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Brown-Forman: Diageo’s Attack Makes Our Case For Tennessee Whiskey Law

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.

Links: Brown-Forman | Jack Daniel’s | Diageo | George Dickel | Tennessee General Assembly

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UK Budget Gives Scotch Whisky a Break

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

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Tennessee Lawmakers Considering Options For Whiskey Law

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.

Links: Brown-Forman | Jack Daniel’s | Diageo | George Dickel | Tennessee General Assembly

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Bladnoch Distillery In Administration, To Be Sold

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. 

Links: Bladnoch

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Battle Over “Tennessee Whiskey” Turning Ugly

March 17, 2014 – In a public relations war, the news release is often the simplest, yet one of the deadliest ways to strike back at an opponent. The winner is often decided not by facts, but by which side gets the most attention, and in the developing war over legal standards for “Tennessee Whiskey” — the volume is being turned up to 11.

Diageo responded today to Brown-Forman’s Friday attack on a Diageo-led attempt to persuade Tennessee state lawmakers to amend a bill passed just last year that sets legal standards for what can be called “Tennessee Whiskey”. Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch took the initial press release attack a step further in an interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, accusing Diageo of sacrificing its George Dickel brand to undermine the entire “Tennessee Whiskey” category out of fears that Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniel’s whiskies were cutting into Diageo’s Scotch whisky sales worldwide.  The bill being considered in Nashville would amend last year’s legislation to allow for the use of used oak barrels in maturation and allow maturing whiskey to be stored outside of Tennessee.

Diageo’s response — a news release defending the “honor and quality of Early Times Whiskey”. Note that Early Times is not a Diageo product nor a “Tennessee Whiskey”, but is owned and distilled by Brown-Forman at the Early Times Distillery in the Louisville suburb of Shively. In the release, Diageo attempted to undermine the arguments that Brown-Forman is making against the proposed legislative changes.

“Claiming the integrity of Tennessee whiskey is “under attack” Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniels asserts the only way for Tennessee whiskey to be a “premium product representing a world-class standard and utmost quality” is for it to be aged in new oak barrels.  Interestingly, according to the website of Brown-Forman owned Early Times whiskey, the brand is aged and barreled in “used oak barrels”.  Therefore, by their logic, Brown-Forman has deemed its own product inferior.”

Diageo’s Mike DaRe told WhiskyCast on Friday that the bill, which the news release refers to as “the Jack Daniel’s recipe bill”, is anti-competitive and hurts smaller distillers while allowing one company to define an entire category of whiskey.

To set the record straight, Brown-Forman produces two versions of Early Times. Early Times Kentucky Whisky uses used barrels, and is not available outside of the US market. Early Times 354 Bourbon was first released in 2010, matured in new oak barrels, and replaced the Early Times Bourbon that was sold in export markets in addition to being sold in the US market. Brown-Forman’s own web site describes Early Times Kentucky Whisky as a “value” whisky — meaning one sold at lower prices and not intended to compete with “premium” brands. While Brown-Forman does not give a “pecking order” for its American-made whiskies, Early Times would likely be ranked at the bottom of the list behind Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve, and Old Forester.

The legislation would allow for the use of so-called “rejuvenated casks” in “Tennessee Whiskey” production, meaning casks that have been used previously and then planed on the inside to remove layers of charred and whiskey-soaked wood to expose fresher wood underneath. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mark Green, explained in a March 16 email that this would help smaller distillers save money while still preserving the quality of their whiskey.

“The newest amendment provides the smaller manufacturers the ability to use barrels that have had the inner core ground out exposing new wood. The goal is to keep the tradition of the whiskey touching new wood, while providing the smaller distillers the ability to lower costs and compete.”

The bill is scheduled for a Senate State Government Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Links: Diageo | George Dickel | Brown-Forman | Jack Daniel’s | Early Times 

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Dad’s Hat Enters European Market With Pennsylvania Rye

Dad's Hat co-founder Herman Mihalich tests a spirit run at the distillery on August 23, 2013. Image ©2013 by Mark Gillespie. March 16, 2014 – Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye will become one of the rare American-made craft whiskies to become available in Europe when it goes on sale in France and other European markets in April. As first reported on this week’s WhiskyCast, Bristol, Pennsylvania-based Mountain Laurel Spirits, which distills Dad’s Hat in a converted wool mill north of Philadelphia, shipped 300 cases of its whiskey to La Maison du Whisky in Paris last week.

Co-founder Herman Mihalich told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie that La Maison du Whisky contacted them to inquire about distributing Dad’s Hat in Europe. “When I lived in France, it was a cute little store downtown, but now it turns out they distribute all over Europe, Mihalich said. “They told me it’ll be some time in the middle of April or so until they have everything in place, but we’ll be distributed by them in France and across the EU.” Mihalich was surprised by the inquiry, since he and co-founder John Cooper had not planned on seeking export partners for some time. In addition to operating two retail stores in Paris, La Maison du Whisky is a major distributor of spirits throughout Europe. It also publishes the French-language edition of Whisky Magazine and owns the Whisky Live Paris festival held each September.

The launch will include the flagship Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye, along with the vermouth cask-finished version released in 2013. Mihalich and Cooper only had to make minor changes to their packaging to comply with European Union standards. The labels were changed to read “Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye” — with the word “Whiskey” removed, since European law mandates a minimum of three years of aging for whiskies. They were able to use their existing 750ml bottles, but modified the bottling line slightly to fill the Europe-bound bottles at 700ml to comply with EU regulations.

The partners plan to release a straight rye whiskey later this year once their stock of maturing whiskey reaches two years of age. As of now, there are no plans to export that version to Europe.

Links: Dad’s Hat | La Maison du Whisky


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Brown-Forman Attacks Diageo On Tennessee Whiskey Legislation

March 14, 2014 – Call it a “Clash of the Titans” if you will, but two major distillers — and Tennessee’s two largest distillery owners — are squaring off in Nashville over the definition of “Tennessee Whiskey.” Last year, the General Assembly approved legislation defining legal standards for “Tennessee Whiskey” for the first time with a bill supported by Jack Daniel’s owner Brown-Forman. That bill essentially required whiskies to meet the same federal standards as Bourbons in order to be called a “Tennessee Whiskey”, along with requiring the use of maple charcoal filtering, and was seen as an attempt to keep moonshine producers from using the same designation for their unaged products.

This week, legislation supported by Diageo was assigned to a Tennessee Senate committee that would amend the law to allow for the use of used oak barrels and remove requirements that “Tennessee Whiskey” be matured entirely within the state of Tennessee. However, that would not change the federal requirements that whiskies be distilled and matured entirely within a single state in order to be able to call the final product a “(State name) Whiskey”. Brown-Forman executives issued a news release today blasting the amendments as a Diageo-led attack on Jack Daniel’s.

“They’re trying to undermine the Tennessee Whiskey designation, the Tennessee Whiskey category, because they’re trying to undermine Jack Daniel’s,” Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch said during a telephone interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie.

“Jack Daniel’s has made significant inroads against Scotch whisky in general and Johnnie Walker in particular in markets around the world…as evidence of that, I’ll cite that in 2013, Johnnie Walker was flat over 2012 in terms of case volume and Jack Daniel’s grew by five percent. Jack Daniel’s along with many other American whiskies are growing rapidly, often at the expense of Scotch whisky, and so Diageo’s response is to try and undermine the Tennessee Whiskey category.”

Listen to the entire interview:

Diageo owns the second-largest producer of Tennessee Whiskey, the George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee. Spokesman Mike DaRe acknowledged Diageo’s support for the legislation during two telephone interviews, saying that “the law that was passed is anticompetitive, and kind of serves as a barrier to entry for smaller distillers.” In addition, DaRe said Diageo was never given a chance to state its position on the law while it was under consideration, and claimed it was passed under false pretense. In a follow-up email, DaRe said Diageo attempted to get the bill vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam last May, but was told to come back and propose changes during this year’s legislative session. During our initial interview, DaRe said Diageo was unaware of the proposal last year as it was moving through the legislature, and (in a follow-up interview) attributed that to not having a lobbyist in Tennessee tracking alcohol-related legislation last year.

Listen to the entire interview:

DaRe denied any attempt to undermine the category, saying “our opposition to this is based on principle for the category” and that Dickel has no plans to change its production methods if the legislation is passed.

Lynch cited news reports last July that Diageo planned to move maturing whiskey stocks from the Miller’s Lane maturation facility in Louisville to Tennessee as well as the Stitzel-Weller warehouses, and suggested that Diageo might try to label some of that whiskey as “Tennessee Whiskey” if it could get the law changed (notwithstanding the federal prohibition against it). Diageo’s Bulleit Rye and George Dickel Rye brands use whiskey distilled at MGP-I in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and the maturing stocks for that whiskey are matured in Diageo’s warehouses along with stocks used in Seagram’s 7 Crown American Whiskey.

“They called us out on this, and, you know, I think it is on principle for us about one company making something anti-competitive so that everything else has to adhere to their standard,” DaRe said.

“We’re pretty adamant about our stance here and not letting one brand determine the future of the category.”

DaRe declined to address Lynch’s accusation that the move was linked to growing sales of Jack Daniel’s compared to Diageo’s Scotch whiskies, or Lynch’s comparison of the Tennessee move to Diageo’s controversial change of Cardhu from a single malt to a “pure malt” Scotch in 2003 — which Lynch described as “screwing around with categories previously.”

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Mark Green, said in an email Sunday (March 16) that the intent is to help small-scale distillers.

“The newest amendment provides the smaller manufacturers the ability to use barrels that have had the inner core ground out exposing new wood. The goal is to keep the tradition of the whiskey touching new wood, while providing the smaller distillers the ability to lower costs and compete.”

The bill is scheduled for a Senate State Government Committee hearing on Tuesday, March 18.

Editor’s note: The bill cited by Brown-Forman (SB 2441) is listed on the General Assembly’s web site as proposing a “three strikes” license revocation for liquor license holders. Phil Lynch provided a copy of amendments to this bill that include the changes to the “Tennessee Whiskey” designation. However, the General Assembly’s web site does not presently show these changes. Sen. Green confirmed in his March 16 email that the bill has been amended with the language in the copy provided by Lynch. We are currently trying to schedule a telephone interview with Sen. Green. The entire audio interviews with both Phil Lynch and Mike DaRe are available to stream here, but DaRe’s clarification on Diageo not having a lobbyist in Nashville during last year’s session came during a follow-up interview that was recorded, but not available for streaming at the present time.

This story was edited on March 16 to include additional information. 

Links: Brown-Forman | Diageo | Tennessee General Assembly



New Tullamore D.E.W. Distillery Reaches Milestone

Workers install the pot stills at the new Tullamore D.E.W. Distillery in Tullamore, Ireland. Photo courtesy William Grant & Sons. March 13, 2014 – Construction on the new Tullamore D.E.W. Distillery in Tullamore, County Offaly, Ireland has reached a milestone with the installation of four new pot stills this week. William Grant & Sons started planning for the distillery shortly after acquiring the Tullamore Dew brand from C&C International in 2010, and began construction last year on the project to bring whiskey production back to Tullamore 60 years after the original Tullamore distillery closed in 1954.

The original Tullamore stills were moved to Kilbeggan for display when the old distillery was demolished to make way for a shopping center. The new distillery’s stills were moved in pieces from the Forsyths shop in Rothes, Scotland, where they were built to replicate the original stills as closely as possible. When the distillery goes into production later this year, it will be able to produce 1.84 million liters of alcohol each year.

In a news release, William Grant & Sons chief executive Stella David said “the arrival of the stills marks another step towards the return of the whiskey making tradition to Tullamore. We are excited to be marking this momentous event in a journey that has been almost 3 generations in the making”.

Since acquiring the Tullamore Dew brand, Grant’s has rechristened it with the initials of Daniel E. Williams, who was one of the original distillery managers. His initials became part of the Tullamore Dew brand name during his 60 years at the distillery, which was also known as the B. Daly Distillery after Capt. Bernard Daly, the owner who named Williams as his distillery manager. When the original Tullamore distillery closed, production of Tullamore Dew moved to the Powers John’s Lane Distillery in Dublin and eventually to the Irish Distillers facilities in Midleton, where it is still produced under a long-term contract between Irish Distillers and William Grant & Sons.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Heidi Donelon of the Ireland Whiskey Trail for historical details on the original Tullamore distillery.

Links: Tullamore D.E.W.

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Wild Turkey Declares 2014 “Year of Jimmy Russell”

Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell during a bottle signing, September 2012. Photo ©2012 by Mark Gillespie. March 12, 2014 – Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell celebrates his 60th year at the distillery in 2014, and Wild Turkey’s owners at Campari have dedicated 2014 to celebrating Russell’s legacy. In addition to the Diamond Anniversary Bourbon previously reported here at WhiskyCast.com, Wild Turkey will hold several special events during the year to honor Jimmy Russell.

The first will come April 15, when the Diamond Anniversary edition will be released at a ceremony to dedicate Wild Turkey’s new visitors center, which quietly opened to the public last fall and replaced the original log cabin across the road from the old distillery. The bourbon was created by Jimmy’s son and Associate Master Distiller, Eddie Russell, and will be available only at the distillery until this fall, when it will receive wider distribution around the US. The ceremony will kick off Wild Turkey’s “Year of Jimmy Russell”.

In addition, a documentary on Russell’s life and career is being produced that will follow his work at the distillery. The release date has not been announced.

In addition to being a member of the inaugural class of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, Russell is also one of only two living Kentucky distillers with Bourbons bearing their names (Russell’s Reserve). He is also the longest-tenured and oldest active Master Distiller in the Commonwealth, and has been named a Kentucky Colonel by three different governors.

Links: Wild Turkey

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Campari Acquires Canada’s Forty Creek Distillery

The Forty Creek Distillery in Grimsby, Ontario. Photo ©2013 by Mark Gillespie. March 12, 2014 – Gruppo Campari has agreed to acquire John Hall’s Forty Creek Distillery Ltd. for $185.6 million CDN ($166.7 million USD) in cash, marking the company’s entry into the Canadian whisky market. John Hall will remain with the distillery as Chairman and Whisky Maker for the distillery he founded under the Kittling Ridge name in 1992 while making wines in Grimsby, Ontario.

In an interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, John explained that his decision to sell the family-run company was based on succession planning, and that while he had a number of suitors, Campari offered the best long-term potential for building Forty Creek.

“I needed a company that had a good distribution network in the United States that could provide brand support to further grow Forty Creek in Canada and the US, and I needed a company that was stable with a long-term vision…and I needed a company that was interested in investing in Canadian whisky…I needed a company that also had respect and appreciation for the Forty Creek brand, and more importantly, the people that create it and produce it, and Campari certainly has all of those qualities.” 

Listen to the entire interview:

Hall believes the deal is a milestone for the Canadian whisky industry, since most Canadian whisky is currently sold in the United States with limited global exports. Campari plans to invest in additional production capacity at Forty Creek with a goal of taking the brand worldwide to many of the 190 countries where it does business now. In addition, all of Forty Creek’s current employees will be retained when the deal closes on June 2, and Hall will stay on as chairman and whisky maker. The move will allow him to focus on production and not have to devote his time to distribution issues.

The purchase price includes the distillery, all of Forty Creek’s maturing whisky stocks, and its brands including Forty Creek and Canada Gold whiskies.  Campari also owns Wild Turkey in Kentucky and Glen Grant in Scotland, and Hall cited the success of Campari’s stewardship of Wild Turkey as one of his reasons for picking it over other potential buyers. The company’s Campari America unit distributes Wild Turkey and Glen Grant, along with many other whisky brands, such as Bowmore, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and The Glenrothes single malts from Scotland, Nikka from Japan, and Taiwan’s Kavalan single malt whisky.

Forty Creek has won Canadian Whisky of the Year honors at the Canadian Whisky Awards in three of the competition’s four years, and has won numerous other awards in worldwide competitions.

Links: Forty Creek | Gruppo Campari

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