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!
January 16, 2014 – Diageo’s £1 billion expansion of its Scotch whisky production capacity is moving ahead with plans for a £30 million ($45 million USD) project at Clynelish Distillery near the town of Brora in the Highlands. Planning permits for the project have been submitted to Highland Council, with work expected to start later this year. In addition, Diageo executives plan to meet next month with local residents to outline the scope of the project and plans to minimize any impact on the community.
The project will double the capacity of Clynelish, with a new mash tun, 10 new washbacks, and six new stills to be installed alongside the existing equipment, which currently produces 4.5 million litres of spirit each year. In addition, the project will include a bio-energy plant that will use distillery waste products to generate methane gas to reduce the distillery’s energy impact.
The current Clynelish Distillery was built in 1968, across the road from the original distillery built in 1819. That distillery closed briefly, then reopened a year later under the Brora name to produce a peated single malt whisky until it closed permanently in 1983. Clynelish malts are sold as part of Diageo’s Classic Malts range.
January 16, 2014 – Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell will mark his 60th anniversary with the distillery this year, and a special bottling to commemorate the occasion is in the works. While Wild Turkey has not officially announced the release of “Diamonds” yet, the news was included in the Kentucky Bourbon Affair’s announcement this week. Participants in the Wild Turkey event during the Bourbon Affair will get a chance to taste the single barrel Bourbon, for which a release date has not been disclosed.
Jimmy went to work at the distillery in 1954, and trained under Wild Turkey’s second Master Distiller, Bill Hughes, and Ernest Ripy, the son of Wild Turkey’s original distiller. He was named to the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 2000, and is one of only two living distillers with a Bourbon named after him (Russell’s Reserve).
For an in-depth interview with Jimmy Russell from 2009, listen to Episode 193 of WhiskyCast.
Editor’s note: Wild Turkey announced on March 10 that the Diamond Anniversary expression will debut at the distillery on April 15 during a ceremony to dedicate the new visitors center. The whiskey will be available only at the distillery until this autumn, when it will receive wider — but still limited — distribution.
January 14, 2014 – Heaven Hill’s annual release of Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon is now in its 19th year with the release of the 2004 vintage this week. The 2004 edition’s barrels were filled under the supervision of Master Distillers Parker and Craig Beam and matured in rickhouses at Heaven Hill’s maturation warehouses in Bardstown, Kentucky, before bottling at around 10 years of age. While the proof will remain consistent (43.3% ABV), the bottling dates will vary slightly based on barrel selection and the length of time it takes to bottle each year’s edition.
This year’s vintage will have a unique flavor compared to previous vintages, according to Parker Beam. In a news release, he described the profile he was looking for in selecting the barrels for the 2004 edition.
“For this 2004 vintage, we went with a character that is maybe a bit more assertive and bold than in years past, as consumer tastes seem to be leaning more toward robust whiskeys. We therefore have selected barrels that sit a bit higher up in the warehouses where the temperature gradients over the 9 or 10 years of aging were a bit more extreme.”
In 2013, Evan Williams Single Barrel was named to the Spirit Journal’s Hall of Fame, and has won numerous awards over the years. The 2004 vintage will be available throughout the US, with a recommended retail price of $26.99.
January 13, 2014 – Many of Kentucky’s leading Bourbon distillers will join forces in May to mark the 50th anniversary of a 1964 Congressional resolution honoring Bourbon with the “Kentucky Bourbon Affair.” The Kentucky Distillers Association-organized festival is being described by KDA President Eric Gregory as an “elite Bourbon fantasy camp” that will be centered in Louisville from May 14-18, 2014.
The program includes events at eight KDA member distilleries that will include behind-the-scenes tours, private tastings, culinary experiences, and the first opportunity to tour Louisville’s historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery for the first time since it closed more than 30 years ago. The program also includes opening and closing receptions produced in coordination with the Original Makers Club and several Louisville restaurants. In a news release, Gregory said the event will focus on marking the 50th anniversary of the Congressional resolution that declared Bourbon as “America’s Native Spirit.”
“We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the golden anniversary proclaiming America’s only native spirit than by giving our passionate fans a rare opportunity to go ‘behind the barrel’ and truly experience the elegance of Kentucky Bourbon.”
50 “golden tickets” allowing purchasers first choice of the distillery seminars, evening event tickets, and special gifts will go on sale Tuesday, January 14 for $1,350 each. Individual tickets for the seminars and events will go on sale at a later date, with prices to be announced later as well. Attendees will be able to attend select up to five of the eight distillery events, which will be scheduled to allow for travel time between the distilleries located between Louisville on the west, Lexington to the east, and Loretto to the south.
Participating distilleries include Bulleit (Stitzel-Weller), Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Town Branch, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve — all members of the Kentucky Distillers Association.
January 13, 2013 – Suntory, with whisky distilling units in Japan and Scotland, is gearing up to become one of the three largest players in the global whisky industry. The Tokyo-based company has agreed to pay $16 billion in cash and debt to acquire Beam, Inc. and take a major role in the Bourbon, Canadian, and Irish whisky segments while expanding its Scotch portfolio. The move was not completely unexpected, since Suntory had expressed an interest in teaming up with Diageo to buy Beam in 2012. However, Beam CEO Matt Shattock had maintained firmly even since the company was split off from other Fortune Brands units in 2011 that it would remain independent, and had been on an acquisition spree of its own in vodka and rum production.
In a news release, the two companies announced that Suntory will pay $83.50 USD per share in cash to shareholders and assume Beam’s outstanding debt — a 25% premium over Beam’s closing price of $66.97 per share in New York trading on Friday (January 10). The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2014, assuming regulatory and shareholder approval. Beam will become a unit of Suntory, but remain headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois with Shattuck and the Beam management team continuing to manage day to day operations. This approach is consistent with the way Suntory has managed its Morrison Bowmore Distillers unit in Scotland since acquiring it from the Morrison family in 1984.
Beam is the largest Bourbon producer, and the acquisition gives Suntory a global presence with brands like Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Knob Creek. It is expected to make Suntory a solid #3 in the global whisky industry behind Diageo and Pernod Ricard, and analysts cited by Bloomberg News do not expect either company to make a counter-offer for Beam. Beam’s largest shareholder (13%) is the activist investor Bill Ackman, who pushed for the 2011 breakup of Fortune Brands to increase shareholder value. That led to the sale of the Acushnet golf division and a spinoff of home improvement and security units, leaving Beam as a standalone spirits company. Various analysts have estimated that Ackman stands to make nearly $700 million in profit from the sale to Suntory, based on the rising price of Beam shares since Ackman started acquiring his stake in 2011.
Suntory raised $4 billion last year in a public offering for its soft drinks division, and CEO Nobutada Saji has pushed the company to expand outside of its core Japanese market. Suntory is reported to be one of the potential bidders for Whyte & Mackay, which India’s United Spirits and Diageo have offered to divest in order to satisfy UK regulatory concerns over Diageo’s deal for a controlling stake in USL.
Here’s our analysis of how the combined companies would look by distilleries and brands:
Despite the scale of this portfolio, the deal is not likely to raise regulatory concerns in either the US or the UK. Suntory’s presence in the US market is minimal, and its ownership of Morrison Bowmore Distillers and Beam’s Scotch portfolio would not be large enough to trigger competition concerns.
Beam has declined our requests for interviews at this time, but this story will be updated as more details become available.
January 13, 2014 – Two of Australia’s leading whisky distillers are joining forces, as the investor group that acquired a majority stake in Lark Distillery last summer has now agreed to acquire Old Hobart Distillery, which produces Overeem Whisky. Casey and Jane Overeem agreed to sell their distillery to Lark’s owners effective January 17, and Overeem will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Lark Distillery Pty Ltd.
In a news release, both parties announced that Casey Overeem will go into “semi-retirement” while working in quality control and occasional promotional work as needed. Jane Overeem will stay on as Marketing Manager for both Lark and Overeem brands, and will also serve as Overeem’s principal brand ambassador. The two whisky brands will continue to be produced separately, while sales and marketing operations will be combined.
Lark founders Bill and Lyn Lark agreed last July to sell a majority stake in their family-owned company to a group of Hobart-based investors led by Troy Trewin, who will serve as CEO for both Lark and Overeem after the deal closes. Lyn Lark stepped aside on January 1, while keeping a non-executive seat on the company’s board. Bill Lark is scaling back his work with the company, but will continue to serve as Lark’s global brand ambassador. The Larks founded their distillery in 1992, when they received the first license to distill whisky in Tasmania since 1839. Since then, they’ve been the unofficial leaders of Australia’s growing whisky distilling industry. For more details on the Lark family, you can listen to a 2007 interview with Bill Lark in Episode 96 of WhiskyCast.
We have reached out to both companies for interviews, and this story will be updated as more information is available.
January 9, 2014 – Glenmorangie has released the fifth expression in its Private Edition range of single malts. Companta is the third in the series to use wine casks for finishing, with a combination of Burgundy wine casks from Clos de Tart and fortified wine from Côtes du Rhône.
Glenmorangie’s Dr. Bill Lumsden first used wine casks in the Private Edition range with the 2010 release of Sonnalta PX (Pedro Ximenez Sherry), then in the 2012 release of Artein with Sassicaia wine casks from Tuscany. The 2011 Finealta recreated whisky from Glenmorangie’s history using old batting recipes, and the 2013 release of Ealanta used virgin American Oak casks. In a news release, Lumsden cited the craftsmanship of the winemakers behind the Grand Cru Clos de Tart wines in his choice of those casks for Companta.
“As a true wine aficionado, some of my most memorable visits have been to Burgundy, where the dedication and attention to detail that goes into their craft never ceases to amaze me. The smaller vineyards of the region don’t seem to worry about yields, costs, or timings. They work tirelessly, simply to produce the very best wine. In the same spirit as Glenmorangie, they stop at nothing in the pursuit of perfection.”
Companta is the Scottish Gaelic word for “friendship”, and the whisky is bottled at 46% ABV with no chill-filtering. It will be available at whisky specialist retailers worldwide with a recommended retail price of £69.99 ($115 USD).
Tasting notes for Glenmorangie Companta will be available soon.
January 8, 2014 – Kentucky Distillers Association members have elected Heaven Hill’s Joe Fraser as the association’s Chairman for 2014. Fraser was Vice Chairman during 2013, and takes over for Rick Robinson of Wild Turkey.
Fraser is Vice President of Operations for Heaven Hill, with oversight for its Bernheim Distillery in Louisville and the main Heaven Hill production and maturation facilities in Bardstown. He joined the company in 2011 following stints at Treasury Wine Estates and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. In an interesting twist, Fraser and Robinson become the first two Canadian natives to serve as KDA chairmen in back-to-back years. Robinson will remain on the KDA board for 2014.
KDA members also elected Diageo North America’s Andrea Wilson as Vice Chairman. She is responsible for the drinks giant’s North American whiskey strategy and management. Brown-Forman Master Distiller Chris Morris was named Secretary-Treasurer. Four Roses Chief Operating Officer John Rhea and Maker’s Mark Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels will serve as board members for 2014.
Each of the Association’s seven “Heritage Member” distilling companies has a seat on the board. In addition, Louisville-based Michter’s has “Proof Member” status, and there are 10 craft distilleries with “Craft Distiller” member status.
January 7, 2014 – For years, Irish whiskey fans have made it a point to pick up a bottle or two of Green Spot Irish Whiskey at the duty-free shops in Irish airports as they head home. The classic single pot still whiskey has rarely been available outside of Ireland, but Irish Distillers plans to start sending Green Spot to the US starting this spring. In addition, the previously announced North American launch of Redbreast 21 Year Old will also take place at the same time. As reported in Episode 445 of WhiskyCast, Redbreast 21 was introduced last September at Whisky Live Paris, and has been available in limited amounts in Ireland and France since then.
Green Spot was created by the Dublin-based wine and spirits merchant Mitchell & Sons, and gets its name from the spot of green paint that appeared on casks of the whiskey in Irish pubs, back when merchants bought bulk whiskey from distillers and blended it for distribution to pubs and grocers. Green Spot was one of several whiskies named for their paint spots, including Blue Spot, Red Spot, and Yellow Spot – which was revived by Irish Distillers in 2012.
Green Spot has traditionally been produced by Irish Distillers at Midleton in cooperation with Mitchell & Sons, and is part of the Single Pot Stills of Midleton range of Irish whiskeys. The range was launched in 2011, and has expanded over the last three years to include additional expressions of Powers and the new Redbreast 21, along with the Barry Crockett Legacy and Yellow Spot.
For Mark Gillespie’s tasting notes on Green Spot, visit the Tasting Notes section of WhiskyCast.com. Tasting notes for Redbreast 21 will be available soon.
January 6, 2014 – London was once a major distilling center, though primarily focused on gin and rum production. Over the years, spirits companies moved their production out of London to more rural areas of the UK, and that heritage gradually disappeared. Now, the London Distillery Company is producing whisky in what may be the UK’s smaller distillery — just 1,200 square feet. The distillery uses the UK’s smaller licensed commercial whisky still, with just 650 litres of capacity, and required special approval from HM Revenue & Customs to begin operations.
Darren Rook’s venture has been producing gin for the last year, but only received its final licenses to distill whisky several weeks ago. Rook considered other locations for his distillery, but in an interview with Mark Gillespie for the next episode of WhiskyCast, he cited London’s own distilling tradition and the desire to create a unique identity for his whiskies:
“We could have went to Scotland, but the craft distilling movement that’s coming over here…you can see it growing slowly and gradually with the smaller-scale stills, people being a little bit more artisanal…to take that out of London and put it on a farm or take it to Scotland and kind of duplicate what the Scotch industry is already doing…for me it would have felt wrong. There was the need to move the industry here in the UK forward.”
In fact, going forward means going back to the past for Rook. His distillery’s initial work is focusing on older strains of barley and yeast used in London’s whisky distilleries a century ago and experimenting with them using modern distilling techniques. The barley is being hand-malted in a traditional style using one of the few remaining floor maltings in England, and Rook is working with longtime distillers John McDougall and Dr. Jim Swan to test different varieties to come up with a final recipe.
“We’ll do fermentation trials where we move the barley and the yeast forward together over the decades, so we’ll have the barley and the yeast from 1905, jump to 1910, 1920’s, 1930’s…you kind of see the distilling industry stop around the Second World War, and then it picked back up again in the 1940’s and 50’s. We’ll creep everything forward from that and hopefully, we’ll get an artisan view of how whisky over the last century has changed.”
Rook plans to focus on gin production to cover the costs of making whisky, and pledges that he will not sell any whisky until it is ready. “It might be that you don’t see something for 12, 15 years,” he said.
Links: London Distillery Company