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!

New Ardnamurchan Distillery Names First Manager

May 8, 2013 – Ardnamurchan Distillery, currently under construction on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula in northwest Scotland, has named its first manager. The Herald reports veteran distiller Graeme Bowie is leaving Balblair, where he was assistant manager under John MacDonald, to take up project management at the construction site in Glenbeg and will run the distillery when it begins operation.

Ardnamurchan is being built by Adelphi, which has been producing independent bottlings of Scotch Whisky while developing plans for its own distillery. The company’s Alex Bruce told The Herald that foundation work for the distillery is complete, with the steel framework scheduled to arrive next week and construction to be complete by September. Bowie will be coordinating with the contractors and Forsyths, which is building the stills and equipment for the new distillery. The installation is expected to be complete in time for the first still runs to be produced in December.

This story will be updated.
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Murray McDavid Sold to Aceo

Updated May 13, 2013 – One of the questions surrounding last year’s acquisition of Bruichladdich by Rémy Cointreau focused on the future of Murray McDavid, the independent bottler that was founded by Mark Reynier, Simon Coughlin, and Gordon Wright in 1996. The company was part of the Bruichladdich acquisition in 2000 by a Reynier-led investment group, and released many bottlings during the decade from 2000-2010, but the number of releases declined in recent years amid speculation that the brand was being wound down.

The questions were answered today (May 8) when Bruichladdich and Rémy announced the sale of Murray McDavid to Aceo Ltd., a Gloucestershire-based whisky broker and industry contractor. Aceo owns and manages its own cask inventory and manages cask inventories, along with blending, bottling, and logistics services for customers.

In a news release provided by Bruichladdich, Aceo director Edward Odim expressed delight at being able to acquire the Murray McDavid brand.

“We have enjoyed excellent relations with Murray McDavid in the past and have always admired its pioneering and irreverent spirit as well as its position in the vanguard of independent bottling. Our intention is to continue the legacy of Murray McDavid by staying true to its founders’ vision and principles such as bottling carefully selected single malts without chill-filtering or adding colour and continuing and developing the tradition of Ace-ing casks. Aceo Limited and Murray McDavid Limited will be run as separate companies. Murray McDavid will be independently managed by individuals previously involved in its running, who understand its roots and are committed to building on its achievements.”

The announcement was not specific on who those individuals would be. Simon Coughlin replaced Mark Reynier as Bruichladdich’s managing director after the sale, and indicated that one member of Bruichladdich’s sales team would be moving over to Aceo as part of the transition. The new company will not have any ties to Reynier, who has left the whisky industry behind. Wright owns his own independent bottler, Alchemist Beverage Company, and cut his ties with Murray McDavid several years ago.

Jim McEwan was responsible for selecting casks for Murray McDavid bottlings under Bruichladdich’s ownership. However, there’s no word on whether he will continue to have a role with Murray McDavid in the future.

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Wine Enthusiast Honors Charbay’s Karakasevic & Rock Town’s Lewis

May 7, 2013 – Wine Enthusiast Magazine has named its annual “Top 40 Tastemakers Under 40″ – honoring rising young Americans in the world of wine, spirits, and beer. Two whisky makers made the list, Marko Karakasevic of California’s Charbay Winery & Distillery, and Andy Lewis of Rock Town Distillery in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Karakasevic (profiled in WhiskyCast Episode 179)  is a 13th-generation distiller specializing in unusual whiskies made from fully-hopped and stout beers at his family’s distillery in St. Helena, California. Lewis has won awards for his handmade small-batch vodka, and has produced Rock Town’s Arkansas Young Bourbon and Arkansas Hickory Smoked Whiskey

Also named to Wine Enthusiast’s list were Manhattan Cocktail Classic founder Lesley Townsend Duval, who previously ran wine and spirits education classes at New York City’s Astor Center, and veteran New York City bartender Jason Littrell, former president of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild New York Chapter and co-creator of the infamous “Pickleback” cocktail (whisky and pickle juice).

The complete list of honorees is in the May 2013 issue of Wine Enthusiast.
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Diageo CEO Paul Walsh to Step Down

Diageo Chief Executive Officer Paul Walsh. Photo courtesy Diageo. May 7, 2013 – In a move that had been anticipated for some time by drinks industry observers, Diageo CEO Paul Walsh has announced his plans to step aside on July 1, clearing the way for his top lieutenant to take the reins of the world’s largest whisky maker. Ivan Menezes was named Chief Operating Officer in 2012, and was tipped then as Walsh’s heir apparent.

Diageo Chief Operating Officer & Incoming CEO Ivan Menezes. Photo courtesy Diageo.The Indian-born Menezes spent ten years running Diageo’s North American operations before he was named COO, and also chaired the company’s Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and Caribbean operations. While around 40% of Diageo’s sales come from North America, those developing regions are forecast to become a major revenue base for the company.

Walsh spent 13 years as Diageo’s CEO, and also served as chairman of the Scotch Whisky Association, where he continues to sit on the SWA’s Council. He will stay on with Diageo for a year to assist with the transition, but will give up his seat on the Diageo board in September and retire completely from the company at the end of June, 2014. His future plans have not been announced, and there has been no word on when Menezes will replace him on the SWA Council.
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Revitalized Tamdhu Introduces New Malts

Tamdhu 10 Limited Edition. Image courtesy Ian Macleod Distillers.May 4, 2013 – Tamdhu Distillery made its re-appearance on the whisky stage today during the Spirit of Speyside Festival with the release of its first single malts since the distillery was purchased out of mothballs by Ian Macleod Distillers nearly two years ago. During a rare open day at Tamdhu, the new Tamdhu 10-year-old was released along with a special  limited edition version.

The 10 Year Old was matured in Sherry casks and is bottled at 40% ABV, while the 10 Year Old Limited Edition (1,000 bottles) was matured exclusively in first-fill Sherry casks. The basic version retails for £34.99 ($54.50 USD), while the Limited Edition will sell for £100 ($155.75 USD).  Both are available through the Tamdhu web site and whisky specialist retailers in the UK.

For a perspective on Tamdhu’s revival, listen to Episode 323 of WhiskyCast from July 3, 2011 and Mark Gillespie’s interview with Ian Macleod managing director Leonard Russell.
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The Glenlivet Releases a Mystery Malt

The Glenlivet Alpha. Image courtesy Chivas Brothers.May 4, 2013 – Most new whiskies are released with fanfare, news releases, samples, and details practically down to the shoes the stillman was wearing when the whisky was made. Not so with a new release from The Glenlivet, where the goal is to let consumers explore the whisky blindly .

The Glenlivet Alpha dispenses with the brand’s traditional packaging, with a plain black bottle that makes it impossible to see the whisky inside. The label simply reads “From The Glenlivet Distillery”, with only enough additional language to meet legal standards. What we do know is that it was bottled at 50% ABV, and only 3,350 bottles are available. . The remaining details will be unveiled sometime in June during a webcast with Master Distiller Alan Winchester on the Glenlivet web site.

The Alpha will be available in the UK, USA, Europe, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, India, Malaysia, and South Africa at a suggested price of $120.

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Laphroaig Updates Packaging Across Range

Laphroaig 10 Bottle & Tube. Image courtesy Beam Inc. May 3, 2013 – Laphroaig has unveiled a new packaging design for its entire range of Islay single malts. The design includes new labels and tubes for the core range, with a goal of creating a consistent look across the range.

In a news release, Beam senior global marketing director Michael Cockram described the redesign as subtle, while providing a more defined personality for Laphroaig.

“Laphroaig continues to be the world’s No.1 Islay malt whisky. Our decision to refresh the brand’s packaging has been taken with a great deal of care, given that the brand’s distinctive look has been so successful for many years. We believe the new look creates a modern evolution for the brand, reinvigorating the original design while educating consumers on the brand’s unique taste experience.”

The design was created in consultation with members of the Friends of Laphroaig affinity group, and will continue to use an image of the Laphroaig Distillery on Islay as the focal point on the tubes consumers see on retail shelves. The new packaging will be rolled out across the world, with the initial focus on the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Sweden, Australia, and Japan.
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Scottish Court Upholds Minimum Pricing

May 3, 2013 – The Scotch Whisky Association lost what appears to be just the first round of litigation over a government plan to impose minimum pricing for alcohol in an attempt to fight binge drinking. Lord Doherty rejected the SWA’s arguments that the Scottish Parliament didn’t have the authority to enact minimum pricing under its devolved powers, and that the plan does not violate the Act of Union between Scotland and the United Kingdom.

The plan would set a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol, which would raise the base price for a bottle of Scotch whisky to £14. It is being seen as a precedent for similar action in England being considered by the David Cameron-led coalition in Parliament.

Scotch Whisky Association CEO Gavin Hewitt criticized the ruling, and immediately promised an appeal. In an interview with The Guardian, he predicted the final decision on minimum pricing will come from the European Court of Justice:

“The crux of the matter has always been the issue of European law; that will remain the issue which will have to be addressed, and which we will be addressing in our appeal.”

The association’s ultimate position is that minimum pricing schemes are illegal under European law because they conflict with common market rules for European Union member countries.

Health professionals praised the ruling, which they view as a natural extension of the public smoking bans enacted in recent years. Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil told The Guardian:

“We have always believed minimum unit pricing is the right thing to do to tackle Scotland’s problematic relationship with alcohol. Minimum unit pricing will target cheap alcohol relative to strength that is favoured by hazardous and harmful drinkers and which contributes to much of the alcohol-related harm we see in Scotland. We now look forward to being able to implement minimum unit pricing and making that transformational change in Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.”

The minimum pricing plan has been put on hold while the legal case remains in the courts, and Scottish government officials say implementation could be delayed for several years as a result.
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Beam Reports 22.6% Profit Hike On Maker’s Mark Controversy

A bottle of Maker's Mark Bourbon. Photo courtesy Maker's Mark.May 2, 2013 – Beam Inc. reported first quarter earnings of $0.64/ share today, well above the estimates from Wall Street analysts. The 21% gain in earnings over the same period in 2012 was based on strong sales in North America, with the controversy over the Maker’s Mark ABV change in February getting some of the credit.

Maker’s Mark sales jumped 44% during the quarter from 2012, and CEO Matt Shattock told analysts on a conference call following the report that consumer stockpiling of the original 45% Maker’s Mark  resulted in what he called unsustainable long-term gains. Maker’s Mark announced February 9 that it would lower the bottling strength of its Bourbon from 45% ABV to 42% ABV in order to increase supplies to meet unprecedented demand. However, the decision was reversed a week later following an outcry from the brand’s customers.  Shattuck told analysts and reporters on the call that the Maker’s Mark inventory will be able to sustain a “solid rate of growth” through pricing and market allocation.

Company-wide, sales rose 3% during the quarter, with 7% growth in North America, 1% in the EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) region, and a 7% decline in the Asia-Pacific and South American region. The EMEA results reflect steady maintenance of the region’s 12% gain during the same period last year. Beam had expected losses in Asia as it deals with the fallout of bribery allegations in India, where its Teacher’s Scotch has traditionally dominated the market. Teacher’s sales fell 20% during the quarter from a year ago, largely on the issues in India.

Teacher’s and Maker’s Mark are considered two of Beam’s “Power Brands” within the company, and the segment showed a 2% drop in overall sales during the quarter. Among the other whisky brands in that group, Jim Beam sales fell 2% and Canadian Club sales gained 8%.  Beam’s “Rising Stars” group showed a 20% gain in sales during the quarter, with Laphroaig up 27%, Basil Hayden’s up 16%, and Knob Creek up 3%. Kilbeggan sales fell 30% from the previous year, which was the first quarterly report after Beam’s acquisition of Ireland’s Cooley Whiskey.  Both groups also include other spirits brands, and the “Power Brands” group was also hurt by declines for Courvoisier Brandy and Sauza Tequila. The “Rising Stars” group also benefitted from a 140% gain in sales of Skinnygirl cocktails.
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Loch Fyne Whiskies Sold

May 1, 2013 – Loch Fyne Whiskies, the Inverary-based retailer known as much for its wide variety of Scotch whiskies as for its irreverent nature, has been acquired by Glenkeir Whiskies, the parent company of The Whisky Shop chain.

Richard Joynson, who owned Loch Fyne Whiskies with his wife Lyndsay for the past 20 years, announced the news in an email to customers today:

“We’re outta here!

Lyndsay and I have happily sold our whisky interests and feel liberated to go off and do something else – something away from whisky! (Garden, boating and gig leave in the short term). While we wish a low-key departure, we want to shout our huge appreciation for our colleagues, our suppliers and our customers – THANK YOU!

It’s been 20 years of great fun. So long, and thanks for all the fish…

R

The Whisky Shop chain operates 21 off-license whisky specialist retail shops in the UK. In his email, Joynson said the new owner plans to keep the “name, policies, and character” of Loch Fyne Whiskies.
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