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!
February 11, 2014 – Diageo’s new Orphan Barrel line of whiskies is based on so-called “found” barrels of whisky that have been maturing in warehouses for many years, but the company has now acknowledged the birthplace of the first two releases in the series. Until now, the only publicly disclosed information on the heritage of Old Blowhard and Barterhouse Bourbons was that they had been “discovered” in maturation warehouses, with Old Blowhard found at Diageo’s long-closed Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville.
Now, the source of both whiskies has been disclosed. Both were distilled in Louisville, though not at Stitzel-Weller, which closed in 1992. At that time, Diageo’s predecessor, United Distillers, shifted its Bourbon production to the newly-built Bernheim Distillery on West Breckenridge Street in Louisville. That distillery replaced the original Bernheim Distillery, which was located in downtown Louisville and opened in 1897.
The original Bernheim Distillery is the source of Old Blowhard, while the new distillery is the source of Barterhouse. It’s not known when the Old Blowhard casks were moved to Stitzel-Weller, where United Distillers and later Diageo have continued to use the on-site maturation warehouses.
The Bernheim Distillery is now owned by Heaven Hill, which acquired it following the 1996 fire that destroyed Heaven Hill’s distillery in Bardstown.
For more details on this time period, including the closing of Stitzel-Weller and the shift in production to Bernheim, listen to Mark Gillespie’s 2012 interview with Stitzel-Weller’s final master distiller, Bourbon Hall of Fame member Edwin Foote, in Episode 398 of WhiskyCast.
Tip of the hat to Geoff Kleinman at DrinkSpirits.com, who first reported the source of both whiskies.
February 11, 2014 – India’s Supreme Court has delayed hearings until April on an appeal from Diageo and United Spirits of a Karnataka state court ruling reversing the sale of a tranche of USL shares to Diageo. According to Reuters and the Business Standard, the court ordered that the “status quo” be maintained until that hearing, meaning Diageo continues to own the approximately 7% of USL shares in question and continues to manage United Spirits.
The Karnataka court ruled in December that Vijay Mallya’s United Breweries Holdings improperly sold those shares to Diageo in a series of complex transactions. The holding company owes creditors millions of dollars in failed loans. A group of creditors led by the State Bank of India argued that the negotiated sale price was far lower than the shares would have brought on the open market, and was done without their consent, since the shares had been pledged as collateral for loans to UB Group and Mallya’s grounded Kingfisher Airlines. A lower court had approved the sale last year, allowing Diageo to take operational control of USL in July.
At the time, Diageo had only been able to acquire about 25% of USL’s outstanding shares, but agreements with UB Group and other shareholders to vote their proxies at Diageo’s direction gave the drinks giant management control over USL. Diageo has since acquired another 3% of USL’s shares this month, bringing its total stake in the company to around 28%.
No date for the hearing was announced.
February 10, 2014 – This month marks 10 years since the passing of Booker Noe, the legendary 6th-generation Master Distiller at Jim Beam and the creator of Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon in 1989. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports Beam will release a 25th Anniversary edition of Booker’s using some of the final barrels from Noe’s historic career.
“There are some 10-year-old barrels laid down from the last bourbon Dad made before he passed away,” Fred Noe told the Herald-Leader’s Janet Patton. Those barrels will be used for the 25th anniversary edition, with only about 12,000 bottles to be available at a recommended price of around $100.
According to Beam, Fred Noe and his son, Freddie, selected those barrels specifically for the 25th Anniversary edition to be left in Booker Noe’s favorite warehouse for extra aging. Booker’s normally does not carry an age statement, but the casks used in this batch range from 9 to 11 years old. The batch has been bottled just as Booker Noe demanded it — uncut and unfiltered, with a final strength of 65.4% ABV (130.8 proof).
The anniversary edition also comes in a specially designed bottle and wooden presentation box.
Editor’s note: This story was edited to include additional information and a photo of the Booker’s bottle.
Links: Jim Beam
February 10, 2014 - The UK’s Office of Fair Trading will not issue its opinion on Diageo’s proposal to sell approximately 70% of Whyte & Mackay until the company has found a potential buyer. The regulatory agency released a redacted version of its opinion on Diageo’s acquisition of W&M parent United Spirits late last week, including its expectation that any buyer would have to commit to keeping Whyte & Mackay’s private label whisky business in place. OFT policy is that so-called “undertakings in lieu” proposals will not be considered for approval until after a sale proposal can be reviewed.
In November, the OFT rejected Diageo’s plan to acquire a controlling stake in India-based United Spirits on the grounds that it would reduce competition in the UK’s Blended Scotch whisky market, along with the private label market. Regulatory review found Diageo’s Bell’s brand overlaps with Whyte & Mackay’s namesake blend, and allowing the two brands to be owned by the same company could distort the market. In addition, the OFT found that other bulk whisky providers would not be able to supply the private label market should Diageo decide to end Whyte & Mackay’s role in that sector. The ruling has been placed on hold after Diageo proposed to resolve the agency’s concerns by sell off all of Whyte & Mackay except for the Dalmore and Tamnavulin malt whisky distilleries.
While United Spirits has hired an investment banker to review sale proposals, no offers have been publicly announced. Suntory denied reports in January that it would make a bid for the entire Whyte & Mackay unit. Former W&M owner Vivian Imerman’s Vasari private equity group expressed interest in December, but has not commented since then. Diageo and United Spirits have also declined to comment on the proposal.
The OFT’s entire report — redacted to remove trade secrets and confidential information — is available here.
February 7, 2014 – 12 down, just four to go…as Buffalo Trace releases the latest batch in the Single Oak Project series of experimental Bourbons. The project started back in 1999 when the late Ronnie Eddins picked 96 oak trees from a Missouri forest, and will be completed in 2015 with the release of the final batch and the verdict from whiskey lovers on the best of the 192 different variations.
Batch #12 focuses primarily on the differences between wood from the top of a tree and the bottom. Each of the 96 trees produced a barrel from the top and bottom halves, and while the size of the wood grain and the choice of wheat or rye-dominant recipes also varied, all other variables in the 12-bottle batch remained the same. In a news release, Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley noted the ongoing debate over whether staves cut from the top or bottom of a tree really make a difference in the final whiskey.
“From top to bottom, the tree chemistry is quite different. The chemicals most affected by the tree structure are oak lignins and tannins. Oak lignins are composed of two building blocks, vanillin and syringaldehyde. Generally there is a higher composition of oak lignins in the bottom part of the tree which in turn delivers more vanilla. Tannins are generally higher in concentration in the top section of the tree versus the bottom; however, they also vary from inside out. The outer heartwood is generally higher in tannin concentration. As far as taste, most people know how the vanilla contributes to the flavor, but tannins are important for the development of esters, which sometimes deliver fruitiness or complexity to the overall composition.”
This is one of the few times where tree location has been tested, since most barrels are made out of staves from several trees to ensure consistent flavor development during maturation — and because producing mass quantities of barrels using wood from a single tree would be economically unfeasible.
So far, the leading barrel in online voting is #82, with more than 4,000 online reviews of the 132 bottles released so far in the first 11 batches. Buffalo Trace plans to replicate the variables of the winning barrel to produce a permanent expression under the Single Oak Project label once the final batch is released next year.
Selected US retailers will receive cases later this month with one 375ml bottle of each of the 12 different barrels in the batch. The suggested retail price is $46.35 per bottle.
February 7, 2014 – With St. Patrick’s Day just six weeks away, Jameson has unveiled the fourth in its series of limited edition St. Patrick’s Day bottles. Irish illustrator Dermot Flynn used the culture of Dublin to create the label design, which will be featured on Jameson bottles to be available in travel retail and key global markets for a limited time.
Flynn’s illustration features the legendary Dublin pub, The Stag’s Head, along with some of the city’s historical figures and notable slang. In a news release, Jameson Global Brand Director Daniel Lundberg said the whiskey’s historical ties to Dublin are part of its “intrinsic Irish character.”
“Jameson embodies the down-to-earth character of Dubliners so with this new limited edition, we wanted to bring that to life and celebrate the great city which inspired John Jameson to make his now iconic whiskey for the first time over 230 years ago. The new bottle design has been very well-received by our customers around the world resulting in more markets than ever selling this year’s edition, so we’re hopeful that Irish whiskey fans around the world will love it too and make it a part of their special St Patrick’s Day celebrations, wherever they may be.”
The St. Patrick’s Day bottle will be available at the Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin, which will again be the home this year for the Jameson Global Broadcast on March 17 featuring broadcasters from radio stations around the world doing their shows from the distillery.
The announcement comes as Irish Whiskey continues to grow in global sales. Irish Whiskeys were the fastest-growing sector of the US whisky market during 2013, according to data released this week by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. In addition, the Irish Spirits Association projected this week that exports will double between now and 2020, from 6.2 million cases in 2013 to more than 12 million cases by 2020.
January 5, 2014 – Scotland’s Adelphi Distillery Ltd. has reached a deal with Chicago-based Terlato Wines to import and market its single-cask bottlings in the US market. The two companies plan four quarterly releases each year, starting with an initial batch of four Adelphi Selection expressions: a 14-year-old Highland Park, a 21-year-old Bunnahabhain, a 23-year-old Glen Grant, and a 32-year-old BenRiach. Recommended retail prices will range from $170 to $475. No details were announced on which markets the Adelphi Selection whiskies will be available in initially.
Terlato imports and distributes wines and spirits from at least 13 countries around the world, including wines from golf legend Jack Nicklaus, Champagne from France’s Bollinger, and the Terlato family’s own California wines. In a news release, Adelphi’s Alex Bruce described Terlato as the partner Adelphi had been searching for in the US market:
“We both have a ‘no-compromises’ philosophy when it comes to quality. Their success in luxury marketing is proven, and coupled with their excellent industry relationships, we are in a great position to bring Adelphi Scotch Whiskies to America’s most discerning Scotch Whisky enthusiasts.”
The deal does not yet include whisky from Adelphi’s new Ardnamurchan Distillery on Scotland’s Ardnamurchan peninsula. The distillery is expected to open later this year, but will not have any whisky ready to release for a minimum of three years, and likely much longer.
For more information on Adelphi’s history, listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Antonia Bruce of Adelphi in Episode 339 of WhiskyCast from October, 2011.
February 5, 2014 – Sullivan’s Cove is Tasmania’s best-selling single malt whisky, and the Tasmania Distillery has been forced to start limiting exports of its most popular expression to satisfy domestic demand. Sullivan’s Cove French Oak was named Best Australian Whisky in Whisky Magazine’s 2013 World Whisky Awards, and has also received numerous other awards in international competitions.
In a news release, Master Distiller Patrick Maguire said the decision to limit exports will ensure availability of the French Oak expression for the next five years.
“The industry has come a very long way over the past few years and this is exactly the situation that we hoped we would be in one day, we just didn’t expect it to happen this soon. It is a great problem to have and we are making all efforts to ensure that sufficient stock remains available for our Australian customers.”
Domestic sales now account for 90% of Sullivan’s Cove sales, up from 40% four years ago as Australians embrace locally-produced whiskies.
Links: Sullivan’s Cove
February 4, 2014 – Global demand for Bourbon and Tennesee Whiskey helped push US spirits exports to a new record during 2013, with total projected exports of more than $1.52 billion dollars, according to a report released today in New York City by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. The report is based on US Commerce Department export data, and shows overall US whisky exports broke the billion-dollar mark for the first time with a 5% increase over 2012 on total export sales of $1.1 billion.
“It’s not the biggest industry in the United States, but it’s nice to see that we’re catching up with the other exports,” DISCUS Chief Executive Officer Adm. Peter Cressy told reporters and analysts in a briefing at the New York Yacht Club. In addition, distilled spirits sales continued to grow in the domestic market, with a market share of 34.7% — up from 34.3% in 2012 and a total of 6% since 2000. Key factors in the growth on both fronts are being seen as product innovation, the whisky renaissance, and a growing middle class worldwide, according to Christine LoCascio, DISCUS Senior Vice President for International Trade. “There is a genuine affection for ‘Brand America’ as a symbol of quality and taste.”
The industry trend toward premiumization is also receiving credit for the growth in US spirit sales, along with new trade agreements that have opened up emerging markets and lowered spirits tariffs in other markets. Whiskies account for 70% of US spirits exports, and Canada remains the largest export market with projected sales of $212.1 million in 2013. The UK, Australia, Germany, and France round out the top five export markets, followed by Japan, Spain, The Netherlands, Mexico, and Italy. Six of the top ten export markets are members of the European Union, and DISCUS officials noted that US spirits exports to the EU have tripled since tariffs were eliminated on distilled spirits in 1994. The EU accounts for 45% of all US spirits exports.
On the domestic front, whisky sales jumped 6.2% during 2013, with sales of more than 52 million 9-liter cases during the year, and accounts for 80% of the industry’s volume growth. Irish Whiskey led the percentage increases again in 2013 with 17.5 growth over 2012, blended whiskey sales rose 14.3%, Single Malt Scotch sales gained 11.6%, and combined sales of Bourbons and Tennessee Whiskeys were up 6.8%. Falling below the average were Canadian Whisky sales (still up 2.9%), and Blended Scotch Whisky sales (up 2%). It should be noted that Blended Scotch sales amounted to 7.8 million cases in 2013, compared to 1.8 million cases of Single Malt Scotch whiskies.
DISCUS executives also cited the trend in many states to remove Prohibition-era restrictions on liquor sales, along with the rapid growth in craft distillers. 82 distillers have joined the organization as “Small Distiller Affiliate Members”, and there are now more than 400 licensed craft distillers in the US.
The entire DISCUS briefing can be heard here:
January 31, 2014 – It’s become a ritual when flying into the US…clear passport control, claim your bags, and then try to cram that bottle of whisky from the duty-free shop inside your suitcase before re-checking it for your connecting flight and a visit to the security checkpoint. That changes starting today, as the Transportation Security Administration is changing its rules for carry-on liquids to allow for duty-free alcohol purchases…in most cases.
According to CNN and the TSA’s web site, passengers flying into the US from another country will be allowed to carry liquids in bottles larger than 100ml, as long as the bottle is inside the sealed, tamper-resistant bag used for travel retail purchases and can be screened at a security checkpoint. Whiskies being carried through a security checkpoint will be screened using the same scanners that are used for medicines in bottles larger than three ounces.
The change is not universal, though. TSA officers must be able to see the liquid inside the bottle as part of the screening process, which may force some travelers to either put a bottle into a checked bag or give up the bottle. The TSA specifically lists ceramic decanters such as those used for the Royal Salute blended Scotch whiskies (pictured), along with opaque and metallic bottles and warns that other containers may not be able to be screened. While not specifically addressed, that suggests that canisters and boxes that cover the entire bottle could be rejected at US security checkpoints. One suggestion — ask that the bottle be removed from its packaging and placed in the sealed bag separately with the packaging.
There is no change in the restrictions for domestic passengers within the US, with liquids restricted to containers smaller than 3.4 ounces (100ml).