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 2, 2015 – There’s a new title-holder in the category of “world’s oldest whisky.” Gordon & MacPhail unveiled its Mortlach 75 Years Old Generations single cask bottling today at a ceremony in London’s Royal Opera House, and after 75 years of maturation in a first-fill ex-Sherry butt, it is now the oldest whisky ever bottled for sale. The previous record had been the family-owned company’s 70-year-old Glenlivet Generations 1940 bottling released in 2011, which was just months older than the 1938 Mortlach that launched the Generations range in 2010.
Members of the Urquhart family took part in the ceremony, following in the footsteps of the family’s patriarch, John Urquhart. As the first generation of the family to join Gordon & MacPhail, John Urquhart arranged for the ex-Sherry butt to be filled at Mortlach on November 17, 1939 as World War II was beginning to take over Europe. His great-grandson, Stephen Rankin, presented the unique bottling in London, noting that “we’ve been anticipating this moment for a long time. Having been nurtured and cared for by four generations of our family it gives us great pleasure to release this unique and incredibly rare single malt.”
The Mortlach 75 Years Old comes in an Aniline leather travel bag along with two crystal glasses and the book Seven Nights with Mortlach, jointly written by Charles Maclean and Alexander McCall Smith. Only 100 decanters will be available at a recommended retail price of £20,000 ($30,600 USD), though pricing may vary slightly by market.
Links: Gordon & MacPhail
August 28, 2015 – Old Forester is celebrating Brown-Forman founder George Garvin Brown’s 169th birthday this coming Wednesday (September 2) with the 14th annual release of the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. As with the previous releases, this year’s edition comes from a single day’s production – in this case, June 13, 2003. However, the 2015 edition is the first in the series to be bottled at 100º proof (50% ABV). Only two other Old Forester expressions are bottled at that strength: Old Forester Signature and the Whiskey Row Series 1897 Bottled in Bond.
According to Master Distiller Chris Morris, this year’s edition is unusual for a second reason. “This particular lot of barrels is unusual because it matured in the same warehouse location instead of multiple sites,” he said in a news release. “The lot aged near a window and close to a heat cycling duct, exposing all of the barrels to very high temperatures, resulting in the very robust, intense wood-derived characteristics exhibited by this exceptional vintage.” 13,200 bottles (2,200 six-bottle cases) will be available starting in September at whisky specialist retailers in the US, with a recommended retail price between $69.99 and $79.99 per bottle.
Brown-Forman broke ground last month on a new downtown Louisville distillery for Old Forester to be completed in 2017 as part of the revitalization of the “Whiskey Row” area along Main Street. The distillery will include a visitors center, along with warehousing and cooperage facilities.
Links: Old Forester
August 28, 2015 – For the third consecutive year, Heaven Hill plans to donate part of the proceeds from the annual Parker’s Heritage Collection whiskey to fight Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” The Bardstown, Kentucky-based distiller will release the 2015 edition of the Parker’s Heritage Collection series in September, with $5 from each bottle of the 8-year-old Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey to be donated to the ALS Association’s “Parker’s Promise of Hope Fund.” The fund was established in 2013 after Parker Beam, Heaven Hill’s longtime master distiller, was diagnosed with ALS. Parker remains Heaven Hill’s Master Distiller Emeritus, though he has stepped aside from day-to-day responsibilities at the company. The last two editions of the Parker’s Heritage Collection releases have helped raise nearly $500,000 for ALS treatment and research programs.
This year’s whiskey is a rarity for Heaven Hill and Kentucky distillers. It’s not quite a single malt, with a mashbill of 65% malted barley and 35% corn distilled at the company’s Bernheim Distillery in Louisville and matured for eight years on the 5th and 7th floors of Heaven Hill’s Rickhouse Y in Bardstown. Craig Beam, Parker’s son and co-master distiller, put the barrels into Rickhouse Y in 2006 as an experiment. Denny Potter, named earlier this year as co-master distiller, selected the final 141 barrels for bottling. The whiskey was bottled without chill-filtering at 54% ABV.
The 2015 edition of Parker’s Heritage Collection will carry a recommended retail price of $99.99 per 750ml bottle.
August 28, 2015 – A 1960 Karuizawa Japanese single malt whisky has set what’s being claimed as the highest price ever paid at auction for a Japanese whisky during today’s Bonhams auction in Hong Kong. The bidding ended at HK$ 918,750 ($118,548 USD) for the 52-year-old bottle known as “The Cockerel”, one of only 41 known bottles in existence. According to Bonhams, each bottle has a different name based on the “netsuke” that hangs from the bottle’s neck (shown here). The winning bid includes a 22.5% premium.
While “The Cockerel” led the bidding for individual bottles, a rare complete 54-bottle set of Ichiro Akuto’s “Cards Series” whiskies from the closed Hanyu Distillery led the overall bidding. Complete sets of the series are extremely rare, since Akuto bottled them individually between 2006 and 2014. The high bid for this set reached HK$ 3,797,500 ($490,000 USD). According to the Wall Street Journal, Bonhams said the same buyer purchased both lots in a bidding spree that cost more than $600,000. The bidder was not identified, but is reported to live in Southeast Asia.
Another 1960 Karuizawa bottled in 1993 after maturing for 33 years brought a high bid of HK$ 392,000 ($50,580 USD), while a four-bottle set from Akuto’s “Cards Series” with the 8 of Clubs, 8 of Spades, 8 of Hearts, and 8 of Diamonds went for HK$ 134,750 ($17,387 USD).
While the auction featured Japanese whiskies, a number of rare Scotch whiskies also went on the block. One of the 20 bottles of The Dalmore’s 1951 59-year-old Eos sold for HK$ 294,000 ($37,935 USD), while a 6-bottle set of Springbanks ranging from 25 to 50 years in age went for HK$ 177,625 ($22,919 USD). The auction also included several lots of Pappy Van Winkle whiskies, with a bottle of the 23-year-old Family Reserve bringing a high bid of HK$ 30,625 ($3,951 USD).
The next Bonhams whisky auction will be October 7 in Edinburgh, Scotland, with the next Hong Kong auction slated for November 20.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with details on a single buyer purchasing both the 1960 Karuizawa and Cards Series lots.
Links: Bonhams Auction Results
August 28, 2015 – The last malt whisky distillery in Scotland’s capital city closed 90 years ago this year when Edinburgh’s Glen Sciennes distillery went under. Now, longtime whisky maker David Robertson and a group of investors have received the green light from Edinburgh Council to move ahead with plans to turn a historic railway building into a malt whisky distillery. The Council-owned Engine Shed building was last used as a cafe and bakery, but Robertson fell in love with the site because it resembles a traditional distillery malting barn.
“There are urban distilleries popping up in a number of distant cities across the world, but it seems very odd to me that the country of whisky’s birth, arguably Scotland, its capital city doesn’t have one…so delighted to try and at least think about putting that right,” Robertson said in a telephone interview. While the Council approved a lease for the distillery project, the backers will still need planning approval and are raising the estimated £2 million ($3.1 million USD) needed to construct the distillery along with a visitors center and event space. Robertson believes the distillery could begin production in mid-2016 if everything goes smoothly, but projects a mid-2017 opening as a more reasonable timetable given the industry’s booming demand for distillery components. “There are a number of suppliers, whether it’s Scottish-based, Continental Europe, or maybe even the States,” Robertson said. “We’re speaking to a number of different suppliers just now, both from a mash tun point of view, a fermentation point of view, and arguably the most important part is obviously the copper stills.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s entire interview with David Robertson:
Robertson previously served as distillery manager at The Macallan, and later with Whyte & Mackay in charge of the company’s rare malts portfolio as Innovation Director. He describes the rest of the investor group as “like-mined individuals that are excited about bringing single malt distilling back to the capital city.” While the North British grain whisky distillery has been a fixture on Edinburgh’s west side for decades, the nearest malt whisky distillery is Diageo’s Glenkinchie Distillery in East Lothian.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include the audio of our interview with David Robertson.
August 25, 2015 – If two rulings are a trend, then three might be enough to set a precedent…so to speak. Lawyers for Beam Suntory have won their third and final bid to dismiss class-action lawsuits over labeling claims on two of the company’s Bourbon brands. San Diego U.S. District Court Judge Larry Alan Burns dismissed a lawsuit filed in February over the “handcrafted” language used on Jim Beam labels on the grounds that a reasonable consumer would not assume the term meant no machinery was involved in the whiskey’s production. Beam Suntory spokesman Clarkson Hine praised the ruling, noting that “we are pleased with this swift and decisive victory, which ends the last remaining lawsuit against the labeling of our bourbon brands.”
Burns cited similar opinions issued earlier this year by federal judges in dismissing class-action lawsuits against Beam Suntory over the use of the word “handmade” on Maker’s Mark labels. The most recent dismissal also came from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, and was issued last month by one of Judge Burns’ colleagues. In his order dismissing the lawsuit, Burns rejected plaintiff Scott Welk’s argument that machinery could not be used in producing a “handcrafted” Bourbon.
“Welk’s proposed definition of the word “handcrafted” doesn’t fit the process of making bourbon. To make bourbon, grains are ground into “mash” and cooked; then yeast is added, and the mixture ferments; then the mixture is distilled, i.e., heated until the alcohol turns to vapor; then the alcohol is cooled until it returns to liquid form, and transferred to barrels for aging. Fermentation, distillation, and aging are necessary to meet the legal definition of bourbon. Machines, including stills and other equipment, have always been necessary to make bourbon.”
The Jim Beam lawsuit was filed by the Kazerouni Law Group, the same California class-action law firm that filed the unsuccessful Maker’s Mark lawsuit last December. Abbas Kazerounian, the firm’s lead attorney in both cases, responded to the ruling in an email Wednesday. “We are obviously disappointed with the ruling but we have great respect for Judge Burns. Currently we are analyzing Judge Burns’ decision and discussing options with our client,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a response to the ruling from the plaintiff’s attorney, Abbas Kazerounian.