,500 GBP, $9,250 USD), but pricing is likely to vary by region.
Links: The Glenrothes
February 3, 2015 – After four years of quarterly releases, Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project experiment is coming to a close. The final batch of 12 Bourbons in the series will be released later this month, though a final winner will not be announced until later this year. As with previous batches, the 12 whiskies will be packaged in 375ml bottles with one bottle from each barrel in a case and a recommended retail price of $46.35 each.
The project began back in 1999 when the late Ronnie Eddins selected 96 oak trees from a Missouri forest to be turned into barrels, with each half of a tree used to produce a single barrel for a total of 192 unique casks. Some of the casks received heavy charring, while others received a lighter char. The barrels were filled at the same time with spirit from either a rye-heavy or wheat-heavy mashbill, then stored at specific spots within two different warehouses at Buffalo Trace for eight years. Finally, all 192 barrels were dumped and bottled at the same time, with batches of 12 different single barrel Bourbons being released every three months starting in the spring of 2011.
While previous batches have tried to gauge the differences that changing one or two of the seven different variables have on the final product, Buffalo Trace marketing director Kris Comstock described the the final batch as full of variety in a news release.
“We’ve got some wheat and rye recipe, both the 105 and 125 entry proofs, all three grain sizes represented both types of warehouse floors, and oak from both the top and the bottom of the tree. The only consistencies in this release are the stave seasoning at six months and the number four char.”
Consumers have been adding their own tasting notes and ratings for each of the barrels at the Single Oak Project web site, with the specifics of each different whiskey revealed after a review is posted. Buffalo Trace plans to take the highest-rated barrel and replicate its unique characteristics for release under the Single Oak Bourbon name. More than 4,600 reviews have been posted so far, and Comstock described the race as very close with Barrel #82 (released in November, 2012) holding a narrow lead.
While the final batch is being released this month, the web site will accept reviews and votes until a winner is announced later this year. If the consumer voting does not produce a clear winner, Buffalo Trace plans to have a panel of Bourbon experts evaluate the final candidates and help determine a winner.
Editor’s note: WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie was one of the writers present for the 2011 launch of the Single Oak Project, and has been invited to return to Buffalo Trace in June to serve as a member of the final evaluation panel. While Buffalo Trace is covering travel expenses for that trip, no other compensation has been or will be paid in connection with coverage of this story.
February 3, 2015 – For the first time, Irish Distillers is making a limited-edition Redbreast expression available to members of The Stillhouse, the affinity group for fans of Redbreast and the Pernod Ricard unit’s other Single Pot Still Irish Whiskeys. Redbreast Mano a Lámh also is unique in that it is the first Redbreast expression to be matured exclusively in ex-Sherry casks. The core Redbreast expressions are matured in a combination of ex-Sherry and ex-Bourbon casks.
The name comes from the combined Spanish and Irish Gaelic translations for “hand in hand,” reflecting the ties with Páez Morilla Bodega in Jerez, Spain. Irish Distillers has its casks handmade at Antonio Páez Lobato Bodega, then sends them to be seasoned with Sherry for two years before using them at Midleton Distillery in County Cork.
Mano a Lámh carries no age statement, as Master Blender Billy Leighton used casks of various ages to create the expression. In a news release, he described the challenge of blending Mano a Lámh.
“It was an exciting challenge as a Master Blender to work on this project; having to ensure that the right balance was achieved and the sherry contribution did not over power in the final taste. For me, Redbreast Mano a Lámh offers a distinctive, rich whiskey with intense flavours of dried fruit, which gives way to the perfection of the Spanish oak. I am really eager to learn what our Stillhouse members and Redbreast fans think of this rare expression.”
Mano a Lámh is bottled at 46% ABV, with only 2,000 bottles available exclusively to Stillhouse members through the Redbreast web site for €65 ($74 USD). Because of shipping restrictions, the whiskey will not be available in the United States and a number of other countries. Mano a Lámh is the first of what is expected to be several new releases in the Single Pot Still range during 2015.
February 3, 2015 – The “Bourbon Boom” and growing interest in American whiskies helped boost US spirits sales by four percent during 2014, according to the annual economic report released today by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. During a briefing at the New York Yacht Club, DISCUS CEO Peter Cressy also cited growing sales of so-called “high-end” and “Super Premium” spirits, with “high-end” defined as those priced $18-30 per bottle and “Super Premium” selling for $30 or more. Both segments recorded volume gains of more than 5 percent during 2014, with “high-end” volume up 5.8% and “Super Premium” volume up 5.1%. By comparison, “premium” spirits priced between $12-18 per bottle were up 3.1% and “value” spirits fell by 1.3%.
Listen to the DISCUS Briefing:
DISCUS Chief Economist David Ozgo credited the shift in sales to improving economic conditions, noting that as consumers feel better about their economic status, they tend to switch to more expensive spirits. While the volume data reflects all spirits categories, whisky helped lead the way with Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey volumes gaining 7.4% over 2013 with sales of more than 19 million 9-liter (12 750ml bottles) cases. Irish Whiskey showed continued strength with a 9.1% gain, while Single Malt Scotch Whisky volume was up by 6.4%. Canadian Whisky dropped one percent, while Blended Scotch Whisky volumes were off by three percent.
The trend among younger consumers to favor flavored whiskies and other spirits continues to grow, with sales of flavored whisky growing by about a third to 2.8 million cases, outpacing rum (up 1.9 million cases) and vodka, where sales fell by almost a million cases. Ozgo predicted continued growth in the sector based on economic data showing income growth in the 21-34 year old age group, noting that while flavored whiskies are taking some sales away from traditional products, they are attracting new consumers to the market.
Whisky continues to account for 70% of all US spirits exports, with a projected 3.4% gain in 2014 export results when all data is received. Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey accounted for $1.02 billion in exports during the year according to Commerce Department data, up slightly from 2013. Sales of other American whiskies gained slightly, based on increased exports of whiskies from craft distillers. Canada remains the largest export market for US spirits ($212.6 million USD), followed by the UK, Germany, Australia, and France.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include audio of the DISCUS briefing. A problem with the phone line for the conference call resulted in the first part of the briefing not being available. For that reason, we have included links to PDF files of the entire presentation.
February 2, 2015 – Vinopolis, the event space and wine education experience located underneath London Bridge on the banks of the River Thames, will close at the end of 2015. In a statement, Vinopolis managing director Samantha Anderson said “we have come to the end of what could reasonably be achieved with the wine experience and feel that it is time for new life to be breathed into the timeless space. After 16 years we will close the doors proudly after a year of celebrating what has been achieved in style.” The space will be converted into retail space after Vinopolis shuts down following the 2015 holiday season.
Vinopolis is also home to The Whisky Exchange’s retail store, and has served until this past October as the home of The Whisky Show London. The Whisky Exchange, which manages The Whisky Show, has been planning to move the show to a new, larger venue for 2015. and is expected to announce plans for this year’s show soon.
Sukhinder and Rajbir Singh, the brothers who own both The Whisky Exchange and the Whisky Show, have not announced plans for the future of the retail operation once Vinopolis closes. The store is located within the center of the Vinopolis event space, and does not have a separate entrance of its own that would allow the store to remain open while the remainder of the space is being converted. In an email, Sukhinder Singh noted that the space will be available until the end of the year, giving them time to make plans that will be announced once finalized.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on February 5 with a response from Sukhinder Singh.
January 29, 2015 – With interest in Bourbon-related tourism at an all-time high, Kentucky distillers are reporting another double-digit increase in visitors during 2014. The Kentucky Distillers Association reported today that 723,503 guests visited the 18 participating distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour in 2014. The results continue a five-year tourism boom that has seen a 62% increase in visitor traffic over the period, according to KDA President Eric Gregory. “Some of our distilleries are up 200% in attendance over the last five years, which is great news for local communities that are reaping the tourism benefits,” Gregory said in a news release. “And that best news is that we keep adding more and more distilleries.”
Nine sites currently make up the Kentucky Bourbon Trail following the 2014 addition of the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville. The Trail is expected to add a 10th site during 2015 when the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse opens in downtown Louisville’s Fourth Street Live entertainment district. The Trail includes all of Kentucky’s major distilleries, with the exception of Sazerac-owned Buffalo Trace in Frankfort and the 1792 Barton Distillery in Bardstown.
In its second year of operation, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour featuring nine craft distilleries recorded a 56% increase in visitor traffic with 96,471 guests. Corsair Artisan Distillery in Bowling Green, Silver Trail Distillery in Hardin, and Wilderness Trace Distillery in Danville all doubled their visits during 2013, while the other six distilleries all reported double-digit increases. The Craft Tour also added a new site during 2014 when New Riff Distillery in the Cincinnati suburb of Newport joined the group. Adam Johnson of the KDA, who oversees the Bourbon Trail and the Craft Tour, noted in the news release that there is a waiting list for new distilleries to join the tour.
In the past ten years, every one of Kentucky’s major distilleries has either expanded existing visitor attractions or built new ones to capitalize on the growth in Bourbon-related tourism. A recent study by the University of Louisville’s Urban Studies Institute for the KDA estimated that Bourbon Trail tourism accounts for at least $7.5 million in economic impact on the state each year.