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!
August 7, 2014 – Sazerac’s Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon is one of the Western products being targeted in a tit-fot-tat escalation of trade sanctions between Russia, the US, and the European Union over Russia’s hard-line stance on Ukraine. Russia has now banned the import of most food products from the US, Canada, and European Union members in retaliation for escalating economic sanctions against Russian energy and financial companies. However, the Scotch Whisky Association confirmed Friday that its whiskies are not on the sanctions list, and the Kentucky Gentleman ban appears to be isolated for now.
Kentucky Gentleman is distilled at Sazerac’s 1792 Barton Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, and Russia’s consumer protection agency moved to ban imports of the Bourbon earlier this week. The state-controlled ITAR-TASS news agency reported Monday that Rospotrebnadzor claims Kentucky Gentleman is not properly registered for sale in the customs union of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, even though its bottles carry the union’s registration logo. The agency also claims laboratory analysts found evidence of phthalates in the whiskey. The organic compound has been linked to infertility and other health problems, and is often found in plastic products. While many distillers are increasing their use of PET-based plastic bottles, Sazerac CEO Mark Brown confirmed in an email that all of the company’s exports are bottled in glass.
In a separate email, Sazerac spokeswoman Amy Preske told WhiskyCast that the company has not been contacted by Rospotrebnadzor as of today, and will have no comment on the agency’s claims. Privately-held Sazerac does not release sales data for its brands, but a report from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States based on US Customs data shows Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey exports to Russia in 2013 were valued at $285,323 – compared to a global export value of $1.1 billion (USD) for the same period.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on August 8 with confirmation from the Scotch Whisky Association that the Russian sanctions do not include Scotch Whisky as of now.
August 5, 2014 – Diageo is looking for a legal lifeline now that a New York state judge has ruled for the Explorers Club in its lawsuit over the Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club line of Scotch whiskies. Law 360.com reports Manhattan Justice Charles Ramos has issued a permanent injunction banning Diageo from using the Explorers’ Club name under a state law banning the commercial use of established names for “benevolent, humane, or charitable” organizations without permission. The Club’s members have included legendary explorers from Sir Ernest Shackleton to astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and the organization funds scientific research and educational programs, making it eligible for relief under the state law.
Ramos has not ruled on the scope of his order yet, and Diageo executives have objected to a New York Post report that Ramos has ordered Diageo to remove the three whiskies in the range from travel retail outlets. The company has not received a written copy of the judge’s ruling yet. Following an April court hearing, Ramos ruled that Diageo adopted the Explorers’ Club name to lead consumers to believe the whiskies were “connected or affiliated” with the club, leading to an estimated $50 million in sales. Diageo and the Club had been in talks to license the name before the range was launched in late 2012, but the talks broke down and Diageo went ahead with the launch of the initial Trade Route series.
Diageo’s lawyers had fought the lawsuit on several grounds, including a pending federal lawsuit filed by the Club accusing the company of trademark infringement. Their arguments also highlighted the brand’s global heritage and the Walker family’s history of world travel. However, the Explorers Club lawyers countered with video of a duty-free store employee in London claiming that the Explorers’ Club whiskies were actually made at the Club’s New York headquarters. It was not made clear whether the worker was a Diageo employee or working for the retail outlet, and it should be noted that had the claim been true, the whiskies would not have been able to legally be referred to as “Scotch” whiskies.
Diageo spokeswoman Alix Dunn told WhiskyCast in an email that the company is “extremely disappointed and disagree(s) with the decision of Judge Ramos.”
“We are awaiting official receipt of the order and are planning to seek to stay the injunction while we immediately appeal this case.”
It is not clear whether the ruling extends outside of the US, since the Explorers’ Club range is sold in travel retail outlets worldwide. The 120-year-old Explorers Club is pursuing a separate trademark infringement case in federal court seeking monetary damages for the use of its name.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on August 6 to reflect that the judge’s initial ruling did not immediately order the removal of Explorers’ Club whiskies from retail outlets, but that a permanent injunction was issued barring Diageo from using the Explorers’ Club name. This story will be updated when the judge’s final ruling is issued.
August 5, 2014 – As expected, Moray Council members have given the green light to Edrington’s plans for a £100 million ($168 million USD) expansion at the Macallan Distillery in Speyside. The decision clears the way for construction to begin within the next six weeks, according to Edrington director of single malts Ken Grier, with completion expected in 2017 on an all-new distillery and visitors center that will be built near the current distillery.
“It’s a very exciting time for The Macallan, and it’s a great testament to the power of single malt Scotch Whisky around the world and its growth,” Grier said in an August 8 telephone interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie. The project is being designed by the renowned London-based architects Rogers, Stirk, Harbour and Partners, and will be built with much of the distillery below ground level and topped by a series of rolling grass-covered hills to mimic the surrounding landscape.
“We believe in doing things that are incredibly beautiful, stuff that nobody else has done, and obviously things that really are all about extreme quality and real mastery, and of course, working with Rogers, Stirk, and Harbour – this is the first time ever in the industry that anyone has actually designed and will build a named architect-designed distillery.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Ken Grier:
Speyside-based contractors will handle most of the engineering and management work once construction begins. Forsyths of Rothes will build the distilling equipment, while Robertson Group will serve as general contractor on the site. No estimates on the local economic impact of the project have been announced, but the construction work is expected to create a significant number of jobs, while increased visitor traffic once the distillery is completed is likely to create a long-term economic impact.
“You’ll get people from all over the world wanting to visit this iconic architectural masterpiece,” Grier said. “Graham Stirk, the partner at Rogers, Stirk, & Harbour who designed it, has done a phenomenal job in producing something in some ways, we think, is very much like the Carrousel du Louvre standing next to the Louvre…you’ve got some incredible architecture merit with a real legacy , and yet, always your eye will be drawn back to Easter Elchies House, and of course, the River Spey.”
The current distillery produces 9.5 million litres of spirit each year, while the new distillery is expected to have a capacity of 15 million litres. Edrington intends to mothball the existing distillery once the new one is completed, with plans to keep it ready to return to production should additional capacity be needed in the future.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on August 8 to include quotes and audio from our interview with Edrington’s Ken Grier.
August 5, 2014 – Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project of experimental Bourbons is in its final stages, with Batch #14 being released this month. That will leave just two remaining batches to be released over the next six months, with the consumer ratings for all 192 whiskies in the series to be tabulated after that. Buffalo Trace’s plan is to take the highest-rated whiskey of the 192 and replicate its unique characteristics as closely as possible for a whiskey to be bottled under the Single Oak Project brand.
Batch #14 features 12 whiskies with one key constant characteristic. All 12 casks came from the bottom half of 96 oak trees specially selected by the late Ronnie Eddins in 1999. The 12 whiskies also shared the same warehouse and barrel entry proof (125° proof or 62.5% ABV), while the variables include the charring level of the cask, mashbill, stave seasoning time, and wood grain size.
In a Buffalo Trace news release, Independent Stave president Brad Boswell explained the differences that charring levels and stave seasoning can have on the whiskies in this batch. Boswell’s cooperage turned the 96 trees into individual barrels, with one barrel from the top half of each tree and one from the bottom half.
“The lighter char preserves more of the natural oak aroma and flavor. The heavier char provides more color and caramelization. Tannins will vary between these two types of barrels. The heavier char can also provide for more of a sweet smoke note that is often desired. Stave seasoning allows the wood to slowly break down (degrade) whereas charring and toasting breaks down the wood much more quickly. When the wood air seasons, the microbial activity breaks the wood down and the rain leaches out some of the tannins. The freezing and thawing breaks down the wood. Even the UV light breaks down the wood to some extent. The flavor of the wood changes as it breaks down.”
“Barrels with extended air seasoning with charring will provide a slightly different array of flavors as compared to barrels with less air seasoning and then similarly charred. The levels of smokiness, vanillin, caramelization, and tannin will vary between the two types of barrels.”
So far, Cask #82 leads the online voting at the Single Oak Project web site. That cask was a lighter #3 char with the shorter 6-month seasoning time. Cask #83 is the runner-up, and had the heavier #4 char with the same seasoning time. All 192 whiskies were matured for eight years and bottled in early 2011, with a new batch being released every three months.
The Single Oak Project whiskies will be available at whisky specialist retailers in the US this month, with a recommended retail price of $46.35 per 375ml bottle.
August 4, 2014 – GlenDronach is replacing its highly-regarded 15-year-old Tawny Port Finish single malt Scotch with a new 18-year-old version. The whisky is first matured in European Oak casks before being transferred to Tawny Port wine casks for final maturation.
In a news release, GlenDronach sales director Alistair Walker noted the success of the distillery’s range of finished malts since the first expression was released four years ago. “We’ve carefully selected whisky that has been gently maturing in lighter casks so that aficionados experience the full impact of the Tawny port cask,” he said. “The very pleasing result contributes extra depth and concentrated stewed fruit flavours. It’s another outstanding whisky that we’re delighted to add to our portfolio.”
The new expression is bottled at 46% ABV. Pricing and market availability was not specified.
August 1, 2014 – New York has been a hotbed of craft distilling for the last decade, but tiny Coppersea Distillery in the Hudson River Valley has done something none of its competitors have been able to do yet. For the first time, New York State-produced barrels are being used to mature Coppersea’s Bourbon and rye whiskies.
No cooperage in the state had produced barrels for wine or spirit maturation since Prohibition until Coppersea started working with U.S. Barrel Company in Wilmington, New York. The company had been producing so-called “slack cooperage” designed for outdoor saunas and dry goods storage, but has turned its attention to producing barrels for maturing whisky and other spirits. In a news release, U.S. Barrel owner and head cooper Bob Hockert described the challenge of producing barrels designed to hold liquids for decades without leaking.
“Our team has been creating slack barrels [which are not designed to hold fluids] for ten years, so we began this project with a good amount of expertise. Tight-barrel cooperage has its own challenges, though. We’ve had to build our own equipment, develop an understanding of whisky distilling, and forge relationships with New York State loggers in order to build barrels that meet the highest standards.”
In a telephone interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, Coppersea master distiller Angus MacDonald said the distillery had been hoping to find a local source for barrels for some time. “We’re very in touch with our state heritage where it comes to whisky,” he said. “We love the fact that, for example, there hasn’t been New York State cooperage since the designation of Bourbon actually existed as a legal definition, so our Bourbon that’s in New York State barrels made from New York State grain by New York State distillers is the very first 100% New York Bourbon, and that’s an amazing feeling.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s entire interview with Angus MacDonald:
MacDonald says the first batch of casks will be left to mature for at least a year before being evaluated for bottling. In the meantime, he and his colleagues are hoping to find a source for the final missing piece of the puzzle. Their bottles currently come from outside the state, and MacDonald hopes to have a New York-based source of bottles by the time the whiskies from the first batch are ready for bottling.
July 28, 2014 – Isle of Arran is releasing the third and final edition in its Devil’s Punch Bowl series of single malts. The annual releases are named for one of the geographical features of Arran, and this year’s is known as the “Chapter III: The Fiendish Finale.”
In a news release, Master Distiller James MacTaggart described the whisky as a combination of malts matured in Oloroso Sherry butts and French Oak wine barriques. “Personally this is my favourite of the trilogy and it is a fantastic expression of the Arran Malt,” he said. “The whisky is bottled without chill filtration at natural strength (53.4 ABV) and is unpeated making it approachable and enabling lots of flavours to be discovered.”
6,660 bottles will be available worldwide through whisky specialist retailers and Arran’s online shop, with a recommended retail price of £76.99 ($130 USD).
Links: Isle of Arran
July 26, 2014 – For the first time in more than a century, Adelphi is distilling its own malt whisky with the commissioning of the new Ardnamurchan Distillery on Scotland’s Ardnamurchan peninsula. The distillery has been running for several weeks, but was officially opened on Friday in a ceremony attended by the Princess Royal, along with Adelphi’s executives and invited guests.
Ardnamurchan is the westernmost distillery on the Scottish mainland, and uses 100% renewable energy in its production process. The distillery’s boilers are fueled by wood chips supplied from local forests, and all of the waste products are recycled for use as animal feed and fertilizer. In a news release, Adelphi director Donald Houston said the need to be environmentally responsible was a key goal from the beginning.
“A key element of the project since its conception has been that the distillery should be run by sustainable, renewable and environmentally benign means. With a great deal of planning and complex design work, we’re proud that we have achieved this objective. The distillery represents a significant milestone in the long term plan for the development and improvement of the socio economics of Ardnamurchan and will provide enormous opportunities for the development of tourism and the direct and indirect provision of jobs in this very remote and isolated part of Scotland.”
Distillery manager Graeme Bowie supervised construction at the site after joining Adelphi from Balblair, where he was the assistant distillery manager. On this week’s WhiskyCast, he’ll discuss how the distillery was designed and built, along with plans for the future.
July 25, 2014 – Distilleries and cats have gone together for decades, and most distilleries have had a special “distillery cat” around with the stated purpose of chasing mice away from the grain bins. Of course, the biggest part of the distillery cat’s job generally wasn’t pest control, but to keep an eye on the humans running the place. This week, Woodford Reserve announced on its Facebook page the passing of Elijah, the 19-year-old tabby cat who prowled the distillery – when he wasn’t sleeping in front of a warehouse door.
“We’re deeply saddened to announce the passing of Elijah, our beloved Distillery Cat-in-Residence. Elijah called the Woodford Reserve barrelhouse “home” for two decades – often taking the night shift to keep watch over the barrels, ensuring the angels never took more than their share.”
In a post on the Woodford Reserve Facebook page, Katie Hecker Carney described how she and her brother found the kitten when they were living near the distillery:
I still remember the day that my brother, Patrick Carney, and I found him at the end of the driveway, next to the creek, and brought him home to the house at the top of the hill. That was probably in the fall of 1995 and he was the tiniest kitten we ever had. I was so worried that our dad wouldn’t let us keep him since I had recently promised not to bring home anymore cats. Patrick assured me that he would take care of Dad and insist that it was all his idea. I was so happy when I heard that Zeppelin had taken up residence at the distillery after the family moved to the other side of the farm and you guys adopted him there as Elijah.”
Carney was later reunited with Elijah while working in the distillery’s catering department.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Elijah died June 30, and the distillery lowered its flags to half-staff in mourning. There are plans to place a plaque honoring Elijah at the distillery.
July 23, 2014 – William Grant & Sons has released a new batch of Kininvie single malt, and once again, Taiwan is the launch market for the 17-year-old expression. Last October, the first official release of Kininvie on record made its debut in Taiwan as a 23-year-old malt. Unlike that initial bottling, though, the 17-year-old will be available in other travel retail markets around the world.
Kininvie was the “secret distillery” on the William Grant & Sons campus in Dufftown that is home to Glenfiddich and The Balvenie. Kininvie had its own stillhouse, but shared mash tuns and washbacks with The Balvenie, and has been used occasionally as needed to produce malt whisky for use in the Grant’s blends. Until last October’s release, malt from Kininvie had never been bottled as a single malt, though a small amount was bottled under the Hazelwood label for the limited-edition whiskies honoring the late Janet Sheed Roberts, the last surviving granddaughter of William Grant.
The 17-year-old release is a blend of 80% ex-Bourbon barrels and 20% ex-Sherry casks, and has been bottled in 375ml bottles at 42.6% ABV. Pricing was not announced.
Links: William Grant & Sons