Each week, we bring you the latest whisky news on WhiskyCast. Now, we’ll be bringing it to you as it happens here on our News Updates page!
September 23, 2016 – Ever since the late Booker Noe created the original Knob Creek Bourbon in 1992, the whiskey has carried an age statement: nine years old. Now, WhiskyCast has confirmed that beginning in the next week, the age statement will be removed from bottles being filled with Knob Creek at Jim Beam’s bottling plants in Kentucky. A Beam executive confirmed the move in emails today, while noting that the whiskey inside the bottle will continue to be at least nine years old “for a while.” Pricing for the small batch Bourbon will not change as a result of the move.
The decision is not being made because of supply shortages, according to the Beam executive. The company’s Kentucky maturation warehouses have significant supplies of older Bourbon as well as younger whiskies, and the brand’s long-term plan is to start blending those casks in order to maintain the same taste profile, according to the Beam executive. Beam’s master distiller and the son of Booker Noe, Fred Noe, will be responsible for making sure the taste profile of the new blend is consistent with the current nine-year-old version of Knob Creek. No firm decision has been made on when the switch will take place, but in an email, Noe insisted that consumers will not be able to tell the difference.
“When Dad created Knob Creek 24 years ago, he set out to restore the standards of pre-prohibition bourbon – one that’s distilled, aged and blended in small batches and bottled at 100 proof to achieve a big, full-flavored taste profile. While our label will no longer feature an age statement, our taste profile and the high quality standards Booker demanded are not. THAT’S what defines Knob Creek … and it’s what Knob Creek will always deliver.”
Ironically, Fred Noe was involved in the last age statement debate over Knob Creek – when he and company executives agreed to stop production of the whiskey in 2009 for nearly six months after Beam’s maturation warehouses in Kentucky ran out of casks for nine-year-old Knob Creek. In an October, 2009 WhiskyCast interview, Fred Noe said Beam could have used younger whiskies to solve that shortage – but chose not to. “We could have compromised the Knob Creek and went to a younger age and not hold as strong on our nine years of age, but then we would have been – I think – compromising the product and the loyal people who support Knob Creek and want it nine years of age,” he said at the time.
Since then, Beam’s stockpiles of maturing whiskey have expanded and Noe emphasizes that older whiskies will remain part of the Knob Creek blend. “We have plenty of liquid older than nine years and plenty under nine from the best parts of the rackhouse that may be blended to deliver the same taste profile that Booker demanded for Knob Creek Bourbon,” he said today.
The move will not affect the Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon, which will continue to carry the nine-year age statement.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include comments from Beam master distiller Fred Noe.
Links: Knob Creek
September 22, 2016 – While Buffalo Trace Distillery’s name dates back only to the late 1990’s, the distillery itself has a history going back to 1786. Though the distillery has had many names over the years, it was best known as the O.F.C. Distillery (for Old, Fire, and Copper) when it was owned by the legendary Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr., who gave the distillery that name in 1870. Now, the Sazerac-owned distillery plans to release a series of vintage Bourbons under the O.F.C. label for retail sale starting in 2017. However, the name has been updated slightly to “Old Fashioned Copper”, though the whiskies will be bottled in a replica of an original O.F.C. decanter from the early 1900’s.
However, the first 200 bottles of O.F.C.’s whiskies will be given away this fall – not to the public, but to charities that will be able to auction the bottles to raise money for their programs. The initial release will include 100 bottles from 1980, 50 bottles from 1982, and 50 bottles from 1983. Registered charitable organizations can apply online to be considered for the program, and will have until March 1, 2017 to auction their bottle.
This is the second time Sazerac and Buffalo Trace have conducted a charitable program with rare whiskies. The Millennium Barrel project in 2011 raised more than $150,000 for charities through auctions of the 174 bottles that came from the final barrel of Bourbon filled on December 31, 1999 before the turn of the century.
September 22, 2016 – While the focus of this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans was centered on the 50th anniversary of Ford’s legendary dominance of the 1966 race, 2016 is also the 60th anniversary of one of the high marks in Scottish motor racing. In 1956, the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar D-Type won the overall title at Le Mans with drivers Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson. Flockhart repeated as champion the following year with Ivan Bueb, while Sanderson and John Lawrence gave the team a 1-2 finish.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the 1956 race, Duncan Taylor is releasing a special Ecurie Ecosse Scotch Whisky. The eight-year-old blend has three different labels featuring three of Ecurie Ecosse’s cars: the 1956 Jaguar D-Type Le Mans winner, the 2015 BMW Z4 that won overall honors in last year’s 24 Hours of Spa, and this year’s McLaren 650S GT3 car that competed in the British GT Championship. Duncan Taylor’s Black Bull brand has been the primary sponsor for Ecurie Ecosse’s racing program for several years, and the new blend was unveiled at a party Wednesday night in Oldmeldrum to cap off the 2016 season.
During the evening, two sets featuring all three bottles signed by the Ecurie Ecosse drivers, team principal Hugh McCaig, and Duncan Taylor chairman Euan Shand were auctioned to raise money for Race Against Dementia. Sir Jackie Stewart founded the Alzheimer’s charity after his wife Helen was diagnosed with the disease in 2014, and the auction raised £2,000 GBP ($2,615 USD). The three-time F1 World Champion is one of the many Scottish racers who have competed for Ecurie Ecosse, along with F1 World Champion and 1965 Indianapolis 500 winner Jim Clark.
The evening also served as a “retirement” celebration for Euan Shand, who announced his plans to step back from managing the company’s day-to-day operations. Shand has owned Duncan Taylor since 2001, when he acquired the company and its stocks of whisky originally laid down by the late Abe Rosenberg. While he will still be heavily involved in buying and selecting casks of whisky for bottling, CEO Moji Shand and newly-hired general manager Gavin Birnie will manage the company’s operations in Huntly, Aberdeenshire and Southern California.
The Ecurie Ecosse blend will be available at UK whisky shops and through Duncan Taylor’s Whiskies of Scotland online shop at SingleMaltsDirect.com, with a recommended retail price of £28 per 700ml bottle.
September 18, 2016 – As the 25th Kentucky Bourbon Festival winds down in Bardstown, Kentucky, the town that calls itself the “Bourbon Capital of the World” is now producing more whiskey than it has in many years. Bardstown’s third distillery began production for the first time this week as the stills at the Bardstown Bourbon Company came to life for the first time, and a fourth distillery is slated to open by the end of 2017. Those distilleries will join Sazerac’s 1792 Barton Distillery and the Willett Distillery, which began producing whiskey in Bardstown in 2012.
“Yesterday, we actually did our first distillation…the first product came over the tailboxes and into the tank, and it’s sitting waiting to be barreled now,” Bardstown Bourbon Company master distiller Steve Nally said Friday in a telephone interview. The Bourbon Hall of Fame inductee and former master distiller at Maker’s Mark and Wyoming Whiskey had been preparing for that day for nearly two years since the project was announced. Rough weather in 2014 delayed construction crews from pouring the foundation and slab for the $25 million dollar distillery, and work has only been completed so far on the production side of the building. The opening of a visitors center and special events facility has been pushed back to the end of this year.
While most of the distillery’s production capacity of 25,000 barrels per year will be used for its own whiskies, the new distillery was designed to be able to provide bulk whiskey to “custom production” customers. Nally says demand for bulk whiskey has been so strong that plans are in the works for an expansion that could begin as early as next year and add an additional 10,000 barrels of capacity. “We’ve just had phone call after phone call…of course, some of them are people that we don’t think that’s our cup of tea, so to speak – it’s somebody that’s wanting to start up a new product,” Nally said. “Everybody that we’re taking on is somebody that’s got a product or a distillery where they need more production or they have been getting from the bigger guys and, well, they’re being cut off.”
With global demand for Bourbon at unprecedented levels, many of Kentucky’s large distilleries have been cutting back on contract production. Donn Lux, the chief executive officer of St. Louis-based Luxco, realized a couple of years ago that his company would soon face that problem in sourcing whiskey for its Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks, Blood Oath, and other whiskey brands. Last year, Luxco announced plans to build its own Bourbon distillery in Bardstown.
“We make no bones about it…we buy our whiskey from Jim Beam, we have some old Diageo whiskey, and of course, we make the majority of our whiskey at Heaven Hill,” Lux said in a telephone interview. “We were in discussions with the people who are making it for us to say ‘these are our projections’, and they were saying ‘I’m not so sure we can make you that much whiskey’ – and so we started looking at sites.” Lux confirmed that the privately-held company looked at sites in Indiana and Missouri before settling on Kentucky, where the state offers distillers tax credits for construction projects that can be applied against their corporate income taxes. While Luxco has not announced how much it is investing in the distillery, filings with Kentucky’s economic development agencies indicate a projected budget of between $25 and $30 million.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Donn Lux:
Luxco held a ceremony during the Bourbon Festival to unveil the name (Lux Row Distillers) and logo for the distillery. As with the Bardstown Bourbon Company, poor weather this summer has delayed much of the work at the site. The foundation and slab are scheduled to be poured in the coming weeks, and Lux expects the distillery to open by the end of 2017. At full production, Lux Row will provide all of the company’s projected demand for maturing whiskey stocks by the end of 2018, with its current supply of sourced whiskey to meet demand until the Lux Row whiskey is ready for bottling.
Lux Row will be the first distillery for Luxco, which has always sourced spirits for its brands from other companies, and Lux describes it as a transformational step for the company. “While we’ve built a wonderful business, we’ve never distilled anything on our own. We have a very close relationship with our tequila producer in Mexico, but at the end of the day, it’s his agave and his distillery…so this is very exciting for us,” he said.
Could there be a fifth distillery in Bardstown’s future? The site of the old Heaven Hill Distillery has never been re-developed since the 1996 fire. Heaven Hill moved all of its distilling to Louisville’s Bernheim Distillery after buying the facility in 1999, while maturation, blending, and bottling are all done at the company’s campus in Bardstown. Company executives have never ruled out a return to distilling in Bardstown, though their focus in recent years has been on expanding capacity at Bernheim.
September 14, 2016 – In what may have been the most unsurprising “surprise” announcement out of Kentucky in many years, longtime Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell has been named as the second recipient of the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award by the Kentucky Distillers Association and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. The award was presented during today’s Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame induction ceremony at My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown. Recipients are nominated from within the Kentucky Bourbon industry and selected by the association’s board of directors.
We use the term “unsurprising” because when Parker Beam was presented the inaugural award that bears his name last year, his longtime friend Jimmy Russell was given the honor of presenting it. The two men were part of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 2001 and share a shelf full of other whiskey industry honors between them.
“Parker’s a close friend of mine, and you know what kind of shape he’s in…he was the first recipient of it…being the second and voted by your peers…it’s a great honor for me,” Russell said in an interview conducted before the official announcement. Parker Beam has been battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for the last four years, and his health has forced him to step back from his work at Heaven Hill to assume the title of Master Distiller Emeritus. “Jimmy and I have known each other for over 50 years – I have nothing but respect and admiration for Jimmy and his family,” Beam said in a news release.
Russell has been a fixture at the Lawrenceburg, Kentucky distillery for 62 years, and now shares the title of Master Distiller with his son Eddie. In addition to his 2001 Hall of Fame induction, Russell was named an Honorary Life Board Member of the Kentucky Distillers Association in 2014.
In addition to the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award, four members of the Class of 2016 were inducted into the Hall of Fame.
- Bill Street, former president of Brown-Forman
- John Rhea, recently retired Chief Operating Officer of Four Roses
- Joy Perrine, award-winning Louisville bartender and author
- Barry Becton, senior director of state government affairs for Diageo North America
The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame was created in 2001 by the KDA and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Inductees are nominated by the KDA, its member distilleries, and the Bourbon Festival board in four categories: Industry, Journalism, Roll of Honor, and Lifetime Achievement, with the final selections made by the KDA board of directors. The Hall of Fame inductees appear in a special exhibit on permanent display at the Oscar Getz Museum of Bourbon History in Bardstown.
Updated September 14, 2016 – After years of speculation over when Ardbeg might bring out a new single malt with an age statement, the wait is over. The Islay distillery has announced that a limited-edition 21-year-old Ardbeg will be released on October 1. Previous reports indicated that the single malt would be available exclusively to members of the Ardbeg Committee affinity group, however, that will not be the case. According to Dr. Bill Lumsden, chief whisky maker for Ardbeg owner The Glenmorangie Company, the limited-edition whisky will be available in the US, the UK, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Scandinavia, and other markets, with a total of 689 9-liter cases available.
Until now, the Ardbeg 10 has been the only expression released with an age statement since the distillery reopened on a full-time basis in 1997 after it was purchased by The Glenmorangie Company. According to Lumsden, the whisky for this expression was distilled in 1993 and 1994 when Ardbeg was owned by Allied Domecq and only operated for a few weeks each year to produce peated malt whisky primarily for blending use. Many of Allied Domecq’s Scotch Whisky distilleries were later merged into Pernod Ricard’s Chivas Brothers unit after the breakup of Allied Domecq, and Lumsden credits Chivas Brothers with making this bottling possible.
“They very kindly agreed to sell us that stock back…now, when you buy stock back from someone which has been destined for blends, you’re never certain as to the quality of the wood that it’s been filled into,” Lumsden said in an interview at Möet Hennessy USA’s New York offices. “Prior to the purchase, I was sent samples from six or so casks out of the 270 or so we bought, so obviously when the deal went through and I had the stock moved to Ardbeg Distillery on Islay (it had been matured in Chivas Brothers warehouses on the mainland), I sampled every single cask, and I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised at how good the stock was.” Current Ardbeg manager Mickey Heads was working at the distillery as a stillman during the period when this whisky was originally distilled, and was given the honor of having his signature on the label for the Ardbeg 21.
The whisky was matured in ex-Bourbon casks and bottled at 46% ABV with no chill-filtering. It will carry a recommended retail price in the US of $499 (750ml bottles). Pricing will vary in other markets.
Lumsden noted that while the Ardbeg 21 is a limited release, he only used about half of the whisky available from those 270 casks, meaning another possible release will be coming in the future. He also hinted that 2017 will bring a permanent addition to the Ardbeg range to join the 10-year-old, Corryvreckan, and Uigeadail, though declined to provide more specifics.
Tasting notes for the Ardbeg 21 will be available soon at WhiskyCast.com.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information and comments from Dr. Bill Lumsden.