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!
November 16, 2014 – While newly re-elected Senator Mitch McConnell told Kentucky Republican Party leaders Saturday the “Bourbon Summit” with President Barack Obama will take place, it’s a safe bet that the meeting will not wind up the way NBC’s Saturday Night Live portrayed it during the show’s cold opening last night. After the Republicans scored a decisive victory in the midterm elections two weeks ago, President Obama told reporters he would welcome the chance to enjoy a glass of Kentucky Bourbon with McConnell, expected to become Senate Majority Leader when Republicans take control of the Senate in January.
NBC’s parody of the summit featured Taran Killam as McConnell, Jay Pharoah as Obama, and two uncredited bottles of Woodford Reserve as the Bourbon. The summit included nine drinks each, a prank call to Hillary Clinton and ended with the traditional “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch praised the show’s choice of Woodford Reserve, telling WhiskyCast in an email that “SNL has already decided which Bourbon the President and Senator McConnell should drink at the “Bourbon Summit” – Woodford Reserve. So that’s one issue that doesn’t need further debate.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to remove a link to the video of the “SNL” sketch that had been taken off the Internet at NBC’s request.
Links: Saturday Night Live
November 14, 2014 – Balcones Distilling founder Chip Tate has won a key battle in his fight with the majority investors who now control 73% of the Waco distillery’s ownership. In a ruling issued earlier this week, Texas 170th District Court Judge Meyer ruled that the majority owners violated company bylaws by making decisions in board meetings that Tate had boycotted. The bylaws require Tate to be present at a board meeting in order for action taken at that meeting to be binding.
Tate last attended a board meeting in July, making all board actions since August invalid according to Judge Meyer’s ruling according to the Waco Tribune. That would include the decision to suspend Tate for 90 days August 22 and seek the restraining order barring Tate from the distillery’s premises and contacting Balcones employees. In addition, it invalidates the distillery’s plan to raise an additional $15 million dollars in financing from the majority owners with debt that could be converted into equity in Balcones, which would have reduced Tate’s ownership stake from 23% to 9% and limited his control of the company. It is not clear whether the restraining order remains in effect. Judge Meyer’s contempt of court citation against Tate for failing to promptly return a company-owned computer, hard drive, and mobile phone is on hold while the two sides are in mediation.
As Tate told WhiskyCast last month after the restraining order was modified to allow him to speak publicly about the case, the Oklahoma City-based investor group led by Balcones Chairman Greg Allen started holding board meetings and making decisions that violated the management agreement giving Tate final authority over Balcones operations. The two sides are discussing a settlement expected to lead to one side buying the other out, but a previously scheduled board meeting set for this past Tuesday was cancelled after Tate refused to attend.
In a statement provided to WhiskyCast by Balcones attorney Jeffrey Armstrong, Greg Allen said the judge’s ruling jeopardizes the distillery’s immediate future:
“We were surprised and naturally disappointed by the court’s ruling. But given this ruling, it does make sense for Chip to either buy us out, or be bought out, because the court essentially has declared that the current owners can’t put any more of their money into the Company. Staying in a holding pattern is also not the best thing for the employees, customers and our loyal consumers because at some point we will run out of money. There are many people who depend on their paychecks coming each week from Balcones, and our decisions need to continue to have these people and their families in mind. So, our hope is that we will have something good to announce with Chip within the next few weeks. In the meantime, and most importantly, the Company is doing great. Our production is improving in quality and quantity over 2013, and our customers and loyal consumers remain thrilled. Bottom line is that Balcones will continue to do great things regardless who is in charge in the board room.”
We have reached out to Chip Tate and his attorney, David Clouston, for their response to the ruling. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a response from Balcones Distilling Chairman Greg Allen.
Links: Balcones Distilling
November 12, 2014 – Glenmorangie is launching a new travel retail range over the next two years, with the first expression in the series to be available later this month exclusively at World Duty Free’s World of Whiskies stores at airports in the UK and Spain. Glenmorangie Dornoch will be exclusive to the World Duty Free stores for two months starting November 26, and will be available in global travel retail and at the Tain distillery’s gift shop after that.
The whisky is a combination of unpeated and lightly peated Glenmorangie spirit matured in ex-American Oak barrels and Amontillado Sherry casks. It takes its name from the Dornoch Firth, which the distillery overlooks. The recommended retail price is £59.99 ($95 USD), and a portion of sales will be donated to the Marine Conservation Society to help preserve the firth.
November 4, 2014 – Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman wasn’t alive when his predecessors introduced the concept of a single malt Scotch Whisky to the world in 1963, but he was tasked with the challenge of re-creating what was known back then as a “straight malt” for a limited-edition release marking that key time in Scotch Whisky history. Kinsman researched the notes of former Master Distiller Hamish Robertson from the distillery’s archives to create “The Original”, which will be available in the US, Taiwan, and Australia starting this month with a recommended retail price of $99 USD.
“When you go to the distillery and see all of the amazing things we’ve done, one of the things we haven’t really talked about a lot is the role Glenfiddich played in creating the single malt category,” said Andy Nash, Scotch Whisky category director for William Grant & Sons USA, during an interview at Monday night’s launch event in New York City. “Many talk about it and give us the credit for that, and it’s great to actually go back into our archives and see all of those elements and recreate them for a new audience now. It’s really showing the pioneering that Glenfiddich was doing back in the 60’s and that we’re continuing today. ”
While the original 1963 straight malt was released that year, the plans for that whisky dated back to shortly after brothers Charles and Alexander Grant Gordon inherited control of the family business following the death of their father. “The idea came from Charlie and his younger brother, my father, realizing that when they were taking people around the distillery, people were saying “Blimey, that’s completely different!”, Peter Grant Gordon said Monday night. Gordon is part of the current generation of family members who own the company. “It was not that they said “oh, why don’t you make this available”, but it became an idea that, OK, if we made it a little bit older, this could be something special…and looking back on it now, that decision was probably made back in 1956 and 1957.” At the time, the only Glenfiddich “straight malt” was a 5-year-old version sold only in Northeast Scotland, and Gordon said the decision was made to produce a new whisky based on 8-year-old malt blended with 12 and 13-year-old casks. That whisky is widely regarded as the first “straight malt” to be widely exported outside of Scotland, starting with the 1963 launch in the US.
The US version will have special packaging that includes a booklet on the whisky’s origins. 24,000 bottles will be available worldwide.
Tasting notes for The Original will be available soon at WhiskyCast.com.
November 3, 2014 – As expected, Diageo has announced a deal in which it will swap the Bushmills Irish Whiskey brand with Jose Cuervo Overseas for the remaining 50% of the Don Julio Tequila brand and $408 million (USD) in cash. The deal was first reported Saturday by the Wall Street Journal, and confirmed by Diageo before the start of stock trading in London this morning. The swap is expected to be completed in early 2015, and Diageo spokeswoman Lisa Crane told Bloomberg News that all of the current Bushmills employees will stay with the brand once the transition is completed.
The move gives Diageo complete control of one of the fastest-growing premium tequila brands, while shedding an underperforming asset in Bushmills. During a conference call with analysts and reporters last July, Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes acknowledged that Bushmills has failed to capitalize on the recent boom in Irish Whiskey sales. “We have tried hard over the years to get this brand into growth, and we’ve struggled,” he said at the time. Diageo acquired Bushmills in 2005, just as the Irish Whiskey market was starting to record double-digit sales increases annually based on renewed worldwide interest in Irish Whiskey. Bushmills sales remained relatively stagnant, though, and the brand is #3 in sales behind Jameson and Tullamore Dew.
The two companies have been partners in Don Julio since 2003, when Diageo sold a 50% interest in the brand to the Beckmann family-controlled Jose Cuervo. They spent almost two years negotiating a sale of the flagship Jose Cuervo brand, in which Diageo owns a 45% interest, but broke off talks at the end of 2012 after failing to reach an agreement that would have seen Diageo pay more than $3 billion for control of the brand.
November 1, 2014 – Diageo has declined to comment on a Wall Street Journal report that the drinks giant and Mexico’s Beckmann family-controlled Casa Cuervo are close to announcing a deal that would give Diageo full control of the Don Julio tequila brand and cash in exchange for the Bushmills Irish Whiskey brand and the Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, Ireland. The Beckmann family, which traces its roots back to Jose Cuervo founder Don Jose Antonio de Cuervo, has been a partner with Diageo in Jose Cuervo since 1989, and the two each own 50% of the Don Julio brand following a 2003 deal in which Diageo sold Casa Cuervo half of the brand for $100 million (USD). Diageo spokeswoman Zsoka McDonald declined via email Saturday night to comment on the Journal’s report, citing a company policy against commenting “on speculation.”
The WSJ story, citing sources familiar with the deal, indicates an announcement could come as early as this week and would give Diageo the larger stake of the US tequila market that company executives have sought for several years. During 2011 and 2012, Diageo had offered the Beckmanns more than $3 billion to acquire the remaining 55% stake in Jose Cuervo, according to various news reports. After talks broke down at the end of 2012, Diageo ended its US distribution deal for Jose Cuervo on July 1, 2013.
While this would be the largest whisky investment for the Beckmann family, they are not strangers to the whisky business. The family also owns Proximo Spirits, which produces Stranahan’s at its distillery in Denver and bottles Tin Cup in Colorado from spirit distilled at MGP-I in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Proximo also owns the Lawrenceburg bottling plant that was historically part of the former Seagram’s complex, but which MGP Ingredients chose to sell when it acquired the distillery.
If the deal is completed, it would get Diageo out of the Irish Whiskey sector, which it entered when it acquired Bushmills from Pernod Ricard in 2005. Pernod Ricard acquired Bushmills in 1988 as part of its deal with Irish Distillers, but agreed to sell the brand and distillery to help clear the way for its acquisition of Allied Domecq later that year. While Diageo had high hopes for success with Bushmills initially, the brand has not been a major player in the global boom in Irish Whiskey sales over the last ten years. Pernod Ricard’s Jameson brand has increased its market share, while William Grant & Sons-owned Tullamore Dew has cemented its hold on second place in the Irish Whiskey market.
This story will be updated as more details are available.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a response from Diageo.