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!
June 24, 2016 – Thursday’s stunning victory for supporters of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union means the one thing Scotch Whisky industry executives despise almost as much as tax increases – uncertainty. With long lead times for everything from new distillery construction to maturation of new spirit, industry leaders want as much stability as possible – and “Brexit” threatens to throw a giant monkey wrench into the works at a time when growth in Scotch Whisky exports has been hampered by existing global economic uncertainty.
“We’ll have to wait and see now how that plays out,” said Scotch Whisky Association spokesman David Williamson Friday morning, describing the “Brexit” vote as a “seismic” political event. Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation following the referendum adds political flux into the mix as well. Cameron is likely to be joined by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who had warned before the election that a “Leave” victory would likely mean significant tax increases on spirits and other goods. Cameron’s successor will likely be the one to trigger Article 50 of the European Union bylaws and begin the process of withdrawing the United Kingdom from the EU in a process expected to take at least a minimum of two years.
Williamson said the SWA’s main priority will be to minimize the potential impact from “Brexit”, since EU member nations account for around a third of overall Scotch Whisky exports. The trade body’s primary goal is to maintain as much access as possible to the European single market, which acts as a free-trade zone with no tariffs on exports between member nations. The industry also benefits currently from the EU’s trade treaties with other countries and geographical protection status for Scotch Whisky, and Williamson said the SWA will seek to keep as much of that in place as possible. The association had cited all three factors in its support for the “Remain” campaign leading up to the election, and Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes spoke out in favor of the campaign
Adding to the political flux: Scotland’s future. Scottish voters overwhelmingly supported the “Remain” campaign, and Scottish National Party leaders are criticizing the outcome. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told reporters that the “Brexit” vote could lead to a second Scottish independence referendum. “Scotland voted to stay in the EU. It is democratically unacceptable to be taken out of the EU against our will,” Sturgeon said. In 2014, Scottish voters rejected an independence referendum, but a number of opinion polls since that election have shown growing support for a second vote.
“We’ll take one referendum at a time,” Williamson said.
Scotch Whisky isn’t the only segment of the overall industry lamenting the vote. In Washington, the Distilled Spirits Council also expressed disappointment, noting that a trade treaty in place since 1994 allows duty-free exports of US-produced spirits to both the UK and the European Union. That treaty is one of many that will be affected by “Brexit”, and the trade group pledged to work with both the US and UK governments to ensure continued duty-free access to the UK market. According to Commerce Department statistics, the UK is the largest export market for American spirits with 2015 exports valued at $226.1 million. Approximately 86 percent of those exports are of American whiskies.
In addition, the US remains one of the two major export markets for Scotch Whisky.In terms of volume, the US is second only to France in Scotch Whisky exports. However, 2015 exports to the US were valued at £749 million, making the US the largest export market by value. To put the aftermath of the “Brexit” vote in comparison, that £749 million was worth $1,082,305,000 when the SWA released its report on May 17, based on that day’s exchange rate of $1.445 to the pound. When converted using Friday’s closing rate of $1.374 to the pound, the value of those exports drops to $1,029,440,000 – a decline of $52.8 million dollars.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information.
Links: Scotch Whisky Association
June 11, 2016 – Imagine the outcry in France if politicians served a California sparkling wine instead of Champagne at official events? While Canadian Whisky supporters aren’t taking to the streets and building barricades in Ottawa yet, there is growing criticism as the new Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons continues the tradition of picking a “Speaker’s Selection” Scotch Whisky for use at official events. Nova Scotia MP Geoff Regan has picked a 12-year-old Aberlour single malt for use as official gifts and to be served at Parliamentary events.
“It’s really kind of a tone-deaf message that he’s giving here,” says Davin de Kergommeaux of CanadianWhisky.org, founder of the Canadian Whisky Awards and author of the book Canadian Whisky: A Portable Expert. “The message it sends is that Canadian Whisky is not as good as Scotch, and this of course just isn’t true. We have whiskies here readily available that are every bit as good as the very best Scotch whiskies and the very best Bourbon whiskies.”
Regan’s director of communications, Heather Bradley, noted in an email that the Aberlour was selected in a blind tasting conducted in January during the Speaker’s Burns Supper honoring the Scottish poet Robert Burns. According to Bradley, Regan insisted on including Canadian whiskies in the tasting, and said “he is proud of the many excellent Canadian products.” However, Bradley declined to disclose which whiskies were included in the tasting. The selection was also dependent on a supplier’s ability to meet specific requirements for “relabeling, quantity and the ability to enter into a legal agreement,” and Bradley said not all of the producers invited to participate in the selection process were able to comply with the requirements.
The “Speaker’s Selection” Scotch carries a special label and is available to Members of Parliament for use as gifts and to be served at official events. According to Bradley, Members pay $75 Canadian ($58.65 USD) per bottle, and the revenue from those sales covers the cost of the program. De Kergommeaux takes issue with that, noting that each Member has a government-funded budget for official expenses that can be used for “Speaker’s Selection” purchases – meaning Canadian taxpayers are footing the bill. It should be noted that Members are not getting the specially-labeled bottles at a discount, since the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s web site lists Aberlour 12 at a retail price of $64.95 ($50.80 USD).
The tradition of a “Speaker’s Selection” Scotch began in Ottawa in 2003, when former Speaker Peter Milliken decided to follow the lead of the United Kingdom’s Parliament, where the House of Commons has had a “Speaker’s Scotch” for many years. Milliken picked single malts from Talisker and Dalwhinnie, while his successor, Andrew Scheer, picked a single malt from Glenmorangie. In an email, Bradley noted that Scotch Whisky has a role in Canada’s history as well, and that the country also celebrates Robert Burns’ birthday. Regan’s home of Nova Scotia was originally settled by Scottish emigrants, and the province’s name is translated as “New Scotland.” Ironically, Nova Scotia is also the home of Glenora Distillers, which was the first Canadian distillery to produce single malt whisky on a regular basis starting more than 25 years ago.
“Why does it have to be a single malt whisky anyway,” de Kergommeaux said in a telephone interview. “There are so many great Canadian whiskies…it doesn’t have to be a single malt, although if they want a single malt, there are at least five distilleries here with single malts that are worth considering.” The possibilities span all of Canada, from Glenora in Nova Scotia to Yukon Spirits in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
While de Kergommeaux objects to the Speaker’s selection, he does respect the Speaker’s taste. “That Aberlour he picked is a favorite of mine…but it shouldn’t be representing Canada. A Canadian Whisky should be representing Canada.”
Editor’s note: WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie serves on the Canadian Whisky Awards judging panel.
June 11, 2016 – Allisa Henley has been the distiller at Diageo’s George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee for about two years now, but there are still places at the distillery that she’s just getting around to visiting for the first time. One of those visits last year to select nine-year-old barrels for Dickel’s single barrel program led to an unexpected find – 84 barrels of whiskey that had been sitting in a warehouse since they were filled in 1998.
“I’ll never forget it…we hand-stamp all of our barrels with date and lot codes, and I looked over at that stamp and saw the number 98,” she said in a telephone interview. “I looked over at the warehouse guy and said ‘do you see that’ – immediately, I just started counting on my fingers, I was like 99, 2000, 2001…just to figure out how old it was.” The barrels were 17 years old, and Henley immediately assumed they would be too old to work with, since the distillery generally blends all of its whiskies from casks between five and 14 years old.
“Why is it here…why haven’t we bottled it?”
While she’s never been able to find out why the barrels were apparently overlooked, she made the decision to bottle the whiskey as soon as she tasted samples from some of the barrels. While she had expected the whiskey to have become overwhelmed by the influence of oak after 17 years, she says she was “blown away” by the flavor profile. “It was so sweet, like a cake batter, vanilla almost flavor to it…mid-palate, it gets a lot of spice, which is different from our normal Dickel lineup.” The barrels were blended and bottled on the distillery’s hand-bottling line, which is also used for Diageo’s Orphan Barrel range of whiskies.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Allisa Henley:
With just 84 barrels to work with, and many having given up a lot of whiskey over the years to the angels through evaporation, Henley and Diageo’s marketing team decided to use the 17-year-old whiskey to launch a new “Distillery Reserve” collection to be sold exclusively in Tennessee. While most of the 375ml bottles will be sold at Dickel’s Cascade Hollow visitors center in Tullahoma for $75 each, Tennessee state law requires that some be made available to in-state retailers.
Strict inventory accounting standards mean the 84 barrels were never really “lost” – they were included in the distillery’s barrel inventory, but Henley and her predecessor, John Lunn, had apparently never selected them for blending before. After the discovery, Henley scoured the inventory records to see whether there were any similar casks in the Dickel warehouses, and found the oldest casks currently on hand are about 13 years old. Those barrels will be allowed to mature for another year or so before being bottled as part of Dickel’s single barrel program, making it even more unlikely that the 17-year-old Dickel will ever be repeated.
“I want to say never say never, but I would be surprised if we ever see anything like this again,” Henley said. “I’ve been at Dickel for 12 years, and this is probably one of my most favorite projects that has come about, because I truly love this liquid.”
Links: George Dickel
June 10, 2016 – Longtime Glen Grant distillery manager Dennis Malcolm has been working in the Scotch Whisky industry almost as long as Queen Elizabeth II has reigned. In fact, one could say both he and the Queen were born into their roles – as he was born in 1946 at the Speyside distillery where both his father and grandfather worked. Malcolm celebrated his 55th anniversary in the whisky industry on April 3, and today, he was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) as the Queen’s Birthday Honours list was released.
Malcolm was honored for his years of service to the Speyside community, where he has been active not only in Glen Grant’s home of Rothes, but throughout the region. In addition to his years at Glen Grant, he left Rothes for brief spells managing The Glenlivet and Balmenach distilleries before returning home for good in 2006.
In a telephone interview conducted today before the release of the honors list, Malcolm disclosed that he has stepped back slightly from his day-to-day duties at the distillery while continuing to serve as the face of Glen Grant. “I’m loving it…I think the innovation is just starting,” he said. Last month, the Campari-owned distillery unveiled new 12 and 18-year-old single malts that will be distributed worldwide, along with the existing 10-year-old and Major’s Reserve malts. Malcolm will discuss the changes in that range on this week’s episode of WhiskyCast.
Links: Glen Grant
May 31, 2016 – Wales’ only whisky distillery may be about to expand its presence outside of the town of Penderyn as part of a revitalization plan for the historic Hafod Morfa Copperworks in Swansea. The Welsh Whisky Company is one of the partners in the plan, along with Swansea Council and Swansea University. According to the South Wales Evening Post, the local council has reached the first stage toward a £3.75 million GBP ($5.4 million USD) grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the project, and will receive a grant of £189,600 GBP ($275,000 USD) to develop its proposal for the site along the River Tawe.
The site was once the world’s largest copper plant, and operated from 1809 until it finally closed in 1980. The mill’s main building is the only one still standing of the 124 different mills that operated along the River Tawe during its heyday as a global copper manufacturing center, and is now open to the public as a historic site. Local leaders have been trying to redevelop the area along the river with an eye to increasing tourism opportunities, and see a Penderyn presence as vital to the success of that plan as the distillery’s natural reliance on copper for its stills would provide a unique link to Swansea’s historical connection to the copper industry.
Penderyn’s original distillery is located about 25 miles east of Swansea in the Brecon Beatons National Park, and was the first legal distillery in Wales for more than 100 years when it opened. Managing director Stephen Davies told the Evening Post “this is an exciting opportunity to expand the business, and also to celebrate the copper heritage in Swansea with our premium Welsh brand.” If constructed, the Swansea facility would include a second distillery and visitors center to complement the existing site in Penderyn.
May 30, 2016 – It may be a bank holiday in the UK, but Tomatin is giving fans of its Cù Bòcan peated single malt an extra reason to celebrate today. The latest release in the Cù Bòcan series is a 1988 vintage single malt distilled December 2, 1988 and matured for 28 years in ex-Sherry butts and hogsheads previously used to mature what the distillery describes in a news release as “a popular heavily peated Islay whisky.”
Tomatin and its Japanese-based owner, Takara Shuzo, introduced the Cù Bòcan series of lightly peated Highland malts in 2013 as an alternative to the distillery’s traditionally unpeated whiskies. In addition to the standard Cù Bòcan single malt, Tomatin released a 1989 vintage expression in 2014 and distillery manager Graham Eunson created special Virgin Oak, Sherry Cask, and Bourbon Cask expressions in 2015. The whiskies take their name from a mythical creature said to have roamed the forests near the village of Tomatin, which is along Scotland’s A9 highway about 15 miles south of Inverness.
2,200 bottles of the 1988 Vintage will be available worldwide, with a suggested retail price of £199 ($290 USD) per 70cl bottle.