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!
April 4, 2014 – Morrison Bowmore is launching a new series of Bowmore single malts exclusively for the travel retail market. The “Black Rock” and “Gold Reef” malts will carry no age statement, while “White Sands” is a 17-year-old malt matured in the legendary Vaults No. 1 at the Islay distillery. Gold Reef and White Sands will be bottled at 43% ABV, while Black Rock will be bottled at 40% ABV. All three will be available in travel retail shops worldwide.
Black Rock is matured in first-fill Spanish oak ex-Sherry casks, while Gold Reef uses first-fill ex-Bourbon casks. The whiskies will be priced at £44.99 GBP ($75 USD) for Black Rock, £59.99 GBP ($99.50 USD) for Gold Reef, and £79.99 GBP ($133 USD) for White Sands.
Bowmore brand ambassador Gordon Dundas advises that the new series will replace the distillery’s existing travel retail lineup, which includes the Bowmore 100° Proof single malt.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information provided by the distillery.
April 4, 2014 – Gordon & MacPhail’s Benromach single malt has been posting strong sales increases over the last several years, with an increase of 29% last year on the expansion to 42 export markets worldwide. Now, the Speyside distillery’s 10-year-old expression is getting a facelift with new packaging and labeling that combines the distillery’s heritage with contemporary design elements.
Gordon & MacPhail managing director Michael Urquhart said in a news release that the new packaging will be rolled out to retailers starting this month. The new bottle is inspired by the shape of Benromach’s stills, while the foil on the labels is based on an image of the surface of the copper stills.
“We wanted our new packaging to reflect the way we make our whisky. Our 10yo has a classic pre-1960s character which arises from the sum of all its parts used to create it. Every cask is hand-filled, hand weighed and hand-stamped before maturing in our traditional dunnage warehouses. The new packaging reflects that approach with its hand-cut lettering and its classic heritage colours. Yet at the same time the packaging provides a contemporary, sophisticated, luxury feel that looks to the future of a malt whisky that is very much a growing brand.”
As reported previously on WhiskyCast, the distillery is also getting a new look with the addition of additional maturation warehouses and a third distiller, expanding the on-site distilling team to three. The Benromach web site is also being updated and expanded as well.
April 4, 2014 – Billy Walker has devoted a lot of time and attention to finding rare single casks in the BenRiach and GlenDronach warehouses, and now that his investor group has acquired Glenglassaugh Distillery, he’s repeating the successful strategy there. The first batch of Glenglassaugh single cask bottlings has been unveiled, with eight casks ranging from 28 to 45 years old.
The oldest in the batch, a 1968 single cask, was bottled at 44.3% ABV after 45 years of maturation, with finishing in a Sherry hogshead cask. Other casks in the initial batch include Manzanilla, Oloroso, Moscatel and Port finishes. In a news release, sales director Alistair Walker noted the historic nature of all eight casks.
“We took over Glenglassaugh last year and were thrilled to discover a treasure trove of old and rare spirits slumbering in the warehouses. Revived from the dark, selected by Billy Walker for their excellence and personality and bottled last month, this is an extraordinary collection of rare casks which will be warmly welcomed by connoisseurs worldwide. Taken together, they are stunning examples of Glenglassaugh at its finest.”
The initial batch includes:
1968 Cask #1601 | 45 years | Sherry Hogshead finish | 44.3% ABV
1972 Cask #2114 | 41 years | Sherry Butt finish | 50.6% ABV
1973 Cask #6801 | 40 years | Manzanilla Sherry Puncheon finish | 52.1% ABV
1975 Cask #7301 | 38 years | Oloroso Sherry Hogshead finish | 40.7% ABV
1975 Cask #7801 | 38 years | Moscatel Hogshead finish | 42.4% ABV
1978 Cask #1803 | 35 years | Sherry Hogshead finish | 41.6% ABV
1978 Cask #1810 | 35 years | Port Hogshead finish | 42.9% ABV
1986 Cask #2101 | 28 years | Hogshead finish | 43.7% ABV
Pricing and market availability has not been announced.
April 3, 2014 – Plans for Islay’s ninth distillery are closer to a groundbreaking, now expected later this year at Gartbreck Farm on the eastern shore of Loch Indaal. Jean Donnay has released a three-dimensional architect’s rendering of the distillery, which is scheduled to begin producing spirit in late 2015. When the project was unveiled in January, the original plan was to start construction in May. However, Donnay is still securing the £2.5 million ($4.15 million USD) in funding for the project, and has pushed back the start of construction until later this year.
In a news release, Donnay said the distillery will draw its water from nearby Grunnd Loch through a 900-metre gravity-fed pipeline. The stills will be heated with live flames instead of steam, the washbacks will be made of Oregon Pine instead of stainless steel, and old-school worm tub condensers are also part of the design. Donnay didn’t make the choices to preserve tradition, but because he believes they will help produce the kind of spirit he wants to make. His choices are based on experience at his Glann ar Mor Distillery in France, which was rewarded last month with a regional Icons of Whisky Award from Whisky Magazine as “Distillery Manager of the Year” for distilleries outside of Scotland and the US.
In addition to his previously disclosed plans to sell independent bottlings under the Gartbreck Whisky Company label while his initial production runs of whisky mature, Donnay now plans to produce gin at Gartbreck for sale exclusively at the distillery’s gift shop.
Links: Gartbreck Distillery
April 3, 2014 – As expected, the court-appointed administrator for Bladnoch Distillery plans to sell the Wigtown distillery as an ongoing business, and has started seeking expressions of interest from potential bidders. Luke Charleton of Ernst & Young was named as the administrator for Bladnoch last month after Colin Armstrong, one of the four investors in Bladnoch and the brother of managing director Raymond Armstrong, sought a court order to wind up the business. The Armstrong brothers were two of the four investors who acquired the closed distillery in 1994 and reopened it in 2000, but were at the center of a long-running family dispute on the distillery’s future. According to Raymond Armstrong, two of the investors wanted to sell, but no buyers could be found for a 50% stake in the company.
A legal notice on Charleton’s behalf describes the Bladnoch assets as “a whisky distillery with annual production capacity of 1.25 million litres, a long established brand (founded in 1817), aged Bladnoch whisky stock, full-laden bonded warehouses with 5.5 million litres of cash generative capacity, visitor centre, tea room, shop, and premises.” Most of the distillery’s current income is generated by renting space in its maturation warehouses to other distillers, and limited amounts of Bladnoch’s Lowlands single malt have been available for sale since 2008. The notice asks for interested bidders to step forward by April 9.
However, the notice does not specify whether the new owners will be able to run Bladnoch at full capacity. When the Raymond Armstrong-led investors bought Bladnoch in 1994 after it had been closed by UDV (now part of Diageo) the previous year, the contract specifically forbade the new owners from resuming whisky production. That restriction was later relaxed to allow around 100,000 liters of spirit production each year, and the distillery has been producing single malt stocks since 2000. However, production was stopped when the court ordered Bladnoch into administration, and all of the Bladnoch workers have been laid off until the distillery is sold.
An Ernst & Young spokesman declined to comment Friday on whether the production cap would apply to a new owner, since the issue is still being reviewed by legal counsel. This story will be updated when more details are available.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include information provided by Ernst & Young.
April 3, 2014 – When Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Emeritus Elmer T. Lee passed away last year at the age of 93, he left behind not only a legacy of service to the Bourbon industry, but also to his country. Buffalo Trace is honoring that legacy with a limited-edition release of Elmer’s namesake single barrel Bourbon to benefit the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #4075 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Elmer was a proud member of the VFW post, having served as a radar bombardier in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
The whiskey for this commemorative edition comes from the same warehouse location Elmer preferred for the casks he selected to be bottled under his name until shortly before his death. However, it has been bottled at 93 proof (46.5% ABV) instead of the usual 45% ABV in honor of Elmer’s age when he died on July 16, 2013, just a few weeks shy of what would have been his 94th birthday. The square bottle remains the same, but carries special labeling that includes a tribute to Elmer T. Lee. In a news release, Buffalo Trace’s Kris Comstock said all profits from the sale of the limited-edition release will go to the VFW post in Frankfort.
“We’re remarkably fortunate to have known Elmer. His contributions to the bourbon industry, Buffalo Trace Distillery and all our lives are countless. We want to honor our friend and give back to his family and his favorite cause, the Veterans of Foreign Wars.”
The commemorative bottles will be available at retailers starting this month with a recommended retail price of $39.99 USD. Buffalo Trace has pledged to keep producing the standard Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon “as barrels come of age and are deemed worthy of Elmer’s legacy.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s 2006 interview with Elmer T. Lee.
Links: Buffalo Trace
April 2, 2014 – Diageo’s lawsuit to overturn a 1937 Tennessee state law limiting where the state’s distillers can mature their spirits is headed for a Nashville federal court, but the drinks giant hopes to avoid a trial if an agreement can be reached with state regulators. The lawsuit was filed last Friday (March 28) against the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission and executive director Keith Bell in response to a TABC inquiry about Diageo’s practice of moving barrels from the George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma to warehouses in Kentucky.
The original 1937 law was part of Tennessee’s repeal of Prohibition, and required distillers to mature all of their spirits in the same county as the distillery. It was amended as part of last year’s “Tennessee Whiskey” law to allow distillers to use warehouses in adjacent counties. However, Diageo’s lawsuit claims the requirement violates the US Constitution’s protections for interstate commerce. Zack Nobinger of Taylor Strategy, Diageo’s external public relations agency for the Dickel whiskies, said in an email that federal court was the logical place to challenge the state law on constitutional grounds.
“According to the 1937 Storage Statute, manufacturers of all types of alcoholic beverages licensed in Tennessee are prohibited from storing the distilled spirits they manufacture in Tennessee anywhere other than the Tennessee county in which they were manufactured or an adjacent county. As a result, Diageo has filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission for depriving manufacturers of their constitutional rights to engage in interstate commerce because it does not allow Diageo to store distilled spirits anywhere other than the Tennessee county, or adjacent county, where it was produced. However, based on discussions between both parties late Friday we are hopeful that we can come to a mutually agreeable solution on this matter in short order.”
Keith Bell of the TABC confirmed in a Monday email that this is the first time the agency has raised a question about a distiller’s use of warehouses outside the state, while making it clear that the TABC has not opened a formal investigation or enforcement action. According to Diageo’s court filing, the company does take some spirit produced at the Dickel distillery to its warehouses at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, but none of that spirit is used for Dickel-branded whiskies. Nobinger confirmed that the Dickel distillery produces whiskey used in other Diageo products and for sale to third-party bottlers, and some of that whiskey is being matured in Kentucky.
The state has not yet filed its response to Diageo’s lawsuit.
April 2, 2014 – University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari has his team in the NCAA’s Final Four this weekend in Arlington, Texas, but his football counterpart gets the trophy at Keeneland for the running of this year’s Maker’s 46 Mile on April 11. Mark Stoops is featured on the commemorative Maker’s Mark bottle that will go on sale Friday (April 4), with a part of the proceeds to benefit the University of Kentucky’s Gill Heart Institute. 10,000 bottles will be available in Kentucky, and Stoops will join Maker’s Mark’s Rob Samuels and Bill Samuels Jr for a bottle signing at Keeneland on the morning of the Grade 1 stakes race.
Stoops is the brother of Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops and Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. They lost their father to a heart attack at the early age of 54, and in a news release, Stoops said he jumped at the chance to help raise funds to improve cardiac care in Kentucky.
“I’m certainly honored to be on the label of this year’s bottle, especially with the proceeds helping to bring ever-better cardiac care to the people of Kentucky. I’ve been here long enough to appreciate both the significance of the Gill Heart Institute’s work and the unique role this commemorative bottle plays to help support it. I’m deeply grateful to Keeneland and Maker’s Mark for making this happen.”
This is the 18th year for the commemorative Maker’s Mark Keeneland charity bottlings, with more than $7 million raised for Kentucky charities so far. Calipari was featured on the 2010 Keeneland bottle.
Links: Maker’s Mark
April 1, 2014 – CaskStrength Media is pleased to welcome a new host for WhiskyCast, as Hunter Smith will replace Mark Gillespie starting with this week’s episode. Smith, an 18-month-old child prodigy, earned the position because of his appeal to a new generation of whisky consumers. In a news release, CaskStrength Media managing director Christina Philburn said the weekly show’s new host will guarantee the long-term future of WhiskyCast.
“Mark’s done a great job over the last nine years, but just as people today don’t want to drink their grandfather’s whisky, they don’t want to hear about it from an old guy. Hunter’s appeal stretches across all generations, and look at those cheeks! You just want to pinch them!”
While it is highly unusual for an 18-month-old to become a whisky journalist, Mark Gillespie pointed out that Hunter’s family ties were a key factor in his selection. “We knew the kid had talent when he started experimenting with fermentation at 13 months by hiding bottles of apple juice next to the radiator. After a couple of weeks, they had a smell not unlike some young whiskies. True, he hasn’t taken the next step to distilling anything yet, but the quality of his fermented spirit makes him a Master Distiller in my book. Plus, if you’ve ever changed one of his diapers, you know Hunter has peat in his DNA.”
In the news release, Hunter Smith was quoted as being honored to take on the series of podcasts his grandfather created in 2005.
“Boppa baaa boo gaa, umm, ha, ha, ha. Boppa old, da da da.”
(Translation: “Mark has worked hard for many years, and it is an honor to be asked to take on this responsibility.”)
While there are no laws prohibiting minors from writing about distilled spirits, Hunter and the CSM management team have agreed that he will not publish whisky tasting notes for now. “It’s probably not a good idea for the Whisky Fairies to visit Hunter before the Tooth Fairy does,” CSM executive Aria Gillespie-Smith noted.
March 31, 2014 – Kentucky’s House of Representatives has signed off on a bill that gives the state’s Bourbon distillers a long-sought break on the taxes they pay each year on every barrel of maturing whiskey in their warehouses. The so-called “ad valorem” tax generates about $13 million each year for local governments and school districts, but the bill passed today preserves that revenue stream while allowing distillers to take a credit on their corporate income taxes to offset the ad valorem taxes. The compromise requires the distillers to reinvest that money in their Kentucky operations, and the credit will be phased in over the next five years.
“We are appreciative that the General Assembly recognizes our signature Bourbon industry as a major economic development engine of the Commonwealth,” Kentucky Distillers Association president Eric Gregory said in a news release. “This reinvestment tax credit will allow our distilleries to create more jobs and increase investment in the state.” According to the KDA, Kentucky’s taxes on distilled spirits are the third-highest in the nation, and the Commonwealth is the only state that imposes the ad valorem tax on distillers. Gregory said the offset will encourage more growth in the craft distilling community, along with another bill approved by the General Assembly that creates a special license for craft distillers with reduced licensing fees.
The bill was part of a package of tax reforms recommended in 2012 by a commission appointed by Governor Steve Beshear, and was approved by the Senate last week. The bill now goes to Gov. Beshear for his signature.