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!
August 5, 2014 – Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project of experimental Bourbons is in its final stages, with Batch #14 being released this month. That will leave just two remaining batches to be released over the next six months, with the consumer ratings for all 192 whiskies in the series to be tabulated after that. Buffalo Trace’s plan is to take the highest-rated whiskey of the 192 and replicate its unique characteristics as closely as possible for a whiskey to be bottled under the Single Oak Project brand.
Batch #14 features 12 whiskies with one key constant characteristic. All 12 casks came from the bottom half of 96 oak trees specially selected by the late Ronnie Eddins in 1999. The 12 whiskies also shared the same warehouse and barrel entry proof (125° proof or 62.5% ABV), while the variables include the charring level of the cask, mashbill, stave seasoning time, and wood grain size.
In a Buffalo Trace news release, Independent Stave president Brad Boswell explained the differences that charring levels and stave seasoning can have on the whiskies in this batch. Boswell’s cooperage turned the 96 trees into individual barrels, with one barrel from the top half of each tree and one from the bottom half.
“The lighter char preserves more of the natural oak aroma and flavor. The heavier char provides more color and caramelization. Tannins will vary between these two types of barrels. The heavier char can also provide for more of a sweet smoke note that is often desired. Stave seasoning allows the wood to slowly break down (degrade) whereas charring and toasting breaks down the wood much more quickly. When the wood air seasons, the microbial activity breaks the wood down and the rain leaches out some of the tannins. The freezing and thawing breaks down the wood. Even the UV light breaks down the wood to some extent. The flavor of the wood changes as it breaks down.”
“Barrels with extended air seasoning with charring will provide a slightly different array of flavors as compared to barrels with less air seasoning and then similarly charred. The levels of smokiness, vanillin, caramelization, and tannin will vary between the two types of barrels.”
So far, Cask #82 leads the online voting at the Single Oak Project web site. That cask was a lighter #3 char with the shorter 6-month seasoning time. Cask #83 is the runner-up, and had the heavier #4 char with the same seasoning time. All 192 whiskies were matured for eight years and bottled in early 2011, with a new batch being released every three months.
The Single Oak Project whiskies will be available at whisky specialist retailers in the US this month, with a recommended retail price of $46.35 per 375ml bottle.
August 4, 2014 – GlenDronach is replacing its highly-regarded 15-year-old Tawny Port Finish single malt Scotch with a new 18-year-old version. The whisky is first matured in European Oak casks before being transferred to Tawny Port wine casks for final maturation.
In a news release, GlenDronach sales director Alistair Walker noted the success of the distillery’s range of finished malts since the first expression was released four years ago. “We’ve carefully selected whisky that has been gently maturing in lighter casks so that aficionados experience the full impact of the Tawny port cask,” he said. “The very pleasing result contributes extra depth and concentrated stewed fruit flavours. It’s another outstanding whisky that we’re delighted to add to our portfolio.”
The new expression is bottled at 46% ABV. Pricing and market availability was not specified.
August 1, 2014 – New York has been a hotbed of craft distilling for the last decade, but tiny Coppersea Distillery in the Hudson River Valley has done something none of its competitors have been able to do yet. For the first time, New York State-produced barrels are being used to mature Coppersea’s Bourbon and rye whiskies.
No cooperage in the state had produced barrels for wine or spirit maturation since Prohibition until Coppersea started working with U.S. Barrel Company in Wilmington, New York. The company had been producing so-called “slack cooperage” designed for outdoor saunas and dry goods storage, but has turned its attention to producing barrels for maturing whisky and other spirits. In a news release, U.S. Barrel owner and head cooper Bob Hockert described the challenge of producing barrels designed to hold liquids for decades without leaking.
“Our team has been creating slack barrels [which are not designed to hold fluids] for ten years, so we began this project with a good amount of expertise. Tight-barrel cooperage has its own challenges, though. We’ve had to build our own equipment, develop an understanding of whisky distilling, and forge relationships with New York State loggers in order to build barrels that meet the highest standards.”
In a telephone interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, Coppersea master distiller Angus MacDonald said the distillery had been hoping to find a local source for barrels for some time. “We’re very in touch with our state heritage where it comes to whisky,” he said. “We love the fact that, for example, there hasn’t been New York State cooperage since the designation of Bourbon actually existed as a legal definition, so our Bourbon that’s in New York State barrels made from New York State grain by New York State distillers is the very first 100% New York Bourbon, and that’s an amazing feeling.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s entire interview with Angus MacDonald:
MacDonald says the first batch of casks will be left to mature for at least a year before being evaluated for bottling. In the meantime, he and his colleagues are hoping to find a source for the final missing piece of the puzzle. Their bottles currently come from outside the state, and MacDonald hopes to have a New York-based source of bottles by the time the whiskies from the first batch are ready for bottling.
July 28, 2014 – Isle of Arran is releasing the third and final edition in its Devil’s Punch Bowl series of single malts. The annual releases are named for one of the geographical features of Arran, and this year’s is known as the “Chapter III: The Fiendish Finale.”
In a news release, Master Distiller James MacTaggart described the whisky as a combination of malts matured in Oloroso Sherry butts and French Oak wine barriques. “Personally this is my favourite of the trilogy and it is a fantastic expression of the Arran Malt,” he said. “The whisky is bottled without chill filtration at natural strength (53.4 ABV) and is unpeated making it approachable and enabling lots of flavours to be discovered.”
6,660 bottles will be available worldwide through whisky specialist retailers and Arran’s online shop, with a recommended retail price of £76.99 ($130 USD).
Links: Isle of Arran
July 26, 2014 – For the first time in more than a century, Adelphi is distilling its own malt whisky with the commissioning of the new Ardnamurchan Distillery on Scotland’s Ardnamurchan peninsula. The distillery has been running for several weeks, but was officially opened on Friday in a ceremony attended by the Princess Royal, along with Adelphi’s executives and invited guests.
Ardnamurchan is the westernmost distillery on the Scottish mainland, and uses 100% renewable energy in its production process. The distillery’s boilers are fueled by wood chips supplied from local forests, and all of the waste products are recycled for use as animal feed and fertilizer. In a news release, Adelphi director Donald Houston said the need to be environmentally responsible was a key goal from the beginning.
“A key element of the project since its conception has been that the distillery should be run by sustainable, renewable and environmentally benign means. With a great deal of planning and complex design work, we’re proud that we have achieved this objective. The distillery represents a significant milestone in the long term plan for the development and improvement of the socio economics of Ardnamurchan and will provide enormous opportunities for the development of tourism and the direct and indirect provision of jobs in this very remote and isolated part of Scotland.”
Distillery manager Graeme Bowie supervised construction at the site after joining Adelphi from Balblair, where he was the assistant distillery manager. On this week’s WhiskyCast, he’ll discuss how the distillery was designed and built, along with plans for the future.
July 25, 2014 – Distilleries and cats have gone together for decades, and most distilleries have had a special “distillery cat” around with the stated purpose of chasing mice away from the grain bins. Of course, the biggest part of the distillery cat’s job generally wasn’t pest control, but to keep an eye on the humans running the place. This week, Woodford Reserve announced on its Facebook page the passing of Elijah, the 19-year-old tabby cat who prowled the distillery – when he wasn’t sleeping in front of a warehouse door.
“We’re deeply saddened to announce the passing of Elijah, our beloved Distillery Cat-in-Residence. Elijah called the Woodford Reserve barrelhouse “home” for two decades – often taking the night shift to keep watch over the barrels, ensuring the angels never took more than their share.”
In a post on the Woodford Reserve Facebook page, Katie Hecker Carney described how she and her brother found the kitten when they were living near the distillery:
I still remember the day that my brother, Patrick Carney, and I found him at the end of the driveway, next to the creek, and brought him home to the house at the top of the hill. That was probably in the fall of 1995 and he was the tiniest kitten we ever had. I was so worried that our dad wouldn’t let us keep him since I had recently promised not to bring home anymore cats. Patrick assured me that he would take care of Dad and insist that it was all his idea. I was so happy when I heard that Zeppelin had taken up residence at the distillery after the family moved to the other side of the farm and you guys adopted him there as Elijah.”
Carney was later reunited with Elijah while working in the distillery’s catering department.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Elijah died June 30, and the distillery lowered its flags to half-staff in mourning. There are plans to place a plaque honoring Elijah at the distillery.
July 23, 2014 – William Grant & Sons has released a new batch of Kininvie single malt, and once again, Taiwan is the launch market for the 17-year-old expression. Last October, the first official release of Kininvie on record made its debut in Taiwan as a 23-year-old malt. Unlike that initial bottling, though, the 17-year-old will be available in other travel retail markets around the world.
Kininvie was the “secret distillery” on the William Grant & Sons campus in Dufftown that is home to Glenfiddich and The Balvenie. Kininvie had its own stillhouse, but shared mash tuns and washbacks with The Balvenie, and has been used occasionally as needed to produce malt whisky for use in the Grant’s blends. Until last October’s release, malt from Kininvie had never been bottled as a single malt, though a small amount was bottled under the Hazelwood label for the limited-edition whiskies honoring the late Janet Sheed Roberts, the last surviving granddaughter of William Grant.
The 17-year-old release is a blend of 80% ex-Bourbon barrels and 20% ex-Sherry casks, and has been bottled in 375ml bottles at 42.6% ABV. Pricing was not announced.
Links: William Grant & Sons
July 22, 2014 – Maker’s Mark plays both sides of the Bluegrass State rivalry between the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville down the middle, releasing Kentucky-themed commemorative bottles annually to benefit the University’s Gill Heart Institute and Louisville-themed bottles to support the Cardinals’ Academic Center of Excellence student-athlete support center. Of course, both colleges have had their share of NCAA Championship commemorative bottles as well. However, the latest Cardinal commemorative coming out of Loretto honors a man who works in the shadows of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino – even though he’s Pitino’s boss.
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich will appear on the third bottle in the annual series of Maker’s Mark Cardinal commemorative bottles. Jurich has been in charge of the university’s athletic program since 1997, and helped mastermind the university’s departure from the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference this year. The previous bottles in the series honored former Louisville football coach Charlie Strong, now the head coach at Texas, and Pitino’s induction last year into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
8,500 one-liter bottles with the Jurich label will be available at retailers in Kentucky and Southern Indiana starting Friday, July 25. Jurich, Maker’s Mark President Rob Samuels, Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels Jr., and Master Distiller Greg Davis will appear at a bottle signing scheduled for August 13 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. Tickets for the signing will go on sale July 30, and details are available through the Cardinals’ web site.
July 22, 2014 – Bonhams, the 200-year-old global auction house with galleries in London, Edinburgh, New York, Hong Kong, and other major cities, has cancelled its scheduled auction of rare whiskies scheduled for its New York City gallery on October 19. In an email Tuesday to WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, Bonhams lead whisky specialist Martin Green would only confirm the cancellation:
“The decision has been taken not to hold the October auction, there are no sales planned at the moment and the situation will be reviewed next year.”
Green referred requests for additional information to Mariam Cebalo of Bonhams in San Francisco. In a telephone conversation Wednesday, Ms. Cebalo described the move as a “business decision” based on the profitability of the New York whisky auctions. However, she did not rule out a return to the market in the future. According to the Financial Times, the two owners of Bonhams have put the auction house up for sale, with a number of private equity firms having placed first-round bids with the investment bank hired to manage the sale. Cebalo denied any connection between the pending sale of Bonhams and the decision to wind down the New York whisky auctions.
Bonhams is one of the two leading auction houses offering regular whisky auctions, along with McTear’s in Glasgow. However, Bonhams has been more aggressive in expanding its whisky auctions outside of Scotland with regular auctions in New York and Hong Kong, where Bonhams will hold its next whisky auction on August 15. The first Bonhams New York whisky auction was held in December of 2009 following a change in state law to allow auctions of distilled spirits along with wines, and since then Bonhams has held at least two whisky auctions each year at its New York gallery. This year’s spring auction was held on April 30, and the top overall bid was $59,500 for a bottle of Cognac dating back to 1762. A 40-year-old Royal Salute bottled in 1993 on the 40th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation led the whiskies with a high bid of $10,115.
The cancellation was first reported on the Los Angeles Whisky Society’s web site. Society members have been highly critical of Bonhams for several years over descriptions of specific whiskies in previous auctions.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with reaction from Bonhams.
July 22, 2014 – For the first time since 1977, Kentucky’s Bourbon distillers have more than 5 million barrels of maturing whiskey stored in their warehouses around the Bluegrass State. Figures released today by the Kentucky Distillers Association put the total number of Bourbon barrels in bonded storage at 5,294,988 as of December 31, 2013. When combined with maturing barrels holding American whiskey, brandy, and other spirits, around 5.9 million barrels of distilled spirits are currently maturing in the state’s warehouses. The data covers all of the state’s distillers and rectifiers, not just those who are members of the KDA.
The state’s distillers filled 1.2 million barrels with new “white dog” spirit during 2013, the most in a single year since 1970, as the Bourbon boom has generated new interest and demand worldwide. In a news release, KDA President Eric Gregory noted that the value of barrels in bonded storage has nearly doubled since 2006 to around $1.9 billion (USD).
“We’re pushing production and inventories past milestones not seen in generations. Distillers are making landmark investments, creating new jobs, driving record numbers of tourists to the state and pouring hundreds of millions into local economies. It’s an incredible success story for our beloved Commonwealth and a clear forecast that the Bourbon revolution has no signs of slowing down.”
Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved a tax credit for distillers allowing them to deduct the ad valorem taxes paid on each barrel of maturing spirit from their corporate income taxes, as long as the credits are reinvested on construction and other capital expenses within the state. Distillers paid more than $15 million in ad valorem taxes in 2013 to local governments and school districts.
The KDA also reported a new record for visitors along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, with 630,000 people visiting at least one of the Trail’s member distilleries during 2013.
Links: Kentucky Distillers Association