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!
June 13, 2013 – Taxes make up a significant portion of the price of a single bottle of whiskey, but one of those taxes may be on the way out. WHAS Television in Louisville reports Kentucky’s Congressional delegation is once again trying to end one of the so-called “barrel taxes” on whiskey and other distilled spirits producers.
The U.S. government (and many states) tax whisky production based on the amount of spirit that comes off the still, and again at the time the final product is bottled. However, distillers who age their product are not allowed to deduct the cost of holding that inventory while it matures, which can be as long as 18 years or more for some Bourbons. While the tax itself can be hard to explain, Kentucky Distillers Association President Eric Gregory compares it to the tax deduction for interest on home mortgages, in which a home owner can deduct the interest on one’s mortgage from income taxes each year. In a phone interview, Gregory explained that the current tax requires distillers to absorb the entire cost of maturing whiskey from the time it is distilled until the time it’s bottled (at which time the costs can be deducted), and puts Bourbon and other producers of aged spirits at a disadvantage to producers of vodka and other spirits that are typically not aged.
Kentucky Republican Rep. Andy Barr of Lexington and his colleagues are re-introducing the Aged Distilled Spirits Competitiveness Act. The bill was last introduced in 2011, but died in committee without receiving a vote.
This issue should not be compared with Kentucky’s state “ad valorem” tax, which imposes an annual property tax on each barrel of whiskey held in a distiller’s inventory. Distillers have complained for years that the tax costs them money that would be reinvested in production and jobs, while putting them at a competitive disadvantage to whiskey distillers in other areas.
June 9, 2013 – Noted Scottish author Iain Banks has died of cancer at the age of 59. While writing both mainstream novels and science fiction (as Iain M. Banks), he was known to whisky lovers for his 2003 classic “Raw Spirit”, which chronicled his travels on a mission to visit every whisky distillery in Scotland. While Banks was known during that period for his love of whisky, he chose to make some changes in his life in the years after the publication of “Raw Spirit” and cut back on his drinking, according to an account by The Guardian’s Neil Gaiman.
Banks announced on his web site in April that he had been diagnosed with an advanced case of gall bladder cancer, and in keeping with his typically dark humor, noted that he had asked his partner Adele Hartley to do him “the honour of becoming his widow.” In addition to the wedding, Banks also started working on what would be his final book, with the main character being a man dying of cancer while being cared for by his teenage son. “The Quarry” was scheduled for publication later this year, but his publishers sped up printing in hopes of publishing the book while Banks was still alive. Little Brown will release “The Quarry” on June 20.
Iain Banks was born February 16, 1954 in Dunfermline, Scotland, and attended the University of Stirling. His first book, “The Wasp Factory”, was published in 1984, and his later mainstream works included “”The Crow Road” and “Complicity”. Banks entered science fiction in 1987 with “Consider Phlebas”, adding the first letter of his middle name (Menzies) to his byline. In all, he wrote more than 20 books, and is viewed by many critics as one of Scotland’s leading writers.
June 5, 2013 – Glenfiddich is releasing its 2013 Cask of Dreams limited edition bottling in the U.S. market, following a year-long competition during 2012 to encourage whisky lovers to share their dreams. While dreams submitted through the Glenfiddich web site have been written on the actual casks used in producing the 2013 bottling, 24 winners were selected to have their names and dreams featured on the Cask of Dreams bottle.
One lucky winner, identified only as “Trent”, won $15,000 to achieve his dream of heli-skiing in Alaska’s Chugach Mountain range. The Chugach range near Anchorage is home to Alyeska Resort, along with some of the most extreme skiing territory in North America, and a number of U.S. Olympic Ski Team members have come from the area, including 1994 gold and silver medalist Tommy Moe. (Editor’s note: Mark skied at Alyeska once while living in Anchorage during the 90’s, but his exploits were limited to the beginner’s runs.)
The original Cask of Dreams concept was created two years ago by Glenfiddich’s U.S. team to honor the legacy of William Grant, who founded Glenfiddich in 1887 with a dream of creating the “best dram in the valley”. The 2013 bottling was created by Malt Master Brian Kinsman from a series of American Oak casks, then finished in virgin American Oak casks. 6,600 bottles will be available at selected U.S. retailers with a suggested price of $99.
June 5, 2013 – George S. Grant has been named a director of J&G Grant, the family business that owns Glenfarclas Distillery in Speyside. He’s the sixth generation of the family to work in the business, and the son of current J&G Grant chairman John Grant.
George joined the family business in 1997, and now serves as sales director with responsibility for managing the company’s sales worldwide. He also serves as the distillery’s lead brand ambassador and travels around the world to promote Glenfarclas, which has seen sales grow by more than 75% over the last four years.
June 5, 2013 (Updated June 13) – Police in Woodbridge, New Jersey are trying to figure out what caused a tanker truck hauling 6,000 gallons of Scotch whisky to flip and catch on fire at an intersection in a residential neighborhood today. Firefighters and a hazardous materials team responded to the accident within minutes, helped by the fact that the Fords Fire Company station was located within a block of the accident scene. A photo of the scene on MyCentralJersey.com shows the aftermath of the crash, which set a small amount of whisky on fire when it spilled from a pressure relief valve on the top of the tank and ignited. The truck also hit a telephone pole and a parked car, which was also damaged in the fire.
The driver was working for B-Line Trucking of Newark, and suffered minor injuries in the crash. According to NJ.com, the company declined to comment on the accident.
Update: On June 18, Caspar MacRae of William Grant & Sons acknowledged in a phone interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie that the whisky in the truck was Clan MacGregor blended Scotch destined for the company’s bottling facility in nearby Edison, New Jersey.
June 4, 2013 – As Britain’s Queen Elizabeth celebrated the 60th anniversary of her coronation today, Chivas Brothers released a new expression in its Royal Salute range of luxury blended Scotch whiskies. The royal anniversary was marked at the Tower of London with a 62-round Royal Gun Salute, and not coincidentally, the first bottles of Royal Salute whisky were bottled in June, 1953 to mark the Queen’s coronation.
Royal Salute The Diamond Tribute does not carry an age statement, but the casks that are used to make it are matured for a minimum of 21 years in a specially-designated (and locked) Royal Salute section of one of the warehouses at Strathisla Distillery in Speyside.
Royal Salute The Diamond Tribute will be available globally starting in July with a recommended retail price of $270 USD in travel retail.
June 4, 2013 – Hillrock Esate Distillery, the Ancrim, New York-based farm distillery, is partnering with George Washington’s Distillery at Mount Vernon in Virginia to produce a retail version of George Washington’s Rye Whiskey. The historic distillery produces a limited amount of rye whiskey from Washington’s original recipe each year for sale at Mount Vernon’s gift shops, and demand for the whiskey is much greater than what the distillery can produce.
Dave Pickerell is the common bond between the two distilleries, serving as Master Distiller at both Mount Vernon and Hillrock Estate. He’s using the same recipe at Hillrock Estate to create a pot-distilled rye whiskey with a small amount of Mount Vernon distillate added in to create “George Washington’s Rye Whiskey – Estate Edition”. The new whiskey will be available at retailers and bars in New York and Chicago, and through selected online retailers.
Hillrock Estate is also releasing its first single malt whiskey as well. Hillrock Estate Distillery Single Malt Whiskey uses the estate’s organically-grown barley malted on-site. The distillery claims to be the only one malting its own grain grown on-site. The single malt whiskey is bottled at 48.2% ABV, and will be available at the distillery and through New York retailers. h a number of online retailers. A portion of the sales from the Estate Edition will go to support educational programs at Mount Vernon, and the distillery there will continue to produce whiskey to be sold at Mount Vernon as “George Washington’s Rye – Limited Edition”.
Hillrock Estate plans an open house on June 15 to showcase both whiskies, along with its initial release, a solera-matured Bourbon.
June 13, 2013 – Denver’s Stranahan’s distillery has filled Barrel #5,000 after nine years of production, but reached the capacity of its original rickhouse long ago. The Denver Business Journal reports the Proximo Spirits-owned distillery has now opened a new warehouse in a former theater located across the alley behind the distillery.
Negotiations for the new warehouse took almost as long as a barrel of Stranahan’s needs to mature, according to the report. The distillery’s Kristin Forsch told the Business Journal that it took about a year and a half to close the deal for the warehouse, which is already filled to about 25% of capacity. Under the original owner, Jess Graber, it took five years to fill the first 1,000 barrels, but Stranahan’s now fills that many each year.
Proximo Spirits bought the Stranahan’s brand and distillery from Graber and his partners in 2010, and ratcheted back distribution of the whiskey to the Rocky Mountain region. Stranahan’s had been available throughout the U.S. and in key export markets, but the distillery had trouble meeting demand. The distillery now produces about 10,000 bottles of its flagship whiskey each month, with the occasional “Snowflake” limited-edition bottling for sale only at the distillery in Denver.
June 3, 2013 – Final planning permission has been granted for restoration and construction work on the site of the future Kingsbarns Distillery near St. Andrews. Work will begin soon at the East Newhall Farm steading on the Cambo Estate, with construction of the distillery and visitors center expected to take around a year.
The project had languished for several years while founding director Doug Clement tried to find investors, but gained steam in January when Wemyss Malts accquired Kingsbarns and secured financing with help from a Scottish Government economic development grant. During an interview in Episode 406 of WhiskyCast, William Wemyss noted that his family had been involved in the whisky industry for generations, but had never owned its own distillery until joining the Kingsbarns project. He expects the distillery to not only benefit from whisky sales, but from its natural location as a tourist destination near the legendary golf links in St. Andrews.
“There is no malt whisky distillery within an hour of St. Andrews, and St. Andrews has a very good area for tourism, both within the UK and from overseas, so we thought this area really deserved a malt whisky distillery.”
Initial work at the site will focus on preserving the historic farm building’s roof and stonework, following the grating of permits by Fife Council and Historic Scotland. Architectural work continues on the layout for the distillery, visitors center, gift shop, and cafe areas, according to a news release.
May 31, 2013 – Edrington’s innovation team has experimented with several versions of The Famous Grouse in recent years, with a smokier version known as The Dark Grouse and lighter versions under The Snow Grouse and The Naked Grouse labels in some markets. Now, that team has jumped on the flavored whisky bandwagon, with a test of three flavored versions of The Famous Grouse in Sweden.
Just-Drinks.com reports the test was conducted with Sweden’s state-controlled liquor system, and used three different variations with citrus, vanilla, and spice infusions. “The Famous Citrus” (shown here) was described as a “fresh and zesty infusion of lime, lemon, and orange and The Famous Grouse.” The test expressions were sold in one-litre bottles at 35% ABV, according to the report.
The test comes as Dewar’s and the Scotch Whisky Association remain at odds over the labeling for Dewar’s Highlander Honey, a honey-infused drink based on Dewar’s White Label intended for the U.S. market. That drink is labeled as “Dewar’s Blended Scotch Whisky Infused with Natural Flavors”, and the SWA’s Gavin Hewitt told WhiskyCast in April that the label does not comply with U.K. laws banning the use of flavorings in “Scotch Whisky”. Dewar’s has countered that the labeling is legal under U.S. laws, and Highlander Honey will not be sold in the U.K.
As shown in the photo above, Edrington appears to be in compliance with those laws by labeling its test bottlings as “Infused Spirit Drink”. As for any future availability of the Famous Grouse variations, Edrington officials told Just-Drinks.com that the project was only a test at this stage.