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!
January 20, 2015 – Beam Suntory’s Alberta Distillers distillery in Calgary has produced the award-winning Alberta Premium range of whiskies for many years, but those whiskies have only been available to Canadians until now. This spring, the company plans to start selling Alberta Premium Dark Horse in the US, but trademark restrictions will force the distilling giant to rename the export version.
“In the United States, it’s going to be called Alberta Rye Dark Batch,” said Beam Suntory’s Dan Tullio shortly after announcing the launch during a tasting at the Victoria Whisky Festival. “There’s a small microbrewery in northern Michigan that (makes a beer) called Dark Horse Lager, so after some thinking about it, we decided to call it Alberta Rye Dark Batch. It’s the same liquid, just a different name because of trademark issues.” The whisky is a blend of 91% rye whiskey from Alberta Distillers, 8% Old Grand-Dad Bourbon from Beam Suntory’s distilleries in Kentucky, and 1% Oloroso Sherry, which Tullio said takes the edge off of some of the rye’s harsher notes.
No details have been announced on the price for the new whisky, or which markets will receive it at first. Tullio is not ruling out expanded distribution of other Alberta Premium whiskies to the US, and said that the distillery is experimenting with different types of mashbills and casks for potential future releases.
Editor’s note: For a tour of the Alberta Distillers distillery in Calgary, listen to Episode 451 of WhiskyCast from November 2013.
Links: Alberta Premium
January 20, 2015 – Scottish environmental regulators ranked eight whisky plants as “poor” for exceeding their allowed water usage during 2013, according to a report in the Sunday Herald. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency released a redacted version of its annual report last November, citing “national security” reasons for refusing to list the performance of specific facilities. However, the agency released its complete findings on water use to the paper following a request under the UK’s freedom of information laws. The redacted section of the annual environmental report included data on facilities handling radioactive materials as well as the water usage data.
“I don’t think there’s any evidence of deliberate intent to defraud the system by using more water than they should,” Sunday Herald environment editor Rob Edwards told WhiskyCast in a telephone interview. “Certainly, the representatives of the whisky industry I spoke to last week when I was working on this story were very clear that they had made mistakes, errors had occurred, or misunderstandings had occurred which they were anxious to not occur again.” In several cases, leaks in pipelines or valves that went undetected for several months caused distilleries to use more water than allowed by their permits.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Rob Edwards:
Diageo owns five of the plants on the list. Teaninich Distillery in Alness received a “poor” rating after a change in managers during the year led to over-abstraction (water use) that may have caused the burn that supply Teaninich’s water to dry up. Cragganmore Distillery in Speyside and Islay’s Port Ellen Maltings made the list for over-abstraction, while Dailuane Distillery in Speyside’s problems were linked to a pipeline leak between the distillery and its bioplant that was not discovered for nearly five months before it was repaired. A leaking valve at Glendullan Distillery in Dufftown caused the boiler’s feed tank to overflow several times over a four-month period in early 2013 before it was repaired.
In a statement provided to WhiskyCast by Diageo, Distilling and Maturation Director Keith Miller defended the company’s overall record on environmental protection.
“Water is the life-blood of our business and we take the responsible stewardship of water extremely seriously. The incidents identified were caused by specific short-term issues which were resolved to SEPA’s satisfaction. Across our business we abstracted significantly less water than the SEPA licences allow. In the cases identified our average daily abstraction rates were well below the licenced maximum. We monitor our water abstraction very closely and where issues do occasionally arise we take immediate and strong action to resolve them.
We are determined to protect water quality for all users and for wildlife. That’s why we fund projects like the Spey Catchment Initiative, in partnership with the Spey Fisheries Board, which works specifically to enhance the water environment across a 3,000 km2 area of north east Scotland where there is the greatest concentration of whisky distilleries.
Diageo is recognised as a global leader in water stewardship and our commitment was set out in the ambitious long-term targets we recently announced for the sustainable management of water.”
Diageo provided Edwards with more specific details on each of the facilities in an email shared with WhiskyCast. Cragganmore’s over-abstraction was described as an administrative error with no actual violation, while Port Ellen’s violation was described as a low-volume instance while the distillery’s daily average during the year was nearly 100 cubic meters below its permitted levels. The leaks at Dailuane and Glendullan resulted in water being returned to the environment without being used, while Teaninich’s issue was resolved with the construction of a new abstraction point to prevent future problems in dry weather. Again, Diageo cites Teaninich’s daily average water usage as well within permitted levels.
Chivas Brothers was cited for problems at its Miltonduff and Longmorn distilleries in Speyside, with both linked to administrative issues. Longmorn pledged to implement a more efficient abstraction process in 2014 to improve water use, while Miltonduff had a malfunctioning meter in early 2013 that has since been repaired. In addition, the agency and Chivas Brothers agreed to review Miltonduff’s license to adjust its water usage limits to acceptable levels for both the distillery and the surrounding environment. In a statement provided to WhiskyCast by Chivas Brothers, company officials said both distilleries have been brought back into compliance.
“Chivas Brothers takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. It worked closely with SEPA at the time to rectify this issue, and bring its water usage into compliance. This remains the case with both distilleries at present.”
Ian Macleod’s Glengoyne Distillery near Glasgow was the only other whisky plant to receive a “poor” rating after what the SEPA report described as an “environmental event in early October 2013 caused by human error.” The event caused the distillery to breach its water usage limits, and took place just before a new balancing tank was put into use that helped bring the distillery back into compliance. Ian Macleod executives have not responded to our requests for more details on the finding.
In addition to the eight whisky plants receiving “poor” ratings, Ben Nevis (Asahi), Jura (Whyte & Mackay), Glencadam (Angus Dundee), and Deanston (Burn Stewart) were criticized in the report for failing to provide data on their water usage to SEPA.
Burn Stewart’s Ian MacMillan explained the Deanston issue in a February 3 telephone interview. “The data was all there, but there was a fault with the data recorder with sending data to the PC which logged it all, and when you look back at our record over the years (on the SEPA web site), it shows Deanston as being excellent, excellent, excellent over the years.” MacMillan noted that because the data had to be manually logged, it was not available by SEPA’s reporting deadline, resulting in the “failed to provide data” listing. While the data has since been provided to the agency and Deanston is certified as being in compliance, MacMillan said SEPA’s policy is to not retract the original listing in public reports.
While the Sunday Herald story did not list specific sites, the Herald’s Edwards provided more complete reporting on his personal web site. “If you look at SEPA’s wider compliance assessment of other industries and other pollutants, there are more serious things going on elsewhere…where people have been found guilty of polluting and causing distress to wildlife and death of fish in rivers, or releasing things into the environment they shouldn’t,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that the failure to properly account for or breaching your license on water is among the top-ranking environmental crimes in Scotland, but it is important or serious…water is a natural resource, and if you use more of it than you say, particularly if it’s been a dry season, streams and rivers can dry up, wildlife and ecosystems can suffer, and of course, other water users who have legitimate uses can be deprived.”
In addition to the eight whisky facilities on the list, the SEPA report cited 22 farms, three golf courses, and the Baxter’s soup production plant at Fochabers as receiving “poor” ratings.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Editor’s note: This story was updated following a February 3 interview with Ian MacMillan of Burn Stewart Distillers in which he explained SEPA’s criticism of Deanston Distillery. The complete spreadsheet listing more than 900 Scottish water permits and their 2013 ratings can be downloaded from Edwards’ web site.
January 20, 2015 – With a growing number of complaints over lax enforcement of labeling standards for US-made whiskies, the Treasury Department’s Tax & Trade Bureau has issued new guidelines that may help resolve at least one area of concern: age statements. The guidelines were quietly issued on December 29 at the TTB’s web site while many whisky industry leaders and consumers were in the middle of holiday celebrations.
While other countries only require that if used, an age statement must reflect the age of the youngest whisky used in a particular bottling, the US requires age statements on all whiskies matured for less than four years. The new guidelines do not change current federal regulations, but clarify what will and will not be acceptable on labels.
For instance, whisky producers will no longer be allowed to describe a whisky as “aged less than four years” or similar language that gives a maximum age instead of a minimum age. In addition, whisky makers who choose to minimally mature their whiskies for a short period of time in oak barrels will have to be more specific about the practice on their labels:
“The age of the whisky must be stated in hours, days, months, or years, as appropriate. The age may be understated, but the age may not be overstated.”
Longtime whiskey writer Chuck Cowdery has been one of the most vocal critics of the TTB’s labeling oversight. Cowdery noted Monday on his blog that the new guidelines should bring an end to the “aged less than four years” age statements regularly approved by TTB officers in recent years.
“Those have always been the rules. This is, however, the TTB’s way of putting the industry on notice that its lax enforcement of these provisions is in the past. It remains to be seen if their bite matches their bark.”
It appears that existing labels that do not comply with the regulations will need to be updated. TTB spokesman Thomas Hogue told WhiskyCast in an email that “we will work directly with label holders to ensure that any labels that should comply with the requirements of the regulations do so.” Hogue indicated that TTB staff will be reviewing current labels on file with the agency and contacting label holders if changes are needed.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information.
Links: Tax & Trade Bureau
January 17, 2015 – Police are looking for the robber who held up the provincial SAQ liquor monopoly’s flagship Signature store in downtown Montreal Thursday and ran off with an estimated $100,000 (CDN) of rare whiskies, including the one remaining bottle of The Balvenie 50 available in Canada valued at $49,500.
The CBC reports the robber brandished what was believed to be a handgun at store employees before smashing the glass case that held the store’s rare whiskies and grabbing several bottles. Police have only identified the Balvenie bottle of those that were stolen, but the store’s inventory includes at least two bottles of Highland Park 50 and one Macallan Lalique decanter, according to the store’s online inventory.
The bottle that was stolen was released in 2012 to celebrate The Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart’s 50th anniversary with William Grant & Sons, according to Beth Havers of PMA, The Balvenie’s Canadian importer. “It was one of 88 bottles, and the SAQ had it brought in in April of last year,” Havers said, noting that it was one of only two sold in Canada. The other one was sold in Vancouver in 2012 when the limited-edition release went on sale.
Investigators are reviewing the store’s surveillance video for clues, but the suspect was wearing a mask, making it more difficult to identify a suspect. Anyone with information on the robbery is asked to contact Montreal Police.
Editor’s note: This story was updated following an interview with Beth Havers of PMA.
Links: The Balvenie
January 15, 2015 – Brown-Forman’s Collingwood Rye 21-year-old whisky was named Canadian Whisky of the Year tonight in the fifth annual Canadian Whisky Awards. Collingwood Rye was also named Connoisseur Whisky of the Year (multiple-market) as one of the five finalists for the top honor. Canadian Whisky Awards founder Davin de Kergommeaux presented the awards during a ceremony at the Hotel Grand Pacific kicking off this weekend’s Victoria Whisky Festival.
Brown-Forman regional sales manager Chase Stampe accepted the award for Collingwood. “It’s something that we’re really, really excited about,” he said after the ceremony. “To be rewarded in a way that celebrates Canadian Whisky, number one…and the Collingwood brand, number two, in multiple areas was something that was super exciting for us.” The whisky comes from Brown-Forman’s Canadian Mist distillery in Collingwood, Ontario, when 50 barrels of 100% rye whisky were laid down by former distillery manager Harold Ferguson in the early 1990’s. The barrels were found by current manager David Dobbin in late 2013 and bottled for release in 2014.
Other finalists included Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye, which was named Connoisseur Whisky of the Year (Canada-only), Masterson’s Rye 10-Year-Old Batch 5 Barrel A2-062 as Connoisseur Whisky of the Year (export market), and Stalk & Barrel Rye Whisky from Still Waters Distillery was named Best New Whisky of the Year.
Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye was also honored with an Award of Excellence for extending the range of the Canadian Club brand, while Crown Royal’s Single Barrel received an Award of Excellence for raising the profile of Canadian Whisky. Masterson’s from California-based The Other Guys was honored with an Award of Excellence for its Rye barrel finishing program that takes whisky distilled at Calgary’s Alberta Distillers and uses high-quality finishing barrels.
The evening’s only standing ovation, though, went to Forty Creek founder John Hall, who received the CWA’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award for his 20-plus years at Forty Creek. Hall sold the distillery to Gruppo Campari in 2014, but remains with Forty Creek as chairman and chief whisky maker. “Forty Creek has led the way for connoisseur Canadian whisky in the US, and has opened many doors for all Canadian whisky brands,” Davin de Kergommeaux said in presenting Hall with the award.
“I had absolutely no idea…just speechless, I was shocked,” Hall said after the ceremony. “It’s really nice to receive that recognition, that in some small way I assisted in bringing Canadian whisky back to the center stage.”
Other award recipients included:
“Sippin’ Whisky of the Year”
Domestic: Crown Royal Limited Edition
Export: J.P. Wiser’s Rye
Multiple markets: Royal Canadian Small Batch
“Value Whisky of the Year”
Domestic: Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky
Export: Canadian Mist
Multiple Markets: J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe
“Flavoured Whisky of the Year”
Domestic: Forty Creek Cream
Export: Peach Mist
Multiple Markets: Tap 357
53 whiskies won medals in the competition, with 12 golds, 14 silvers, and 27 bronze medals. The blind judging was done by a group of whisky writers and bloggers, including WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie. Complete results will be posted at de Kergommeaux’s Canadian Whisky web site.
Links: Canadian Whisky
January 14, 2015 – With Rye whiskey booming in popularity, Jim Beam is re-launching its namesake Rye with a return to what the company describes as one of the Beam family’s oldest recipes – and a new name. Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style Rye Whiskey will replace the current Jim Beam Rye in retail and on-premise accounts starting this month, with a recommended retail price of $22.99 per 750ml bottle.
Unlike the current version of Jim Beam Rye, the new version is bottled at 45% ABV (90 Proof). In a news release announcing the change, Beam’s Fred Noe said the Pre-Prohibition Rye will have more flavor than the original. “We’ve heard loud and clear from bartenders and whiskey fans that they are looking for a bolder Rye that stands up better in cocktails,” Noe said.
The new version will also have updated packaging, complete with a new green label to distinguish it from the current Jim Beam Rye.
Tasting notes will be available at a future date.
Links: Jim Beam
January 14, 2015 – “Island Time” may be a more appropriate expression for the Caribbean than Scotland, but Douglas Laing & Co. is looking to Scotland’s islands as the inspiration for its latest Blended Malt. Rock Oyster uses malts from several of Scotland’s island distilleries, including Islay, Jura, Orkney, and Arran. The result is a blend with a maritime character, according to Douglas Laing managing director Fred Laing.
“Rock Oyster showcases the archetypal Island character of gentle peat-smoke, vanilla’d honey and salt. If I could select just one dram to transport the Whisky enthusiast to the Islands of Scotland, it would be this one,” he said in a news release announcing the launch of Rock Oyster. The new expression joins other similarly-themed Blended Malts in the Douglas Laing range, including Big Peat (Islay), Scallywag (Speyside), and Timorous Beastie (Highlands).
Rock Oyster is bottled at 46.8% ABV and will be available at whisky specialist retailers starting this month.
Links: Douglas Laing & Co.
January 10, 2015 – High West, the Park City, Utah-based whiskey distiller and blender, is updating all of its whiskey labels to include more details on the sources of the spirits used in each expression. High West has been distilling whiskey since 2009 at its own distillery and restaurant located in the center of the ski resort community east of Salt Lake City, but many of its expressions use whiskey sourced from MGP-I in Lawrenceburg, Indiana and other distilleries, including the 1792 Barton Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky.
While High West founder David Perkins has been open about his use of so-called “sourced” whiskey in many of his products, he told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in an interview for this week’s episode that he wanted to make it “crystal-clear” for consumers. “We’ve always been up-front about it…it hasn’t always been on our labels, but it’s been on the website or we talk about it,” he said. “The consumer deserves to have their questions answered, and we’re happy to answer them…I think it’s good to have transparency in the industry.”
While several of High West’s new labels are still being reviewed by the US Treasury Department’s Tax & Trade Bureau in an approval process that can take 90 days or longer, the distillery received approval in December on new labels for Bourye and American Prairie (formerly known as American Prairie Reserve). The Bourye rear label (shown at left) uses the language “All whiskeys in this carefully crafted blend are a minimum of nine years old and sourced from multiple distilleries. See highwest.com for technical details and sourcing, that’s not a secret. However, the proportions are!” The Bourye web page at High West’s site describes all four whiskies used to make the blend, along with their sources and mashbills. Three come from MGP-I, with the fourth from 1792 Barton. According to Perkins, the new labels will be phased in as the TTB approves them, with plans to have all of the new labels into the marketplace within six to eight months.
High West’s move comes as other US whisky producers have been criticized for not disclosing the source of their whiskies on labels as required by federal law when the distiller and bottler are in different states. Iowa-based Templeton Rye is facing a lawsuit in Chicago filed by a consumer for not disclosing that its whiskey is distilled at MGP-I in Indiana. Templeton received TTB approval in October for new labels carrying “Distilled in Indiana” that are now being used on shipments of Templeton Rye.
January 9, 2015 – Inver House-owned Balblair Distillery will be releasing four expressions in the US market this month. The arrival of the 2003, 1999, 1990, and 1983 vintages marks the first time Balblair has released four different expressions in the US at the same time.
All four have been available in other markets, with the 1999 Second Edition being released globally in mid-2014 following its debut in travel retail at the beginning of 2014. However, bringing the whiskies to the US market required new bottles and labels to comply with the US-mandated 750ml bottle size as opposed to the global standard of 700ml.
Distillery manager John MacDonald selected American Oak ex-Bourbon casks for the 2003 and 1983 vintages, while picking a combination of ex-Bourbon and Spanish Oak ex-Sherry butts to create the 1999 and 1990 vintages. Balblair is the only distillery in Scotland that uses vintage dates exclusively instead of age statements or names for its whiskies.
Recommended retail prices for the four expressions will range from $70 for the 2003 to $330 for the 1983 vintage. They will replace the current 2002, 1991, and 1989 vintages currently available in the US.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include details on vintages the new Balblair expressions will be replacing.
January 8, 2015 – The Scotch Whisky Association is looking for a new executive to head up the trade group’s global lobbying and export promotion work. The new Global Affairs Director will be based at the association’s new office to be opened in London later this year after the UK’s general elections.
In a news release, SWA Chief Executive David Frost said the new executive will lead staff in London and Edinburgh to open up more markets for Scotch Whisky. “We believe that a permanent London presence will enhance our ability to engage effectively and build relationships both with the UK Government and with other governments and bodies represented there,” he said. The association will soon begin recruiting staff with international relations and public affairs experience for the London office.
The announcement comes as Frost announced the departures of two longtime SWA executives who had been responsible for managing global affairs. European Affairs Director Nick Soper left the association in November, while current International Affairs Director Campbell Evans will step down later this year – likely after the new executive comes on board. Frost paid tribute to both men for their service to the industry. Soper’s portfolio included working with European Union officials in Brussels, while Evans also oversaw the association’s media relations work at times in addition to working on international issues such as counterfeiting and trademark protection.
Links: Scotch Whisky Association