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!
May 18, 2015 – It’s been 17 years since Gordon & MacPhail reopened Benromach Distillery in Speyside, and the distillery is now releasing a new 15-year-old single malt as a permanent part of the Benromach range. While the distillery has released older expressions of Benromach in recent years, the whisky in this expression comes from stocks produced since Benromach reopened in 1998.
In a news release, Gordon & MacPhail chief operating officer Ewen Mackintosh said “the whisky has a great deal of character and we hope it will appeal to whisky lovers who have tried other Benromach single malts and to those who would like to see what a classic pre-1960s Speyside malt is like.” The company’s goal in reopening Benromach was to produce whiskies similar to those distilled in Speyside during the years between the end of World War II and the 1960’s.
The Benromach 15 is bottled at 43% ABV, and will be available in the UK, Europe, and other export markets with a recommended UK retail price of £48.99 GBP ($77 USD).
This week’s episode (May 23) of WhiskyCast will feature an audio tour of Benromach with distillery manager Keith Cruickshank.
May 15, 2015 – During the “golden age” of Irish Whiskey in the late 1800’s, Irish Whiskey was more popular worldwide than Scotch or any other style of whisky. While many factors were responsible for the sharp decline in Irish Whiskey’s popularity during the 20th Century, there’s no doubt that the current boom in Irish Whiskey sales has sparked a renaissance of distilling in Ireland, with annual exports up 220% since 2003 and growing consistently each year.
Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and the Irish Whiskey Association announced a new “Vision for Irish Whiskey” plan this week at the Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin. The plan projects at least 26 new distilleries over the next ten years – with several already under construction, and an ambitious goal of tripling the sector’s share of the global whisky market from 4% to 12% by 2030. Other key proposals include:
- Raising Irish Whiskey exports from the current 6.5 million (9-liter) cases to 12 million by 2020
- Doubling those exports between 2020 and 2030
- Increasing annual production by 41% by 2025
- Increasing whisky-related tourism from 600,000 visitors annually to 800,000 by 2020
- Increase whisky sector employment by 30% to 6,500 direct and indirect jobs by 2025.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Irish Whiskey Association chairman Bernard Walsh:
The plan projects total investment of €1 billion ($1.14 billion USD) between 2010 and 2025, including investments already made at the Irish Distillers-owned Midleton Distillery and new projects such as the new Tullamore D.E.W Distillery in Tullamore, the Teeling Whiskey Company in Dublin, and the Walsh Whiskey Distillery in Carlow scheduled to open by the end of 2015.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include audio from an interview with Irish Whiskey Association chairman Bernard Walsh.
Links: Irish Whiskey Association
May 15, 2015 – Bernard Walsh’s Walsh Whiskey Distillery is still several months away from producing its first spirit, but the fledgling project is already facing a massive bill from Irish Water. The national water utility has hit Walsh Whiskey with a €500,000 ($572,550 USD) bill for the costs of upgrading the local water treatment plant in Carlow to handle the extra demand anticipated once the distillery goes on line.
According to TheJournal.ie, Walsh has “no intention” of paying the bill, which he was notified of in March. Walsh and his investors have spent approximately €25 million ($28.6 million USD) to build the distillery in County Carlow. While most of the water the distillery uses will be recycled, the project received approval from local officials in 2013 to send its waste water to the local treatment plant. “This is something they should have sorted out with the local authority,” he told the Journal. Walsh was unavailable for interviews this week.
The timing of that approval may be critical to resolving the process. The Irish Government created Irish Water in 2013 to take over water and wastewater services from local governments, in a move that created significant controversy as the takeover took effect in early 2014. In a statement provided to The Journal, Irish Water noted that all planning applications for construction projects since January 1, 2014 require separate applications to the utility for water and sewer services.
“If a business is making a planning application that needs new water infrastructure, which is solely required to service the development, then Irish Water is obliged to recover the costs of delivering this infrastructure from that business.”
Walsh has pledged to pay the distillery’s actual water and waste-treatment bills, but told the Journal that the distillery’s permits were granted in 2013 before the establishment of Irish Water, and that he will “absolutely not” pay for the costs to upgrade the local water treatment facility.
We have asked Irish Water for an explanation of the charges, given the timeline for planning permission and discharge permit approvals in 2013. This story will be updated when we receive a response.
May 12, 2015 – Kyle Rogers, the younger of the two cousins critically burned in a distillery explosion April 24, died Monday night at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Rogers and his older cousin Jay were opening the stillhouse door at Silver Trail Distillery in Hardin, Kentucky when the blast blew them 25 to 30 feet away from the building. Both men were flown by helicopter to the Vanderbilt burn unit.
According to Kentucky Distillers Association president Eric Gregory, Kyle Rogers was the more seriously injured of the two. Gregory has been serving as a spokesman for the Rogers families, and told WhiskyCast in a telephone interview that Kyle Rogers had not been responding well to treatment. “He had developed a bacterial infection, and they removed his foot in hopes of stopping it…but that didn’t stop it,” Gregory said. “The doctors did everything they could, and finally, I think, it just took over his body…there was nothing more that the doctors could do, so the family decided to remove the ventilator and put him in God’s hands.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Eric Gregory:
Infection is the major cause of death in patients with severe burns. According to research for the National Institutes of Health, 75% of all deaths in patients with burns over more than 40% of the body are caused by infections or infection-related complications.
Kyle Rogers’ family released this statement through the KDA Tuesday afternoon:
“We are deeply saddened to report that our son, Kyle, passed away last evening. And yet, we take solace in the fact that he is in God’s comforting hands and is being greeted by cherished loved ones. We know Kyle is at peace and free of the pain from the last two weeks. We cannot begin to express our thanks for the wonderful and caring medical team at Vanderbilt Hospital and the tremendous outpouring of support from friends and loved ones, especially the family of Jay Rogers who have stood by our side and shared in our prayers. We also would like to thank Spencer Balentine and all of Kyle’s colleagues at Silver Trail Distillery. Kyle took so much pride in being a moonshiner, and we are grateful that he was able to work in a profession that he loved so much. It is now our turn to pray for all those who knew and loved Kyle, and to show our thanks through God that we were blessed to call him son, brother and friend for 27 years. He will be with us always.”
Jay Rogers continues to improve gradually, and Gregory said he has been able to walk around the hospital for short periods of time. “He’s still got a long way to go…we’re all still praying for him and he’s going to need all the help we can offer as well.”
The “Lifting Spirits – Jay and Kyle Rogers Support Fund” established after the explosion has raised more than $20,000 so far, with several fundraisers in the works. Donations are also being accepted at CFSB Bank in Benton, Kentucky. Gregory indicated that plans are also in the works to establish a scholarship at Murray State University in Kyle Rogers’ name.
The cause of the explosion remains under investigation, though investigators with the Kentucky State Fire Marshal’s office have indicated that high pressure caused a “catastrophic failure” of the still. The two men had entered the building to check on a distilling run that had been going on for several hours when the explosion occurred.
May 11, 2015 – With the debate over the merits of age statements sparking division among whisky lovers, two Scotch Whisky producers took different positions on the issue today. Independent bottler and blender Wemyss Malts announced plans to “evolve” its range of blended malts to include higher bottling strengths and no chill-filtering, but without age statements going forward. On the other side, Burn Stewart Distillers announced new 18-year-old versions of both its Deanston and Ledaig single malts – also without chill-filtering. The process, which strips away some of the fatty molecules in whiskies through filtering just before bottling, produces whiskies that are consistently clear on retail shelves but is also criticized by connoisseurs for stripping away some of the whisky’s flavors.
Wemyss Malts cited a “global shortage of aged Scotch whisky” as the reason for discontinuing its 8-year-old versions of Peat Chimney, The Hive, and Spice King blended malts. The 12-year-old versions of all three whiskies will continue to be available on a limited basis. In a news release, Wemyss Malts founder William Wemyss cited the success of the company’s Velvet Fig blended malt, which was introduced last year with no age statement, a 46% ABV bottling strength, and no chill-filtering. “Velvet Fig was our first blended malt foray into higher strength and non chill-filtered bottlings and the reception from our customers was extremely positive,” he said. “Consequently, we felt that the time was right to move our core expressions of The Hive, Spice King and Peat Chimney in the same direction.”
Burn Stewart plans to make the new 18-year-old Ledaig and Deanston expressions part of each distillery’s permanent range. Ledaig is the name for the peated whiskies from the company’s Tobermory Distillery on the Isle of Mull, and the move follows last week’s release of a 42-year-old Ledaig single malt distilled in 1972. Both whiskies are bottled at 46.3% ABV, and will be available in the UK, Europe, North America, and Asia. The Deanston 18 carries a recommended retail price of £80 ($124 USD), while the Ledaig 18’s recommended retail price is £85 ($132).
May 11, 2015 – Perpetuum, this year’s Ardbeg limited-edition release, went on sale for Ardbeg Committee members last Monday (May 4) through the distillery’s online web site – for those fortunate enough to get through before the site crashed.
“It was basically a matter of demand and supply, in the sense that demand was so big on the web site that the web site stopped functioning properly,” according to Glenmorangie Company spokesman Hamish Torrie. In a telephone interview, Torrie apologized for the inconvenience to Ardbeg Committee members and said the company is investigating why the site was not able to handle the expected demand.
Perpetuum marks the distillery’s 200th anniversary this year, and will be available worldwide on May 30 as a part of Ardbeg Day celebrations during the Islay Festival of Malt & Music. Details on the celebration have not been formally announced, but hints have been given that it will look at the future of Ardbeg 200 years from now.
May 10, 2015 – Chatham Imports, the owner of Michter’s, has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the investor group hoping to revive the old Bomberger’s Distillery in Pennsylvania that originally produced the Michter’s whiskies. The group, led by Marc Reber, Eric Wolfe and Avianna Wolfe, has the support of former master distiller Dick Stoll, who oversaw distilling at the Lebanon County distillery at the time it closed in 1989. Chatham later acquired the Michter’s intellectual property rights and began producing whiskey in Kentucky under the Michter’s brand name.
The lawsuit comes after dueling “cease and desist” letters between the two companies claiming rights to the Bomberger’s name. In a telephone interview, Avianna Wolfe said the Pennsylvania group filed for a trademark on “Bomberger’s Distillery” in 2012. “Really, what’s happening is unfortunately, a case of trademark bullying,” she said, noting that their first product did not reach the market for two years. “Probably because of (our) naiveté and really not understanding the legal system properly and not being well-capitalized at that point, that we probably registered it too early, so there’s a time lapse between when we registered it and when our product went out.”
During that period, Chatham registered a trademark for “Bomberger’s Declaration” and produced a limited-edition release in September of 2014. The Pennsylvania group’s first bottling of a sourced whiskey under the Bomberger’s brand was released in October of 2014. “We’re sold in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, here in Pennsylvania of course, and we’re working on building a distillery that’s just a few miles away from the original site,” Wolfe said.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Avianna Wolfe:
Chatham Imports president Joseph Magliocco responded to a request for his company’s side of the story via email:
“We wholeheartedly believe in good faith that both the facts and the law support our rights to the brand Bomberger’s Declaration™. We believe that new entrants to the American whiskey business are good for the category, good for the industry, and good for consumers. While we wish them well, we simply expect companies to respect one another’s intellectual property rights.”
Arianna Wolfe accused Chatham of trying to outspend them in legal fees, estimating that it would cost at least $50,000 to take the case to discovery and be able to question Chatham executives under oath in the case. “The strategy is to outspend us and crush us that way,” she said.
The lawsuit was filed in US District Court in New York City. No date has been set for a hearing in the case.
Editor’s note: A copy of the lawsuit is available to view here. In civil cases, court filings represent only one side of a story, and should not be considered as proven facts until argued in a court. This story was updated to correct the location of the original Bomberger’s Distillery from Lancaster County to Lebanon County.
May 5, 2015 – While the “handmade” class-action lawsuit against Maker’s Mark in California remains in the hands of a San Diego federal court judge, the distillery has won its bid to dismiss a similar lawsuit filed in a Florida federal court. Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle granted the Beam Suntory-owned distillery’s motion to dismiss a proposed class-action lawsuit by attorneys for plaintiffs Dimitric Salters and A.G. Waseem based on the same arguments as the California lawsuit.
In his ruling, Hinkle said the plaintiffs failed to make their case that Maker’s Mark violated Florida consumer protection laws with claims that its Bourbon is handmade, and that there was no possible way the plaintiffs could have not known that Maker’s Mark is a mass-marketed product available nationally. From the ruling:
“The term “handmade” goes back many years. The original meaning was “distinguished from the work of nature.” (Oxford English Dictionary 1251, 9th ed. 1971). In that sense all bourbon is handmade; bourbon, unlike coffee or orange juice, cannot be grown in the wild.
But the term “handmade” is no longer used in that sense. The same dictionary now gives a circular definition: “handmade” means “[m]ade by hand.” Id. But the term obviously cannot be used literally to describe bourbon. One can knit a sweater by hand, but one cannot make bourbon by hand. Or at least, one cannot make bourbon by hand at the volume required for a nationally marketed brand like Maker’s Mark. No reasonable consumer could believe otherwise.”
Beam Suntory and Maker’s Mark executives praised the ruling. In a news release, Maker’s Mark Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels said “We have asserted all along that the complaints in this case were frivolous and without merit, and we are very pleased the court agreed with our position so emphatically.”
Tallahassee attorney Tim Howard responded to Judge Hinkle’s ruling by email:
“This Judge couldn’t understand what a consumer would understand “handmade” to mean in making a purchase. While this is normally not an issue at this stage of litigation, we are researching this issue and will make some key decisions on this case over the next week. A similar case that we have against Tito’s Handmade Vodka was upheld with similar facts.”
Howard will decide over the next several days whether to ask the judge to reconsider his ruling or appeal to a higher court.
The judge in the California case has not issued his ruling on a similar motion by Maker’s Mark and Beam Suntory to dismiss that case. The judge decided in late March that no hearings were necessary on the motion, and intends to issue a written ruling.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a response from attorney Tim Howard, who represents the plaintiffs in the case. A PDF file of the judge’s ruling is available at our web site.
Links: Maker’s Mark
May 4, 2015 – Chivas Brothers distilleries took two of the three awards in the 2015 Spirit of Speyside Festival Whisky Awards. Festival visitors voted on two finalists in each of the three categories at venues around Speyside during the weekend, with the final results announced Sunday night at the festival’s closing ceilidh in Elgin.
Strathisla 12 Years Old won over Diageo’s Cardhu Gold Reserve in the category for single malts 12 years old and younger or those with no age statement, while Aberlour 18 defeated the Glenfiddich 18 in competition for malts 13 to 18 years old. Diageo’s Glen Spey 21-year-old took top honors for malts over 18 years old, narrowly defeating Benromach 30 Years Old.
The six finalists were selected by a judging panel of whisky writers, retailers, and industry leaders earlier this year.
Earlier in the weekend, the festival honored longtime Glen Grant veteran Dennis Malcolm with the inaugural “Spirit of Speyside Award” for his contributions to the whisky industry and the community. Whisky writer Martine Nouet was named the festival’s International Ambassador of the Year, while Diageo brand support manager Linda Mellis was named Ambassador of the Year. She is responsible for marketing and brand support for Diageo’s distilleries in Speyside, and also oversees the visitors centers at many of the company’s distilleries.
Links: Spirit of Speyside Festival
April 30, 2015 – No matter who wins next Thursday’s UK parliamentary elections, Scotch Whisky drinkers and the whisky industry are likely to come out as winners. That’s because a key Scottish National Party leader is all but ruling out any change in the 2% cut in excise tax and duties on Scotch Whisky and other spirits announced in last month’s budget address by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Angus Robertson MP, who represents the Moray area in Westminster and leads Parliament’s Scotch Whisky interests along with the SNP delegation, told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in an interview at Glen Moray Distillery before the opening dinner for the Spirit of Speyside Festival that “we will be standing up for the interests of Scotch Whisky.”
The Scottish National Party is being seen by many UK observers as the likely winner — no matter how the rest of the vote turns out. Pollsters show the SNP’s slate of candidates across Scotland as likely to win a landslide with as many as 55 of Scotland’s 59 seats in Parliament, while the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats are all likely to wind up with fewer than the 323 seats needed for a majority in the House of Commons. While the SNP has so far ruled out joining a coalition with any of the other parties, party leaders have ruled out any coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives. While neither side is yet acknowledging the prospects of a likely coalition between Ed Miliband’s Labour Party and the SNP, the nationalists are widely expected to determine whether Miliband replaces Cameron as Prime Minister when all of the ballots are counted.
Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition announced a 2% cut in duties on Scotch Whisky and other spirits March 18, and observers warned at the time that a change in government could lead to a rollback of that move. Robertson cited two potential outcomes of the election if no party can win a majority: a coalition between SNP and Labour that both sides have so far publicly ruled out, and a “confidence and supply arrangement” between SNP and Labour in which support for specific issues would be negotiated in advance. Labour has already ruled that option out.
“Our relationship in Westminster, should we hold the balance of power, will be on an item-by-item basis when proposals come along, and you have an exclusive…we will be standing up for the interests of Scotch Whisky,” Robertson said. While a Cameron-led government is not expected to revisit the cut in whisky taxes, the Liberal Democrats have indicated that it would be up for review should they wind up in power.
At the time the cut was announced March 18 by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Scotch Whisky Association leaders praised the move and suggested that it could add an additional £1.5 billion pounds ($2.3 billion USD) in the whisky industry’s annual impact on the UK economy, which was estimated in a study released earlier this year at around £5 billion pounds each year.