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 28, 2014 – Sahara Force India, the Formula One team led by Vijay Mallya, made its 2014 pre-season testing debut today in Jerez, Spain. It was the first public display of the team’s 2014 cars and livery, but there was no sign of Whyte & Mackay for the first time since Force India entered F1 in 2008. The Scotch whisky producer is owned by United Spirits, Ltd., which was owned by Mallya’s UB Group until operational control of USL was sold to Diageo last year. The 2014 cars now carry logos for USL’s Royal Challenge Indian whisky in the same spots where Whyte & Mackay logos previously appeared. In an email, a Force India spokesman told WhiskyCast that UB Group decided to use Royal Challenge on the team’s cars this year instead of Whyte & Mackay, but did not specify the reason.
Mallya remains on the USL board of directors, and India’s Supreme Court is expected to hear an appeal from USL and Diageo on Friday seeking to overturn a Karnataka High Court ruling blocking the sale by UB Holdings of approximately 7% of USL’s outstanding shares to Diageo. Those shares were pledged as collateral for loans to UB Holdings and Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines, and creditors won a court ruling last month blocking the sale of those shares without their consent.
Whyte & Mackay had been featured prominently on Force India’s cars from the team’s debut in 2008, following Mallya’s purchase of the assets of the defunct Spyker F1 team. Last year, driver Paul Di Resta was named a global brand ambassador for Whyte & Mackay. However, the Scottish driver was not retained for 2014 by Force India, and his status with Whyte & Mackay is unknown. In addition to the livery, Whyte & Mackay does not appear as one of the team’s 2014 partners in the Force India press kit, though there are still Whyte & Mackay logos minimally displayed on the Force India web site. No formal announcement of the sponsorship change was made, and Whyte & Mackay executives have not responded to our request for more information.
The move is likely linked to the proposed sale of approximately 70% of Whyte & Mackay to satisfy competition concerns raised by the UK’s Office of Fair Trading in November. Regulators have delayed a recommendation to block Diageo’s acquisition of control over USL out of fears that adding the Whyte & Mackay portfolio to Diageo’s own extensive Scotch whisky holdings would reduce competition in the UK’s market for blended Scotch whisky. Diageo and USL have offered to sell all of Whyte & Mackay, except for the Dalmore and Tamnavulin malt whisky distilleries, which they want to retain to supply malt whisky for their needs in India and other export markets. While the OFT is considering Diageo’s proposal, there have been various news reports out of India that the USL board is prepared to consider selling the entire Whyte & Mackay unit.
Diageo’s Johnnie Walker blended Scotch whisky continues as a sponsor of the McLaren Mercedes F1 team in 2014.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on January 31 with additional information from a Sahara Force India spokesman.
January 27, 2014 – In the peak of the Rock ‘n Roll era, musicians just drank whisky. Now, they have their own whiskies.
Mogwai, the Glasgow-based indie band, has just released its own whisky to go along with its new album, Rave Tapes. The band’s namesake whisky is a 9-year-old cask of Glenallachie single malt produced in conjunction with David Stirk’s Creative Whisky Company. The whisky is bottled at 57.1% ABV, and will be on sale exclusively through the Good Spirits Company in Glasgow. It’s quite likely that a few bottles will travel with the band as their European and North American tour gets underway this week.
The question is…can Mogwai become the first band to win a Grammy and a Malt Maniacs Award?
January 27, 2014 – Islay will get its newest — and smallest whisky distillery now that planning permission has been granted for Jean Donnay’s new distillery at Gartbreck Farm just down the coast of Loch Indaal from Bowmore. Donnay, the owner of Glann ar Mor Distillery on France’s Brittany Coast, plans to start construction in May with a goal of producing the first spirit runs by the fall of 2015.
“Scotland is the mother of whisky,” Donnay told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in a telephone interview. “In Scotland, I couldn’t think of a better place than Islay…there are many other good places, in the Highlands, in Speyside…but to me, Islay has something that’s magic.” Donnay had wanted to build a second distillery after opening Glann ar Mor in 2005, and discovered Gartbeck Farm about 2 miles south of Bowmore. Fate intervened, and Donnay found out that the farm was for sale about three months later.
“I only had three days to take a decision, and I took it.”
Donnay plans to include floor maltings and a kiln at the distillery, along with two fire-heated copper pot stills that will produce 100% peated whisky with an annual capacity of around 60,000 liters of spirit. “The plan is to malt about 20 percent of our own needs,” Donnay said. “The remaining, I don’t know exactly where it will come from…I would like to have it from the Port Ellen Maltings, but at the moment, I’m not sure.” He plans to keep the farm’s existing buildings, while adding a visitors center and the distillery at the site.
Glann ar Mor has been producing a peated single malt under the Kornog label for several years along with unpeated Glann ar Mor single malts, Donnay and his wife Martine will continue to operate the distillery as part of their Celtic Whisky Compagnie, which has also released several independent bottlings of Scotch whisky. Their Gartbreck Whisky Company will also serve as an independent bottler for Scotch whisky and other spirits, and Donnay expects that to help the distillery become profitable in its fourth year of operation.
Listen to this weekend’s WhiskyCast for more with Jean Donnay.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on January 29 following an interview with Jean Donnay.
Links: Gartbreck Distillery
January 27, 2014 – anCnoc is releasing the latest in its vintage series of single malt Scotch whiskies from the Knockdhu Distillery near Huntly in Aberdeenshire. The 1999 vintage was bottled at the end of 2013 after maturation in a combination of ex-Bourbon casks and Spanish oak ex-Sherry casks, and continues the distillery’s tradition of releasing vintages from consecutive years. In a news release, anCnoc brand manager Gillian Gibson hinted that the 1999 anCnoc will be just the first of several new releases from the distillery this year.
“Our 1999 Vintage marks the first in a series of fresh and exciting developments for anCnoc in 2014 which are sure to intrigue and delight fans of our range. This very special expression, with its distinctive characteristics, will undoubtedly be a welcome addition to anCnoc collections.”
9,000 bottles (750 cases) will be available through whisky specialist retailers in the UK, Germany, Taiwan, and Russia at a recommended retail price of £49.99 ($83.00 USD).
January 26, 2014 – Moray is the heart of Speyside, and the region’s parliamentarians are calling for a summit with the chief executives of Diageo and Chivas Brothers to discuss the region’s tourism potential. The Scotsman reports Angus Robertson, who represents Moray in Westminster, and Richard Lochhead, who represents the area in the Scottish Parliament along with serving as Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, are behind the move. Robertson and Lochhead want Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes and Chivas Brothers CEO Laurent Lacassagne to meet with them in Moray to discuss a coordinated tourism promotion effort. The two have already met with executives from Edrington, which owns The Macallan distillery and has announced plans for a £150 million ($245.5 million USD) project to build a new distillery and visitors center scheduled for completion in 2017.
Both companies have more than half of their Scottish distillery holdings in the region, and Robertson told the Scotsman he expects both companies to be interested. “Given the importance of Speyside to both Diageo and Pernod Ricard, which owns Chivas Brothers, I’m sure their senior management will be delighted to take part. I look forward to also discussing this with the new chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association David Frost later this week.”
Neither company has responded to the invitation, but Lochhead hopes it will be the start of a process that puts Speyside in the same status as the Champagne region of France, California’s Napa Valley, and Spain’s Rioja wine region. “Discussions have taken place in recent years to properly coordinate different stakeholders in Speyside and it would be excellent to discuss this directly with the new chief executives of Diageo and Chivas Brothers,” he told the Scotsman. “There is huge global potential for the whisky industry and Speyside in the years to come. It makes perfect sense to coordinate this properly.”
The two companies work together on various industry projects through the Scotch Whisky Association, and both have representatives on the board of directors for the Spirit of Speyside Festival.
January 26, 2014 – Hood River Distillers, which bottles Pendleton Canadian Whisky and other spirits, has acquired the Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, Oregon. The Portland Business Journal reports Clear Creek founder Steve McCarthy will continue as a consultant, and all nine of the distillery’s employees will keep their jobs.
Clear Creek produces the McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whisky, which was one of the earliest craft-distilled American single malts when it made its debut in the mid-1990’s, and has received a number of commendations over the years. The distillery also produces brandy, eaux de vie, and other spirits. McCarthy told the paper that the sale will help Clear Creek build its business, which had around $2 million in sales during 2013.
“One of the worst things about a startup is that they are successful. That is what we have accomplished but as you grow you need working capital, you need more management depth and expertise in finance administration and processing and production,” he said. “We got all that but we have it at a level that is lagging behind our growth rate.”
Hood River Distillers began in 1934 as a distiller of fruit wines and brandies, but moved away from distilling in the 1960’s to bottle and market spirits from other distilleries. Hood River President Ron Dodge told the Business Journal that the company’s long-term goal has been to return to distilling, and the acquisition accomplishes that goal. The company sources Pendleton whiskies from an undisclosed Canadian distillery, and also produces 1910 Rye and Sinfire Cinnamon whiskies.
January 23, 2014 – Chivas Brothers is building on the links between its Royal Salute blended Scotch whisky range and the polo world with a new limited-edition release for travel retail markets in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions. The Royal Salute World Polo Batch marks Royal Salute’s sponsorship of the global polo series, with the names of various events on the tour featured on the decanter.
The 21-year-old blend is the latest creation from Chivas Brothers Master Blender Colin Scott, who is celebrating two anniversaries — his 40th year in the whisky business during 2013 and his 25th year as Master Blender in 2014. The release also has personal ties for Scott, as he revealed in an interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie for this week’s episode.
“My father-in-law, he used to play polo, and I’ve been involved and worked with polo ponies,” he said. “There’s a great power in there, yet there’s a wonderful gentleness and agility and gracefulness about them.” Scott says that helped inspire his blend for the World Polo Batch, with a goal of creating a whisky that was powerful, yet graceful in its smoothness.
As always, Strathisla’s single malts form the foundation for this expression of Royal Salute, which will be available initially at airports in Dubai, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, and other major cities for a recommended retail price of around $150.
To hear the entire interview with Colin Scott, visit our WhiskyCast In-Depth series of profiles.
Links: Royal Salute
January 20, 2014 – Hong Kong charities will benefit from Saturday’s auction of a rare six-liter decanter of The Macallan M to the tune of $4.9 million HKD ($628,000 USD), the highest price ever paid for a whisky at auction. The auction at Sotheby’s Hong Kong gallery brought interest from bidders around the world, and broke the current Guinness world record of $460,000 set in 2010 when a Lalique decanter of 64-year-old Macallan was auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York City to benefit Charity: Water. The winning bidder’s name was not released.
The decanter was one of four six-liter decanters created by Lalique for The Macallan M and designed by Fabien Baron, and was the only one that will be available to the public. Edrington Group, the owner of The Macallan, will retain two for the company’s archives, and the remaining one was acquired privately by an Asian investor. The super-size decanters are identical in design to those produced for The Macallan M’s retail bottlings, and the one auctioned in Hong Kong was the only one engraved with the signatures of Macallan whisky maker Bob Dalgarno, Fabien Baron, and Lalique’s Silvio Denz.
The record must still be certified by Guinness World Records, a process that can take up to a year and requires affidavits from witnesses to the auction. Until the Hong Kong results are certified, the $460,000 New York auction price will continue to be considered the official world record.
January 19, 2014 – Whyte & Mackay’s future is up in the air again, and it’s something the Scotch whisky producer’s longtime master blender has become used to.
“I’ve been with the company coming up 44 years…I’ve seen nine takeovers, I’m on my 19th boss, I don’t know how many different marketing people I’ve seen, but a lot in that time,” Paterson told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in an exclusive interview during the Victoria Whisky Festival. “So, when I see all these different takeovers, I get a little bit disappointed…because there’s one word that sticks out more than anything else, and that’s inconsistency.”
The UK’s Office of Fair Trading is currently considering a proposal from Diageo and United Spirits, Whyte & Mackay’s parent company, to sell off most of Whyte & Mackay in order to satisfy the regulators’ concerns over competition in the blended Scotch whisky market. Diageo acquired operational control of India-based United Spirits during 2013, while holding around 25% of the company’s stock. Under the proposal, Diageo would retain the Dalmore and Tamnavulin malt whisky distilleries, while selling the Jura and Fettercairn malt whisky distilleries, the Invergordon grain whisky distillery, and the entire Whyte & Mackay blended Scotch portfolio.
However, India’s CNBC-TV18 reported today that Suntory has made an offer of just under $1 billion (USD) for all of Whyte & Mackay with the backing of three private equity investors. The story cites “unidentified sources”, and Suntory declined to comment on the report. Last week, India’s Business Standard reported that United Spirits directors were prepared to consider a bid for the entire Whyte & Mackay unit, even though Diageo’s proposal to the Office of Fair Trading cited the need to retain the Dalmore & Tamnavulin distilleries to supply malt whisky for the United Spirits brands sold in India.
Richard Paterson is responsible for creating the company’s entire range of whiskies, but is most often identified with The Dalmore’s luxury single malts. He has been a key part of the brand’s promotional campaigns for years, including a range at Harrod’s that carries his name. Should the current plan be implemented, it’s not clear which side he would stay with, but he remains hopeful that a solution will be found that allows Whyte & Mackay to remain intact.
“No matter which part of the world I go to, there’s always somebody who’s going to take over. The rumors are rife everywhere I go to, and every time there’s a dinner in Scotland, people create more…people are like that, you know, rumors just fly. But hopefully, one day it will settle down and we’ll know which direction, whether it will be split up. I personally do not hope it will not be split up, but we cannot say at this present time…it looks a little bit uneasy.”
Paterson admits some frustration with the current situation, which has also forced him to put his plans to identify and train his eventual successor on hold until Whyte & Mackay’s future is sorted out. However, he said he remains hopeful of being able to finish his career on a high note with the company. “Although we go through these very painful takeovers, that are not only frustrating for someone like myself, but you’ve got to think about the other people in the company,” he said. “Hopefully, when we do get that final takeover and we know what’s happening, then we can settle down and have a rosy future.”
For more of Richard Paterson’s comments on the Whyte & Mackay situation, listen to Episode 462 of WhiskyCast. The entire WhiskyCast interview with Richard Paterson will be available soon on WhiskyCast HD.
January 16, 2014 – The 2012 edition of Corby’s Lot No. 40 took top honors as Canadian Whisky of the year in the 2013 Canadian Whisky Awards presented tonight at the Victoria Whisky Festival. Corby’s win ends a three-year run at the top for Forty Creek’s John Hall in the tightest race yet in the competition’s four years.
“I’ve never, ever seen it like this, honestly,” Canadian Whisky Awards founder Davin de Kergommeaux told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie after the ceremony. “The top three whiskies came within .2 of each other.” Lot No. 40 edged out Forty Creek’s Heart of Gold and Masterson’s 10-year-old Straight Rye for the top spot in blind judging by nine whisky writers and bloggers from Canada and the USA.* The whisky was produced at Corby’s Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor, Ontario by master blender Dr. Don Livermore, and was a favorite among Canadian whisky lovers during the 1990’s until it was withdrawn from the market around 2000. In 2012, Livermore recreated the 100% rye recipe for Lot No. 40 with guidance from Mike Booth, the original blender who created it using a seven-generation family recipe of malted and unmalted rye.
“We were very excited,” said Corby’s Dave Weaver after receiving the award. “We knew it was a great product and was doing great things in the marketplace, so we couldn’t be happier.” John Hall, while slightly disappointed in being beaten by the slimmest of margins, saw the Corby win as a positive for Canadian whisky overall. “I am extremely pleased that I lost by only .2 of a point, but I am also extremely pleased that there’s a lot more exciting Canadian whiskies out there now.”
In fact, most of the 2013 award-winning whiskies were not even on the market when the competition began four years ago. According to de Kergommeaux, the flavor of the Canadian whisky profile is changing as new whisky drinkers enter the market. “They want big, bold whiskies…we’ve got these wonderfully rich, full-bodied whiskies with lots of flavor.”
Here is the complete list of award winners.
Whisky of the Year – Lot No. 40
Connoisseur Whisky of the Year Best New Whisky – Forty Creek Heart of Gold
Connoisseur Whisky of the Year Domestic Market – Alberta Premium Dark Horse
Connoisseur Whisky of the Year Multi Market – Lot No. 40
Sippin’ Whisky of the Year Domestic Market – Last Mountain Private Reserve
Sippin’ Whisky of the Year Export Market – Canadian Rockies 10 Years Old
Sippin’ Whisky of the Year Multi Market – Royal Canadian
Whisky Value of the Year Domestic Market – Canada Gold
Whisky Value of the Year Multi Market – Canadian 83
Award of Excellence Canadian Whisky Profile – John K. Hall Forty Creek Distillery
Award of Excellence New Distillery of the Year – Still Waters
Award of Excellence – Innovation – 35 Maple Street for Masterson’s 100% wheat and 100% barley whiskies.
Award of Excellence Line Extension – Kruger/Mondia for Spicebox Pumpkin Spiced Whisky
Flavoured Whisky of the Year Domestic Market – Forty Creek Cream
Flavoured Whisky of the Year Export Market – Wiser’s Spiced No. 5
Flavoured Whisky of the Year Multi Market – Crown Royal Maple
Award of Excellence Flavoured Whisky of the Year – Forty Creek Cream
For the first time, craft distillers were honored with awards. Last Mountain of Saskatchewan was honored for its Private Reserve, a blend of whiskies sourced from other distillers. The distillery is currently maturing its own whisky for the required three years before bottling. Ontario’s Still Waters Distillery was honored for launching the first micro-distilled Canadian single malt whisky with its Stalk & Barrel line of whiskies.
A complete list of medal winners can be found at the Canadian Whisky web site.
*Editor’s note: WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie was a member of the judging panel. The other judges included Davin de Kergommeaux, Johanne McInnis, Jason Debly, André Girard, Kris Shoemaker, Chip Dykstra, Blair Phillips, and Graham MacKenney.
Links: Canadian Whisky