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!
May 28, 2015 – Kentucky economic development officials have approved a package of incentives for a planned $55 million expansion project at the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg and its Coxs Creek warehouse complex in Bullitt County. The incentive package from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority totals $1.15 million, and will be used to offset construction and capital equipment purchases for the expansion.
“Our growth has been absolutely phenomenal, so we’ve been studying this,” Four Roses master distiller Jim Rutledge said in a telephone interview. “With our return to the US not so many years ago…in fact after Seagram went out of business, we didn’t really start marketing until we introduced our Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon in September of 2004…the first few years were slow, and then we’ve been on fire since then.” The Lawrenceburg project will essentially double the distillery’s capacity to around 8.5 million gallons of spirit annually, with a similar increase in warehousing capacity at Coxs Creek. That site also will house the new $8.4 million Four Roses bottling plant, for which Rutledge said construction began last week.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Jim Rutledge:
As for the new project, Rutledge projected construction will not begin for at least a year. “We’ve gotta go through probably a year now of getting all the permits in order, ordering equipment, which today’s business, takes up to a year or more to get.” Rutledge says Four Roses has enough warehouse capacity now to meet the distillery’s needs for the next year, and additional construction at the Coxs Creek site will likely also be at least a year away.
Once the expansion is completed, it will be at least six years before any of the Bourbon produced from that new equipment is ready for bottling. While the distillery’s Bourbons carry no age statements, Rutledge says the whiskey used for the regular Four Roses “Yellow Label” expression averages more than six years in the barrel.
The Finance Authority’s decision was first reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal, which also reported approval of $650,000 in incentives for the planned $12.5 million Rabbit Hole Spirits distillery and visitors center in Louisville. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that distillery could be open by the end of 2016 with annual production of around 5,000 barrels (approximately 250,000 gallons) of spirit annually.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information on the Rabbit Hole Distilling project in Louisville.
May 28, 2015 – Scotland’s whisky distilleries are having a larger impact on the nation’s tourism industry, with the various visitors centers reporting a 6% gain in guests during 2014. The Scotch Whisky Association reports more than 1.5 million visitors stopped at distilleries last year, mirroring an overall 5% gain in Scottish tourism reported by the Office of National Statistics during 2014.
SWA Deputy Chief Executive Julie Hesketh-Laird said in a news release “our survey shows just how many people want to visit distilleries to see how Scotch Whisky is made, try a dram and buy a bottle to take home to family and friends. Every year, distilleries are attracting more visitors from the UK and all parts of the globe.” Visitors spent almost £50 million GBP ($76.5 million USD) at distilleries for tours, meals, and souvenirs during 2014, up from £27 million ($41.3 million USD) in 2010.
Scottish Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing praised the industry’s ongoing investment in visitor facilities in a government news release. “I am delighted to see the investment that the Scotch whisky industry are making in their distilleries is paying dividends. Scottish distilleries are huge tourism attractions, especially in rural areas, working in partnership with other local enterprises and suppliers to bring benefits to the local area. Last year we welcomed 15 million tourists to Scotland and with 2015 being the Year of Food and Drink we are determined to build on this success with our distilleries forming a key part of this.”
Tourism remains a small part of the estimated £5 billion economic impact Scotch Whisky has on the overall UK economy. However, that impact is widely felt throughout rural areas as tourists patronize local hotels, shops, and restaurants while touring distilleries.
Links: Scotch Whisky Association
May 28, 2015 – In what may seem like the never-ending quest to build new whisky distilleries in even more remote parts of Scotland, the latest project proposes to convert an old Victorian hotel on the Isle of Raasay (pronounced “Rassy”) into a working distillery by January of 2017. Alasdair Day, who used his grandfather’s blending recipe to re-create The Tweedale Blend, has teamed up with Scottish IT entrepreneur Bill Dobbie to build the distillery at Borodale House under their R&B Distillers brand.
“If you come over the bridge onto the Isle of Skye and you’re driving towards Talisker Distillery at Carbost, before you get there, you pass a little very small village called Sconser, and the ferry goes from Sconser to Raasay,” Day explained in a telephone interview while admitting that the location is perhaps a bit inconvenient. “I think that’s part of the attraction…that’s one of the reasons there’s never been a legal distillery there before.”
“It’s a very short ferry crossing…about 25 minutes, so it’s probably actually easier to get to from that point of view than Islay, and certainly easier than getting to Jura, which is the only other island off an island distillery than I’m aware of.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Alasdair Day:
Day and Dobbie have filed a pre-planning application to the Highland Council for the project, and are currently doing an environmental survey of the site for protected species such as Raasay voles and bats. Day hopes to file the formal application in September and receive final approval by the end of the year, with construction during all of 2016 and a goal of starting production in January of 2017. The project is one of two distilleries Day and Dobbie hope to build, with the second one planned for the Borders region of Scotland. R&B stands for Raasay and Borders, and Day said the company’s goal is to bring distilling to parts of Scotland that have not had a recent history of whisky production. “We want to make hand-crafted whisky in areas of Scotland that have just got uncommon unique provenance.”
R&B is currently negotiating with distillers to bring an independent bottling of a peated single malt to market later this year under the “Raasay While We Wait” banner. In addition, Day’s Tweedale Blend will be releasing its fifth batch in the coming months, and Day is also working on plans for a single grain bottling to be released later this year.
As for Day’s grandfather, who worked as a whisky blender in Edinburgh before World War II? “I think he’d be delighted…I feel it’s a progression from bringing his recipe back to life and then hopefully being able to distill our own whisky,” Day said.
Links: R&B Distillers
May 22, 2015 – While the Kentucky State Fire Marshal has not issued an official cause for the April 24 explosion that leveled Silver Trail Distillery, investigators have said that a “catastrophic failure” of the still was likely to blame. The explosion happened as distillers Jay and Kyle Rogers opened a door to the stillhouse, leaving both men critically burned. Kyle Rogers died from his injuries on May 11 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, while Jay Rogers continues to recover in the hospital’s burn unit. Now, Jay Rogers and Silver Trail owner Spencer Balentine have filed a lawsuit against the maker of the still in Marshall County Circuit Court blaming the still’s construction for the explosion. Balentine issued his first public comments on the tragedy Saturday via the distillery’s Facebook page.
The still that exploded was not the original one used at Silver Trail that had been handed down through Spencer Balentine’s family of moonshiners, but a commercially-produced 300-gallon still built by Revenoor Stills in Yamhill, Oregon. The company had been in the business of supplying stills for beverage alcohol and fuel production for nearly five decades, but current owner Terry Wilhelm has shut the business down because of a family dispute over ownership.
Silver Trail’s Amanda Powell posted the following on the distillery’s Facebook page Thursday:
Attempts to reach the Revenoor web site receive the response “Error establishing a database connection.” Terry Wilhelm told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in a telephone interview that with regards to the accusations made in Silver Trail’s Thursday Facebook post, “absolutely none of that was true.” While expressing his concern for the Silver Trail victims and their families, he said he has been locked out of the Revenoor shop on the family’s farm since February 23 with no access to the company’s equipment or records because of a family dispute over the company’s ownership.
“I started to pull the website and the phone number down on February 24th, not the day after the explosion…there hasn’t been anything done about a bankruptcy filing. I simply did it because there were some health and some personal family issues that were just getting to be too much along with the work with Revenoor. I simply wasn’t in a good mind to take any more orders…”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Terry Wilhelm:
Wilhelm confirmed that Revenoor built the still for Silver Trail, but without access to his company’s records, could only estimate that the still was built “three or four years ago.” His stills carry a one-year warranty, and Wilhelm told a Kentucky lawyer who contacted him after the explosion that the still was out of warranty. He said he has not been contacted by the Kentucky investigators, but is willing to cooperate in any way that he can with the investigation. As for the possible cause of the explosion, Wilhelm said his pot stills are not designed to build up pressure in any way, and the only way one could build up pressure inside the still would be for the outlet tube to become clogged or blocked. The company has produced “thousands of stills” over its 47 years in the business, and Wilhelm said he is not aware of any accidents or explosions involving those stills since he bought the company from its founder in 2000.
A search of the docket for the US Bankruptcy Court in Portland shows no filing for Revenoor Stills, though the Oregon Secretary of State’s business registry shows an “administrative dissolution” for the company on April 24, the same day as the explosion. Typically, the state uses that term when a business fails to file annual reports or other required documents after a set period of time. Wilhelm said the annual renewal for Revenoor was due March 24, and the state automatically dissolves any business that fails to file within a 30-day grace period.
WhiskyCast has not been able to discuss Wilhelm’s comments or the investigation with the Kentucky State Fire Marshal’s office because of the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Editor’s note: Tips of the hat to Fred Minnick for originally reporting Silver Trail’s warning, and to WPSD-TV in Paducah for the PDF file of the lawsuit. This story has been updated to include images of the Silver Trail Distillery Facebook posts, additional details of the lawsuit, and Wilhelm’s claim that he is not aware of any other accidents or explosions involving the company’s stills. Note that in civil lawsuits, court filings only represent one side’s version of the case and should not be viewed as proven facts until argued and ruled upon in court.
May 22, 2015 – The alleged ringleader of a group charged with stealing Bourbon from Kentucky’s Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries pleaded not guilty today at arraignment hearings in Frankfort. Former Buffalo Trace employee Gilbert Curtsinger and eight other suspects in the case were indicted last month by a Franklin County Grand Jury on various charges including receiving stolen property, participating in an organized criminal syndicate, trafficking in controlled substances, and possessing drug paraphernalia. The suspects are charged with selling whiskey stolen from the distilleries through connections made at softball tournaments, and several face charges of dealing in anabolic steroids.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports Curtsinger and his wife, Julie Curtsinger, pleaded not guilty at their first arraignment hearing to the stolen property and drug charges, while Christopher Preston pleaded not guilty to a single charge of trafficking in a controlled substance. All three went before a second judge later in the day along with defendants Joshua Preston and Robert McKinney, where the five pleaded not guilty to the charge of participating in an organized criminal syndicate. Two others indicted in the case face arraignment hearings May 29, along with the most recent suspect indicted in the case. Former Buffalo Trace security guard Leslie Wright was indicted earlier this week on charges of complicity in the theft of full barrels from Buffalo Trace, though she is said to be cooperating with investigators. The cases are expected to be consolidated before one judge before trials begin, however, no trial dates have been set.
Two other defendants have already pleaded guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy charges in connection with the case. Ronnie Lee Hubbard and Shaun Ballard have agreed to testify against the other suspects when those cases go to trial, and prosecutors are expected to recommend that both be sentenced to probation in exchange for their cooperation.
May 22, 2015 – Here’s a roundup of new whiskies announced this week…
On this week’s episode of WhiskyCast, we had hints of the first release that Eddie Russell has created for Wild Turkey since being promoted earlier this year to Master Distiller alongside his father, Jimmy Russell. We have more details now on Master’s Keep, a 17-year-old Bourbon that will be released in August.
Master’s Keep is the oldest whiskey Wild Turkey has ever released, largely because Jimmy Russell has never wanted to release anything older than 15 years. The limited-edition Bourbon was matured in so-called “traveling casks” that were moved every few years between various Wild Turkey-owned wood and stone warehouses around Kentucky. It has been bottled at 43.4% ABV, and will have a recommended retail price of $150 (USD) per bottle.
Also on the Bourbon front, Buffalo Trace has released the latest two Bourbons in its Experimental Collection series. While there’s a common belief that US law requires the use of American White Oak barrels to mature Bourbon, the requirement only states “new charred oak” – and Buffalo Trace laid down several casks of whiskey in 2005 using French Oak. Some of the barrels were 100% French Oak, while others were made with French Oak heads and traditional American White Oak staves, but all were filled with the same spirit using the distillery’s rye-focused Bourbon mashbill. The experiment is reminiscent of one of Buffalo Trace’s first Experimental Collection releases using French Oak barrels in 2006. The 100% French Oak Barrel Aged Bourbon and French Oak Barrel Head Aged Bourbon were bottled at 45% ABV in 375ml bottles, and will be available in limited quantities for a recommended retail price of $46.35 (USD).
This weekend marks the beginning of the annual Islay Festival of Malt & Music in Scotland, and Diageo has unveiled the two Feis Ile bottlings to be available exclusively at Lagavulin and Caol Ila distilleries during the festival from May 23-30.
Lagavulin’s bottling was selected again this year by longtime warehouse manager Iain MacArthur, and is a triple-matured single malt originally distilled in 1991. Following the original maturation period in ex-Bourbon casks and a second maturation in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks (similar to the formula for the Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition release), the whisky was filled into old oak puncheons and allowed to rest until bottling at a cask-strength 59.9% ABV. 3,500 bottles will be available beginning Saturday, May 23 at the distillery for £128 ($198 USD).
Caol Ila’s bottling was selected by distillery manager David Wood, and followed a similar process to the Lagavulin malt following its distillation in 1998. The original maturation in ex-Bourbon casks was followed by time in Moscatel wine casks (also the formula for the Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition), with final maturation in old oak puncheons. It has been bottled at 57.3% ABV, and 1,500 bottles will be available starting on Caol Ila’s open day Monday, May 25 at £99 ($153 USD). Diageo plans to limit purchases by visitors at both distilleries to make sure more people have a chance to obtain them.
Kilchoman is celebrating its 10th anniversary during this year’s Festival, and will release a special bottling blended from ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks filled between 2005 and 2012, including a small amount of whisky from the very first cask filled when the distillery opened in 2005. 3,000 bottles (58.2% ABV) will be available for purchase exclusively at the distillery for £89 ($137 USD) per bottle.
While none of the Islay distilleries have acknowledged it as a specific reason, all three of the festival bottlings are bottled below 60% ABV. Islay’s Glenegedale Airport bans passengers on Flybe flights between Islay and Glasgow from traveling with whisky stronger than 60% ABV in checked baggage, and airport security officers have been known to confiscate cask-strength bottlings above the limit. There is no such limit for passengers on the CalMac ferries from Islay to the Scottish mainland.
Arran plans to limit purchases of its newest single malt, which will be available exclusively to members of the distillery’s White Stags affinity group beginning June 15 at the Arran web site. Members of the group picked the 18-year-old ex-Sherry hogshead cask from five finalists selected by the distillery team during a tasting session at Glasgow’s Oran Mor whisky bar in January. 214 bottles will be available at £95 ($148 USD), and each bottle will carry the names of the members of that tasting panel.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with details on the Kilchoman Feis Ile anniversary bottling.