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!
April 28, 2016 – When Jim Rutledge retired from Kentucky’s Four Roses Distillery last September after 49 years, most industry observers expected him to do some consulting work – not start a new distillery from scratch. Then again, Rutledge always did do things a bit differently at Four Roses.
Today, the Bourbon Hall of Fame member and former chairman of the Kentucky Distillers Association announced the start of a crowdfunding campaign to find construction of the J.W. Rutledge Distillery near Louisville. Rutledge is teaming up with Stephen Camisa and Jon Mowry on the project, which they hope to partially fund through an IndieGoGo campaign scheduled to begin on Monday, May 2.
While the distillery will produce Bourbons, including a wheated-style Bourbon of the type Rutledge never made at Four Roses, the veteran distiller also plans to make Rye Whiskey once the new distillery is open. “I promise, a straight rye whiskey will be distilled, barrels filled and aging in our warehouse within the first year of operation,” Rutledge said in a news release announcing the project.
This story will be updated with additional information.
Links: J.W. Rutledge Distillery
April 27, 2016 – It’s 5:00pm in Scotland, and Billy Walker should be in a giddy mood.
Hours earlier, he and his partners in the BenRiach Distillery Company announced they had sold the Scotch Whisky company and its three malt whisky distilleries to Brown-Forman for around £285 million GBP ($416 million USD) The sale price represents a sizable premium over what they invested 12 years ago to buy the BenRiach Distillery near Elgin, Scotland from Chivas Brothers – and later to acquire the GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh distilleries in the Scottish Highlands. Instead of being giddy, Walker was pensive, but happy.
“There’s a tinge of sadness…it’s very emotional for me, but yes, I’m happy,” Walker said in a telephone interview. “I’m very impressed with the quality of the people I’ve been in dialogue with at Brown-Forman, they’re very, very nice people.” Walker and his partners have been courted regularly over the last several years by companies seeking to enter or expand within the Scotch Whisky industry, but had turned down all previous suitors until Brown-Forman came along. After several months of negotiations, Walker and his South African-based partners decided that they had taken the company as far as they could, and agreed to sell the three distilleries and their stocks of maturing whisky, along with a bottling plant, trademarks, and the company’s headquarters near Edinburgh.
“The only people who came anywhere near having the correct fit for us was Brown-Forman.”
In fact, Walker will remain with BenRiach after the deal closes June 1 as master distiller and blender, calling that the role “truest to his heart.” Billy’s son, Alistair Walker, will also continue in his role as a key sales executive for the company. In addition, all of BenRiach’s 165 full and part-time employees will keep their jobs following the sale.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Billy Walker:
The acquisition represents Brown-Forman’s return to the Scotch Whisky industry after an 11-year absence. The Louisville-based company held a minority stake in Glenmorangie plc when it was acquired by Möet Hennessy in 2005, and had held distribution rights for the company’s brands in North America, Europe, and parts of Asia until the sale. In a news release announcing the sale, Brown-Forman CEO Paul Varga called Single Malt Scotch Whisky “one of our industry’s most exciting and consistent growth segments.”
“We’d actually been looking to try to get back into the Single Malt Scotch business ever since we lost the rights to Glenmorangie in 2005,” said Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch in a telephone interview. “There aren’t that many great single malt brands available for sale because most people that own them are happy with them and want to keep them, so this was actually the perfect situation.” Brown-Forman will operate BenRiach as a subsidiary, and Lynch noted that “we are in the investment mode when it comes to the whiskey business, and we view this as a significant investment, but a long-term investment.”
Over the past three years, the Brown family-controlled corporation has committed around $750 million to expand its share of the global whisky market, with multiple rounds of expansions at the Jack Daniel Distillery in Tennessee and the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, along with the construction of the Jack Daniel Cooperage in Alabama. In addition, the company is in the early stages of work on the new $45 million Old Forester Distillery and visitors center on Louisville’s “Whiskey Row” and is building a new $50 million distillery at Ireland’s Slane Castle. Earlier this year, Brown-Forman sold its Southern Comfort and Tuaca liqueur brands to Sazerac for $543.5 million and previously sold off many of its non-spirits consumer products units.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Phil Lynch:
There remains one area where the outlook is unclear as of now. BenRiach’s whiskies are distributed globally through a network of importers in key countries, and it is expected that Brown-Forman will eventually seek to unwind that network and incorporate the BenRiach portfolio into its existing distribution system. In the US, BenRiach’s whiskies are imported by San Francisco-based Anchor Distilling. Lynch declined to comment on specific situations, but confirmed that the company will eventually bring the BenRiach portfolio into its own distribution system over time.
This story will be updated with additional information as necessary.
Editor’s note: This story was updated following an interview with Phil Lynch of Brown-Forman.
April 27, 2016 – Brown-Forman has agreed to buy the BenRiach Distillery Company for £285 million GBP ($416 million USD) in a deal that returns the Louisville-based company to the Scotch Whisky business. The deal ends 12 years of management for BenRiach under Billy Walker and his South African-based investors, during which the company also acquired the GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh distilleries and won numerous awards for their whiskies.
In a WhiskyCast interview, Walker described Brown-Forman as the only one of his company’s many suitors over the last several years that was a perfect fit for BenRiach. “We feel immensely privileged to have been custodians of this business for the last 12 years, and to be associated with these wonderful brands and great distilleries,” Walker said in a news release announcing the deal. “We are very confident that Brown-Forman will take The GlenDronach, BenRiach, and Glenglassaugh brands to the next level and fulfill their full potential, and prove to be worthy custodians of these historic distilleries.” Walker will remain as master distiller and blender after the sale, and all of the company’s 165 full and part-time employees in Scotland will keep their jobs under the terms of the agreement.
Brown-Forman is acquiring all three distilleries, the company’s bottling plant, maturing whisky stocks, trademarks, and the company’s headquarters in Edinburgh. The unit will operate as a subsidiary of Brown-Forman after the sale is completed, which is expected around June 1. The family-controlled company left the Scotch Whisky sector in 2005, when it sold its minority stake in Glenmorangie plc to Möet Hennessy.
The deal represents another major investment in whisky for Brown-Forman, which earlier this year sold its Southern Comfort and Tuaca liqueur brands to Sazerac as part of a plan to focus on whiskies. Brown-Forman is currently building a new distillery at Ireland’s Slane Castle with plans to release a Slane-branded Irish Whiskey in 2017.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information following an interview with Billy Walker.
April 25, 2016 – FEW Spirits founder Paul Hletko has been appointed as president of the American Craft Spirits Association’s board of directors. His appointment follows board elections completed late last week, and Hletko succeeds the association’s original president, Tom Mooney of House Spirits in Portland. Mooney remains on the ACSA board.
Dan Garrison of Garrison Brothers Distillery in Texas was named vice president, while Steve Johnson of Vermont Spirits will serve another term as Secretary-Treasurer.
The association was created in 2013 to serve as an independent non-profit voice for craft distillers.
Editor’s note: This week’s episode of WhiskyCast has an in-depth interview with Paul Hletko that was conducted before the results of the ACSA elections were announced.
April 25, 2016 – The Rampur Distillery, named after its home city in India’s Uttar Pradesh, started making malt whisky in 1990 for blending into its traditional molasses-based Indian whiskies and other spirits. 26 years later, Rampur’s malt whisky is entering the single malt whisky arena for the first time – joining single malts from Amrut and Paul John on the world stage. Rampur Indian Single Malt Whisky made its debut at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America convention in Las Vegas, with owner Radico Khaitan planning global distribution beginning in May.
Radico Khaitan is India’s largest domestic spirits producer, with rum, brandy, vodka, and gin brands in addition to its whisky range. “We’ve been doing the malt business for all this while, but we were never in a race or a hurry to introduce a product to the global audience until we were sure of the blend that we have” said Sanjeev Banga, who heads up Radico Khaitan’s international sales. “Now, our master blender feels he’s got the perfect blend, so here we are with our Rampur Indian Single Malt.”
Rampur Distillery is located in northern India near New Delhi, hundreds of miles north of Amrut’s Bangalore distillery and Paul John’s distillery in Goa. While it shares some of the same climate conditions that lead to rapid maturation for those whiskies, Rampur’s location in the foothills of the Himalayas create more significant temperature extremes that affect maturation. “The harsh summers are compensated by the severe winters,” Banga said in an interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie. “It’s also got the flavor of the famous Indian summer, so it gives the really right balance to the product,” he said.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Sanjeev Banga:
Rampur’s debut comes 15 years after Amrut’s first single malt whisky took Scots by surprise during a series of tastings in Glasgow and gave whisky connoisseurs a hint of what an Indian single malt could taste like. “All hats off – Amrut really set the trend as far as Indian single malts are concerned,” Banga said. Radico Khaitan’s spirits are distributed in 66 countries worldwide, and the company intends to leverage that distribution network with Rampur.
However, the debut of Rampur in the US market may be delayed. The Treasury Department’s Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) has not yet cleared Rampur’s label approval application, a common occurrence with whiskies from non-traditional whisky-producing countries. While Banga expects no issues with label approval based on previous experience with Radico Khaitan’s other export products, it should be noted that Amrut had significant issues in receiving label approvals for its initial US export single malts before finally being cleared in 2009. TTB inspectors routinely insist on label changes to separate the country of origin from the term “single malt whisky” – usually by putting the country on a separate line. The reason dates back to the last time US spirits regulations were updated around three decades ago, when Scotland, Canada, and Ireland were the only countries exporting whisky in significant amounts. While US law allows whiskies to be imported from those countries to be defined as they are in their home countries, there is no provision in the regulations for “single malt” whiskies from other nations, often leading to lengthy negotiations between TTB inspectors and attorneys representing brand owners and importers.
Rampur will not be available in its home market at first, since Banga describes it as a whisky for the global market with an eye to expanding the market for Indian single malts. India also has significant domestic restrictions on spirits, with some states banning alcohol sales completely and others requiring lengthy approval processes. However, the plan is eventually to make it available to Indian consumers as well.
Tasting notes for Rampur are available at WhiskyCast.com.
Links: Radico Khaitan
April 11, 2016 – Brown-Forman is the only U.S. distiller that operates its own cooperages, and the Louisville-based company has decided to name its newest Bourbon brand in honor of the workers at its original cooperage on the city’s south side. When it is released this summer, Coopers’ Craft will be Brown-Forman’s first new Bourbon brand since the launch of Woodford Reserve in 1996.
“With some of our existing brands like Woodford and Old Forester, we had always had innovation throughout the process working with the master distillers on the barrels…whether it was longer toasting times, different charring times, whether we worked with maple wood or other things,” said Brown-Forman Cooperage general manager Greg Roshkowski during a telephone interview. ” Instead of a brand extension for one of those existing brands, Roshkowski said company executives decided to create a new brand around his team. “Let’s focus on a new brand that really pays tribute to the people at the cooperage and the cooperage and understands how the flavor and the color all comes from that barrel.”
Brown-Forman acquired a former furniture factory in 1945 and converted it into the Blue Grass Cooperage. In 2009, the facility was renamed the Brown-Forman Cooperage and continues to produce barrels for all of its whiskey brands at the site 71 years later, building around 2,500 barrels per day. The company opened a second cooperage in Alabama last year to produce barrels primarily for use at the Jack Daniel Distillery in Tennessee.
The whiskey for Coopers’ Craft is distilled at Brown-Forman’s main distillery in Louisville, and goes through a unique finishing process using a filter made from beech and birch charcoal. Coopers’ Craft will be bottled at 41.1% ABV and will go on sale in Kentucky and seven other southeastern U.S. states this summer with a recommended retail price of $28.99 per 750ml bottle. The whiskey will likely be available in additional markets over time, but a Brown-Forman spokeswoman says no firm plans have been determined.
Editor’s note: For an audio tour of the Brown-Forman Cooperage, listen to Episode 305 of WhiskyCast as plant manager Greg Roshkowski takes us through the facility. This story was edited to include comments following an interview with Roshkowski and correct details on the opening of the cooperage in 1945.