Each week, we bring you the latest whisky news on WhiskyCast, but a lot can happen during the week. Now, you can keep up with whisky news as it happens here on WhiskyCast.com!
July 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
July 17, 2014 – The Famous Grouse is marking the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow with the release of a limited-edition single malt from its homeplace at Glenturret Distillery. The Edrington-owned brand is the official whisky sponsor of the Games, which will bring together athletes from 71 countries starting July 21.
Glenturret is the spiritual home for The Famous Grouse range of blended Scotch whiskies and home of The Famous Grouse Experience. The whisky selected as the commemorative malt for the Games is a 28-year-old single malt distilled in 1986, which was the last time the Commonwealth Games were held in Scotland. Edrington Master Blender Gordon Motion selected the casks for blending and bottling at a cask-strength 46.4% ABV.
1,800 bottles will be available through UK whisky specialist retailers and The Famous Grouse website at a recommended retail price of £150 ($257 USD).
July 17, 2014 – Filipino billionaire Andrew Tan’s $724.5 million (USD) acquisition of Whyte & Mackay is a step closer to completion. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has given tentative approval to Tan’s deal to buy the Scotch Whisky and gin producer from Diageo and United Spirits of India, and has opened a two-week public comment period before giving final approval. Tan’s Alliance Global Group was selected in May as the high bidder for Whyte & Mackay, and Tan will merge the unit into his Emperador brandy unit assuming final approval from the CMA and the Reserve Bank of India. Indian regulators must still approve the sale, as it will require loans from United Spirits to Vijay Mallya’s USL Holdings Ltd. to be written off. In addition, a court challenge to Diageo’s acquisition of some USL shares pledged as collateral by Mallya-related businesses is still awaiting a final ruling by India’s Supreme Court.
Diageo and United Spirits agreed to put Whyte & Mackay up for sale following a ruling by the former Office of Fair Trading that Diageo’s acquisition of a controlling stake in United Spirits would hurt competition in the UK’s market for blended Scotch whiskies. Whyte & Mackay supplies bulk whisky for private-label retail brands, along with its own branded whiskies, and the OFT ruled that combining the unit with Bell’s and Diageo’s other blended Scotch brands would be anti-competitive. The ruling was stayed while Diageo and United Spirits sought a buyer for Whyte & Mackay. Earlier this month, Diageo completed its acquisition of a majority of the outstanding shares in United Spirits, and has now taken control of the Bangalore-based company.
Diageo’s filing with the CMA proposes to complete the deal by September 9, with the current Whyte & Mackay management team to stay with the unit as Alliance takes control. In addition, Diageo will not be allowed to acquire any interest in Whyte & Mackay for ten years following the transition, and its employees will not be allowed to become managers or directors of Whyte & Mackay. The agreement does allow for Diageo to buy bulk whisky from Whyte & Mackay, and Tan’s purchase agreement includes a three-year contract to supply malt whisky from the Dalmore and Tamnavulin malt whisky distilleries for use in United Spirits-produced whiskies. Diageo had originally planned to hold on to both distilleries following a sale, but agreed to include them as part of the Alliance bid.
The Authority’s public consultation period ends August 1, and a CMA spokesman told WhiskyCast in an email that the agency is prepared to give final approval barring any major objections. Diageo spokespersons have previously said the company will have no further comment while the CMA’s review process is underway.
July 15, 2014 – For the first time since Irish Distillers introduced the Midleton Very Rare range in 1984, there’s a very noticeable change on the label. After 30 annual releases signed by Master Distiller Barry Crockett, the 2014 edition is signed by his successor, Brian Nation. Crockett retired last year, and the main stillhouse at Midleton Distillery was named in his honor last September.
Brian Nation’s first Midleton Very Rare doesn’t stray from the tradition Crockett established, using a combination of Single Pot Still and grain whiskeys distilled at Midleton and matured for up to 22 years in lightly charred ex-Bourbon casks. In a news release, Nation described the pressure of living up to his mentor’s legacy.
“It is a real honour for me to continue the Midleton Very Rare legacy and to have my name on the label, where Barry’s signature once was. I’m very proud of the 2014 edition, as it offers real complexity with a full taste of sweet spice, vanilla, and cinnamon, which lingers before slowly giving way to notes of barley. I am confident that it will provide whiskey fans around the world with the interesting and enjoyable tasting experience that they have come to expect from Midleton Very Rare over the years – and I look forward to hearing what Barry thinks of it too!”
The 2014 Midleton Very Rare release will be available at whisky specialist retailers in Ireland and select European markets, along with the US. Pricing information has not been announced.
Links: Irish Distillers
July 14, 2014 – Haig Club, the single grain Scotch Whisky brand being launched by Diageo in partnership with soccer star David Beckham and entertainment mogul Simon Fuller, is making its world debut at Selfridges in London. Haig Club was announced earlier this year after months of collaboration between the two celebrities and Diageo’s whisky blending team. The whisky comes from Diageo’s Cameronbridge grain distillery near Edinburgh, and is blended from a series of first-fill, refill, and rejuvenated ex-Bourbon barrels.
Haig Club will be available exclusively at Selfridges’ Oxford Street store until July 28, when it will also go on sale at The Whisky Shop’s Piccadilly store, according to the chain’s Andrew Torrance. The 700ml bottles will sell for £45 ($78 USD) each. Details of the global rollout have not been released yet, but Diageo executives said earlier this year that they intend to make Haig Club a global whisky brand.
July 12, 2014 – The latest running of the Clipper Round The World Race wound up in London Friday after 11 months of sailing, with the Old Pulteney-sponsored yacht finishing sixth out of 12 teams. The Inver House-owned distillery has released a limited-edition bottling to honor its crew’s accomplishments in the grueling race, along with the Wick-based distillery’s own maritime heritage.
The commemorative edition comes from a combination of ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks matured at the distillery, and is bottled at 46% ABV with no chill-filtering. 2,700 cases will be available worldwide with a recommended retail price of £50 ($85 USD).
Team Henri Lloyd won the 16-leg event, followed closet by the Great Britain yacht, which won the final leg of sailing from Den Helder in The Netherlands to London’s St. Katharine’s Docks. The next Clipper Round The World Race is scheduled to begin in London in August 2015.
July 10, 2014 – Berry Bros. & Rudd is releasing a new expression of The Glenrothes matured exclusively in ex-Sherry casks. While the distillery is known for its extensive use of ex-Sherry casks, most of its expressions do use a small amount of malt matured in ex-Bourbon casks, and this is one of the few distillery bottlings that uses ex-Sherry casks exclusively.
The Glenrothes Sherry Cask Reserve carries no age statement, and is bottled at 40% ABV. It will be available at first in Europe and other selected markets, but the distillery’s US importer has told WhiskyCast that there are no current plans to make it available in the US market. The recommended UK pricing per 700ml bottle is £55 ($94 USD) and €65 in Euro markets.
Meanwhile, Springbank is celebrating the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, in which Robert the Bruce led an army of Scots to victory over a much larger British force near Stirling in 1314 during the First War of Scottish Independence. The distillery has revived the old “Spirit of Freedom” trademark used by J&A Mitchell & Co. many years ago for a special blend of 30-year-old whiskies from distilleries throughout Scotland. The blend was created by now-retired Springbank production director Frank McHardy as his final project before retiring last year.
2,014 bottles of Spirit of Freedom were produced with a recommended retail price of £75 ($128 USD), and availability limited to the UK and selected export markets. The first six bottles were signed by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. Five will be auctioned for charity, while the sixth will remain in the company’s archive.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with pricing information provided by Berry Bros. & Rudd.
July 9, 2014 – Glenmorangie is releasing its second single malt in the Pride series with the debut of the Pride 1978 tonight in New York City. The whisky was matured in ex-Bourbon barrels for 18 years before being transferred into French Oak wine barriques from an undisclosed vineyard in the Pouillac region of Bordeaux for the final 14 years of maturation, making it not only the oldest Glenmorangie ever released at 32 years, but also the longest to have been “finished” in a wine cask.
“It’s actually more delicate in character and has taken on less of the French Oak in spite of being in the French Oak barriques for longer (than the Pride 1981),” said Glenmorangie Director of Whisky Creation Dr. Bill Lumsden in an interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie. “The wine barriques may have been used twice, which is often the case with these top chateaus. The tannins are very soft, they’re very nicely integrated into the whisky, and there’s a lot of characteristic Glenmorangie flavors in there.” He later confirmed that the barriques were used twice before being filled with the whisky.
A total of five barriques were used for the Pride 1978, with a sixth that was set aside for use in the release falling victim to a leak that went undiscovered until the casks were removed from the warehouse for bottling. As a result, only 700 one-litre bottles will be available worldwide, with a recommended retail price in the US of $5,800 each. The Pride 1978 was removed from casks and bottled in 2012 at 46.4% ABV, but was not released this year while the distillery collaborated with artist Idris Khan on a multimedia project that will also see a limited-edition Khan print included with each decanter.
Tasting notes for the Glenmorangie Pride 1978 will be available soon.
July 8, 2014 – Campaign contribution reports released today by Scotland’s Electoral Commission show William Grant & Sons has invested more to support the anti-independence movement than first reported. The distiller has donated £185,000 ($316,442 USD) to groups opposing Scottish independence in the September 18 referendum, with £135,000 to Better Together and £25,000 each to Angus MacDonald and the No Borders Campaign. Sunday, the BBC and other news organizations reported Grant’s had donated at least £100,000, based on preliminary information. The company is owned by members of the Grant-Gordon family, and has not commented publicly other than a statement released Sunday in which it said it supports the Scotch Whisky Association’s position that the industry could be hurt by independence.
Grant’s was the only whisky company reported as having donated to either side in the referendum, while the SWA has officially remained neutral – while expressing concerns that significant questions need to be answered by the Scottish National Party-led pro-independence campaign on trade and taxation issues. Former SWA chief executive Gavin Hewitt told Channel 4 in a “Dispatches” documentary interview aired Monday night that the trade group was pressured by SNP leaders to stay on the sidelines in the independence referendum. Hewitt, who retired at the end of December, has spoken out strongly against the referendum since leaving the SWA and told Channel 4 that he and his staff had at least six meetings with the SNP’s Angus Robertson, who represents the Moray district in Parliament.
“He (Robertson) and the SNP have regularly tried to get the message to the Scotch Whisky Association that the Scotch whisky industry should stay out of the independence debate,” Hewitt said. “He was, I think, trying to neuter business comment. There was a genuine fear that in fact if we were seen to scupper by coming out publicly against independence, there would be retribution down the track.”
Robertson strongly denied the accusation. He and Richard Lochhead, who represents the district in the Scottish Parliament and serves as Scotland’s Rural Affairs Minister in the SNP-led Edinburgh government, have held a series of meetings with industry executives in recent months to discuss the potential for increasing whisky-related tourism in Speyside. The meetings were private, and it is not known whether the referendum was on the agenda for discussion – or discussed privately.