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 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.
July 1, 2014 – Highland Park is jumping on the no-age-statement bandwagon with a new release. Dark Origins was inspired by Magnus Eunson, the preacher and illicit whisky maker who set up his still in the church overlooking the Orkney town of Kirkwall. While the distillery didn’t get its name until after the excisemen caught Eunson — and one bought his still, his legacy remains key to Highland Park’s history.
While the whisky carries no age statement, Highland Park indicates that it uses twice the number of sherry cask-matured malts than are used in its regular 12-year-old expression. Dark Origins is bottled at 46.8% ABV, and will be available starting this month at whisky specialist retailers in the UK and Europe, along with the distillery’s gift shop and the Highland Park web site. The whisky will be rolled out gradually in other key markets, including the United States, over the next several months.
Links: Highland Park
June 26, 2014 – Bardstown, Kentucky claims the title of “Bourbon Capital of the World”, with the trademark to prove it. Now, Bardstown will be getting a third Bourbon distillery with the construction of the $25 million dollar Bardstown Bourbon Distillery. Construction on the distillery is expected to begin this summer on a 100-acre site in the Nelson County Industrial Park on Bardstown’s east side along the Martha Layne Collins Bluegrass Parkway.
The distillery will receive approximately $1.3 million dollars in tax rebates and economic development incentives from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority, according to a news release from Governor Steve Beshear’s office. The project is expected to create 35 full-time jobs when it opens in 2016, and will be the fifth active distillery in Nelson County when it begins production — joining Barton 1792 and Willett in Bardstown, the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, and Maker’s Mark in Loretto.
Guiding the progress will be two familiar faces in the Bourbon industry. Bourbon Hall of Fame distiller Steve Nally left his master distiller’s position at Wyoming Whiskey earlier this year to return to Nelson County with his wife Donna, and will be the master distiller. Longtime distillery veteran and consultant Pete Kamer will serve as a consultant on the project, bringing nearly 40 years of experience in the whiskey industry with him.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Steve Nally:
The distillery’s backers are including a visitors center in their plans, and will work with Bardstown-area restaurants to include culinary elements in the project as well.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include audio from our interview with Steve Nally.
June 25, 2014 – Longtime Bruichladdich Distillery general manager Duncan McGillivray will call it a career on Friday after more than 40 years with the Islay distillery. In a blog posting on the Bruichladdich web site, CEO Simon Coughlin called McGillivray’s contributions a key chapter in Bruichladdich’s history.
“Duncan’s experience and quiet determination have been a central pillar in the renaissance of Bruichladdich. His ability to innovate and improvise in the face of seemingly impossible engineering challenges, combined with an extraordinary work ethic, have been an inspiration to us all from the beginning. We could not have done it without him.”
Duncan joined Bruichladdich on May 20, 1974 as an apprentice stillman, and was named Head Brewer in 1978. He was on hand as distillery manager when the former owners closed it in 1994, and helped bring it back to life when Mark Reynier and Simon Coughlin’s group of investors purchased the distillery and reopened it in 2001. While Jim McEwen has been the face of Bruichladdich as Production Manager and chief whisky maker, Duncan kept the distillery running behind the scenes — on what the distillery acknowledges was “a shoestring with mostly second-hand equipment.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Duncan on June 26, 2014:
Duncan will retire in nearby Port Charlotte to spend time with his wife Susan and his grandchildren, though he’s likely to show up at the distillery occasionally as Coughlin’s team hopes to be able to call on him for “consulting” as needed.
On behalf of the entire WhiskyCast community, we wish Duncan a happy retirement and express our gratitude for his many contributions to the whisky community.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on June 27 to include audio from our interview with Duncan McGillivray.
June 25, 2014 – Jim Beam is putting more emphasis on its Signature Craft line of premium Bourbons with plans to roll out six new expressions over the next year in what’s being called the Harvest Bourbon Collection. The series will begin in September with the launch of Jim Beam Signature Craft Soft Red Wheat Bourbon and Signature Craft Brown Rice Bourbon. Both whiskies use grains not traditionally used in Jim Beam’s regular Bourbons, and represent some of the experimentation that has been underway for many years at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. In fact, brown rice was used along with triticale in the rare Jim Beam Signature six-grain Bourbon that was available in travel retail during 2010. Soft red wheat is the flavoring grain used in Maker’s Mark Bourbon.
The initial releases will be followed in 2015 by Harvest Bourbon Collection whiskies featuring triticale, rolled oats, six-row barley, and high-rye content mashbills. Both initial releases will be bottled at 45% ABV and available in limited amounts for a recommended retail price of $49.99 USD.
In addition, Beam will add a new expression to the main Signature Craft line in September with the release of Jim Beam Signature Craft Quarter Cask. This expression is blended from 5-year-old Jim Beam Bourbon and what the distillery calls “a variety of fine quarter cask Bourbons, all aged for at least four years in smaller barrels.”
Quarter Cask has been bottled at 43% ABV, and will be available at whisky specialist retailers for a recommended retail price of $39.99 USD. Tasting notes will be available soon at WhiskyCast.com.
Beam Suntory has not announced export plans for the three new whiskies at this time. This story will be updated as more details become available.
Links: Jim Beam
June 24, 2014 – Gordon & MacPhail Managing Director Michael Urquhart has announced his plans to retire in September, and for the first time in the family-owned company’s 120-year history, a non-family member will take the reins. Ewen Mackintosh is currently Gordon & MacPhail’s Chief Operating Officer, and will retain that title after the transition. Urquhart will remain as a non-executive director of the Elgin-based company.
“We are moving from what I describe as a sibling partnership, myself, my two brothers, and my sister down to the next generation,” Urquhart told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in a joint telephone interview with Ewen Mackintosh. “We’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the right skills in place, and that means that we’re going to have some non-family as well. It’s part of an evolution of the business…it’s a positive evolution, and it’s about taking the business to the next level.” Mackintosh has spent his entire career with Gordon & MacPhail, starting as a student while attending St. Andrews University and joining the company full-time in 1991. His principal role over the years has been managing whisky supplies for Gordon & MacPhail, along with a key role in the development of Benromach Distillery, which Gordon & MacPhail acquired several years after he joined the company.
“The whole of the fourth generation who are involved in the business, together with the non-family executive directors…we’re working as a team, just as Michael, David, Ian, and Rosemary operated the business during their generation, ” Mackintosh said. “There was a captain of that team, and that’s the way I’m viewing it…I’m just captain of the team, everyone’s bringing their own skills, their own personalities to the table, and we’ll use those skills to drive the business forward.” Currently, five members of the fourth generation of the Urquhart family are working at Gordon & MacPhail in key positions.
Michael Urquhart will continue to remain involved in the family business in an advisory role, and will remain part of the Scotch Whisky industry as a member of the management committee for the Keepers of the Quaich. He will also continue his work with the Scottish Council for Development & Industry’s Highlands & Islands Committee.
For more on this story, listen to this week’s episode of WhiskyCast.
Links: Gordon & MacPhail
June 23, 2014 – Old Pulteney is releasing a limited-edition 35-year-old version of its single malt Scotch, with just 450 cases to be made available worldwide. In a news release, Inver House Distillers described the new expression as a combination of ex-Bourbon American Oak and ex-Sherry Spanish Oak casks. It is being bottled at 42.5% ABV.
The release follows a 2012 launch for Old Pulteney 40 Year Old from the distillery in Wick, which is the northern-most distillery on the UK mainland to have released a single malt so far. The Wolfburn Distillery is north of Wick in nearby Thurso, but has only been distilling spirit for 18 months and has not released a bottling yet.
Recommended retail pricing for the Old Pulteney 35 is £500 ($855 USD) per 70cl bottle. There will be a 75cl version for the US market, but pricing has not been determined yet.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information.
Links: Old Pulteney
June 18, 2014 – Jack Daniel’s is one of the world’s best-selling whiskey brands, with nearly 12 million cases sold worldwide in 2013. Now, the Brown-Forman brand is expanding its presence in Asia with a new expression exclusively for that market, where the company reported sales gains of more than 20% in the region last year.
Jack Daniel’s No. 27 plays off of the classic “Old No. 7″ legacy, but unlike the original, is finished in maple barrels and charcoal-mellowed using the traditional “Lincoln County Process” for a second time following maturation. Currently, Gentleman Jack is the only other Jack Daniel’s expression that is charcoal-mellowed twice, both before and after maturation. In a news release, Master Distiller Jeff Arnett said the double-mellowing process works especially well with the maple barrel finishing to create a smoother flavor.
The whisky is being launched initially in Shanghai, China, where Brown-Forman has partnered with the Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art to launch an exhibition of works by four Chinese artists created following their visits to the distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Pricing for No. 27, which will be bottled at 40% ABV, was not announced. It will be available in China, Hong Kong, and travel retail outlets in Asia.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional details on market availability.
Links: Jack Daniel’s
June 18, 2014 – Diageo’s planned $115 million dollar Bourbon distillery has received approval from the Shelby County Planning Commission following a hearing Tuesday in Shelbyville, Kentucky. The unanimous vote clears the way for work to begin on a 300-acre site east of Shelbyville along Benson Pike. The approval was expected, as county officials had praised the project as a much-needed economic boost for the area halfway between Louisville and Lexington.
While Commission members raised no objections to the project, WAVE-TV in Louisville reports several residents living near the site expressed concerns about potential odors and fungus issues. Diageo is currently fighting a class-action federal lawsuit in Louisville over fungus problems allegedly caused by evaporating alcohol vapors from its maturation warehouses at several locations in Jefferson County. Diageo executive Guy Smith testified at the hearing that the company would be a “good neighbor” and that the location is an ideal place to make whisky. The plans call for the distillery and maturation warehouses to be built near the center of the site with an undeveloped buffer zone around the facility to minimize any impact on neighboring properties.
The new distillery is expected to have an initial production capacity of 1.8 million liters of alcohol annually, but the 300-acre site has room for expansion in the future if needed. Diageo has not specified which brands will be produced at the distillery, only that it will be used for the company’s present and future Bourbon and American Whiskey needs. However, it is likely that the company’s Bulleit Bourbon will be distilled there.
As reported earlier, there are no current plans for a visitors center at the new distillery. WAVE’s report confirms that the distillery is located in the “dry” part of Shelby County, which generally bans alcohol sales outside of the city of Shelbyville. The county has granted exemptions allowing liquor sales at a limited number of bars and restaurants, and Diageo would have to apply for an exemption in order to be allowed to offer samples should it decide to add a visitor attraction at the site. Diageo is currently expanding its Bulleit Experience visitor center at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in the Louisville suburb of Shively with plans to make the site part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.