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!

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…


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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Laing Brothers Go Their Separate Ways

May 1, 2013 – The second-generation brothers of Douglas Laing & Co. have split the company in what Fred and Stewart Laing are both calling an amicable de-merger. Reports of the split have been widespread in recent weeks, but the final papers were signed Tuesday in Glasgow.

The company was founded by their father, Fred Douglas Laing, in 1948, and as part of the de-merger, Fred Laing retains the rights to the Douglas Laing name. Stewart Laing has formed a new company with his share of the Douglas Laing assets, to be called Hunter Laing & Co. (Hunter is Stewart’s middle name).

“As in all things,  and all ways of life, families have different views,” Stewart Laing told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie today. “My brother and I had different views as to the way forward, and basically, on the basis of that, we decided that the better way forward is to de-merge and literally do our own things”

The split allows both brothers to put their succession plans in order. Stewart’s sons, Andrew and Scott, will join their father and merge their existing Edition Spirits company into Hunter Laing. As reported previously on WhiskyCast, Fred’s daughter Cara will join Douglas Laing as Head of Brands Marketing. She had previously been with Morrison Bowmore Distillers as Marketing Manager for Bowmore and Glen Garioch single malts, with previous experience at Whyte & Mackay. In separate interviews, both fathers expressed great pride at being able to work with their children, with plans to pass on their businesses to the third generation.

While Fred Laing retained the rights to the Douglas Laing name, Stewart took the company’s bottling hall for Hunter Laing (which will continue to be used for some time by Douglas Laing). The brands and whisky stocks were split between the brothers. Douglas Laing retains the Provenance, Director’s Cut and Premier Barrel single malt brands, the Clan Denny single grain brand, Big Peat and Double Barrel blended malts, and the King of Scots, McGibbons, and Epicurean blended Scotch brands. Hunter Laing takes the Old Malt Cask, Old & Rare, and Douglas of Drumlanrig single malt brands, the Sovereign single grain brand, and the Douglas Blend, John Player Special, Langside, and House of Peers blended Scotch brands.

“There were a couple of hard decisions that had to be made,” Fred Laing said in a phone interview. “I wanted to hold on to Big Peat, which is for us currently a real stormer with great potential and currently is probably our second biggest-selling brand within the previous Douglas Laing portfolio, so if I wanted that best one, Stewart had to get his next choice. So, it was split thereafter almost by dint of ‘what did you want next?”

The split has been in the works for almost a year, and both brothers plan to put their energies into developing new brands to replace the ones they each lost in the split. While neither would reveal details of their plans today, both hope to have new single malt ranges launched later this year.

For more on this story and the complete interviews with Fred and Stewart Laing, listen to this weekend’s episode of WhiskyCast.
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The Macallan Releases Complete 1824 Series Range

April 30, 2013 – After six months of exclusivity in the UK market, The Macallan’s new no-age statement range of single malts is being released in markets around the world.

The Macallan Gold was introduced last fall in the UK as the first malt in the range, which will use the natural colors of the whiskies to define their character. The remaining malts in the range include Amber, Sienna, and Ruby, and will be rolled out in Europe, Canada, Latin America and Africa.

In a news release, The Macallan whisky maker Bob Dalgarno outlined his goal for the range, which will use sherry cask-matured Macallan malts:

“Using colour to drive and define a whisky differs dramatically from the conventional age approach, allowing us to explore different casks and take a more flexible approach to our stock.  We have been able to work creatively with the full range of matured stock available, rather than working to a pre-determined character based on age. For me, the key thought in this range is that a great single malt doesn’t need to be 30 years old to taste like a 30 year old.”

The 1824 Series is different from The Macallan’s 1824 Collection, which is a range of single malts exclusively available in the travel retail market. Plans are to continue making the current age-statement Sherry Oak and Fine Oak ranges available in the U.S. and key Asian markets for the foreseeable future.
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Macallan 50 Tops Bonhams NY Auction

New York City Whisky auction April 29, 2013. Image courtesy Bonhams. April 30, 2013 – The first Bonhams whisky auction of the year in New York City saw vintage Macallans leading the bidding, with a 50-year-old Macallan Anniversary bottling (L) bringing a winning bid of $40,460 (including premium). Another 50-year-old Macallan, the 1949 Millennium decanter, sold for $19,040, a 57-year-old Macallan Lalique decanter went for $15,470, while a 1951 Macallan Fine & Rare bottling (R) brought a winning bid of $7,140.

The Bonhams New York auctions are unusual for the large number of American whiskeys usually on the block, and a rare bottle of George Washington’s Vatted American Whiskey sold for $1,190. This was one of 250 bottles produced to commemorate the restoration of George Washington’s Distillery, with a vatting of whiskeys from 11 different U.S. distilleries including Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, Barton, and George Dickel. Other American whiskeys on the block included a 1911 Overholt Rye ($1,190), several A.H. Hirsch 16-year-old Bourbons, and a variety of Pappy Van Winkle expressions.

The next Bonhams auction in New York is scheduled for October 13, with auctions in Hong Kong on May 23 and Edinburgh on June 12 and October 2.
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Wemyss Malts Releases 6 Single Cask Bottlings

April 30, 2013 – Wemyss Malts is releasing its largest batch of single cask bottlings yet, with six different single malts from four different decades. The company’s tasting panel, led by Charles MacLean, selected the casks from the Wemyss inventory, and selected names based on each whisky’s individual taste and aroma.

The Wemyss Malts Spring 2013 Range. Photo courtesy Wemyss Malts.“Dark Chocolate Orange”:  1977 Glenlivet
“Pears and Almonds”: 1982 Inchgower
“Ginger Spice”: 1988 Glenrothes
“Toasted Hazelnuts”: 1996 Longmorn
“Candied Fruit”: 1998 Auchentoshan
“Chocolate Honeycomb”: 2001 Bunnahabhain

The whiskies will be available in limited quantities in the UK, Europe, and select Asian markets only, with prices ranging from £55 to £135 ($85-$210 USD).
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Update: Search Continues for Toronto Whisky Thief in Glenfiddich 50 Heist

The suspect in the theft of a bottle of Glenfiddich 50 from the LCBO Queen's Quay store in Toronto. Photo courtesy LCBO via National Post. Updated April 26, 2013 – Police in Toronto are still looking for a man who stole a $26,000 (CDN) bottle of Glenfiddich 50-year-old Scotch from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s Queens Quay store April 7.

Investigators say the suspect selected the rare whisky from the downtown store’s Vintages section, where rare bottles are usually kept in locked display cases, then picked out a bottle of wine. He left the store after paying for the wine, but not the whisky. Glenfiddich only releases 50 bottles of the 50-year-old whisky each year, and this was one of only 15 bottles available in Canada, according to the LCBO’s Heather McGregor.

“We are cooperating with the Toronto Police Service,  and we hope that we can recover the bottle,” McGregor told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie. “We take theft very seriously at LCBO…we have surveillance in place, we use in-store security, and we have staff training to help deal with shoplifting and theft. But, when something like this does happen, it’s an opportunity for us to look at the way we do things and determine whether changes need to be made.”

McGregor declined to say how the thief was able to get the bottle of whisky from the display case, citing the ongoing investigation.

Police released this photo of the suspect from the store’s surveillance camera. He is described as 35-45 years old, 5’10″  in height, and clean-shaven with black-framed glasses. He was wearing a plaid Burberry-style shirt, brown cap, brown trenchcoat, and black jeans. Anyone with information on the suspect is asked to contact the Toronto Police Service’s 51 Division at 416-808-5100. According to McGregor, the LCBO is not offering a reward.

This is the most valuable bottle of whisky known to have been stolen since October of 2010, when a thief stole a 20cl bottle of the Gordon & MacPhail Generations Mortlach 70 single malt from the Symposion booth at the Stockholm Beer & Whisky Festival. That bottle was never recovered.

Links: LCBO | Toronto Police

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