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!

Distillers in Critical Condition After Silver Trail Explosion

Firefighters at the scene of the Silver Trail Distillery explosion in Hardin, Kentucky April 24, 2015. Photo courtesy Bill Allen and KFVS-TV.April 25, 2015 – Two distillers from Kentucky’s Silver Trail Distillery are in critical condition at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville following an explosion and fire at the distillery Friday morning. Jay Rogers and his cousin, Kyle Rogers, were taken by helicopter to the hospital’s burn center with what are described as serious injuries on the Silver Trail Facebook page. Silver Trail owner Spencer Balentine and his wife live in a house adjacent to the Hardin distillery, but escaped injury.

“Quite frankly, I think they’re lucky to be alive,” said Kentucky Distillers Association president Eric Gregory in a telephone interview. Gregory rushed to Hardin after the explosion to be with the Balentines. “The doors to the distillery were open, two big doors, and they were blown through those doors about 25-30 feet, and if those doors were closed, I think we’d had a much worse situaton…it’s really just a horrible accident.”

“Spencer Balentine is one of the true gentlemen in our industry…and he is distraught, and even more worried about his workers and his friends. When we asked yesterday what we can do, the first thing he said was ‘I want you to pray for my guys.'”

“I just heard a big old boom and I ran outside and it was huge,” neighbor Victoria Wallace told KFVS-TV. Investigators are still trying to determine the exact cause of the explosion, but Marshall County emergency management director Frank Murphy told Reuters that the two men were checking on a distilling run that had been going for about five hours when the explosion occurred as they opened the door. Firefighters from four area departments responded to the scene, but the building was completely destroyed in the fire.

Balentine opened Silver Trail in 2011, and made LBL Moonshine using his family’s original recipe for the illegal moonshine his father ran in the 1950’s. During Episode 388 of WhiskyCast in September 2012, he said the still he was using at the time was handed down through his family as well. Gregory said that still was not the one being used Friday at the time of the explosion, but involved a newer still Balentine had purchased since the 2012 interview. Silver Trail is a member of the Kentucky Distillers Association, and the distillery is an original member of the KDA’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.

40-year-old Jay Rogers had been working at Silver Trail for the last couple of years, while his 26-year-old cousin Kyle Rogers had just joined the distillery as an apprentice several years ago. An account has been established at Community Financial Services Bank in Paducah to help with their medical expenses, and a benefit is being planned at The Rickhouse in Bardstown on May 8.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information on the explosion and the victims.

Links: Silver Trail Distillery


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“Pardon My Pappy” Campaign Goes Viral

April 25, 2015 – While watching coverage of Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton’s news conference Tuesday on the indictments of nine people in connection with an ongoing series of Bourbon thefts, Louisville-based Bourbon blogger Carla Carlton was cheering…until a reporter asked what would be done with the stolen whiskey seized during the investigation. Sheriff Melton replied that while he hoped to return the estimated 25 sealed bottles of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve to the Van Winkle family, the whiskey would likely be destroyed.

“It was sort of like a disturbance in the Force…across the Internet, there was this collective gasp,” Carlton said in a telephone interview. “At that news conference, there was more Pappy sitting there than most people have ever seen at one time in their lives, and to think that might be destroyed along with the Eagle Rare 17 and Russell’s Reserve seemed like just adding another crime on top of the crime that had already been committed.”

Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Carla Carlton:


Carla Carlton, who blogs as "The Bourbon Babe", is leading the "Pardon My Pappy" campaign. Photo courtesy Carla Carlton. Carlton, who blogs as “The Bourbon Babe”, immediately launched a campaign to ask Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to “Pardon My Pappy” because, at 23 years old, he’s “too young to die”. The tongue-in-cheek campaign hopes to persuade state officials and the judge that will eventually hear the case to issue a waiver from a state law requiring that alcoholic beverages seized as evidence in a crime be destroyed. The campaign has received widespread interest from whisky lovers around the world through the #PardonMyPappy hashtag on Twitter, and Gov. Beshear’s office issued a statement responding to the outcry.

“We are all glad that some of the missing Bourbon has been found. Hopefully, we can find some worthy cause for some of Kentucky’s finest.”

Sheriff Melton said Tuesday the whiskey in barrels stolen from Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries will likely have to be destroyed, since there is no way to guarantee that they’re not tainted. However, the court could rule that bottles labeled for retail sale with the original distillery seals need not be destroyed, and state liquor regulators would also have to weigh in with a ruling on how the whiskey could legally be disposed of. In addition, the Pappy Van Winkle bottles stolen from Buffalo Trace’s warehouse in 2013 were covered by insurance, and it is possible that the insurance company could claim ownership of any recovered property covered by its policies.

The nine people indicted Tuesday in connection with a seven-year-long stretch of thefts from the distilleries include longtime Buffalo Trace employee Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger, described as the leader of the ring. He was arrested in March after a tip led deputies to his home near Frankfort, where they found five barrels of whiskey later found to have been stolen from Wild Turkey. Investigators say Curtsinger, along with fellow Buffalo Trace employee Christopher Preston and Wild Turkey employee Mark S. Searcy, allegedly stole whiskey from their distilleries and re-sold it with the help of the other suspects on the black market through contacts made at softball tournaments for below-market prices.

While federal officials have been watching the case, which also involves weapons and steroids charges, the prosecution is being handled by Franklin County prosecutors. However, Carlton does see a potential federal role, noting that the recovered Pappy Van Winkle whiskies could serve the national purpose if and when the long-discussed “Bourbon Summit” between President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is held.

Links: The Bourbon Babe Blog

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Bruichladdich’s Jim McEwan To Retire in July

Jim McEwan addresses the audience at Bruichladdich's 10th anniversary celebration September 10, 2011. Photo ©2011 by Mark Gillespie.April 24, 2015 – If you’re one of the 500 people with tickets for Jim McEwan’s master class during Bruichladdich’s open day next month during the Islay Festival of Malt & Music, (or the 380 currently on the waiting list), bring your handkerchief and prepare to shed a few tears. McEwan has announced his plans to retire in July after 15 years at Bruichladdich and 52 years in the Scotch Whisky industry.

“It’s a job complete, you know…I’ve been doing this a long time, but I’ve got a feeling I’ve never had before, and that feeling is the journey’s over, you’ve done it, you’ve survived…you’re leaving behind something really worthwhile in a small community…we’ve got 80 jobs here now, and that’s phenomenal. It’s time to move on and focus on the bits you’ve missed.”

“It’s going to be emotional, that’s for sure,” McEwan said in a telephone interview today. He plans to bring back the “Three Musketeers” who were at Bruichladdich when he was recruited by Mark Reynier in 2000 to help bring the distillery back to life. Duncan McGillivray, Duncan “Budgie” Mcfadyen, and John Rennie had kept the distillery in mothballs after it closed in 1994. “Guess who’s got the best seats in the house…these three guys, and I’ve got one or two surprises for them as well just to say thank you…the passion that they showed me when I walked through the gates, it was their passion and their belief that we could make it happen that turned me around.”

McEwan is 67 years old, and had originally committed last year to remain at Bruichladdich through 2016. However, the lure of his grandchildren persuaded him to retire a year earlier. “I traveled so much and done so many things…I missed out on my own family, so I’m certainly not going to miss out on my grandchildren, that’s for sure,” he said. His four grandchildren live in Glasgow with Jim and Barbara McEwan’s two daughters and their husbands, but Jim plans to have them spend summers on Islay. “We’ll go walk on the beaches and we’ll gather crabs and we’ll sail boats down the river and that sort of stuff…it’s really important to me and our family that they get that Islay DNA.”

He’s leaving the distillery’s DNA in the hands of distillery manager Allan Logan and incoming master blender Adam Hannett, both of whom McEwan considers to be as close as sons and has mentored as they worked their way up through the ranks at Bruichladdich. “Adam is going to be a perfect running mate for Allan, and together these two, they’re best buddies and that’s really important…you always need a running mate…I had Duncan McGillivray as my running mate in a similar situation…total respect for each other,” he said.

Listen to this week’s WhiskyCast for our interview with Jim McEwan.

Links: Bruichladdich web site

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Evan Williams Releases Derby Festival Bottling

Evan Williams Single Barrel 2006 Vintage Kentucky Derby Festival Bottling. Image courtesy Heaven Hill. April 23, 2015 – While the Kentucky Derby marks 141 years on Derby Day May 2, the Kentucky Derby Festival is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The festival includes more than 70 different events organized by volunteers from around the Louisville area between April 17 and May 1. This year, Heaven Hill’s Evan Williams Bourbon is marking the anniversary with a special limited-edition bottling of Evan Williams Single Barrel from two casks filled in 2006.

The bottles include a special teal-colored wax seal and label, and will go on sale Friday (April 24) only at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in downtown Louisville for $49.99 each on a first-come, first-served basis.

In addition, this year’s “Pegasus Pins” that admit owners to Derby Festival events include a discount for admission to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. Evan Williams is an official sponsor of the Kentucky Derby Festival.

Links: Evan Williams Bourbon Experience | Kentucky Derby Festival

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9 Indicted in Pappy Van Winkle & Wild Turkey Thefts

Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton addresses reporters following the indictments of nine people in a series of Bourbon thefts dating back to 2008. Image courtesy WDRB-TV.April 21, 2015 – From the beginning, Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton considered the 2013 theft of 65 cases of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve whiskey from a secured Buffalo Trace Distillery warehouse to be an inside job. Today, a Franklin County grand jury returned indictments against nine people in what’s become known as “PappyGate”, including two Buffalo Trace employees. The nine are accused of stealing and selling tens of thousands of dollars worth of stolen whiskey – potentially including the Pappy Van Winkle whiskey –  according to the indictments. Arraignments are expected as early as Friday, according to Sheriff Melton, assuming that all nine suspects can be served with warrants by then.

“Right now, I don’t know that I can look at it and say this is what was stolen from 2013,” Melton told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in a telephone interview. “I think you can look at it and say we’ve got 25 bottles of Pappy van Winkle of different vintages, and I think it’s safe to say this is an ongoing and continued pattern of behavior since – as we can track down – back to 2008…there’s been a lot of Bourbon stolen.” In all, at least 18 barrels of stolen Bourbon were accounted for, along with the stolen Pappy Van Winkle and other whiskies – for a total value of more than $100,000, and Melton called that “the tip of the iceberg.”

“Five barrels alone is gigantic…I would have never guessed that we’d have gotten what we got, much less 18 barrels and all the bottles and the contents out of another barrel…it’s just crazy.”

Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Sheriff Pat Melton:


Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger was arrested last month after deputies found five barrels of whiskey in his yard that were found to have been stolen from a Wild Turkey warehouse. Curtsinger has been free on bond since his arraignment in District Court, but the arrest set in motion a series of events leading to the indictments. Sheriff Melton told reporters today in Frankfort that several people called in with tips that they had purchased barrels of Bourbon that might have been stolen, and prosecutors declined to pursue charges against them for cooperating with the case. He suspects there are still bottles of stolen whiskey circulating in Kentucky, and is asking for anyone with information about the case to contact his investigators.

Curtsinger, described by the sheriff as a “senior employee” at Buffalo Trace with 27 years of experience, was named as the ringleader in the indictment, along with his wife Julie Curtsinger. The others indicted included Buffalo Trace employee Christopher Preston and Wild Turkey employee Mark S. Searcy, who was accused of helping steal barrels from his distillery’s warehouses. Curtsinger’s attorney, Whitney Lawson, told the Courier-Journal “We’re glad that if they’re going to indict that they’ve indicted so we can get to work.” The ring is accused of selling the stolen whiskey through connections made at softball tournaments throughout Kentucky, and is also accused of importing and selling illegal anabolic steroids along with other pending charges. 

Melton credited information from the community with helping to break the case. During a news conference in Frankfort following the indictments, he said “unless you’re here, it’s hard to understand how much information that we get…and how much comes in. What significantly makes a difference is that we’ve got a team that worked its tail off for the community at the end of the day.” Melton credited Franklin County prosecutors, investigators from the Kentucky Attorney General’s office, and his colleagues in counties around Kentucky for their support of the investigation.

WhiskyCast asked executives at both Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey, along with the Van Winkle family, for comment on the indictments. Wild Turkey responded with this post on the brand’s official Twitter feed.

Wild Turkey's reaction to the indictments. Image from Twitter.

Wild Turkey also provided this statement issued jointly with Buffalo Trace and the Van Winkle family.

“Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey have been working in full cooperation with the investigation of the Franklin County and Anderson County sheriffs’ offices.  We thank the authorities for their efforts on this case and appreciate their swift, thorough detective work to get this in front of the Grand Jury as quickly and as comprehensively as possible.   We take this matter very seriously and support the prosecution of anyone found in violation of state or federal government laws related to our businesses.  As this is an ongoing investigation, we have no further comments at this time and will refer all questions to Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton.”

Buffalo Trace and the Van Winkle family declined to comment beyond the statement issued through Sheriff Melton’s office.

This story will be updated as necessary.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information following an interview with Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton, along with a clarification on the statement issued jointly by Wild Turkey, Buffalo Trace, and the Van Winkle family. 

Links: Franklin County Sheriff’s Department | Old Rip Van Winkle | Buffalo Trace | Wild Turkey

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Laphroaig Confirms Limited Return of 15 Year Old

Laphroaig 15 Year Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Image courtesy Laphroaig/Beam Suntory.April 20, 2015 – As Laphroaig prepares for its bicentennial celebrations later this year on Islay, the Beam Suntory-owned distillery has officially confirmed the limited return of Laphroaig 15 Year Old as part of the celebration. The 15-year-old single malt was dropped from Laphroaig’s permanent range several years ago in favor of an 18-year-old expression, but distillery manager John Campbell made the decision to bring it back for 2015 as one of the special releases planned for the year. Campbell hinted at the return of the 15-year-old during last September’s Laphroaig Live webcast in Sweden, and other releases expected this year include a 32-year-old bottling and a 21-year-old release to honor the 21st anniversary of the Friends of Laphroaig affinity group.

Laphroaig 15 Year Old will be available starting in May at whisky specialist shops in Europe with a recommended retail price of £75 ($112 USD) per 700ml bottle. Beam Suntory has confirmed the expression will be available in the US early this summer in 750ml bottles, but pricing has not been announced yet.

In addition, while the 200th anniversary celebration is expected (but not confirmed) to be part of this year’s Laphroaig Live webcast in the autumn, the distillery will be expanding its “OpinionsWanted” promotion as part of the event. 200 of the most unique “opinions” submitted to the Laphroaig web site will be featured as tiles on the distillery’s walls, and several winners will be selected to attend Laphroaig Live, which is being held at the Islay distillery for the first time in nine years. No date has been announced for the event, but an announcement could come during next month’s Laphroaig day during the annual Islay Festival of Malt & Music. The distillery opted not to hold its anniversary celebration during the festival, which already stresses the island’s tourism infrastructure to the breaking point with thousands of visitors attending Feis Ile events at the eight Islay distilleries.

Links: Laphroaig