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!

Construction Work Begins This Week At Stitzel-Weller

Maturation warehouses at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo ©2011 by Mark Gillespie. August 25, 2014 – Put this story in the category of rumor control. Diageo’s groundbreaking ceremony last week for the new Bulleit Distilling Co. site in Shelby County, Kentucky appears to be the end of plans to revive distilling at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery on Louisville’s west side. However, there will be new construction work at Stitzel-Weller starting this week, but it is not linked to a revival of the distillery, which closed in 1992.

Diageo will be building a new bottling line at Stitzel-Weller to bottle what a company spokesman described as a “range of American whiskeys.” It will be the first time bottling work has been done at Stitzel-Weller in more than two decades, according to the company.

Diageo has been using Stitzel-Weller’s maturation warehouses for years, and is nearing completion of work on the first phase of  upgrades to The Bulleit Experience housed in the distillery’s former administration building. That project had originally been scheduled to open last spring in time for the Kentucky Derby, but is now expected to open to the public this fall. The original Bulleit Experience was completed in 2011, and while designed to be open to the public, was used only for in-house training programs.

Links: Diageo | Bulleit

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Diageo Breaks Ground On Bulleit Bourbon Distillery In Kentucky

An architect's rendering of Diageo's Bulleit Distilling Co. distillery in Shelby County, Kentucky. Image courtesy Diageo.August 21, 2014 – Diageo’s newest distillery is still two years away from producing its first spirit, but work has begun on what will be called the Bulleit Distilling Co. in Shelby County, Kentucky. A groundbreaking ceremony for the $115 million project was held today at the 300-acre site along Benson Pike east of Shelbyville, about halfway between Louisville and Lexington just off Interstate 64.

“It’s a brass ring…it’s a life dream for me,” Bulleit Bourbon founder Tom Bulleit said during a telephone interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie following the ceremony. The distillery’s name had not been announced until the ceremony, but it will be named for the Bulleit family, which started making whiskey in Kentucky before the Civil War when Augustus Bulleit produced whiskey for nearly 30 years before disappearing while transporting his whiskey to New Orleans in 1860. Tom Bulleit is his great-great-grandson, and revived the family business in 1987 before selling it to Seagram’s, and the brand is now the primary Bourbon in Diageo’s global portfolio.

In a news release, Diageo North America president Larry Schwartz said “Tom Bulleit has a genuine passion for his bourbon that he shares with everyone he meets.  The growth of the Bulleit brand is the result of many years of investment and the relationships Tom has built.  We are proud to be breaking ground on the new home of Bulleit Bourbon in this wonderful location in Shelby County.”

Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Tom Bulleit:

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Tom Bulleit, and Diageo North America President Larry Schwartz gather around a 3D model of the new Bulleit Distilling Co. distillery on which they helped break ground August 21, 2014. Image courtesy Diageo.The distillery will have a capacity of 1.8 million gallons of spirit when it opens, and Tom Bulleit said most of the production will be dedicated to Bulleit Bourbon. “We’ll make Bulleit here, and we’ll see what else,” he said. Diageo executives have said the facility will also be used to produce whiskey for use in other Diageo brands, without giving any specifics.

As WhiskyCast first reported last September, Four Roses gave Diageo notice that it would terminate its contract to distill spirit for Bulleit at the Lawrenceburg, Kentucky distillery at the end of March. Executives from both companies have declined since then to comment on the status of the contract, and Tom Bulleit said today that provisions have been made to meet Diageo’s needs until the new distillery goes into production. “I never comment on our supply contracts that we have for supply contracts with people and have had through the years since we were with Seagram’s,” Bulleit said. “We think we’re gonna be fine…we’ve made provisions.”

No master distiller has been named for the distillery yet, and the facility is not currently expected to have a visitors center or be open for tours. Earlier this year, Diageo opened The Bulleit Experience at Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville to the public after using it exclusively as a training center since 2011. The attraction will also showcase Diageo’s new Orphan Barrel line of whiskies matured at Stitzel-Weller.

Editor’s note: During the telephone interview with Tom Bulleit, Mark Gillespie referred to the distillery’s annual capacity as 750,000 gallons, when the reference should have been to approximately 750,000 cases of whiskey. This story was updated to include comments from Diageo’s Larry Schwartz and a photo from the ceremony, both supplied by Diageo. 

Links: Diageo | Bulleit Bourbon

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Japanese Whiskies Dominate Bonhams Hong Kong Auction

This Yamazaki 50-year-old whisky brought a high bid of $33,190 at Bonhams in Hong Kong August 15, 2014. Image courtesy Bonhams. August 16, 2014 – While one of the usual suspects led the overall bidding at Bonhams in Hong Kong during Friday’s auction of rare whiskies, the rare chance to bid on unusual Japanese whiskies dominated the bidding. Japanese whiskies rarely come up for auction at Bonhams and McTear’s auctions in Scotland, but bottles from all of the major Japanese whisky producers of past and present were up for bids.

A 55-year-old Macallan Lalique decanter from the Six Pillars series took top honors with a high bid of  $37,932 (USD), including bidder premium. However, the runner-up was one of the few Yamazaki 50-year-old whiskies to ever appear at auction, and brought a winning bid of $37,932. Only 150 bottles were released in 2011, and Bonhams had issued a pre-auction estimate of $24,515, with the final bid reflecting the unusual level of interest in rare Japanese whiskies.

This 5-bottle "poker straight" from the Ichiro's Malt series sold for $20, 546 at Bonhams in Hong Kong August 15, 2014. Image courtesy Bonhams. This was also one of the few auctions to showcase Ichiro Akuto’s bottlings from his family’s now-closed Hanyu Distillery bottled with playing card-themed labels under the Ichiro’s Malts label. A five-bottle poker straight lot with the ace, two, three, four, and five of clubs sold for $20,546 dollars, and a single bottle of the Ace of Spades went for $11,063 dollars.

The auction also featured several lots from the renowned Karuizawa distillery, which was mothballed in 2001 and eventually closed permanently. A two-bottle lot of 45-year-old Karuizawa single malts sold for $15,014, while a bottle of 21-year-old Karuizawa distilled in 1965 sold for $13,434.

The next Bonhams whisky auction in Hong Kong is scheduled for November 18.

Links: Bonhams Auction Catalog

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Russia Takes On Jack Daniel’s In Latest “Safety” Action

August 15, 2015 – Russian officials have expanded their sanctions against American whiskey to take on the largest brand in the business with a targeted action against Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and its cousin, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Liqueur. According to the Moscow Times, which cited a state-controlled ITAR-TASS news agency report, regional food safety officials in Sverdlovsk plan to confiscate all of the Jack Daniel’s products being sold in the region for alleged violations of Russian labeling laws. The report says alcohol bottles must include a list of ingredients, the location of the distillery, and the “length of the distilling process” — all in Russian. A spokeswoman for Russia’s food safety agency says the Jack Daniel’s labels in question met none of those standards. and also expressed concerns that Jim Beam’s labels may also not be in compliance.

“We’ve been selling Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey in Russia for 15 years, and we’ve been in compliance with all regulatory and labeling requirements throughout that 15-year period of time,” Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch told WhiskyCast in a telephone interview. “There’s no difference in the Jack Daniel’s being sold today in Russia, and of course, throughout the rest of the world, from the Jack Daniel’s we’ve ben selling in Russia for the past 15 years…so if there are any labeling compliance issues, it must be because the Russian authorities have changed the regulations without informing us and giving us any time to comply.” Lynch noted that Brown-Forman has received no notification of any issues from the Russian government. While declining to provide specific data, Lynch said Russia is one of the top ten export markets for the Jack Daniel’s brand.

The food safety agency is also taking issue with the honey-flavored Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey expression over what the ITAR-TASS report called “chemical substances not common to whiskey.” Lynch described the concerns as either “ignorance or politics,” since Tennessee Honey is not labeled as a whisky. “It is a liqueur and it meets all the specifications and standards in Russia as a liqueur,” Lynch said. “We did not comply with the whiskey specifications for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey because it is not a whiskey, so the government agency in the Ural Mountains that tested it as a whiskey doesn’t know what the heck they’re doing.”

The ITAR-TASS report also cites the agency spokeswoman as saying the labels on Jim Beam Bourbon sold in the Sverdlovsk region also violate legal requirements. WhiskyCast has asked Beam Suntory executives for any confirmation they may have received from Russia.

Last week, the Russian consumer protection agency moved to block imports of Sazerac’s Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon based on allegations that laboratory analysis found evidence of phthalates in the whiskey, and has since banned imports of beer and spirits from Ukraine along with a wider ban on most food products from Western nations. Russian officials have long used the food safety and consumer protection agencies as tools in foreign policy disputes, and the recent round of sanctions has been regarded as retaliation for sanctions imposed by the US, European Union, and other allies against Russia for its support of rebel forces in Ukraine.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a link to the Moscow Times coverage, along with additional information from the ITAR-TASS reports citing a potential problem with Jim Beam labels. 

Links: Brown-Forman | Jack Daniel’s | Beam Suntory | Jim Beam

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Old Pulteney 1990 Takes Spirit of Whisky Fringe Honors

Old Pulteney 1990, the winner of the 2014 Spirit of Whisky Fringe Award. Image courtesy Royal Mile Whiskies. August 14, 2014 – Old Pulteney’s 1990 vintage was named the Spirit of Whisky Fringe winner at this past weekend’s Whisky Fringe festival in Edinburgh. 1,300 attendees at the annual Royal Mile Whiskies-organized event were able to cast ballots for their favorite whiskies of the three-day festival. The win for the Wick distillery ends two years at the top for the Tomatin 30-year-old, which has been replaced in the distillery’s lineup since last year’s festival.

Runner-up honors went to the Glenglassaugh 1978, followed by the 21-year-old single malt from Ben Nevis and the new Highland Park Dark Origins expression. Ardbeg Uigeadail finished in the top five for the third straight year, following last year’s third-place finish and another fifth-place finish in 2012.

The rest of the top ten vote-getters were the Glenlivet 25, Balblair’s 1990 vintage, the Kilchoman Small Batch, Bunnahabhain 18, and Glen Moray 25. All of this year’s top ten whiskies were official distillery bottlings, with no independent bottlings cracking the list.

Links: Royal Mile Whiskies


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Benromach Boosts Maturation Warehouse Capacity

Former Benromach stillman Tom Anderson (L) and Brian Williams roll the first cask of whisky into Benromach's new warehouse August 8, 2014. Image courtesy Gordon & MacPhail. August 12, 2014 – One of Scotland’s smallest distilleries has nearly doubled its storage capacity with the addition of two new maturation warehouses. Benromach has completed work on the two new warehouses, announced last year as part of an expansion that also saw the distillery’s staff grow by 50% — from two on-site workers to three.

The Gordon & MacPhail-owned distillery’s newest employee, Brian Williams, helped roll the first cask into the new warehouses with the help of a Benromach veteran. Tom Anderson was a stillman at Benromach when it was originally mothballed by Diageo predecessor United Distillers in 1983, but still lives in one of the distillery’s on-site cottages. In a Gordon & MacPhail news release, managing director Michael Urquhart said “we are absolutely delighted that Tom was able to open our new warehouses at Benromach. These are exciting times for our classic, hand-crafted single malt whisky but whisky is a long-term business and the foundations for our success were laid when Tom worked here and in the years before that.”

The two warehouses take Benromach’s on-site storage capacity from 8,000 casks to 15,000, and were built by local contractors with support from Highlands & Islands Enterprise.

Links: Benromach | Gordon & MacPhail


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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 26-27
Seattle: September 9-10
Austin: September 16- 17
Chicago: September 30-October 1
Boston: October 7-8
Washington: October 21-22
New York: November 17-22
Aspen: December 5-7

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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