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!

Kavalan Takes Top Honors In 2014 Malt Maniacs Awards

Kavalan's 2014 Solist Sherry Cask. Photo courtesy Malt Maniacs. December 15, 2014 – A Kavalan single malt from Taiwan’s King Car Distillery took the overall “Supreme Champion” award in the 2014 Malt Maniacs Awards. The 2014 Solist Sherry Cask bottling was one of four gold medal winners overall, and received an average score of 92 from the 10 members of the Malt Maniacs on the judging panel. Three of the four gold medalists are from Asian distilleries, with Kavalan winning two and Nikka’s Koichi Distillery winning one. The highest-ranked Scotch whisky was a 59-year-old Glen Grant bottled by Gordon & MacPhail for La Maison du Whisky in Paris, which received the fourth gold medal. Only whiskies receiving an average score of 90 or higher from the judges are eligible for gold medals.

Here’s a list of all award-winning whiskies from the competition, with the four gold medal winners marked with an asterisk:

Supreme Champion

Kavalan ‘Solist’ (57.8%, OB, NAS, Sherry Cask C#S060904031, 516 Bts., 2014*)

Ultra Premium 

Supreme Winner: 

Yoichi 1991/2014 (62%, OB for LMDW, heavily peated, new puncheon, C##129459, 423 bts.*)
Best Sherried Whisky: Glen Grant 59yo 1955/2014 (60.8%, Gordon & MacPhail Book of Kells for LMDW, 1st Fill Sherry Hogshead C#845*)
Best Peated Whisky: Benriach 29yo 1984/2014 (50.3%, OB, Peated, Tawny Port Finish, C#4051, 267 Bts.)
Best Natural Cask Whisky: Karuizawa 34yo 1980/2014 (63%, No.1 Drinks for LMDW, ex-Bourbon Cask C#6476)
Thumbs Up Award: Glengoyne 25yo (48%, OB, Sherry Casks, 2014)

Supreme Winner: Kavalan ‘Solist’ (57.8%, OB, NAS, Sherry Cask C#S060904031, 516 Bts., 2014*)
Best Sherried Whisky: Kavalan ‘Solist’ (57.8%, OB for LMDW, NAS, Sherry Cask C#S060821047, 497 Bts., 2014*)
Best Peated Whisky: Kavalan 2007/2014 ‘Peaty Cask’ (55%, OB, Distillery Reserve No. 04459)
Best Natural Cask Whisky: Bowmore 13yo 2001/2014 (57.2%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Hogshead C#20066, 292 Bts.)
Thumbs Up Award: Glenrothes 7yo 2007/2014 (66.7%, Adelphi, 1st Fill Sherry Hogshead C#3529, 320 Bts.)

Daily Dram
Supreme Winner: Smoking Islay (60.5%, Blackadder Raw Cask, NAS, Sherry Finish C#BA2013/452, 325 Bts., 2013)
Best Sherried Whisky: Nantou 5yo 2009/2014 (58%, OB, Sherry Cask C#852, 246 Bts.)
Best Peated Whisky: Smoking Islay (60.5%, Blackadder Raw Cask, NAS, Sherry Finish C#BA2013/452, 325 Bts., 2013)
Best Natural Cask Whisky: Inchmurrin (54.7%, Boutique-y Whisky Co., NAS, 543 Bts., 2014)
Thumbs Up Award: Lagavulin 16yo (43%, OB, 2014)

The categories are based on price, with “Daily Drams” for whiskies with a retail price under €50 ($62 USD), “Premium” for whiskies priced between €50 and €150 ($186 USD), and “Ultra Premium” for those priced over €150. 

The Malt Maniacs is a worldwide group of whisky lovers made up of amateur connoisseurs and professional whisky writers, with the judging panel drawn from the group’s amateur ranks. The Maniacs have been conducting the annual competition since 2003, and a complete list of medalists is available at the group’s web site.

Editor’s note: WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie is a member of the Malt Maniacs, but does not participate in judging for the competition. This story was updated to correct an error in the Malt Maniacs release’s description of the “Ultra Premium” winning Yoichi whisky.

Links: Malt Maniacs


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Jim Beam Adding Urban Stillhouse In Downtown Louisville

An architect's rendering of the exterior of the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse to be built in Louisville, KY. Image courtesy Beam Suntory. December 10, 2014 – Louisville is cementing its status as Bourbon’s tourism center, as Beam Suntory committed today to build a new $5.2 million Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse visitor attraction in the Fourth Street Live entertainment district. The announcement follows a vote by the Kentucky Tourism Finance Development Authority for preliminary approval of $1.3 million in tax incentives for the project, with final approval expected later this year after a final review of expected tourism impact. The project will also be eligible for tax credits under a new state law allowing distillers to claim a credit for the taxes they pay on barrels of maturing whiskey against their state income taxes, as long as they reinvest the money on capital projects within Kentucky.

An architect's rendering of the interior of the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse to be built in downtown Louisville, KY. Image courtesy Beam Suntory. The Urban Stillhouse will be modeled on Beam’s American Stillhouse at the distillery in Clermont, and will include a small-scale craft distillery similar to the one on the tour in Clermont, along with a hand-bottling line for guests, tasting room, and gift shop. It will take up space on the ground floor of Beam Suntory’s Fourth Street offices in what was previously a Borders bookstore, and becomes the latest Bourbon-related visitor attraction in downtown Louisville. Similar projects include the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and the planned Michter’s attraction on West Main Street, along with Brown-Forman’s planned Old Forester Distillery and the Louisville Distilling Company (Angel’s Envy) distillery to be built at the eastern end of Main Street.

According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the authority also gave preliminary approval to an incentive package worth $1.7 million for a project to restore the Old Taylor Distillery in Woodford County near Versailles. Peristyle LLC has started work on a $6.8 million project to turn the historic site into a craft distillery.

Links: Jim Beam

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Heaven Hill Names New Co-Master Distiller

December 10, 2014 – For the first time in the company’s history, one of Heaven Hill’s master distillers will not have the last name of Beam. The company has named Bernheim Distillery manager Denny Potter to the post of co-Master Distiller alongside Craig Beam, who has been serving as Master Distiller since his father, Parker Beam, stepped aside earlier this year for health reasons. Craig and Parker Beam had been co-Master Distillers for the last several years, while Parker inherited the title from his father Earl in 1975.

In a news release, Heaven Hill president Max Shapira praised the Louisville native’s contributions since joining the company.

“His knowledge of Bourbon production and aging—and his ability to teach and relate these subjects to the trade and consumers—make him an ideal person to help carry forth Heaven Hill’s leadership position and reputation into the future. Denny is grounded in the traditions of our company and industry yet has a keen eye for innovation and emerging trends.”

Potter joined Heaven Hill last year after 12 years of service at Beam, where he worked his way up to assistant distillery manager at Maker’s Mark before taking up the manager’s role at Beam’s Cruzan Rum distillery in the Virgin Islands. He wound up his Beam career as general manager of the company’s production facility in Frankfort, Kentucky. While at Maker’s Mark, Potter was instrumental in designing and implementing an anaerobic processing facility that turns the distillery’s waste products into methane gas for use in the distillery’s boilers.

Links: Heaven Hill

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Maker’s Mark Latest To Face Consumer Lawsuit Over “Handmade” Claims

A bottle of Maker's Mark Bourbon. Photo courtesy Maker's Mark.December 9, 2014 – Another lawsuit has been filed challenging the authenticity of whiskies claimed to be “handmade”, this one in California against Beam Suntory’s Maker’s Mark Bourbon. Safora Nowruzi and Travis Williams are the lead plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed December 5 in U.S. District Court in San Diego seeking more than $5 million in damages. The lawsuit alleges Maker’s Mark violates California consumer protection laws by claiming to be “handmade”, even though all of the equipment used in the Loretto, Kentucky distillery is mechanized.

In an email to WhiskyCast, Beam Suntory spokesman Clarkson Hine declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit.

“This claim is without merit, we will defend this case vigorously and we are confident that we will prevail. Beyond that, as a matter of company policy, we don’t comment on the details of matters in litigation.”

The lawsuit seeks to have all California residents who purchased bottles of Maker’s Mark over the past four years certified as members of the class of plaintiffs in the case. Beam Suntory’s attorneys have not responded to the initial filing, and as in all civil cases, are given a period of time to file their response with the court.

The lawsuit is the sixth filed this year against spirits producers accused of misleading consumers by claiming to be handmade. In September, Templeton Rye was sued in a Chicago court for not disclosing on its labels that its whiskey is distilled at MGP-I’s distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and not at the company’s small Iowa facility. Texas-based Fifth Generation Inc. faces at least four lawsuits in California, Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey over claims that its Tito’s Handmade Vodka is not handmade, but produced in a large-scale commercial distillery.

Editor’s note: The complaint against Maker’s Mark is available to review here. Note that in civil cases, court filings are drafted to present the best case possible for that side’s arguments, and unlike sworn testimony in depositions or a trial, are not filed under oath as to their accuracy. 

Links: Maker’s Mark


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Construction Begins On New Macallan Distillery

An architect's rendering of The Macallan Estate. Image courtesy Edrington.December 6, 2014 – Construction work has started on Edrington’s new Macallan Distillery near Craigellachie, Scotland. Edrington chairman Ian Curle presided over a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for the £100 million ($168 million USD) project scheduled for completion in 2017.

The new distillery and visitors center will be built alongside the current Macallan distillery, which will be mothballed once the new distillery comes on line and kept in reserve for future use if needed. London-based architects Rogers, Stirk, Harbour and Partners designed the new complex, with much of the facility to be located below ground level and covered with hills to mimic the surrounding landscape. 

“We’re well on track…it’s hugely exciting,” said Edrington director of malts Ken Grier during an interview Wednesday night in New York City. “The great thing about is the whisky will be just as good, if not better, than it always was…all the work we’ve done has been put in place to preserve the fine quality that we have, but we’re going to have a site that will be the envy of everyone in the world.”

The new distillery will be capable of producing 15 million liters of spirit annually, compared to 9.5 million for the current distillery.

Links: The Macallan | Edrington


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Balcones Dispute Settled, But Bitter Feelings Remain

Balcones Distillery founder Chip Tate. Photo ©2012 by Mark Gillespie.Editor’s note: We have produced a special bonus episode of WhiskyCast this week including the complete interviews with Chip Tate and Greg Allen.

December 6, 2014 – Chip Tate will not return to Balcones Distilling, the Waco, Texas craft distillery he founded and built from the ground up under a freeway bridge into a series of award-winning whiskies. Tate had been scheduled to return to work Friday after a judge ruled in his favor in a dispute with the distillery’s majority owners, who had suspended Tate in August and obtained a restraining order banning him from the distillery or contacting its employees. However, Tate agreed to accept a buyout offer for an undisclosed amount Wednesday covering his 27 percent ownership stake in the distillery and has left the company with plans to build a new distillery of his own.

Whether Tate left voluntarily or was fired by the owners remains a bitter subject for both sides. In separate interviews with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie Friday, Balcones board chairman Greg Allen said the owners fired Tate for cause, while Tate insisted he resigned voluntarily. “This is kind of (like) talking to your girlfriend or whatever and saying I’m kind of wondering about our future…and it’s ‘you can’t break up with me, I break up with you first,” he said. According to Tate, it would be reasonable to assume that his plan to return to Balcones December 5 helped accelerate the buyout discussions, but Allen denied that the timing was the impetus for the settlement. “In any kind of situation like this, enough things come together and it becomes time,” he said. “There have been a lot of things that have gone back and forth, different ideas that have gone back and forth…and it seemed to come together last week, and Tuesday was the day.”

The settlement includes a 16-month non-compete clause banning Tate from distilling any spirits similar to those produced by Balcones during his tenure until March 5, 2016. However, Tate is already looking at sites near his Waco home for what will be called the Tate & Co. Distillery. “Part of it is just to keep it simple, and part of it is to avoid any confusion in the future about who’s going to be working there for a long time,” he laughed. Tate plans to produce “brown spirits” while his non-compete clause is effective, while not being specific about exactly what type of spirits he will produce. However, he plans to start distilling whisky as soon as the settlement agreement allows. “I’m glad to be in a liberated state, free to focus on more positive things…I’m ready to get back to actually making stuff.”

Allen is also ready to move on, now that the management situation has been cleared up. While there have been anti-Balcones protests on various social media platforms since Tate was suspended in August, Allen says sales have grown over that period. “It’s the same team, same process, same product…we’re just going to keep doing what we do. I respect the way people feel, but the reality is October was the biggest sales month we’ve ever had,” he said.

Planning work continues on the new $15 million Balcones distillery to be built in a historic Waco warehouse facility, and Jared Himstedt’s place is secure as the head distiller at Balcones. Himstedt had been working with Tate since the distillery opened, but sided with the distillery’s majority owners when they took action against Tate in July and August over actions they considered detrimental to the company. While Tate did not name names in our November 26 interview in which he said he planned to “set things right” when he returned to Balcones on December 5, he did say “some responsibilities would be reassigned”, and it is likely that Himstedt would have been one of the first employees to be affected.

Tate continues to deny the allegations raised by Balcones in its court filings that he threatened Allen’s life, along with a threat to burn the distillery down, and criticized Balcones for releasing a series of affidavits and memos from Allen and distillery employees this week outlining more specific accusations. Tate called the allegations “slander”, and claims the settlement would still allow him to take legal action against Balcones and its employees since the documents were released after the settlement was signed. Those documents were provided to WhiskyCast Thursday before the interviews with Tate and Allen, and while our interview with Allen addressed the reason for releasing the documents, Allen clarified his comments in a follow-up email.

There were two reasons for providing so much detailed written information to you on Thursday. First, although we had received requests from you and many others about “what happened” at Balcones in the months leading up to the August restraining order, we did not think it was appropriate for Balcones or its employees to talk about anything other than the specific legal questions until the lawsuit was resolved. Now that we have settled, this information release on Thursday was our answer to the question of  “what happened” that has been asked of us so often over the past 120 days. Second, as the material we provided to you shows, much of what has been previously represented is simply not accurate. Some of these misrepresentations are meaningless, however some are important to the Company and are quite personal to the people who work at Balcones and rely on the Company for their livelihood. Since we have access to the actual emails, the texts, the eyewitness testimony that is supported by sworn affidavits, and the tape recordings of specific meetings —  and since none of these items were ever part of Balcones’ court filings — we were confident that people interested in an accurate story would appreciate the opportunity to see these facts.

In our interview, Tate also accused Allen of reneging on an agreement to allow him to take several barrels of maturing whiskey from Balcones that he had laid down for his children after their births. Allen denied any knowledge of the agreement, calling the claim “Textbook Chip,” but said the company would be willing to discuss allowing Tate to acquire some maturing whiskey after a 90-day period following the settlement.

Editor’s note: Balcones has provided WhiskyCast with a copy of the settlement agreement, which is available to view here. We will not post copies of the affidavits and memos provided by Balcones on Thursday outlining allegations against Tate, since they were not filed with the court as part of the lawsuit seeking the restraining order and are not part of the public record, and therefore Tate has not been able to respond to the accusations as part of a legal proceeding. This is consistent with our practice throughout the Balcones dispute of only posting documents filed with the court. 

Links: Balcones Distilling

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