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!
March 22, 2014 – The next committee hearings are set for Tuesday in the Tennessee General Assembly’s debate over changes to standards for what can legally be called “Tennessee Whiskey”, but the proposal’s Senate sponsor is trying to broker a compromise. Sen. Mark Green has proposed an amendment that would allow distillers producing less than 25,000 cases of whiskey annually to use so-called “rejuvenated casks” and still be able to call their product “Tennessee Whiskey.” The casks would have to be ground or planed on the inside to remove layers of wood saturated with whiskey from a previous use.
“I sent that to the Jack Daniel’s guys on, I believe, Thursday,” Sen. Green told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in a telephone interview. “We’ve not heard back from them yet, so I’m just waiting to hear from them. If they like the new amendment, then we’ve got a win-win and if they don’t, then we’re back to the drawing table.” Green suggested that he’s willing to pull his bill off the floor and end action on it until next year if no compromise can be reached. However, that would be exactly what Jack Daniel’s owner Brown-Forman wants, since it opposes any changes to the bill passed in last year’s session and signed into law last May.
“Jack Daniel’s brought it to us last year, and we were told that the other guys didn’t have a problem with it. Well, we were told that by Jack Daniel’s…and we didn’t…I guess one of us should have picked up the phone and said ‘hey, Dickel, do you like this definition?’ We didn’t…and you know, this is what happens. I wasn’t involved in the legislation last year, other than to just support it…but when it was brought to me this year and the discrepancy revealed, I thought, well, this was probably not fair and not right, so we’ve got to do something about it.”
Listen to the entire interview:
Green introduced legislation last month at the request of Diageo and some of the state’s craft distillers to remove requirements enacted last year that force distillers to use new charred oak barrels and mature their whiskies entirely within the state in order to be able to call their products “Tennessee Whiskey.” That legislation was supported by Brown-Forman, which wanted to keep what it termed as “inferior whiskies” from hurting the global image of “Tennessee Whiskey.” Jack Daniel’s is the most widely-exported American whiskey, and is sold in more than 150 countries around the world.
Not only are Brown-Forman (Jack Daniel’s) and Diageo (George Dickel) on opposite sides of the debate, but many of the state’s craft distillers are split down the middle as well. Green wants both sides to come to an agreement that protects the overall integrity of the state’s brand while also protecting small-scale distillers and allowing them to compete, and said he will not allow the state to be dragged into a battle over international sales. In a March 14 WhiskyCast interview, Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch accused Diageo of promoting the changes as a way to undermine global sales of Jack Daniel’s out of fears that it was cutting into sales of Johnnie Walker and Diageo’s other Scotch whiskies. While Diageo’s George Dickel is the number-two selling Tennessee whiskey, its sales are a fraction of Jack Daniel’s — though still large enough that it would not be covered by the exemption Sen. Green has proposed.
“I’m not going to kowtow to someone’s strategic initiative in their corporate international business practices. We’re going to maintain the definition of Tennessee Whiskey in a way that makes sense, so if it’s new oak wood that this whiskey touches and that’s what makes the taste, then I don’t see a problem with allowing the smaller guys to take the inside of that thing out, lower their costs, and allow them to compete.”
The senator also wants to hear from both companies on what effect the definition of “Tennessee Whiskey” included in the North American Free Trade Agreement and other international trade treaties has on Tennessee’s ability to set its own standard. NAFTA carries the weight of federal law, and in interstate commerce, federal laws generally take priority over state laws.
“Canada and Mexico shall recognize Bourbon Whiskey and Tennessee Whiskey, which is a straight Bourbon Whiskey authorized to be produced only in the State of Tennessee, as distinctive products of the United States.”
Thomas Hogue, a spokesman for the Treasury Department’s Tax & Trade Bureau, said in an email that those standards apply only to recognize Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskies as “distinctive products of the United States” when they are sold in foreign markets, but do not apply in the domestic market. While declining to comment specifically on the Tennessee law, Hogue noted that the 21st Amendment to the Constitution gives states broad powers over the sale, distribution, and labeling of alcoholic beverages within their borders. However, Green said there may be a question over whether Tennessee can set a definition for whiskey produced for sale outside of the state.
March 21, 2014 – Whisky Magazine editor Rob Allanson is leaving Paragraph Publishing to join William Grant & Sons, where he will serve as Global Brand Ambassador for the Grant’s range of blended Scotch whiskies. Allanson will succeed Ludo DuCroq, who was recently promoted to a position overseeing the company’s team of brand ambassadors for its various whiskies and other spirits.
“It’s been nine years now, it’s been a long time,” Allanson told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in a phone interview from London, where he helped present the 2014 World Whiskies Awards and Icons of Whisky Awards for the magazine. “Damian (Riley-Smith, the owner of Paragraph Publishing) said last night when he announced it that I’ve done 50% of the magazine’s lifespan now…I’m the longest-serving editor that they’ve had there, but all good things have to change eventually.” He also served as editor for Paragraph’s Scotland Magazine in addition to his role at Whisky Magazine.
Allanson will be replaced by Rupert Wheeler, who has contributed stories for the magazine for several years and will serve as managing editor. Wheeler will oversee a team of regional contributing editors responsible for covering whisky news in their specific areas.
Editor’s note: Mark Gillespie is a former contributing editor for Whisky Magazine, and stepped aside from his role earlier this year to focus exclusively on WhiskyCast.
Links: Whisky Magazine
March 21, 2014 – Diageo took “Distiller of the Year” honors in Whisky Magazine’s annual Icons of Whisky Awards presented last night in London on the eve of Whisky Live London. Diageo had already won the Scottish regional competition in December for its massive investment in expanding production at many of its Scotch whisky distilleries, and beat out Irish Distillers (Rest of the World), Buffalo Trace (USA), and Balcones (USA Craft Distiller) in the final round. William Grant & Sons was named “Brand Innovator of the Year”, while Michael Foggarty of Ireland’s L. Mulligan Grocer/Swallow was named “Brand Ambassador of the Year.” Ardbeg’s Mickey Heads won “Distillery Manager of the Year” honors.
Laphroaig Distillery took top honors as “Visitor Attraction of the Year,” while Canadian Club’s Tish Harcus was named “Visitor Centre Manager of the Year.” In the retail categories, The Whisky Exchange in London (single-store), Paris’ La Maison du Whisky (multiple store), and Master of Malt (online) all won global Icons awards.
The ceremony also included the announcement of Icons winners for the Rest of the World regional competition, which covers everything other than Scotland and the US. As previously mentioned, Irish Distillers, Michael Foggarty, Tish Harcus, the Whisky Exchange, La Maison du Whisky, and Master of Malt were regional winners. Jean Donnay of France’s Glann ar Mor Distillery was named “Distillery Manager of the Year,” Compass Box “Brand Innovator of the Year,” and the Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin “Visitor Attraction of the Year.”
All three regional rounds and the final selections were voted on by members of the Whisky Magazine editorial staff from a shortlist of nominations compiled by editor Rob Allanson.
Links: Whisky Magazine
March 21, 2014 – Call it an upset…call it a surprise…call it what you will, but the reputation of Australian whisky has received a major boost. Sullivan’s Cove French Oak Cask from Tasmania Distillery took top honors as the “World’s Best Single Malt” in Whisky Magazine’s World Whiskies Awards competition. The results were announced Thursday night in London on the eve of Whisky Live London, with the Sullivan’s Cove malt defeating 12 other regional award-winning single malts from Scotland, Ireland, Europe, and Asia. Whisky writers (including WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie) and retailers judged the first two rounds of the competition with blind tastings, while a panel of master distillers, blenders, and brand ambassadors judged the final round in blind tastings.
“I was asked to come over to London for the awards,” distillery manager Patrick Maguire told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in a telephone interview from his home in Hobart, Tasmania. “That happens every year that we enter something, but we don’t always win something…so I said, look, it’s a long way to go just for one night, unless I’m really going to win something, and of course, they didn’t tell me that we’d won anything…they said ‘it’d be really nice if you could come over’, so unfortunately, I didn’t go.
Listen to the entire interview:
In the first 24 hours after the announcement, Maguire’s distributors around the world have been flooded with requests for the French Oak Cask. Earlier this year, the distillery put it on allocation for export customers in order to save some stocks for domestic customers in Australia and ensure enough ongoing supply to last for several years. “I’ve been getting emails and calls from our distributors in the UK…they’ve been slammed and have sold all of their stock now, and they’re desperately running around trying to find other stock…they’re talking to our Dutch distributors and our French distributors,” Maguire said. “Our mainland distributors in Melbourne, they’ve been slammed as well…they’ve been sending emails out to their network around the country saying ‘everybody calm down, we’ve run out of stock.’ We’re just going to have to have a strategy meeting to see what we can do.”
“To say it was surprising would be a little bit of an understatement,” Whisky Magazine editor Rob Allanson said of the victory for Sullivan’s Cove. “The single malt final category had some belters of whiskies…it really is quite an incredible whisky. I’m so pleased that it won, and it’s a bit of a statement.” Maguire sees it as confirmation that Australian malts can compete with other single malt whiskies from around the world as well.
“We’ve been making incredible whiskies in Australia, and especially in Tasmania. There’s a group of distillers here now, there’s 9 in Tasmania, there’ll be 12 later this year. They’re all very small, and that’s the thing for everyone to understand…we’re all tiny producers, but I think this award should cement the idea to whisky consumers that Australia is capable of producing world-class whiskies, and to me, that’s a fantastic thing.”
In other categories, Nikka’s Taketsuru 17 took top honors among blended malt whiskies, while The Lost Distilleries Blend Batch #1 from The Blended Whisky Company was named “World’s Best Blended Whisky.” Redbreast 15 was named “World’s Best Pot Still Whisky,” while the Teeling Single Grain won among grain whiskies. Balcones Brimstone Resurrection was named “World’s Best American Whiskey,” and Sazerac’s Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye took the award for rye whiskies. Pike Creek 10 won for Canadian whiskies, while the Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice from Rhode Island’s Sons of Liberty Distillerty won best flavored whisky honors. Finally, Master of Malt 40 Years Old was named the world’s best whisky liqueur.
A complete list of award winners can be found at the Whisky Magazine web site.
Editor’s note: This story was updated following interviews with Patrick Maguire and Rob Allanson.
Links: World Whiskies Awards
March 21, 2014 – Glenglassaugh and Glen Grant are unveiling new single malts in time for Spring, with a vintage malt from Glen Grant in Rothes and a rare peated malt from Glenglassaugh.
Glen Grant’s longtime distillery manager, Dennis Malcolm, filled the cask that would eventually become the new Glen Grant 50 Year Old as a young distillery worker on October 28, 1963. 50 years and a few days later, that cask yielded just 150 bottles of whisky. In a news release, Malcolm described the whisky as a masterpiece.
“Only time measures our pursuit of perfection. Maturation cannot be rushed. Like people, casks mature at their own pace. I have protected and cared for this barrel for 50 years, letting it breathe and patiently waiting for the magic and interaction of whisky and wood.”
The Glen Grant 50 comes in a Glencairn crystal decanter that replicates Glen Grant’s pot stills, along with a hand-crafted Scottish Oak box. It will be available starting today at Hong Kong’s airport, and soon at travel retail shops in Singapore, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei airports. Whatever remains will be available in other markets starting in June. The whisky carries a recommended price of around £8,400 ($13,850 USD).
Glenglassaugh’s Torfa is a change of pace for the distillery, which was acquired by the BenRiach Distillery Company last year. It is a “richly peated” no-age-statement single malt that will become the third expression in Glenglassaugh’s core range alongside Revival and Evolution. The name is derived from the Old Norse word loosely translated by Scots as “turf” or “peat”.
Torfa is being bottled at 50% ABV, and the distillery’s Alistair Walker has confirmed that the whisky is exclusively from stocks produced since Glenglassaugh was reopened in 2008 after more than 20 years. It will be available globally through whisky specialist retailers at a recommended price of £41.99 ($69 USD).
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information from Glenglassaugh.
March 20, 2014 – For the second consecutive year, a whisky has received a perfect 100-point score from the judging panel for the Ultimate Spirits Challenge. Redbreast 21 received the highest possible score, along with a Chairman’s Trophy for winning the Irish Pot Still Whiskies category. Last year, Highland Park’s 25-year-old single malt became the first whisky to receive a perfect score in the competition. The competition is chaired by F. Paul Pacult, and the judging panel includes industry experts and spirits writers.
A total of 37 Chairman’s Trophy winners were presented for various spirits, along with 218 finalists. Other whiskies honored include Glenmorangie 25, Ballantine’s 17, and Douglas Laing’s “Big Peat” in Scotch whiskies, Tullamore D.E.W 12 Special Reserve and Bushmills 16 in the Irish Whiskey categories, Wild Turkey Forgiven, George T. Stagg, and Bulleit 95 Small Batch among American whiskies, Alberta Premium Dark Horse in the Canadian Whisky category, and Nikka Coffey Grain in the Japanese Whisky category.
A complete list of award winners is available at the competition’s web site.
Links: Ultimate Spirits Challenge
March 19, 2014 – With debate in the Tennessee General Assembly stalled until next Tuesday on proposed changes to the state’s law setting specific standards for “Tennessee Whiskey”, the debate outside of the Capitol building in Nashville is getting louder. Brown-Forman, the owner of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, plans to urge its employees, suppliers, and supporters to contact their legislators in Nashville to oppose changes in the law passed last year. That law, referred to by its critics as “the Jack Daniel’s law”, requires the use of new charred oak barrels and the “Lincoln County” charcoal-filtering process for any whiskey to be legally called “Tennessee Whiskey”. Those critics include Diageo, the owner of the George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, as well as a number of the state’s small-scale craft distillers who want the freedom to use rejuvenated casks to mature their whiskies. Brown-Forman executives insist that allowing the use of used barrels would lead to inferior whiskies that could hurt the global image of “Tennessee Whiskey”.
Monday, Diageo responded to Brown-Forman’s news release blasting the Diageo-led movement as an attempt to undermine the entire “Tennessee Whiskey” category. The Diageo news release defended the “honor and quality of Early Times Whiskey”, which is produced by Brown-Forman at its distillery in the Louisville suburb of Shively, Kentucky using used barrels. Early Times Kentucky Whisky (without the “e”) is only available in the US, while Early Times Bourbon is sold in Japan and other export markets. In 2010, Early Times 354 Bourbon was introduced in the US with plans to replace the export-only Bourbon over time. Both Early Times Bourbon and Early Times 354 are made using new charred oak barrels. In the release, Diageo defended the use of used and rejuvenated casks while criticizing Brown-Forman for trying to use its dominance in Tennessee to establish a standard for others to meet.
Therefore, by their logic, Brown-Forman has deemed its own product inferior.”
In a telephone interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch said what he described as “Diageo’s snarky press release” makes his company’s case for keeping the 2013 standards in place:
“We don’t consider it (Early Times) premium, and it’s not premium-priced, and one of the key reasons why is that we use used barrels instead of new barrels. Jack Daniel’s, on the other hand, is a very premium product, and we want to make sure that it maintains that premium image and premium reputation.”
Listen to the entire interview:
Lynch cited one legislator’s comments during Tuesday’s House committee debate as the key reason why the current law should not be changed.
“He said ‘I don’t care if they brew stuff in their bathtub, they still ought to be able to call it Tennessee Whiskey.’ That, therein, lies the problem, because the standards of identity need to be established, which they are, and enforced so that when people buy Tennessee Whiskey, they know they’re getting a high-quality premium product, not something that someone’s made in their bathtub.”
The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission has been interpreting the 2013 law to allow the use of adjectives such as “unaged,” “white,” and grain descriptors such as “corn” between the words “Tennessee” and “Whiskey” on labels. However, it should be noted that the law gave distillers 3 years to sell off existing stocks of whiskey that did not meet the standards, and no distiller has been sanctioned yet for failing to comply with the law.
Traditionally, so-called “standards of identity” are established by the US Treasury Department’s Tax & Trade Bureau, which regulates alcoholic beverage production and sales nationally. There is no TTB federal standard of identity for “Tennessee Whiskey”, other than the regulations requiring “straight whiskey” to be distilled and matured within the same state in order to be called a “(state name) Straight Whiskey”. However, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada, and Mexico defines “Tennessee Whiskey” as “a straight Bourbon Whiskey authorized to be produced only in the State of Tennessee.” This would appear to preclude Tennessee whiskey producers from maturing their whiskies outside of the state of Tennessee under federal law, even though one of the proposals being considered by state legislators would remove that requirement from the current state law.
This story will be updated as more details become available.
March 19, 2014 – Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is yielding to the Scotch whisky industry’s calls for tax relief in the UK Government’s 2014 budget, freezing taxes on Scotch whisky at their current level for the first time since at least 2008. In the final budget before Scottish voters go to the polls for September’s independence referendum, Osborne scrapped a planned 4.8% increase in excise taxes on whisky and the standard escalator on alcohol duties that adds 2% above the rate of inflation each year. Osborne also froze taxes on ordinary cider and lowered the taxes on beer by one pence for the second consecutive year. However, all other spirits and wines will see additional increase in excise taxes, and Osborne pledged that the escalator clause will be extended after its scheduled expiration next year.
“Scottish whisky is a huge British success story. To support that industry, instead of raising duties on Scotch whisky and other spirits, I’m today going to freeze them.”
Scotch whisky sales fell 3% in the UK last year, and Scotch Whisky Association leaders placed much of the blame on Westminster’s tax policy since the escalator clause was introduced in 2008. SWA Chief Executive David Frost praised Osborne’s decision in a news release:
“We are delighted that the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury listened to our case for scrapping the unfair alcohol duty escalator and freezing whisky duty. It is a move that supports hard-pressed consumers, a major manufacturing and export industry and the wider hospitality sector. This fairer tax treatment in the UK, the third biggest market for Scotch Whisky, also sends the right signal on excise policy to the governments of the 200 countries to which we export. So its effects will be felt around the world.”
In addition to going along with the whisky industry’s calls for a tax freeze, Osborne also announced other budget moves aimed directly at Scotland, including pension and savings tax cuts, economic development assistance for Scottish airports, and a review of taxes on the North Sea oil and gas industry. The moves are seen by many analysts as part of the coalition government’s campaign to urge Scots to vote against independence in the September 18 referendum. Scottish National Party leaders welcomed the budget changes, while continuing to criticize the government in London. Moray MP Angus Robertson represents the Speyside area, and noted in a SNP news release that even with the one-year duty freeze, approximately 80% of the price of a bottle of whisky goes to taxes.
“It’s worth remembering that UK Governments have repeatedly acted against the interests of the Scotch whisky industry, with Labour introducing the duty escalator, and the Tory/Lib Dem coalition keeping it going for years. The escalator has meant duty increasing by 2% above the rate of inflation each year since 2008. Tax on Scotch whisky has risen by 44% over five years.”
The SWA had projected that Osborne’s planned increases would have raised the average price of a bottle of blended Scotch whisky to more than £20 ($33 USD), with prices for single malts rising to more than £40 ($66 USD).
Links: Scotch Whisky Association
March 19, 2014 – No action came during Tuesday’s Tennessee General Assembly hearings on proposals to change the Jack Daniel’s-backed law passed last year that sets strict standards for what can be called “Tennessee Whiskey”. Critics of the law want to either repeal the entire law or roll back provisions that require the use of new charred oak barrels and charcoal filtering (the “Lincoln County Process”). According to The Tennesseean, the bill’s House sponsor says last year’s legislation overstepped their boundaries. “We’re going to make something right that we did wrong last year,” Rep. Bill Sanderson told the newspaper.
Jack Daniel’s owner Brown-Forman pushed for the law last year to establish standards similar to those for Bourbon, Scotch Whisky, Champagne, and other products with geographic designations. Jack Daniel’s is the largest Tennessee Whiskey producer, with 11.5 million cases of Jack Daniel’s Black Label sold worldwide last year, and Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch accused Diageo Friday of attempting to undermine the category on fears that Jack Daniel’s sales were cutting into sales of Johnnie Walker and Diageo’s other Scotch whisky brands. Diageo owns the second-largest Tennessee distillery, the George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, and has joined forces with many of the state’s craft distillers to overturn the 2013 legislation. They see the 2013 law as anti-competitive and allowing one dominant company to dictate standards for the rest of the industry.
Tuesday, a Tennessee House committee considered proposals to repeal the law entirely or modify it to require only that whiskey be fermented, distilled, and matured within the state in order to carry the “Tennessee Whiskey” designation, but took no votes. The Senate State Government Committee was scheduled to consider similar proposals, but ran out of time during Tuesday’s meeting.
Brown-Forman executives say the original law protects the quality of “Tennessee Whiskey” by banning whiskies made using “inferior” production methods from hurting the state’s reputation, and have vowed to fight to keep any changes from being made to the 2013 law. The company has its own supporters within the General Assembly, and the debate could last through the remaining weeks of this year’s session, which is expected to end around May 1.
March 17, 2014 – One of Scotland’s smallest distilleries is to be sold after a dispute between brothers led to a court-ordered windup of the business. Bladnoch Distillery in Wigtown was ordered into administration last week at the request of Colin Armstrong, one of the four owners of the distillery. Raymond Armstrong, the distillery’s managing director, posted this note on the Bladnoch web site’s discussion forum in response to questions about the court ruling.
“It’s important to say that the company was not bankrupt, so there are no financial difficulties. The four directors/shareholders could not agree, two wanted to sell, two did not. Unfortunately there were no buyers wishing to acquire a 50% share holding and as the value of the distillery as a whole had increased considerably it was not possible to reach an amicable agreement. The relationships were appalling and to the detriment of the company.”
Armstrong noted that he expects the distillery and its maturing stocks of whisky to be sold as a going concern. In the meantime, production has been halted and the status of the distillery’s workers is unclear. A court-appointed receiver has been appointed to handle the sale of Bladnoch’s assets.
“I first came across Bladnoch in May 1994, so it’s nearly twenty years ago. I would have liked to have seen the distillery’s bi-centenary in 2017 but that wasn’t to be. My time at Bladnoch resulted in me getting a son in law from Glasgow and a daughter in law from Wigtown who has provided me with a Scottish grandson. I’ve also made friends all around the world so you can’t say anything bad about that. The end wasn’t the nicest but you can’t have everything.”
Armstrong and his partners acquired the distillery in 1994 after UDV (now Diageo) had closed it the previous year, but the sale came with a clause forbidding the new owners from re-starting production. In 2000, Diageo agreed to waive the restriction, but limited production to 100,000 liters of spirit annually. Since 2008, Bladnoch has released small amounts of its own whisky while selling older expressions produced under UDV ownership. The distillery has also hosted a series of whisky schools, and profited from leasing space in its maturation warehouses to other distillers.
Editor’s note: We have reached out to Raymond Armstrong, but have not received a response. This story will be updated as more details become available.