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DISCUS To Review Complaint Over Controversial Dewar’s Video

December 15, 2013 – The U.S. spirits industry’s trade organization will review a complaint filed by Canadian whisky blogger Johanne McInnis against Dewar’s and its parent company, Bacardi, over the controversial Dewar’s “Meet The Baron” online video. The complaint accuses Dewar’s of violating the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States Code of Responsible Practices for spirits marketing and advertising. The ad was removed from the web within 24 hours after a social media-fueled protest, along with criticism from several advertising industry observers.

A shot from Dewar's "Meet the Baron" video.As previously reported, “Meet The Baron” features a suave, charismatic man who guides another Dewar’s drinker through a series of challenging situations, including one where the “Drinking Man” is approached by a large woman at a bar and steps in to deflect her attention. The voiceover refers to the Baron as being ready to “jump on an explosive” for his friends…a reference to an entry in the Urban Dictionary for “jumping the grenade.” In an interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, McInnis blasted the ad for insulting women.

“When I found out what that meant, that’s when I really got angry, because it literally means and I’m using the definition, it means to save your friend from the ugly fat chick, so that’s the first time in my mind that I can think of a whisky ad that blatantly degrades women that are not what society considers (attractive),” McInnis said. “That’s what the majority of us really look like…we’re not all a size zero Swedish bikini model, which is what the end of the ad actually says…the A shot from Dewar's "Meet the Baron" video.wingman shows up with three Swedish bikini models that are in tight black dresses and that are very pretty, and are all size zero. For me, the message was kind of saying that it’s not OK to be a big girl and you’re not worthy of Dewar’s, but if you’re a Swedish bikini model, well then the wingman will allow you that opportunity to drink some Dewar’s with the whisky man.”

Dewar’s and Bacardi withdrew the video on December 11, and sent this statement to reporters and others who inquired about the video:

Regarding your inquiry about the DEWAR’S ‘Meet the Baron’ video, we value your feedback, whether it’s critical or complimentary, and appreciate your effort in taking the time to write to us.

While we strive to be inclusive of many demographics, we have a wide array of consumers who respond to a variety of unique and focused marketing messages, in different ways.
The Baron – represents a camaraderie that is important to our target consumer, and is one character under ‘The Drinking Man’s Scotch’ campaign, which features a strong and successful female icon as the spokesperson for the brand.
We understand our communications may not always appeal to everyone; however, it is feedback like yours that allows us to continuously evaluate our marketing efforts – upon further review we have decided to remove the video from our YouTube page.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write to us.

Best regards,
The Dewar’s Team

McInnis’ complaint to DISCUS is based on specific language in the Code of Responsible Practices:

Beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials should not degrade the image, form, or status of women, men, or of any ethnic, minority, sexually-oriented, religious, or other group.

DISCUS spokesman Frank Coleman told WhiskyCast that the complaint will be reviewed by the group’s Code Review Board, which is made up of executives from DISCUS member companies. While that may seem like a highly favorable jury for Dewar’s, Coleman points out that the vast majority of Code complaints come from within the industry, and the board’s rulings have a 100% compliance record among DISCUS member companies with substantial compliance from non-member companies.

The board’s sanctioning power is limited to requesting that an offending ad be withdrawn or revised to comply with Code standards, which can cost a company tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in production costs and expenses to change ad placements. In addition, all board decisions and complaints are posted on the DISCUS web site for public review, and Coleman said that also serves as an incentive for companies to comply with the code. The last whisky producer to face a Code review was Wild Turkey in 2011, after another member company filed a complaint over Wild Turkey’s “Give ‘Em The Bird” ads featuring people displaying a raised middle finger. The Code Review Board ruled that the ads violated the “good taste” standards of the Code, and Wild Turkey withdrew them.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story listed Opperman Weiss as the ad agency responsible for the “Meet the Baron” video based on reporting from Business Insider. While Opperman Weiss created other ads in the Dewar’s U.S. campaign featuring actress Claire Forlani, Business Insider’s Richard Feloni reports the “Baron” ad with Forlani was created by the Montreal-based Sid Lee agency. 

Links: The Whisky Lassie | Dewar’s | DISCUS | Opperman Weiss | Sid Lee


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Outgoing SWA Chief Calls For Even More Investment in Scotch Whisky

The stillhouse at Mortlach Distllery in Dufftown, Scotland, which is part of Diageo's £1 billion expansion project in Scotland. Photo ©2013 by Mark Gillespie. December 15, 2013 – Outgoing Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Gavin Hewitt has a message for his members on his way out the door: you’re still not investing enough in your businesses. In an interview with The Scotsman’s Scotland on Sunday, Hewitt praised the nearly £2 billion ($3.26 billion USD) in planned and ongoing investments by Diageo, Edrington, Pernod Ricard, and other Scotch whisky producers. However, he told the paper that demand in Asia and Africa between now and 2030 will likely outpace the current rate of growth in production capacity.

“That investment gives me a lot of confidence and it is obviously going in the right direction. But, if anything, I don’t think we are being bullish enough. If I’m right in expecting a hell of a lot of extra demand for exports from Asia to Latin America in future, I don’t think as it stands it is enough to keep up with the potential demand down the road.”

Scotch Whisky Association Chief Executive Gavin Hewitt during the World Whiskies Conference April 4, 2013 in New York City. Photo © 2013 by Mark Gillespie.During a November 12 interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie at the SWA offices in Edinburgh, Hewitt cited the growing economic power of the middle class in whisky’s developing markets for his optimistic outlook:

“Scotch is different from your usual national drinks, and I use Brazil…cachaca, Mexico…tequila, Russia…vodka, Chinese white spirits. If you’re wanting to make a statement about who you are and what you are, that you’re now a middle-class person, you are aspirational, you are global…then you’re actually going to choose to make that statement in a drink which isn’t properly your national drink, which means effectively it’s very often a brown spirit. And what is the most global brown spirit? What is the most high-quality premium brown spirit? Scotch.”

Scotch whisky exports set a record in 2012 at £4.27 billion ($6.96 billion USD). Hewitt predicts another record year when 2013 data is released despite economic and political setbacks in some markets such as China, where Communist Party leaders have ordered cutbacks in spending on luxury items by national and regional leaders. Hewitt predicts that number will double by 2025 to nearly £9 billion in exports annually.

Hewitt will step down on January 1, 2014, and be replaced by former UK international trade director David Frost.

Links: Scotch Whisky Association

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Ardbeg Unveils “Peat Hopper”

Ardbeg's "Peat Hopper" three-wheeler. Image courtesy Ardbeg/Moet Hennessy USA.December 14, 2013 – Ardbeg’s fleet of unusual vehicles has included two choppers, a tractor, and even a rocket. Now, the Islay single malt is returning to its motorcycle-based roots with the new “Peat Hopper” three-wheeler. The Peat Hopper made its debut on CMT’s “Orange County Choppers” reality show December 7, with Ardbeg U.S. brand manager Gregor Mina commissioning the famed Southern California motorcycle shop to create another unique vehicle.  Orange County Choppers created the original Ardbeg Choppers that toured North America, with one given away to an Ardbeg fan in a 2011 drawing.

“What we wanted to do was create something with a lot of ‘wow’, big and fast and loud,” Mina told WhiskyCast in an interview. “We wanted to rekindle our past relationship with Orange County Choppers and really take that to the maximum level that we could. It’s not a tractor, it’s not an all-wheel-drive vehicle, it’s not a chopper…it’s something like the love child of all three.”

The Ardbeg Rocket on display at Lincoln Financial Field during the Philadelphia Whiskey & Fine Spirits Festival October 24, 2013. Photo ©2013 by Mark Gillespie. The Peat Hopper will go on tour starting in March with plans to visit bars and liquor stores in 26 states through December. It will replace the Ardbeg Rocket, which has been touring for the last two years. While Mina won’t say what will be done with the Rocket, he hinted that it might be brought out of retirement when the Ardbeg spirit that has been orbiting on board the International Space Station is brought back to Earth. The spirit was sent into space in the spring of 2012 as part of an experiment with the NanoRacks research firm to study the impact of micro gravity on the interaction between molecules in the whisky known as “terpenes” and charred oak. The spirit is contained in glass vials on the Space Station, and chips of charred oak were put into the vials with the spirit. The experiment was originally scheduled to last at least two years, and no firm date has been announced for the vials to be returned to Earth for examination.

Editor’s note: The “Orange County Choppers” episode featuring the Peat Hopper is available to view online. However, broadcast rights may restrict online viewing outside of the United States. 

Links: Ardbeg | Orange County Choppers

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Islay Malts Dominate Final McTear’s Auction of 2013

The Ardbeg Double Barrel (#32 of 250), which sold for £6,000 in the McTear's whisky auction December 11, 2013. Image courtesy McTear's. December 13, 2013 – Single malts from Islay led the bidding at the final McTear’s whisky auction of the year on December 11 in Glasgow, with a rare Ardbeg package taking the highest bid. The 2007 release of Ardbeg Double Barrel included two single cask bottlings from 1974, along with a bespoke leather shotgun-style case from Purdey and Sons and 8 sterling silver cups from Hamilton & Inches. Only 250 Double Barrels were produced, and #32 in the series went for £6,000 ($9,780 USD).

Runner-up honors went to a 1964 Bowmore 35-year-old single malt bottling that easily outpaced pre-auction estimates with a high bid of £5,000 ($8,150 USD). A rare bottle of Smith’s Glenlivet distilled in 1899 and bottled for shipping to Australia in 1912 fetched a bid of £3,400 ($5,540 USD), while bidding for Macallans was led by a 1950 bottling from Gordon & MacPhail at £2,800 ($4,562 USD). Other lots generating interest included bottles of Laphroaig 40-year-old and The Macallan Royal Marriage 1981, which went for £1,900 ($3,096 USD) each.

One item that did not sell was a rare Tomintoul recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “World’s Largest Bottle of  Single Malt Whisky.” The 105.3 litre bottle was produced for The Whisky Castle and Clockhouse Restaurant in Tomintoul, and has been on display at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh for the last year. McTear’s had set a pre-auction estimate of between £100,000 and £150,000 for the one of a kind bottle, but it failed to meet the sellers’ pre-established reserve price.

McTear’s will hold its first whisky auction of 2014 on January 29.

Links: McTear’s

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SWA Shuffles Leadership Ahead of CEO Change

December 13, 2013 – With David Frost just weeks away from taking over as chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, the trade group is shuffling senior executives ahead of the change.

Campbell Evans moves from heading the group’s government affairs and communications department to replace Peter Wilkinson as director of international affairs. Wilkinson is retiring after 23 years with the SWA. Deputy international affairs director David Williamson will take over Evans’ role heading government affairs and communications. He previously worked under Evans as the Association’s communications manager and principal spokesman. The changes take effect January 2, 2014 when Frost becomes the SWA’s chief executive.

Earlier this week, the SWA announced plans for a £500,000 ($817,500) program over the next five years to provide grants for local programs targeting alcohol abuse in Scotland.

Links: Scotch Whisky Association

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Bulleit Bourbon Getting Boost in UK

Bulleit Bourbon. Image courtesy Diageo.December 12, 2013 – Diageo’s Bulleit Bourbon is getting a re-launch in the UK market, complete with an increase in bottling proof. While the US has always had Bulleit at 45% ABV (90 Proof), the UK version has traditionally been sold at 40% ABV. That will change, as Diageo plans to start exporting 45% ABV Bulleit with a focus on bars and restaurants.

The move comes weeks after Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes touted Bulleit’s sales growth in the US market, with an estimated 600,000 cases to be sold in 2013. Menezes also touted the potential for Bulleit to become a million-case brand over time. However, the company must still address supply issues for Bulleit that will begin in April of 2014 when Diageo’s supply contract with Four Roses Distillery for new make spirit expires. As previously reported, Four Roses has given Diageo notice of its plans to terminate the contract because it needs the spirit for its own Bourbons in the future.

In addition to the stronger Bulleit Bourbon, Diageo will also start exporting Bulleit Rye to the UK. The rye version was introduced two years ago, and is distilled for Diageo at the MGP-I Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana under contract.

Links: Bulleit Bourbon | Diageo

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Kentucky Distillers Hurt By Temporary Barrel Shortages

An Independent Stave Company cooper inspects a Bourbon barrel at the company's Lebanon, KY cooperage in this 2008 file photo. Photo ©2008 by Mark Gillespie.December 11, 2013 – Wet weather this fall is forcing distilleries in Kentucky and other states to juggle production schedules because of a temporary shortage of barrels. According to Jim Rutledge of Four Roses Distillery, heavy rains in Arkansas and Missouri during October and November kept logging crews from getting into the forests to harvest oak trees to be made into barrels.

“Most of the lands from where the trees are planted are leased,” Rutledge told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in an interview. “Of course, the owners of this property didn’t want the heavy equipment going in there in wet conditions and tear all the property up. Of course, it takes time to dry the wood, and it put us in a temporary shortage.” Rutledge describes the problem as industry-wide, but it primarily affects distilleries which source their barrels from Independent Stave Company, one of the world’s largest cooperages with Bourbon-related operations in Missouri and Kentucky. Independent Stave president Brad Boswell declined our request for an interview, saying in an email that “Right now we’re going to stay focused on buying more high quality white oak logs.”

The Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Photo ©2012 by Mark Gillespie.

Four Roses is juggling the shortage by cutting back on daily production through the end of December, after originally considering a temporary halt in distilling that would have led to short-term layoffs of at least some of the distillery’s 56 employees. Instead, the lost production will be made up at the end of the distilling season in June and July before the annual summer shutdown for maintenance. “It’s just a little bump in the road,” Rutledge explained. “It’s not a heck of a lot different than if we had a maintenance issue that caused us to shut down, or maybe there’s a water issue with low water levels in the Salt River…any number of things can do this and have caused temporary shutdowns or slowed production in previous years.”

Virtually all of the major Kentucky distillers source their barrels from Independent Stave, with the exception of Brown-Forman, which owns its own cooperage in Louisville to supply the Brown-Forman, Woodford Reserve, and Jack Daniel’s distilleries in Kentucky and Tennessee. The company is currently building a second cooperage in Alabama that will eventually supply barrels for use at Jack Daniel’s.

Links: Four Roses | Independent Stave Company | Brown-Forman

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Dewar’s Pulls Online Video After Complaints of Sexism

December 11, 2013 – A Canadian whisky blogger has filed a complaint with DISCUS, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, over an online video ad for Dewar’s Scotch Whisky. The “Meet the Baron” video was pulled from YouTube and other web sites Tuesday evening after Johanne McInnis, Fred Minnick, and other whisky bloggers led a Twitter-based campaign accusing Dewar’s of sexism and prejudice against overweight women.

The video showed “The Baron,” a suave, charismatic man saving his friend from several predicaments, including stepping in as an overweight blonde woman approached the man at a bar — as the voiceover referred to “jumping on an explosive” to protect his friends. The video also features actress Claire Forlani as the Dewar’s spokesperson watching from the sidelines as “The Baron” and his friend meet with a group of women referred to as the “Swedish Bikini Team.” While the video has been removed from the web, along with the initial tweet from Dewar’s responding to McInnis and other critics, the comment was retweeted by McInnis on her feed with her response.

Tweets from Johanne McInnis posted on Twitter, December 9, 2013.

 McInnis’s online petition (which has also been removed from ipetitions.com) demanding that Dewar’s withdraw the video received international attention on social media sites.  When WhiskyCast asked for a Dewar’s executive to respond to the critics’ charges, the PR agency for Dewar’s parent company Bacardi provided this response by email.

Dear Mark,
In regards to your inquiry on DEWAR’S ‘Meet the Baron’ video, below please find a statement from the DEWAR’S Team. Thank you.

Regarding your inquiry about the DEWAR’S ‘Meet the Baron’ video, we value your feedback, whether it’s critical or complimentary, and appreciate your effort in taking the time to write to us.
While we strive to be inclusive of many demographics, we have a wide array of consumers who respond to a variety of unique and focused marketing messages, in different ways.
The Baron – represents a camaraderie that is important to our target consumer, and is one character under ‘The Drinking Man’s Scotch’ campaign, which features a strong and successful female icon as the spokesperson for the brand.
We understand our communications may not always appeal to everyone; however, it is feedback like yours that allows us to continuously evaluate our marketing efforts – upon further review we have decided to remove the video from our YouTube page.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write to us.

Best regards,
The Dewar’s Team

However, Dewar’s stopped short of apologizing for the ad, which prompted additional responses from McInnis, Minnick, and other critics.

Tweets criticizing the Dewar's "Meet the Baron" online video September 10, 2013.

McInnis’ complaint to DISCUS focuses on the trade body’s Code of Responsible Practices, which outlines the industry’s self-imposed standards for alcoholic beverage ads and media placement, with specific language regarding sexism:

Beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials should not degrade the image, form, or status of women, men, or of any ethnic, minority, sexually-oriented, religious, or other group.

Bacardi is a member of the Distilled Spirits Council, and the complaint will be subject to review by the Council’s Code Review Board. The only penalty the Code provides for is that a violating company would be asked to revise or withdraw the ad. However, that often results in significant costs to a company, according to DISCUS spokesman Frank Coleman. “In many cases, it can cost thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars to change placements that are found to be in violation, and that’s a very serious threat,” Coleman told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in an interview. In addition, DISCUS posts all Code complaints and the results of Code Review Board rulings on its web site for public review, and Coleman indicated that that threat serves as a deterrent to most potential violations. The trade body has a 100% compliance record among its members, with substantial compliance in complaints filed against non-members. The last whisky ad campaign to be reviewed by the Code Review Board was Wild Turkey’s “Give ‘Em The Bird” campaign in 2011, which featured people raising their middle fingers to the camera. The board decided that violated the Code’s standards on good taste, and Wild Turkey complied with a request to withdraw the ads.

As previously mentioned, Dewar’s has already removed the ad from its social media accounts on YouTube and other web sites.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional comments and information.

Links: Dewar’s’ | Distilled Spirits Council

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Glenmorangie 1963 To Be Auctioned For Forestry Charity

The Glenmorangie 1963 Extra Matured Scotch Whisky. Image courtesy Glenmorangie. December 5, 2013Online bidding has reached $3,250 USD for one of the 50 rare bottles of Glenmorangie 1963 uncovered recently in one of the company’s warehouses, with the proceeds to go to American Forests. The group focuses on preserving and expanding forest lands in the U.S., and has planted more than 40 million trees since 1990.

The whisky was first released in 1987, but 50 bottles were put away in a corner of the warehouse and forgotten about, according to Glenmorangie’s David Blackmore. “I think they probably came to our attention when we moved facilities from our old Broxburn site to our new bottling site,” he told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in an interview. “People might not believe that we find this stuff, but believe me, over the years we maybe haven’t been quite as organized as you might think.” The whisky is believed to be one of the first “finished” whiskies, having been finished in an Oloroso Sherry cask for almost two years after its original maturation in ex-Bourbon casks. The 50 bottles were re-filled into new bottles with solid silver stoppers, collars, and labels,  along with a bespoke box designed to look like a time capsule. While most of the 50 bottles have already been sold, a few remain available at an estimated price of $2,750 USD.

American Forests was chosen as the charity to benefit from the online auction through Charitybuzz. The organization has also worked on conservation projects in more than 30 other countries, and encourages sustainable forestry management as well as expanding forest lands. “It’s apt considering that we rely so much on American Oak for our products,” Blackmore said.

Update: The auction ended on December 13, 2013 with a high bid of $4,050. 

Links: Glenmorangie 1963 Auction | Glenmorangie | American Forests

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Whisky Magazine Names 2014 Scottish Icons of Whisky Winners

December 5, 2013 – Whisky Magazine has completed the second of three rounds in the 2014 Icons of Whisky Awards with the announcement of the winners from the Scotland round. Diageo was named Whisky Distiller of the Year for its massive expansion  plan involving most of the company’s Scotch whisky distilleries, while Chivas Brothers was named the “Highly Commended” runner-up. William Grant & Sons was named Whisky Brand Innovator of the Year, while Ardbeg’s Mickey Heads was named Distillery Manager of the Year.

While Laphroaig Distillery won top honors as Whisky Visitor Attraction of the Year, Highland Park’s Patricia Retson was named Visitor Centre Manager of the Year and The Balvenie’s David Mair won Whisky Ambassador of the Year honors.

Among retailers, Gordon & MacPhail’s Elgin store was named Retailer of the Year (single outlet), along with Drinkmonger for multiple-outlet retailers and the Royal Mile Whiskies online site was named online retailer of the year.

The winners will compete with the U.S. Icons winners announced in September and the World Whisky winners to be announced later for the 2014 Global Icons of Whisky Awards. The awards will be presented on the eve of Whisky Live London next March.

Note: WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie is a contributing editor for Whisky Magazine, and both nominates and votes on selections for these awards.

Links: Whisky Magazine

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