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!

Racing Legend Franchitti Curates The Balvenie 2014 Rare Craft Collection

Dario Franchitti during practice for the 2012 Indianapolis 500, which was his third victory in the 500. Photo ©2012 by Mark Gillespie. August 12, 2014 – The Balvenie is kicking off its second annual Rare Craft Collection tour in Carmel, California this weekend with a collection of handcrafted works curated by three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti. The opening weekend is timed to coincide with the annual Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at nearby Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, which will feature more than 500 historic race and sports cars from the pre-1980 period.

For the collection, Franchitti selected a group of artisans working with everything from handmade guitars and glassblowing to custom furniture. In a telephone interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, Franchitti described one of the exhibits that had special significance for him:

“The guys at Steelhead Studios did a table using bits of my old IndyCar,” he said. “They used one of the manifolds from the engine, they used some gear ratios from the final drive, all kinds of things like that.” Franchitti follows last year’s debut curator, clothing designer Todd Snyder.

The collection will be on display at Carmel Plaza through August 16, followed by stops in eight other US cities through December.

Los Angeles: August 2627
Seattle: September 910
Austin: September 16- 17
Chicago: September 30October 1
Boston: October 78
Washington: October 21-22
New York: November 1722
Aspen: December 57

Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Dario Franchitti:

The collection will be displayed in a gallery format, which will also include tastings of various Balvenie expressions. Franchitti recently visited the distillery and had a personal tasting session with longtime Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart. “What a nice person, an amazing man, but what a gift he has too…I could not believe the stuff he was detecting. When he says ‘can you taste this, can you smell that’, once he points it out to you, you can sort of get it, but before that it’s a very difficult thing and it’s definitely a gift that he has.”

In addition to his three Indianapolis 500 victories in 2007, 2010, and 2012, Franchitti also won four IndyCar Series championships before a career-ending crash last year in Houston. He was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth this past June.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on August 15 following an interview with Dario Franchitti.

Links: The Balvenie Rare Craft Collection | The Balvenie

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Teelings Begin Construction On Dublin Distillery

August 11, 2014 – Teeling Whiskey Company has started construction work on Dublin’s first whiskey distillery since the closings of the Old Jameson Distillery and the Powers John’s Lane Distillery in the mid-1970’s. The Newmarket Square site will use existing buildings to speed up the construction process, with stills and hardware expected to arrive at the site in October and the first distillation runs to begin by the end of the year. A visitors centre is still on track to open in the spring of 2015, just in time for the start of Dublin’s summer tourism season.

The company is owned by brothers Jack and Stephen Teeling, the sons of Cooley Whiskey founder John Teeling and part of a family with distilling roots in Dublin dating back to 1872 at the family’s original Marrowbone Lane distillery. Their current range of whiskies using casks acquired from Cooley and Kilbeggan distilleries is available in Ireland and 25 other countries around the world.

Planning permission for the Newmarket Square site was granted by Dublin officials last January. The distillery will have three pot stills with an annual production capacity of 500,000 litres of alcohol, and is expected to create 30 permanent jobs.

Links: Teeling Whiskey Company

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Scotch Whisky Avoids Russian Trade Sanctions For Now

August 8, 2014 – The escalating battle of economic sanctions between Russia and Western nations over the situation in Ukraine has already seen restrictions on Russia’s energy and financial sectors from the West, while Russia upped the ante this week by imposing a year-long ban on food imports from the US, Great Britain, Canada, and major European nations.

Scotland will be affected by the sanctions, according to First Minister Alex Salmond. In a Scottish Government news release, Salmond was quoted as saying the Holyrood government is already responding to the sanctions:

“This action by Russia will clearly have an impact on some sectors within the Scottish economy, most notably on the mackerel industry which exports £16 million worth to Russia annually from the UK. The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food & Environment, Richard Lochhead, has already spoken to representatives from the fishing industry and will be meeting with industry heads as a matter of urgency.  We will continue talks with companies and producers who export to Russia most likely to be impacted to fully understand the effect of the ban, and also to gauge the ripple effect caused by the ban across the rest of Europe.”

Scotch Whisky is Scotland’s biggest export to Russia, with around £25 million GBP ($41.9 million USD) of exports annually. While whisky was left off the Russian sanctions list, Scotch Whisky Association government and communications director David Williamson told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie that the industry cannot become complacent.

“We’ve been monitoring the situation very closely in Russia in recent days working very closely with the UK Government,” Williamson said. “It’s very fortunate the current sanctions list don’t affect Scotch Whisky…it’s focused more on food and vegetables, meat and dairy products, but certainly that shouldn’t make anyone complacent in the spirits industry. We have to watch very carefully to ensure that we’re not caught up in any future sanctions.”

Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with David Williamson:

Scotch Whisky accounts for about 1.5% of Russia’s total annual imports of European spirits, according to Williamson. While that percentage has been growing, he describes Russia as a “challenging market” for many reasons. “We had hoped that with Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, that that would mean there was a greater approach to a legal framework in our area, that there would be an opportunity to improve the trading framework, and this of course is a step in the wrong direction.”

So far, only one whisky has been targeted for sanctions by the Russian government. Earlier this week, Russia’s consumer protection agency moved to ban imports of Sazerac’s Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon produced at the 1792 Barton Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. The agency cited improper registration of the brand in the customs union that encompasses Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, along with laboratory analysis showing evidence of phthalates in the whisky. The organic compound has been linked to various health problems, including infertility and neurological damage. Sazerac executives have declined to comment on the government’s allegations.

Links: Scotch Whisky Association | Sazerac

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New Irish Whiskey Brands Coming To Market

Uisce Beatha Irish Whiskey. Image courtesy ROK Spirits.August 8, 2014 – Irish Whiskey has been the fastest-growing segment of the global whisky industry, and two more players are joining the market in the coming month. ROK Spirits, owned by entrepreneurs John Paul DeJoria and Jonathan Kendrick, will launch Uisce Beatha Irish Whiskey in Europe and the US in September. DeJoria is best known in the spirits industry as the co-founder of Patron Tequila, and is also the founder of the Paul Mitchell hair care products line, while Kendrick has been a key investor in mobile communications technology.

The whisky is a four-year-old blend of grain and pot still whiskeys from what the company describes as “one of the oldest distilleries in Ireland,” without disclosing the name. Pricing has not been announced yet.

In addition, the fledgling Glendalough Irish Whiskey will launch a 7-year-old Irish single malt later this month, with plans to release 10 and 13-year-old versions in the near future. The Irish Times reports former national rugby team captain Brian O’Driscoll has joined the company as an investor in the Wicklow-based distillery, which is currently producing a line of seasonal gins as well. The company was founded in 2011, and has just completed work on its distillery. While the source of the 7-year-old whiskey has not been specified, it is known that Bushmills is the only Irish distillery producing single malt whiskey of that vintage.

The Irish Times reports that Glendalough has hired brand managers in New York and Washington, DC to help launch the single malt in the US market.

Links: Uisce Beatha | Glendalough

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Sazerac’s Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon Caught In Ukraine Sanctions Battle

Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon. Image courtesy Sazerac.August 7, 2014 – Sazerac’s Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon is one of the Western products being targeted in a tit-fot-tat escalation of trade sanctions between Russia, the US, and the European Union over Russia’s hard-line stance on Ukraine. Russia has now banned the import of most food products from the US, Canada, and European Union members in retaliation for escalating economic sanctions against Russian energy and financial companies. However, the Scotch Whisky Association confirmed Friday that its whiskies are not on the sanctions list, and the Kentucky Gentleman ban appears to be isolated for now.

Kentucky Gentleman is distilled at Sazerac’s 1792 Barton Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, and Russia’s consumer protection agency moved to ban imports of the Bourbon earlier this week. The state-controlled ITAR-TASS news agency reported Monday that Rospotrebnadzor claims Kentucky Gentleman is not properly registered for sale in the customs union of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, even though its bottles carry the union’s registration logo. The agency also claims laboratory analysts found evidence of phthalates in the whiskey. The organic compound has been linked to infertility and other health problems, and is often found in plastic products. While many distillers are increasing their use of PET-based plastic bottles, Sazerac CEO Mark Brown confirmed in an email that all of the company’s exports are bottled in glass.

In a separate email, Sazerac spokeswoman Amy Preske told WhiskyCast that the company has not been contacted by Rospotrebnadzor as of today, and will have no comment on the agency’s claims. Privately-held Sazerac does not release sales data for its brands, but a report from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States based on US Customs data shows Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey exports to Russia in 2013 were valued at $285,323 – compared to a global export value of $1.1 billion (USD) for the same period.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on August 8 with confirmation from the Scotch Whisky Association that the Russian sanctions do not include Scotch Whisky as of now. 

Links: Sazerac | Distilled Spirits Council of the US | Scotch Whisky Association

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New York Judge Rules Against Diageo In Explorers Club Lawsuit

August 5, 2014 – Diageo is looking for a legal lifeline now that a New York state judge has ruled for the Explorers Club in its lawsuit over the Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club line of Scotch whiskies. Law 360.com reports Manhattan Justice Charles Ramos has issued a permanent injunction banning Diageo from using the Explorers’ Club name under a state law banning the commercial use of established names for “benevolent, humane, or charitable” organizations without permission. The Club’s members have included legendary explorers from Sir Ernest Shackleton to astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and the organization funds scientific research and educational programs, making it eligible for relief under the state law.

Ramos has not ruled on the scope of his order yet, and Diageo executives have objected to a New York Post report that Ramos has ordered Diageo to remove the three whiskies in the range from travel retail outlets. The company has not received a written copy of the judge’s ruling yet. Following an April court hearing, Ramos ruled that Diageo adopted the Explorers’ Club name to lead consumers to believe the whiskies were “connected or affiliated” with the club, leading to an estimated $50 million in sales. Diageo and the Club had been in talks to license the name before the range was launched in late 2012, but the talks broke down and Diageo went ahead with the launch of the initial Trade Route series.

Read the ruling (PDF)

Diageo’s lawyers had fought the lawsuit on several grounds, including a pending federal lawsuit filed by the Club accusing the company of trademark infringement. Their arguments also highlighted the brand’s global heritage and the Walker family’s history of world travel. However, the Explorers Club lawyers countered with video of a duty-free store employee in London claiming that the Explorers’ Club whiskies were actually made at the Club’s New York headquarters. It was not made clear whether the worker was a Diageo employee or working for the retail outlet, and it should be noted that had the claim been true, the whiskies would not have been able to legally be referred to as “Scotch” whiskies.

Diageo spokeswoman Alix Dunn told WhiskyCast in an email that the company is “extremely disappointed and disagree(s) with the decision of Judge Ramos.”

“We are awaiting official receipt of the order and are planning to seek to stay the injunction while we immediately appeal this case.”

It is not clear whether the ruling extends outside of the US, since the Explorers’ Club range is sold in travel retail outlets worldwide. The 120-year-old Explorers Club is pursuing a separate trademark infringement case in federal court seeking monetary damages for the use of its name.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on August 6 to reflect that the judge’s initial ruling did not immediately order the removal of Explorers’ Club whiskies from retail outlets, but that a permanent injunction was issued barring Diageo from using the Explorers’ Club name. This story will be updated when the judge’s final ruling is issued. 

Links: Diageo | Johnnie Walker | The Explorers Club

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Macallan Expansion Receives Planning Permission

An architect's rendering of The Macallan Estate. Image courtesy Edrington. August 5, 2014 – As expected, Moray Council members have given the green light to Edrington’s plans for a £100 million ($168 million USD) expansion at the Macallan Distillery in Speyside. The decision clears the way for construction to begin within the next six weeks, according to Edrington director of single malts Ken Grier, with completion expected in 2017 on an all-new distillery and visitors center that will be built near the current distillery.

“It’s a very exciting time for The Macallan, and it’s a great testament to the power of single malt Scotch Whisky around the world and its growth,” Grier said in an August 8 telephone interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie. The project is being designed by the renowned London-based architects Rogers, Stirk, Harbour and Partners, and will be built with much of the distillery below ground level and topped by a series of rolling grass-covered hills to mimic the surrounding landscape.

“We believe in doing things that are incredibly beautiful, stuff that nobody else has done, and obviously things that really are all about extreme quality and real mastery, and of course, working with Rogers, Stirk, and Harbour – this is the first time ever in the industry that anyone has actually designed and will build a named architect-designed distillery.”

Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Ken Grier:

Speyside-based contractors will handle most of the engineering and management work once construction begins. Forsyths of Rothes will build the distilling equipment, while Robertson Group will serve as general contractor on the site. No estimates on the local economic impact of the project have been announced, but the construction work is expected to create a significant number of jobs, while increased visitor traffic once the distillery is completed is likely to create a long-term economic impact.

“You’ll get people from all over the world wanting to visit this iconic architectural masterpiece,” Grier said. “Graham Stirk, the partner at Rogers, Stirk, & Harbour who designed it, has done a phenomenal job in producing something in some ways, we think, is very much like the Carrousel du Louvre standing next to the Louvre…you’ve got some incredible architecture merit with a real legacy , and yet, always your eye will be drawn back to Easter Elchies House, and of course, the River Spey.”

The current distillery produces 9.5 million litres of spirit each year, while the new distillery is expected to have a capacity of 15 million litres.  Edrington intends to mothball the existing distillery once the new one is completed, with plans to keep it ready to return to production should additional capacity be needed in the future.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on August 8 to include quotes and audio from our interview with Edrington’s Ken Grier.  

Links: The Macallan | Edrington

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Buffalo Trace Releases Batch #14 Of Single Oak Project

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.

Links: Buffalo Trace | Single Oak Project

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GlenDronach Adds 18-Year-Old Tawny Port Finish

GlenDronach 18-Year-Old Tawny Port Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Image courtesy GlenDronach Distillery.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.

Links: GlenDronach


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New York’s Coppersea Distillery First To Use New York Barrels

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.

Links: Coppersea Distillery | U.S. Barrel Company

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