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September 16, 2014 – Chip Tate, the embattled founder and master distiller at Balcones Distillery in Waco, Texas, has formally denied accusations by the distillery’s majority investors in a court filing earlier this month. A court hearing set for Thursday in Waco has now been postponed until October 7 on the distillery’s request for a restraining order to continue Tate’s suspension last month for what the investors described as “actions detrimental to Balcones.” The private equity firm PE Investors II, LLC took on a stake in Balcones last year to help fund the development of a new $10 million distillery in downtown Waco and an expansion of the current Balcones distillery founded by Tate in 2008. The move was prompted by the success of Tate’s whiskies in competitions and the need to expand capacity to meet demand.
Since that filing, Tate has switched lawyers, and is now represented by David Clouston from the Dallas-based law firm of Sessions, Fishman, Nathan & Israel. Clouston filed a response to the distillery’s original allegations September 12 denying claims that Tate threatened the life of Balcones board chairman Greg Allen and threatened to burn down the distillery, and accusing Allen and his partners of mounting a hostile takeover to “to purloin the plump ripe peach that is Balcones from the founder Chip, who built it with his own two hands from scratch.”
The filing claims that Tate was not “suspended” as Balcones charges, but terminated after discussions between Allen and Tate over buying each other out broke down. From the filing:
“After an extended, multiple-week dialogue between Chip and PE about buying each other out of Balcones, Greg Allen of PE, barged, unannounced and without warning, into a meeting (literally throwing open the door and stopping the meeting) Chip was having with a corn supplier at Balcones on August 5, 2014. As Chip tried to diffuse the situation created by Allen, it was revealed to Chip that two sheriff’s deputies were waiting outside with instructions to remove Chip from the Balcones premises. Chip, contrary to the alleged threats stated in the Petition, assured the employees that their positions were not in jeopardy and that this was merely an issue to be worked out between owners, gathered some of his personal belongings and left the distillery with the understanding that he and Allen would continue to work towards finding a resolution to buy one or the other out. Chip had no firearms on his person, nor did he threaten Allen—as alleged in the inflammatory and false Petition. Despite being ambushed and threatened with removal by two armed deputies who were hired and told they were there to assist in the termination of an unruly employee, Chip calmly attempted to work towards a business solution with Allen, reassured the employees as to their jobs, and peacefully left the facility. He certainly never threatened, as once again falsely alleged in the Petition, to set fire to the very equipment that he had spent the majority of the previous six years helping to build, re-build, operate and maintain with his own hands. In fact, the evidence will establish that Chip was the de facto safety officer of Balcones and a compulsive “safety Sam” who constantly strove to ensure the safety of Balcones employees.”
The filing also accuses Balcones directors of illegally attempting to dilute Tate’s ownership stake from 27% to less than 10% by issuing $15 million in debt that could be converted into Balcones shares at $70 per unit, along with violating Tate’s rights under the company’s bylaws and his management agreement. According to the filing, the company’s bylaws state that Tate must be present at any meeting of directors for a quorum for binding decisions to be made and that he was not present at any meeting where his suspension or the need for additional capital was discussed. In its original filing, the Balcones directors claimed Tate had not been present for several board meetings and had hurt the company’s ability to raise outside capital.
In the filing, Clouston accused Allen and the Balcones directors of mounting a smear campaign to silence Tate based on false allegations, suggesting that “somewhere, Vladimir Putin is smiling.” The temporary restraining order issued against Tate August 22 bans him from discussing Balcones with employees, industry contacts, and the media, along with banning him from the distillery premises.
In an email to WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, Clouston said “I believe Chip Tate to be a man of integrity, as well as passion for his craft.” Clouston has just taken over representing Tate, who had previously been represented by Waco attorney Peter Rusek.
The attorney for Balcones, Jeffrey Armstrong of Naman, Howell, Smith, & Lee, declined to comment on the charges raised in Tate’s filing today. He provided a statement from the company’s directors on the $15 million in funding to finance construction of the new distillery, which is expected to begin in early 2015.
“Jared Himstedt, Distillery Manager, who’s been responsible for production since day one, is still producing and releasing the same whisky our customers have come to love. This week Balcones closed on a $15 million deal to fund the construction and provide operating capital for an expanded distillery. The Company offered all of the current owners the opportunity to participate in the investment on a pro rata basis. This important funding commitment comes entirely from the owners who elected to participate.”
The statement accounts for 73% of the Balcones ownership structure, with PE Investors II, LLC and Michael Rockafellow holding the combined stake. Rockafellow first bought into Balcones in 2010 with Steven Germer, acquiring a 67% stake at the time. While not specified in the statement, it is believed that Germer sold his shares in Balcones to PE Investors II. The outstanding shares are believed to be the 27% held by Tate, whom the company referred to in its statement only as “one of its management team members.”
The temporary restraining order prohibits Chip Tate from speaking with the media, but he posted this tweet on his personal Twitter feed Tuesday night after our story was published with the Balcones statement:
Tate deleted the post shortly after posting it.
This story will be updated as more details become available.
Links: Balcones Distilling
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a delay in the court hearing until October 7. The September 16 statement from the company is available as a PDF file here. A PDF version of Tate’s filing is available here. Court filings in civil cases represent only one side’s story, and civil courts allow each side several days to respond to filings made by other parties in the case.
September 15, 2014 – Diageo’s commitment to turning Bulleit Bourbon into a global brand continued today with the opening of the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in the Louisville suburb of Shively. The project is part of a $10 million investment in upgrading facilities at the old distillery, including today’s announcement that a micro-distillery is under construction with plans to start producing small batches of whiskey as part of the Bulleit visitor experience as early as May of 2015.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” Bulleit founder Tom Bulleit said during a tour of the visitor attraction following the dedication ceremony. The original Bulleit Experience opened in 2011, and Bulleit had said at the time that it would eventually open to the public. However, it was used only for training programs before closing to allow for construction work on the new project. Workers replicated existing architectural elements of the historic distillery’s administration building while adding new space inside for tasting rooms and a gift shop. The building dates back to Stitzel-Weller’s opening in 1935, and Bulleit now uses the office once occupied by the legendary Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle on what Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer called “sacred ground” during the dedication.
“He understood the need for change and growth,” Sally Van Winkle Campbell said of her grandfather, while suggesting that he would be surprised to see visitors coming to the distillery as a tourist attraction. Stitzel-Weller’s warehouses have been used to mature Bulleit’s whiskies, while the distillery itself closed in 1992. However, Diageo’s John Lunn, who oversees operations at Stitzel-Weller as well as serving as master distiller at Diageo’s George Dickel Distillery in Tennessee, said the company’s decision to build a new $115 million Bulleit distillery near Shelbyville, Kentucky does not rule out the possibility that Stitzel-Weller might one day be used for large-scale distilling again. The stillhouse has significant environmental issues with asbestos that helped play a part in the decision to build the Shelby County facility, but Lunn suggested that the old building could be demolished and a new stillhouse built if needed in the future.
The Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience will serve as the brand home for Bulleit Bourbon and Bulleit Rye, along with Diageo’s new Orphan Barrel range of American whiskies. In an interview after the ceremony, Diageo North America President Larry Schwartz credited Tom Bulleit’s leadership and vision for the project.
“Everybody has a vision, but not all the time can you realize that vision…to be able to realize it and to create something that Tom Bulleit was an integral part of really makes me very proud,” he said. “How do you keep this big company small and entrepreneurial, and doing something like Tom, I think, really demonstrates that this big company can act very small, can be very entrepreneurial.” Schwartz said the Stitzel-Weller archives will serve as a guide for developing new whiskies based on the historic whiskies produced at the distillery in the past using some of the 412,000 barrels stored on site.
The Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience will open to the public Tuesday, and will be the second Louisville distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience operates its own micro-distillery inside the Main Street attraction, which opened last November.
September 11, 2014 – Traditionally, the Kentucky Distillers Association keeps the names of its honorees for the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame quiet until the induction ceremony each year during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown. However, the Class of 2014 includes just one inductee – and a history-making inductee at that. Margie Mattingly Samuels is credited with many of the innovations at Maker’s Mark during its history, from the trademark red wax seal to the bottle design and even the whisky’s name, will be the first woman inducted into the Hall of Fame for her work with a distillery. The induction ceremony will take place September 17 at the Bardstown Country Club.
In a news release, KDA President Eric Gregory called the selection of Margie Samuels “a historic moment that is long overdue.”
“Mrs. Samuels was one of many women in our industry to be directly involved with creating and growing a legendary Bourbon brand. We are proud to honor Mrs. Samuels, and we applaud her monumental contributions that forever changed the way Bourbon is made and marketed. She transformed our industry, and we are eternally grateful.”
“I think Mom would be surprised because she never really considered herself part of the business,” Bill Samuels Jr. said during a telephone interview Friday. “She just would make these unbelievable pronouncements…at least in hindsight it seemed that way. She was a little bit on the strong-willed side, and Dad had enough sense to implement most of them, and it turned out brilliantly.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Bill Samuels Jr.:
Margie Samuels is often referred to as the co-founder of Maker’s Mark along with her husband, T.W. “Bill” Samuels Sr. While Bill oversaw the whisky’s production in the early 1950’s, she created the whisky’s image and became one of the most influential women in whisky history. She grew up in the business around her father’s Mattingly & Moore distillery in Louisville, and earned a chemistry degree from the University of Louisville in 1933. Four years later, she married Bill Samuels and moved to Bardstown’s “Whiskey Row”, where they lived next to Colonel Jim Beam and his wife Mary. They later moved to Star Hill Farm on the west side of Bardstown, where she worked on the bottle design, labels, and even the iconic typeface for the brand. She passed away in 1985.
Two of their three children, Bill Jr., Nancy, and Leslie went on to work at Maker’s Mark, where Bill Jr. succeeded his father as president and ran the brand until 2011, when he turned it over to his son Rob, who runs the brand today. Margie and Leslie Samuels developed the first visitors center in the Bourbon industry in 1967. Bill Samuels Sr. was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame in 2002, a year after Bill Jr. was inducted in the Hall’s inaugural class.
While Margie Samuels is the first woman to be inducted into the Hall for her work with a distillery, four other women have also been inducted for their work with the industry. Former Bardstown mayor and writer Dixie Hibbs was the first woman to join the Hall of Fame in 2004, Pamela Wood Gover (2005) and Mary Jane Dickerson (2009) were inducted for their work with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, and Rita Lee Greenwell (2008) was selected for her years of service with the Kentucky Distillers Association.
Maker’s Mark announced today that to celebrate the induction of Margie Samuels into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, all visitors on September 17 who wear red and mention her name at the visitors center will receive complimentary distillery tours.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information and audio from our interview with Bill Samuels Jr.
September 11, 2014 – While most of the news on new whiskies the past several days has come from Kentucky, Scotch whisky producers haven’t been resting on their laurels. This week brings word of new whiskies from The Glenlivet, Compass Box, and Douglas Laing & Co.
The Glenlivet is adding to its Nàdurra range for the second time this year with the Nàdurra First Fill Selection, matured exclusively in first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels. As with the original Nàdurra releases and the Oloroso Cask Strength version released earlier this year, the expression lives up to the translation of Nàdurra from Gaelic as “natural” with no caramel coloring or chill-filtering. The First Fill Selection is bottled at 48% ABV, and will be available globally, including the UK, US, and Sweden, along with travel retail outlets at a recommended retail price of $75 USD. In addition, the Oloroso Cask Strength’s availability will be expanded from travel retail to selected markets, including India, Taiwan, and Canada.
Compass Box will be releasing The Lost Blend October 1 in the US, Europe, and the UK. The blended malt is a throwback to one of the earliest Compass Box blends, Eleuthera, which was available from 2001 until 2004, when blender John Glaser could no longer get one of the three component malts used in the blend. The Lost Blend brings together Highland single malts from Clynelish and Allt-a-Bhainne with peaty Caol Ila malt from Islay, and is being bottled at 46% ABV with no chill-filtering. In keeping with the brand’s reputation for quirkiness, three separate labels have been created around the theme of “lost things”, and each case will contain a randomly-selected variety of the three labels. Around 12,000 bottles will be available at a recommended retail price of $120 USD.
Finally, Douglas Laing & Co. is releasing a Highland companion to its Big Peat (Islay) and Scallywag (Speyside) blended malts. Timorous Beastie is blended by Fred Laing with malts from Dalmore, Glengoyne, Glen Garioch, and other distilleries. The name comes from the classic Robert Burns poem “To a Mouse”, and the whisky is bottled at 46.8% ABV with no caramel coloring or chill-filtering. It will be available at whisky specialist retailers starting this month. Pricing has not been announced.
September 9, 2014 – Heaven Hill is about to begin shipping the 2014 edition in the Parker’s Heritage Collection series of whiskies selected by Master Distiller Emeritus Parker Beam, and will once again donate part of the proceeds from the sale of each bottle to the ALS Association’s “Parker Beam’s Promise of Hope Fund.” Last year’s “Promise of Hope” Bourbon helped raise more than $300,000 for the fund, and Heaven Hill has pledged to donate $5 for each bottle of the 2014 edition sold. Beam was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, and while his illness has forced him to scale back his schedule, he continues to work at Heaven Hill as his health permits. However, he has added “Emeritus” to his title, and Craig Beam is now Heaven Hill’s master distiller.
The 2014 edition is named “Original Batch”, and is a 13-year-old straight wheat whiskey that comes from the first distillation run at Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Distillery in Louisville for what eventually became Bernheim Original Straight Wheat Whiskey. In a telephone interview, Heaven Hill spokesman Larry Kass explained that the distillery had been producing wheated Bourbon for Old Fitzgerald when Heaven Hill acquired both the distillery and the brand from United Distillers in 1999.
“We had a lot of wheat in one of our silos, and Craig Beam decided in 2000 to go ahead and try a run of straight wheat whiskey with a 51% wheat formula, and we ran about 160 barrels, which was the smallest that we could do,” Kass said. “We put it up on the seventh floor of Warehouse W, which is about our best warehouse there (in Bardstown), and we kind of tasted it every few months to see how it was progressing.” Heaven Hill eventually released it under the Bernheim label in 2005 with no age statement, but gradually increased the age to 7 years and added an age statement to the whiskey earlier this year. The Heritage Collection release comes from the remaining barrels of that original production run that had been held back for an additional 8 years of maturation.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Larry Kass:
“Original Batch” is bottled at a cask-strength 63.7% ABV with no chill-filtering, and is the seventh edition in the annual series. It will carry a recommended retail price of $89.99 per 750ml bottle, and will be available in limited amounts.
Tasting notes will be available soon at WhiskyCast.com.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include an interview with Heaven Hill’s Larry Kass.
September 8, 2014 – William Grant & Sons plans to release the oldest single cask bottlings of The Balvenie single malt on record after bottling two casks of 50-year-old whisky. Both casks were filled in 1963 and bottled this year by veteran malt master David Stewart.
Cask #4567 produced 131 bottles at 45.4% ABV, while Cask #4570 produced 128 bottles at 45.9% ABV. Both bottlings are being released in a hand-crafted wood and brass case, and will carry a recommended retail price of £26,500 ($42,665 USD) at whisky specialist retailers worldwide. 15 bottles from Cask #4567 will be available in the US, according to The Balvenie.
The announcement comes on the same day that Grant’s announced plans to acquire the Drambuie whisky liqueur brand from the MacKinnon family for an undisclosed amount. The family-owned firm had been seen as the leading bidder for Drambuie once the MacKinnons put the brand up for sale earlier this year. The Mackinnons have owned Drambuie for nearly a century, but the brand’s heritage is said to date back to 1746 when members of the unrelated Clan MacKinnon provided Prince Charles Edward Stuart, also known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie” with sanctuary on the Isle of Skye following the Battle of Culloden.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include information on US availability.
September 8, 2014 – Jim Beam will be removing the age statement from its 8-year-old Jim Beam Black Bourbon soon. Beam spokesman Dan Cohen confirmed the move in an email to WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie this weekend, but declined to provide a reason for the change or more details on the move.
Until the 2013 introduction of Jim Beam Signature Craft 12-year-0ld Bourbon, Jim Beam Black was the oldest expression sold under the Jim Beam label. Beam has called the whiskey “double aged” because it is matured twice as long as the four years for the flagship Jim Beam White Label Bourbon. However, the age statement has only appeared on US bottlings of Jim Beam Black, while export versions do not carry an age statement and are believed to be around six years old. It is not known whether the new US version of Jim Beam Black will be consistent with the export versions, or what other changes may be in store for the expression.
This story will be updated as more details become available.
Links: Jim Beam
September 7, 2014 – Four Roses is releasing its annual Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon this month in time for National Bourbon Heritage Month. As with previous editions, Master Distiller Jim Rutledge used four of the distillery’s ten unique Bourbon recipes to create this year’s version, with casks ranging from nine to 13 years old. This year’s version is bottled at a barrel-strength 60% ABV.
“We’ve only scratched the surface with what we can do with our ten Bourbon recipes relative to varying flavor profiles for special releases,” Rutledge said in a news release. The ten recipes vary in rye content and yeast variety, with two different mashbills of varying rye levels and five different yeast strains that produce different flavors in the final whiskey.
Around 11,200 bottles of the Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon will be available at US retailers in mid-September.
Tasting notes will be available soon at WhiskyCast.com.
Links: Four Roses
September 4, 2014 – Buffalo Trace has unveiled the five whiskies in this year’s Antique Collection series of limited-edition whiskies, which will be available at selected retailers later this month. The collection includes the award-winning George T. Stagg Bourbon, bottled at 69.05% ABV from casks filled in the spring of 1998 and maintaining Stagg’s tradition as an uncut, unfiltered whiskey.
The 2014 William Larue Weller wheated Bourbon is the strongest Weller in the 14 years of the Antique Collection, with a strength of 70.1% ABV from casks filled in 2002. The Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, like the Stagg and Weller whiskies, is also uncut and unfiltered, and is bottled at 64.6% ABV from casks filled in 2008.
Rounding out the Antique Collection are the Eagle Rare 17-year-old Bourbon and Sazerac Rye 18-year-old whiskies. All five will sell for a recommended retail price of $80 each, and will be available in limited amounts.
Tasting notes for the Antique Collection whiskies will be available at a later date at WhiskyCast.com.
September 4, 2014 – A management dispute is threatening the future of one of the whisky industry’s most successful craft distillers, according to a report in the Waco Tribune. Majority investors in Balcones Distilling received a temporary restraining order August 22 to enforce the board’s 90-day suspension against Balcones founder and head distiller Chip Tate after alleging that he “has engaged in acts harmful to Balcones.” A court hearing in the case is set for September 18 in Waco, Texas.
The report is based on publicly available court filings from attorneys for the Balcones directors that accuse Tate of threatening the life of Balcones chairman Greg Allen and hinting that he would rather burn the distillery down than let someone else run it. Tate’s attorney, Peter Rusek of the Waco law firm of Sheey, Lovelace, and Mayfield, confirmed to WhiskyCast today that a response to the allegations has not been filed with the court yet. Because of that, the court filings only contain the Balcones point of view at this time. It should also be noted that the case is being heard in a civil court, and there is no report of a criminal investigation into the Balcones claims.
Tate founded Balcones in 2008, and took on additional investors last year to help fund construction of a new $10 million distillery in a historic Waco building. Since then, board members have accused Tate of missing important meetings and taking other unspecified actions that led to his suspension and the restraining order. The court order bans Tate from the Balcones facilities and communicating with employees, suppliers, and the media, along with a ban on using the distillery’s social media accounts, credit and debit cards. Court records indicate the company has accused Tate of refusing to reimburse almost $15,000 in personal charges to a company credit card.
Tate’s whiskies have received wide acclaim in the whisky industry, and he has become regarded as one of the leaders of the craft distilling movement. Balcones whiskies were among the first US-produced craft whiskies to be exported to Europe, and have won awards in international competitions.
In an email response to questions submitted today, Balcones spokesman and brand ambassador Winston Edwards said it would not be appropriate to comment on “ongoing personnel discussions” about the accusations against Tate and his future with Balcones. He said there will be no change in plans for the new distillery.
“The owners are absolutely committed to the distillery expansion and to the team here at Balcones. So much so, that they are investing more than double of what was originally proposed when they started working with the company 18 months ago – stay tuned, we’ll keep you posted on our continued progress.”
Edwards said Jared Himstedt, who was one of the original Balcones employees under Tate, remains as Production Manager and distiller, and will lead the distillery’s blending team for the present time.
This story will be updated as more details become available.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Balcones, along with the confirmation from Chip Tate’s attorney that a formal response to the Balcones allegations has not yet been filed with the court. The story is based on the Waco Tribune’s reporting of allegations that appear in court filings. Court filings often represent only one side of a story, and WhiskyCast has not been able to review the filings directly. Civil cases generally allow each party several days to file a response to filings made by other parties.
Links: Balcones Distilling