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May 21, 2014 – “It’s not a question now of if, but when.” That’s how Will Arvin, one of the partners behind the latest plans to restore the historic Old Taylor Distillery, answers those who wonder whether the distillery will ever reopen. In a brief telephone conversation, Arvin confirmed Peristyle LLC’s plans to invest $6.1 million in cleanup and restoration of the 83-acre site with a goal of starting whiskey distilling in the fall of 2015. The project will be completed in phases to allow distilling and use of the castle-style main building for special events while additional restoration work on other buildings is completed.
Old Taylor was closed in 1972 by Jim Beam, which had acquired the distillery from National Distillers and continued to use some of the warehouses for maturing whiskey until 1994. While many of the original buildings are still standing, time, nature, and vandals have taken their toll. The site is overgrown with weeds, brush, and vegetation that will need to be cleared before work on the buildings can begin in hopes of restoring Col. E. H. Taylor Jr.’s original vision for what was once one of Kentucky’s landmark distilleries. Last August, Kentucky Distillers Association president Eric Gregory told the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Tom Eblen that “the first thing you would have to do is come in with a tanker truck of Roundup (herbicide) and see what you have under all this.”
Old Taylor was built in 1887, and federal government records show it was the first distillery to produce one million cases of straight Bourbon. The distillery still has some of the 1972-era distilling equipment in place, according to those who have been allowed inside, along with one of the oldest bonded whiskey warehouses still standing. There have been several attempts to restore the distillery in recent years, but each one failed. According to the Herald-Leader, Arvin and his business partner, Wes Murry, paid $950,000 for the site. Kentucky economic development officials have already approved up to $250,000 in tax rebates and incentives for the Peristyle project, which is expected to create at least 10 full-time jobs. However, the distillery will likely carry a new name when it opens, or at least its whiskey will have a new name. Beam sold the Old Taylor trademark to Sazerac in 2009, and its Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort produces whiskey under the Old Taylor and Col. E. H. Taylor brands.
The distillery is located on McCracken Pike about five miles southeast of Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve Distillery, and just around the corner from another historic landmark, the Old Crow Distillery. Also closed by Beam in 1972 but used until recently to mature whiskey, the Herald-Leader reports Old Crow has also been sold to investors who plan to restore it and open a craft distillery on the site.
This story will be updated when more information becomes available.
May 20, 2014 – Laphroaig distillery manager John Campbell has been busy. In addition to running daily operations at the Islay distillery, Campbell personally selected the casks for Laphroaig’s newest expression, Laphroaig Select. The no-age-statement single malt is being rolled out worldwide in limited amounts through whisky specialist shops, though there are plans to make it a permanent expression over time. The expression is also being sold as Laphroaig Select Cask in Australia.
“This was John’s idea,” said Laphroaig global ambassador Simon Brooking in an interview Tuesday evening. “This is an homage to Ian Hunter, one of the distillery managers who had a big impact on the whisky and the popularity of Laphroaig…he traveled globally, and was really the first distillery manager to do so for Laphroaig. It’s the reason why Laphroaig is as popular as it is in Sweden and the United States here today.” Hunter became Laphroaig’s manager in 1908 when his parents, aunt, and a cousin inherited the distillery from Alexander Johnston. He eventually wound up owning the distillery, which he bequeathed to the equally legendary Bessie Williamson upon his death in 1954.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Simon Brooking:
Campbell created the blend for Laphroaig Select from four of the distillery’s existing expressions, Triple Wood, Quarter Cask, PX Cask, and the Laphroaig 10-year-old, with final maturation in new American Oak casks. The whisky is bottled at 40% ABV with no caramel coloring, and will sell in the UK for a recommended retail price of £34.99 GBP ($59.00 USD) per 700ml bottle. Approximately 12,000 bottles will be available in the US later this summer, with pricing for the 750ml bottles still to be announced. Tasting notes are not available yet, but will be posted when a sample becomes available.
Laphroaig’s other new malt will debut at the distillery during the upcoming Islay Festival of Malt & Music, which begins this weekend. The annual Cairdeas Feis Ile bottling for 2014 was finished in an Amontillado wine cask. Pricing has not been announced yet, but Beam Suntory has confirmed that around 1,000 cases will be available in the US later this year, and it’s also expected to be available in other markets as well.
Editor’s note: Thanks to Marcel van Gils at LaphroaigCollector.com for historical information on Ian Hunter. This story was updated on May 22 with additional information on the Cairdeas Feis Ile bottling’s US availability.
May 15, 2014 – Buffalo Trace’s 13th batch of Single Oak Project experimental Bourbons will arrive at whisky specialist retailers later this month as the project enters its final year. The Single Oak Project started in 1999 when the late Ronnie Eddins selected 96 trees in a Missouri forest to be turned into barrels, with each tree producing a barrel from the top half and lower half of the trunk. One of the variables the project was designed to test was whether wood from the top or bottom of a tree had a difference on the flavor of the whiskey, and this batch specifically examines that question.
Each of the 12 Bourbons in the batch comes from barrels made from the top half of a tree, and all 12 share the same barrel entry proof and stave seasoning time. The variables that differ from bottle to bottle include the mashbill (rye or wheat), wood grain size, char level, and warehouse location. All 192 whiskies were matured for eight years and bottled at the same time and strength (40% ABV), and the latest batch will be available in 375 ml bottles for a recommended retail price of $46.35.
So far, 156 of the 192 single-cask Bourbons in the Single Oak Project series have been released since 2011, with the final 36 coming through the summer of 2015. The distillery has been collecting consumer feedback and votes online, along with tasting notes, and plans to take the final winner and use it as a template for a permanent Single Oak Project Bourbon release.
May 15, 2014 – Diageo’s Orphan Barrel line of rare whiskies will expand to a third release in June with Rhetoric. As reported by WhiskyCast in February, Rhetoric is a 20-year-old Bourbon distilled at both the Old and New Bernheim distilleries in Louisville and matured in the warehouses at nearby Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Unlike the first two Orphan Barrel releases, Old Blowhard and Barterhouse Bourbons, Rhetoric will be a semi-permanent addition to the range with what Diageo described in a news release as “progressive aging.” Each annual release will be a year older, meaning the 2015 release will be a 21-year-old whiskey.
While Rhetoric has the same pedigree as Old Blowhard and Barterhouse, including a mashbill of 86% corn, 8% barley, and 6% rye, it will have a different taste profile. According to Diageo’s Ewan Morgan, the casks used for Rhetoric were matured on lower levels of the Stitzel-Weller warehouses, leading to a softer and creamier taste.
Rhetoric’s 2014 edition is bottled at 45% ABV, and will be available in limited quantities with a recommended retail price of $85 per 750ml bottle.
May 13, 2014 – Scotch Whisky Association chief executive David Frost is raising even more concerns over the impact of September’s Scottish independence referendum on the industry. In the association’s annual review, Frost did not come out openly against independence, but called on Scottish National Party leaders to provide more clarity on currency, taxation, and potential regulatory changes that would be imposed on the business community if the referendum succeeds. Frost joins a host of executives from Scotland’s industrial, financial, and energy sectors expressing worries about the impact on Scotland’s economy. In a telephone interview, Frost said the industry needs that clarity to protect the industry’s growth.
“Our member companies don’t have a vote…we’re not going to tell people how to vote, but also, we can make our products only in Scotland, so naturally we’ve been talking to our members pretty consistently since I took over in January, and I think before that” Frost said. “I’ve really been trying to set out what’s important to us in the business environment, what has made us successful and what we see as the potential risks if Scotland does vote for independence and what kind of reassurances we’d need to look forward.” He noted that the Scottish Government’s 600-page “white paper” on independence released last November only contained two references to the Scotch whisky industry, leading to uncertainty on the government’s plans for the industry.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with David Frost:
Frost joined the SWA January 1 after leaving the UK’s diplomatic corps and serving as Director for European Trade and International Affairs in the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills. During his diplomatic service, he represented the UK at European Union headquarters in Brussels, and one of his biggest concerns is the question of whether an independent Scotland would be a member of the European Union. In the SWA’s report, Frost called EU membership fundamental to Scotch whisky’s success:
“We are able to export tariff-free across the single market, use EU to eliminate market access problems, and benefit from the EU’s clout in trade negotiations. Of course, everything in the EU is perfect and, in my view, many areas need reform. But even a temporary interruption of EU involving exclusion from the single market or the customs union, if this were a consequence of independence, would be damaging and difficult to manage.”
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and other government leaders have claimed Scotland is already a member of the EU as part of the United Kingdom, and that Scottish membership would be expedited if not automatic. That position has been refuted by European Union and European Commission leaders. including Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso of Spain, who has said an independent Scotland would have to apply for membership in the same manner as other candidate countries in a process that could take years. New members require unanimous approval from the current 28 EU member nations, and a single “no” vote could keep Scotland out of the EU. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been very vocal in opposing any “fast-track” plans for Scotland, largely because his country faces its own secessionist movement in Catalonia.
“We’re a business that relies on predictability and stability,” Frost said. “I think you have to take seriously the remarks of President Barroso and others that it would be very difficult if not impossible for Scotland to join quickly…now, he is the President of the Commission, so you have to take that seriously. Reasonable people can differ, I think, about what actually might happen…the political framework will determine that, but the views of the President of the Commission and of the UK government, I think, are pretty persuasive ones.”
The referendum is scheduled for September 18. Should it pass, Scotland would leave the United Kingdom in March of 2016.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 15 following an interview with David Frost.
Links: Scotch Whisky Association
May 13, 2014 – Wealth Solutions, the Warsaw-based investment firm, has collaborated with Gordon & MacPhail on its third release of a rare single malt whisky for the firm’s customers. During a live webcast today, the two companies unveiled a single cask bottling of 66-year-old Glen Grant malt distilled for Gordon & MacPhail on April 10, 1948 and matured in a first-fill Sherry butt housed in the company’s Elgin warehouse. Only 161 bottles (46.6% ABV) were released, and 159 were sold in advance to Wealth Solutions customers for an undisclosed price. One was poured for audience tasting during the webcast, and the remaining decanter will be awarded as a prize to one of the viewers of the webcast.
“When you taste the whisky, to begin with you just get that lovely chili peppers spicy note coming through,” Gordon & MacPhail managing director Michael Urquhart said in a telephone interview. “Adding a drop of water, that chili spice kind of drops back and you get more of that French fruit salad coming through…really absolutely delicious.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s entire interview with Michael Urquhart:
Wealth Solutions entered the collectors’ whisky market in 2012 with a single cask 1953 Glenfarclas single malt released in cooperation with the distillery, and followed it up in 2013 with a 1964 Karuizawa Japanese single malt from Number One Drinks Company. The firm specializes in sourcing rare wines, whiskies, and artwork sought by collectors.
Gordon & MacPhail has had long-term contracts with many of Scotland’s distilleries to fill its casks with new-make spirit for decades, and is known to have a number of vintage Glen Grant casks in its inventory. In 2012, the company released a 60-year-old Glen Grant single cask to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne. Gordon & MacPhail is also responsible for the two oldest whiskies to ever be released: the 70-year-old Mortlach in 2009, and the slightly older 70-year old Glenlivet in 2011. The two whiskies make up Gordon & MacPhail’s exclusive Generations range of rare single malts.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 16 following an interview with Gordon & MacPhail’s Michael Urquhart.
May 11, 2014 – There’s no “creationism vs. evolution” debate in the world of whisky. Great whisky makers create their whiskies and evolve over time, and that’s the case as Forty Creek’s John Hall prepares to unleash his newest creation this fall. Forty Creek Evolution is the latest in Forty Creek’s annual series of limited edition bottlings, and while it is the oldest whisky Forty Creek has ever released, it will not carry an age statement. Hall described the unique process for Evolution in a WhiskyCast interview.
“I pot-distilled some whiskies and put them into American White Oak barrels, aged them for three years, and then I decided to re-distill it to further concentrate the flavors within the whiskies. Then, what I did was I refilled them into French Oak barrels that I had been using to age my Cabernet Sauvignon wine in, which is a fairly heavy-duty red wine, and just left it there for about nine years.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with John Hall:
Hall picked the name Evolution because the flavor evolves over time, and because Forty Creek is going through its own evolution right now. The deal announced earlier this year in which Gruppo Campari will acquire Forty Creek for $185.6 million CDN ($166.7 million USD) is expected to be completed on June 2. Hall will continue as Chairman and continue to oversee Forty Creek’s whiskies after the deal closes, with Campari expected to invest in additional production and distribution capacity. “Right up until now, I’ve only been able to sell Forty Creek in Canada and the US just because of my limited resources, where as now we’ll be able to take it further to other countries,” Hall said. While the initial focus will remain on developing nationwide distribution in Canada and the US, Hall suggests Australia and Brazil might be the first new markets for Forty Creek, though he stressed that a final decision has not been made.
As in previous years, Evolution will be released during Forty Creek’s annual release weekend at the distillery in Grimsby, Ontario on September 27 and 28. Approximately 9,000 numbered bottles will be available to reserve through the distillery’s web site starting at noon EDT on May 21, with consumers able to reserve the numbered bottle of their choice for pickup in September at the distillery. Bottles #1 and #2 will remain in John Hall’s collection, but numbers beginning with #3 will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 13 following an interview with John Hall.
Links: Forty Creek
May 11, 2o14 – Four Roses has unveiled the annual release of its Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon for 2014, and once again, the 2014 version features one of the distillery’s 10 different Bourbon recipes selected by Master Distiller Jim Rutledge. This year’s version is known to the distillery’s staff and its most ardent fans as “OESF” — a designation that covers the mashbill and specific yeast type unique to each variety. Here’s how the formula works, according to the Four Roses web site:
- O = Means the whiskey was distilled at Four Roses
- E = A mashbill of 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley
- B = A mashbill of 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley
- S = Straight whiskey – minimum of two years of maturation under US law
- V/K/O/Q/F = Specific yeast strains that create different flavor characteristics
In this case, the 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel was distilled at Four Roses using the 75% corn mashbill and the “F” yeast strain, then matured for 11 years. For comparison, the standard Four Roses Single Barrel is designated as “OBSV”, which means it is made using the higher-rye mashbill with the “V” yeast strain. It should be noted that the “O” and “S” designations are consistent across all ten recipes, meaning that the two key variables that differentiate them are the mashbill and specific yeast variety.
This year’s edition is bottled at barrel strength, which means that strength will vary from bottle to bottle with a range of between 54.15 and 63.8% ABV. Approximately 5,000 bottles will be available at US retailers starting in June, and for the first time, each bottle will carry a special toast from the winner of Four Roses’ “Year Of The Toast” competition that marked the distillery’s 125th anniversary. Frank Wheatley of Louisville, Kentucky submitted the winning entry:
“If I could age like Bourbon, I wouldn’t mind getting old.”
Links: Four Roses
May 9, 2014 – Suntory’s Hibiki 21 and 17-year-old blended Japanese whiskies have won numerous awards in international competitions, but have never been made available in the US market before. In the first major product announcement since Suntory closed its $16 billion acquisition of Beam last week, Suntory will bring the two blends into the US market starting in September to join the Hibiki 12-year-old blend.
The announcement came during a launch party Thursday night in New York City, which will be one of the first markets to get the Hibiki 17 and 21. The final decision has yet to be made, but Suntory’s Neyah White said in a WhiskyCast interview that New York, Los Angeles, and Northern California are likely to be the launch markets in the US, with limited amounts in other major cities this fall and nationwide distribution expected in 2015. The final decisions will be made in conjunction with Beam Suntory executives as Suntory integrates its existing portfolio of spirits into the Beam Suntory distribution system.
The Hibiki blends are considered to be the flagship whiskies of Suntory’s range, combining malt whiskies from the company’s Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries with corn-based grain whisky from the Chita grain whisky distillery. In a WhiskyCast interview, Suntory chief blender Seiichi Koshimizu said through a translator that the whiskies are blended to be in harmony with Japan’s unique nature. “Although Japanese whisky has been inspired by the Scottish traditional way of making whisky, the Japanese, especially Suntory, have truly dedicated themselves to making a unique whisky.” The interview with Seiichi Koshimizu will be featured on an upcoming episode of WhiskyCast.
While the Hibiki 12 will continue to be available in the US, questions have been raised about a potential change for the expression after Beam Suntory applied for a new label approval certificate from the Treasury Department’s Tax & Trade Bureau. The label highlights the new merger between Suntory’s spirits business and the former Beam, Inc. However, Suntory USA President Toshi Kumakura confirmed that the label is for a special bottling of Hibiki 12 that will be presented to Beam Suntory employees to celebrate the merger, and will not be available to the public.
May 9, 2014 – A dark horse emerged from the bidding as the winner in Diageo’s sale of Whyte & Mackay, the Scotland-based unit of India’s United Spirits. Emperador, the Phillippines-based brandy producer owned by billionaire Andrew Tan’s Alliance Global Group, will pay approximately £430 million GBP ($724.5 million USD) for Whyte & Mackay, according to India’s Business Standard. Emperador’s bid beat out reported bids from Gruppo Campari, former Whyte & Mackay owner Vivian Imerman’s Vasari Capital, KKR Group, and Lion Capital. The Business Standard report quotes Tan as calling whisky the second fastest growing spirits segment behind brandy.
“With this acquisition Emperador will be exposed to two of the fastest growing spirits segments in the world. The global demand for Scotch whisky has shown strong growth over recent years and is expected to continue this momentum going forward. We are continuously looking to enhance shareholder value through earnings accretive investments. We believe that Whyte and Mackay is a prized asset with excellent growth opportunity and its acquisition is in line with our plans to enhance our product portfolio. Whyte and Mackay has a global distribution network in over fifty countries that Emperador Brandy will have access to.”
United Spirits founder Vijay Mallya bought Whyte & Mackay in 2007 from Imerman and Robert Tchenguiz for £595 million GBP ($974 million USD). Whyte and Mackay executives declined to confirm the sale price, but spokeswoman Jill Inglis issued a brief statement in an email to WhiskyCast.
“We can confirm that this morning a deal was signed between United Spirits Great Britain Limited and Emperador UK Limited (a subsidiary of Emperador Inc) for the purchase by the latter for 100% of Whyte and Mackay. We are looking forward to welcoming and working with our new owners.”
Diageo acquired control of Whyte & Mackay as part of its deal to obtain a controlling interest in United Spirits. However, the UK’s Office of Fair Trading moved to block the deal because of concerns over competition in the market for blended Scotch whisky. Diageo had offered to mitigate the concerns by selling approximately 80 percent of Whyte & Mackay while holding on to the Dalmore and Tamnavulin malt whisky distilleries, which company executives said were necessary to supply United Spirits with whisky for its portfolio. Emperador has agreed to a three-year supply contract for bulk whisky as part of the agreement.
The sale must still be approved by Indian regulators and the Office of Fair Trading, which had put Diageo’s mitigation proposal on hold until a buyer was found for Whyte & Mackay. India’s Reserve Bank must also approve the deal, since it could result in the write-off of loans from United Spirits to Whyte & Mackay. In addition, a lawsuit by United Spirits creditors seeking to block the original Diageo-USL deal is still on appeal before the Supreme Court of India.