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September 18, 2018 – Just days after the end of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, an earthquake of sorts has hit Bourbon Country with major changes at three of the Commonwealth’s landmark distilleries. Heaven Hill Master Distiller Denny Potter confirmed this evening to WhiskyCast that he will be leaving the Bardstown-based distiller to return to Beam Suntory-owned Maker’s Mark in nearby Loretto as Master Distiller and General Manager. He will succeed Greg Davis and Victoria MacRae-Samuels, who are both being promoted to new posts within Beam Suntory.
Davis, who became Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark in 2010, will become Director of Distilling for the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky and the Booker Noe Distillery in Boston, Kentucky. MacRae-Samuels, who served as VP of Operations and Plant Manager at Maker’s Mark, will become Senior Director of Global Quality for Beam Suntory based at the company’s Global Innovation Center in Clermont. Maker’s Mark Global General Manager and Chief Distillery Officer Rob Samuels announced the moves in a news release Tuesday, along with the promotion of Jane Bowie to head up the distillery’s Private Select Experience and Diplomat programs.
The move marks a return to Maker’s Mark for Potter, who became the first Master Distiller at Heaven Hill not named Beam when he was appointed co-Master Distiller in 2014 to work alongside Craig Beam following Parker Beam’s decision to step aside from full-time work during his long battle with ALS. Potter became the company’s sole Master Distiller when Craig Beam stepped down to manage the family’s other business interests as Parker’s condition gradually worsened until his death in January of 2017. Last year, Heaven Hill named him Vice President of Operations in addition to Master Distiller, with responsibility for the company’s production facilities in Bardstown as well as the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville and the Deep Eddy Vodka plant in Texas.
In an email to WhiskyCast, Heaven Hill spokesman Josh Hafer said “we are happy for Denny. It remains to be seen who will take over. We, certainly, will look for someone who can maintain the traditions of our previous Master Distillers including a commitment to heritage, quality, authenticity and transparency.”
In the Maker’s Mark news release announcing the move, Potter was quoted as saying “I am forever indebted to the Shapira family for the opportunity to build on the Heaven Hill legacy of distilling. It has always been a dream of mine to be a Master Distiller and a part of our industry’s rich heritage, and now, I have the honor and privilege of returning to Maker’s Mark as an ambassador and established leader for the organization. I could not be more appreciative nor more grateful to Rob for giving me this opportunity.”
Potter rose through the ranks during seven years in Loretto under Dave Pickerell and Kevin Smith to become Assistant Master Distiller in 2008. In 2010, Beam moved him to the US Virgin Islands to manage its Cruzan Rum distillery, and brought him back to Kentucky to manage its production facility in Frankfort in 2012. He left Beam to join Heaven Hill to become the manager at Bernheim Distillery in 2013. Potter was not available for an interview Tuesday evening.
September 18, 2018 – With the next round of talks between Four Roses Distillery and its striking workers not expected until at least Friday, the Kirin-owned distillery has issued a statement outlining its position on what union leaders have referred to as a “two-tier” benefits package for new workers.
53 members of the United Food & Commercial Workers and the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/SEIU walked off the job September 7 after rejecting the distillery’s final contract offer. UFCW Local 10D represents operations and maintenance workers at the distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, while UFCW Local 23D represents operations and maintenance workers at the distillery’s Cox’s Creek maturation and bottling facility. NCFO/SEIU Local 320 represents five workers in Lawrenceburg who operate and maintain the distillery’s boiler and water treatment systems. Union leaders have consistently indicated that they will reject any contract proposal that treats new employees differently from current ones.
In the statement, Four Roses executives indicated that their proposal never included a “two-tier” wage plan with lower pay scales for new workers. Their plan proposes to change the sick leave policy for new workers to remove the ability to “bank” unused sick days from year to year. Current employees receive ten sick days each year, and can carry over unused days up to a maximum of 60. The distillery’s proposal would replace that for new hires with short-term disability insurance that would take effect after an employee’s annual sick days are used up and last until long-term disability benefits begin.
According to the statement, the distillery offered that same package to the unions for current employees, but withdrew it after union negotiators insisted on keeping the current system, which does not include short-term disability coverage.
“We agree that the new hires would not receive the same sick leave benefits as current employees, but we believe the new hires’ program is better, not worse. Now, a current employee who has insufficient sick days in the “bank” has nothing to rely on until long term disability benefits start. New hires will never find themselves in that situation. So, we gave current employees what they said they wanted, and new hires something different, but, we think, better.”
The company also dropped a proposal from its final contract offer to change vacation time for new employees to a maximum of five weeks after 25 years of service, while keeping the limit at six weeks for current workers.
WhiskyCast has requested interviews with Four Roses executives since the strike began, but the company has declined saying that it has “tried not to conduct negotiations in the media,” but wanted to correct “inaccuracies” in several media reports.
UFCW Local 10D president Jeff Royalty says the company’s statement doesn’t address the problem his members could face if they accepted the new proposal. In a telephone interview, Royalty noted that the current sick leave plan pays employees for a full 8-hour work day, while the short-term disability plan would only pay them 50 percent of a day’s pay after that sick leave is used up.
“Essentially, I would have to be on short-term disability for 120 days to even break even if I had the 60 days banked,” he said. He also said the proposed system could cause problems for an employee who uses up all ten days following an injury and then gets sick later in the year, since short-term disability insurance is not designed to cover a brief absence of just one or two days.
Royalty hopes the Friday negotiating session will lead to a tentative agreement. “I’m losing money personally every day I’m on the picket line, and so is Four Roses…a strike is no good for either side, but it’s just one of those things that has to be done from time to time,” he said.
This story will be updated with additional information as necessary.
Editor’s note: We have made the complete Four Roses statement available to read at the WhiskyCast web site.
September 18, 2018 – More than a year after announcing his plans to launch his own Irish Whiskey brand during a post-fight news conference, mixed martial arts champion Conor McGregor has unveiled Proper No. Twelve. Eire Born Spirits, McGregor’s own spirits company, is working with Bushmills head distiller David Elder and Proximo Spirits on the whiskey, which will be available at first in the U.S. and Ireland starting this month with plans for wider availability in 2019.
The name comes from Dublin 12, the postal district in southwest Dublin that includes Crumlin, the neighborhood where McGregor grew up.
“It’s a place dear to my heart. It’s where I learned how to fight; it made me who I am today. It’s a place I’m still very much a part of every single day of my life. So, that’s where the name came from. It’s proper Irish whiskey and twelve is my hometown,” McGregor said in a news release announcing the whiskey’s release. “Growing up on the streets of Dublin 12, I learned the values of loyalty and hard work. I respect other Irish whiskeys, but I am coming in strong, with passion and with purpose. I am the founder of this company and I am going to give it my all,” the statement quoted McGregor as saying. The fighter plans to donate up to a million dollars of Proper No. Twelve’s annual sales to local first responders and charitable groups supporting first responders.
When McGregor initially announced his plans to enter the whiskey business immediately following his loss in the ring to boxing champion Floyd Mayweather in August of 2017, he referred to it as “Notorious Irish Whiskey” in line with his “Notorious” nickname. The Irish Examiner reported last week that McGregor was forced to withdraw his trademark application for the name at the European Union Intellectual Property Office because “Notorious” had already been trademarked for use on alcoholic beverages in 2016 by Carlow Brewing Company founder Seamus O’Hara. However, a U.S.-based spokesperson for the brand told WhiskyCast in an email that McGregor had not “planned to call this brand Notorious for over a year,” saying that “he wanted it to be bigger than him and about his country.”
Proper No. Twelve is a blend of single malt and grain whiskies blended and bottled at the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim. While the distilleries that supplied the whiskey have not been identified, the brand’s spokesperson told WhiskyCast it does not contain any whiskey from Bushmills. Proximo Spirits is the distribution arm of Becle, which is owned by Mexico’s Beckmann family of Jose Cuervo fame. Becle also owns Bushmills Irish Whiskey and the Old Bushmills Distillery.
The announcement comes as another Irish celebrity is reported to be considering his own entry into the Irish Whiskey business. According to The Times, U2 lead singer Bono is one of the investors in a €50 million ($58.3 million USD) craft distillery proposed for construction at Ballykelly Mill in County Kildare. Plans for the project were submitted last week to the local council for approval by developer Paddy McKillen, who owns Dublin’s Clarence Hotel along with Bono and fellow U2 member The Edge. No timetable has been set for a vote on the plan.
Links: Proper No. Twelve
September 12, 2018 – Bardstown, Kentucky, long known as the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” kicked off the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival today with a cloud hanging over this year’s event. The weather forecast in Bardstown calls for sunny skies through the festival weekend with rain expected from Hurricane Florence early next week, but the cloud over the festival stems from the ongoing strike by union workers at Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg and its Cox’s Creek maturation and bottling facility near Bardstown.
No negotiations have taken place since 53 members of two United Food and Commercial Workers local chapters and the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/SEIU walked off the job at both sites last Friday. The strike follows a 51-2 rejection of the distillery’s final contract offer, which called for implementation of a two-tier benefits structure for new hires with changes to sick leave, and seniority rights. The strike has not affected distilling at Four Roses, which had been shut down before the strike to allow for final construction work on a $55 million expansion project. Bottling operations at Cox’s Creek are done by non-union workers and have not been affected by the strike.
Four Roses executives have declined interviews since the strike began, but the distillery issued the following statement Tuesday:
“We value our employees and recognize they are a crucial part of what makes Four Roses a special Bourbon. We have been negotiating in good faith with the unions and offered a competitive package for our employees. It is our hope that the unions will reconsider their decision.”
That’s not likely to happen, according to UFCW Local 10D President Jeff Royalty, who represents operations and maintenance workers at the Lawrenceburg distillery.
“The union is still standing strong right now…we have no inclination that anyone is willing to change from our initial way of thinking on standing up for the next generation,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “It just appears that this thing is going to lead into the Bourbon Festival, and we are prepared…we’re gonna be at the Bourbon Festival.”
The Kentucky Bourbon Festival draws thousands of whiskey lovers from around the world to Bardstown and the surrounding area each September, but this is the first time in the festival’s 27 years that a distillery strike has taken place during the event. Four Roses is one of the many distilleries participating in the festival, and is expected to draw more than 200 guests to its sold-out annual “Let’s Talk Bourbon” event Friday morning at the distillery. Those guests will have to cross picket lines to attend the tasting and discussion with Master Distiller Brent Elliott, and the unions plan additional activity in Bardstown at the festival’s main venue around Spalding Hall.
“You can’t never tell where we might pop up down there,” Royalty said. “We’re gonna get out and mingle in the crowd, talk to people, get the message across…we want people to have a good time, we’re not going to disrupt any event, but we just want to get the message out that we’re trying to do a positive thing here,” he said, emphasizing that his members will comply with the law while exercising their First Amendment rights. He also expects support from other UFCW members around the region, along with members of other area labor unions.
Kentucky Bourbon Festival executive director Jill Hawkins has been working with Bardstown police on contingency plans for union activity during the weekend. She told WhiskyCast that no organized picketing will be allowed on the lawn area at Spalding Hall, where the participating distilleries and other exhibitors have their displays starting on Friday afternoon and lasting through the weekend.
“The Festival is all about celebrating Bourbon, the industry, the people. That is our mission, that is our goal, so that is what we are going to do. Certainly, the situation at Four Roses is unfortunate, but we’re going to let those parties handle all of that…we’re just going to continue to execute this celebration here in Bardstown and deliver a great experience for all of our guests,” Hawkins said. Spalding Hall is considered private property, while the festival holds city permits for the weekend giving it control over the adjacent city-owned land used for festival events.
Royalty expects his members to be visible in the festival crowd with bright-green “No Concessions: My Family Matters” t-shirts. “It appears to me that everywhere I go wearing it, someone will stop and ask me what it’s about, and it’s a good conversation piece,” he said.
As long as the union activity is limited to informal acts like those t-shirts, Bardstown assistant police chief Capt. Joe Seelye says there won’t be any limits at the Bourbon Festival.
“That wouldn’t meet the threshold of a protest in terms of what law enforcement would need to be engaged with, but one thing the law talks about is time, place, and manner, and so should it be hypothetically an actual protest with 500, 1000 people, then we have set up an area within the event venue that we would ask the protestors to do their actual protest in,” Seelye said. “We’re there to protect those that are going to the venue, the business owners, the citizens, and the protesters themselves…we want everybody to get along, and law enforcement will be there just to ensure everything goes smoothly.”
So far, only one Bourbon Festival event has been affected by the strike. Saturday’s World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay is not expected to include teams from Four Roses – unless a contract agreement is reached in time.
Editor’s note: This story was edited to remove mention of a two-tier wage structure for new employees. The company indicated after publication that their last contract offer only proposed benefits changes for new hires.
September 12, 2018 – Diageo’s Distill Ventures unit has made its first investment in the North American whiskey market with a minority stake in Westward American Single Malt Whiskey. Westward is distilled by Portland, Oregon-based House Spirits Distillery, and the current House Spirits management team led by CEO Tom Mooney and founder Christian Krogstad will continue to own the majority of Westward and oversee day-to-day operations.
“We certainly weren’t looking for another investor in a generic sense,” Mooney said in a telephone interview following the announcement. “Years ago, we set out on the journey to establish the leading American Single Malt program and brand in Westward, and we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished up to now,” he said. Westward is distributed by Redwood Brands, another Distill Ventures partner, while Park Street handles distribution for the remainder of the House Spirits portfolio. That portfolio includes Volstead Vodka, Casa Magdalena Rum, and Krogstad Aquavit, and will remain separate from the Distill Ventures/Westward partnership.
“In Diageo, we found somebody who is the world’s leading malt whisky producer … they’re also, somewhat unusually in the spirits world, one of the leading brewers in the world,” Mooney said. “We’re very committed to the beer program that is the basis for Westward and the quality of the beer that we make to distill into whiskey.”
Distill Ventures is Diageo’s in-house venture capital unit, investing more than $75 million in emerging drinks brands so far. The unit owns minority stakes in Denmark’s Stauning and Australia’s Starward whisky brands, along with the Seedlip non-alcohol distilled spirits brand.
“Our team is deeply committed to working with strong founders like Westward’s Thomas Mooney and Christian Krogstad, who deliver on innovation and excel at brand building. Westward American Single Malt whiskey is an unparalleled spirit that perfectly delivers on the vision of placing a US brand amongst the world’s most coveted single malts,” Distill Ventures North America managing director Gonzalo de la Pezuela said in a statement announcing the deal.
According to Mooney, the Distill Ventures investment will allow Westward to complete its capital investment plan. That plan began with the construction of the current distillery in Portland’s “Distillery Row” neighborhood, which opened in 2015. The next step will be to add fermenters in the distillery with the goal of increasing production capacity by around 40 percent annually.
The announcement is the second in the past week involving a major spirits industry teaming up with a smaller US distiller. Last Thursday, Edrington announced a similar minority investment in Wyoming Whiskey that will bring the Kirby, Wyoming distillery’s whiskies into the Edrington Americas distribution network.
Listen to our midweek episode of WhiskyCast for our interview with Westward’s Tom Mooney. You can also listen to our recent tour of the House Spirits Distillery with head distiller Miles Munroe in Episode 719 of WhiskyCast.
September 11, 2018 – Three new members have been named to the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, while an industry leader will be honored with the award named for one of his closest friends and colleagues. The Class of 2018 was announced today ahead of this Friday’s induction luncheon to be held at the Frazier History Museum in Louisville. Buffalo Trace VIP Visitor Lead Freddie Johnson, Alltech founder Dr. Pearse Lyons, and Beam Suntory Chairman & CEO Matt Shattock will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Freddie Johnson has become popular with Bourbon lovers for his unique style of leading tours at the distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, where he follows in the footsteps of his father and grandfather – both of whom spent their careers at what’s now known as Buffalo Trace.
Dr. Lyons, who passed away in March, was the founder and chairman of Alltech, the Kentucky-based agricultural food and science company that produces enzymes and yeast for the distilling industry. Dr. Lyons took his family’s company into distilling with the Town Branch Distillery in Lexington, while also building the Pearse Lyons Distillery in his native Ireland. His final project was the new Dueling Barrels Distillery in Pikesville, Kentucky, which opened in June.
Shattock led Beam through its 2011 spinoff from Fortune Brands into a standalone company, followed by the 2014 acquisition by Suntory Holdings for $16 billion. After the acquisition, he became Chairman and CEO of Beam Suntory with responsibility for all of the company’s global spirits businesses.
Heaven Hill President Max Shapira will be the fourth recipient of the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award, named for Heaven Hill’s longtime Master Distiller Parker Beam. Beam was the first recipient of the award in 2015, a little more than a year before he died following a long battle with ALS. Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell was the second recipient in 2016, and Bill Samuels Jr. of Maker’s Mark received the award last year.
“Each, in their own way, has forever transformed our signature spirit, “Kentucky Distillers Association president Eric Gregory said in a statement announcing the Class of 2018. “We are eternally grateful for their remarkable achievements, dedication and commitment to our timeless craft, and for that we offer our heartfelt thanks.”
The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame was founded in 2001, and is a joint venture between the Kentucky Distillers Association and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Inductees are nominated each year by KDA member distilleries and the Bourbon Festival’s board, and the KDA’s board of directors makes the final selections. Each honoree receives a miniature still, and the Frazier History Museum’s new permanent exhibit on the history of Kentucky Bourbon has a display honoring all of the Hall of Fame members.
Tickets are still available through the Kentucky Bourbon Festival’s web site for the induction luncheon Friday at the museum.
September 8, 2018 – Just as thousands of Bourbon lovers descend on Kentucky for the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival this coming week, workers at one of the Commonwealth’s iconic whiskey distilleries have gone on strike. 53 workers at the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg and the Four Roses maturation and bottling campus in Cox’s Creek walked off the job Friday afternoon after rejecting the company’s final contract offer.
The workers are represented by two locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers and the SEIU National Conference of Firemen & Oilers. UFCW Local 10D represents operations and maintenance workers in Lawrenceburg, while Local 23D represents operations and maintenance workers at the Cox’s Creek site near Bardstown. The SEIU/NCFO represents five Lawrenceburg workers who operate the distillery’s boiler and water treatment systems. According to Local 10D President Jeff Royalty, 51 of the 53 workers voted to reject the contract offer and go on strike immediately.
“I will be the first to say we made some headway…we found some common ground on a lot of issues, but as I tell people, we got real close but just not quite there,” Royalty told WhiskyCast in a telephone interview from the picket line in Lawrenceburg Saturday. Royalty emphasized that the dispute was not over wages, but centered on the desire of Four Roses owner Kirin Holdings to implement a two-tier benefit structure for new employees with changes to sick leave and seniority rights. Royalty said the benefit changes would affect policies that have been part of the contract for the last 30 years, and rejected the “two-tier” structure out of hand. The dispute is also the subject of a union complaint to the National Labor Relations Board filed August 24.
Four Roses Chief Operating Officer and Director of Distillery Operations Ryan Ashley declined to comment on the strike, but in an email to WhiskyCast, said “we certainly aim to resolve this amicably and swiftly.” The strike will not affect production at the Kirin Holdings-owned distillery, which has been idled temporarily while a $55 million expansion project is in its final stages. Work on that project is expected to continue despite the labor action. In addition, bottling operations will continue at Cox’s Creek, where the bottling hall staff is not unionized.
Four Roses is scheduled to host its annual “Let’s Talk Bourbon” event with Master Distiller Brent Elliott this Friday at the distillery in Lawrenceburg as part of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Tickets for that event sold out almost as soon as they went on sale. In addition, the Four Roses 130th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon is scheduled to go on sale Saturday in the distillery’s shops at both facilities. Four Roses also takes part in many of the Bourbon Festival’s other showcase events during the Festival, and union members make up the distillery’s team in the festival’s World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay. It is not known whether Four Roses will field a team if the strike lasts through Saturday’s event.
In his email, Ashley said the strike will not affect the distillery’s plans for the coming week.
“We will forge on and entertain like any other year. While it’s unfortunate that our employees are striking (particularly this week) we will absolutely welcome all guests and continue to provide the same top notch experience.”
The employees that staff the visitors center in Lawrenceburg and shop in Cox’s Creek are not represented by unions, and both facilities will remain open during the strike.
The UFCW’s Royalty denied any timing between the strike vote and the start of the Bourbon Festival, but admits it “blows his mind” that management “wasn’t willing to work this out with me.” ”
“For all 53 of us, nothing would make us any more happy than to get our beautiful facility which we just spent $55 million dollars on up and running and show it off to people, show ’em the proud nature of what we do, and it kind of amazes me that they’re not at least willing to sit down and work with me on this,” Royalty said. He pledged that if the strike continues through the official start of Bourbon Festival events on Wednesday, union members will make their voices heard – but he also has his negotiating team ready to meet on an hour’s notice if the company wants to talk.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with UFCW Local 10D President Jeff Royalty:
“Whatever direction that this ends up going in…if we’re on strike, you will see the UFCW in full force handing out handbills, doing things of that nature. On the flip side of that, I hope we’re back up and running, and you’ll see the UFCW out there supporting our distillery and all of the distilleries around…so we’ll be there either way.”
The strike is the first against a Kentucky distillery since UFCW members walked off the job at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont in October of 2016. The week-long strike ended when union members accepted a new contract that included wage increases and limits on overtime.
This story will be updated with additional information as necessary.
Editor’s note: This story was edited to remove mention of a two-tier wage structure for new employees. The company indicated on September 17 that their last contract offer only proposed benefits changes for new hires.
September 7, 2018 – In the nearly six years since the first bottle of Wyoming Whiskey went on sale December 1, 2012, the wheated Bourbon from the tiny town of Kirby, Wyoming won widespread acclaim well beyond the state’s borders. In the end, the family-owned distillery faced the same problems as many other small-scale distillers – turning that acclaim into space on retail shelves. Like a number of their counterparts in the whiskey industry, the founders have now decided that entering into a “strategic partnership” with a larger player in the business is the most logical option for their distillery’s future.
Scotland-based Edrington has acquired a minority stake in Wyoming Whiskey from founders Brad Mead, Kate Mead, and David DeFazio for an undisclosed amount. While the founders will retain control of the distillery, their whiskey will become the first Bourbon in Edrington’s portfolio, which also includes The Macallan, Highland Park, and The Glenrothes single malts, The Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark blended Scotches, and Brugal Rum. Edrington Americas, the company’s North American unit, will take over sales, distribution and marketing for Wyoming Whiskey.
“They’re really great people with the same value set we have of giving back to society over the long term, and that’s where the discussion began,” said Edrington Americas President & CEO Chris Spalding in a telephone interview. “As we progressed, understanding their liquid and the direction it was going and the quality of the product they were starting to put out, we were just like a match made in heaven at that point,” he said. While Sam Mead will remain head distiller and Nancy Fraley the distillery’s chief blending consultant, they will be able to draw on Edrington’s distilling and blending expertise in addition to the company’s extensive distribution network.
“That has been the greatest challenge that we have faced in the last few years, trying to get our product distributed in an effective and efficient manner,” said David DeFazio, who will continue to serve as the company’s chief operating officer based in Jackson, Wyoming. “It is what it is…big brands command more attention because of what they bring to the table, and we have not been able to do that. With Edrington, and being aligned with their family of whiskies, rum, tequila, and vodka, we can now command more attention from distributors, and we’re thrilled with that,” he said in a telephone interview.
The partnership also has an added bonus for both sides. Edrington will now get access to most of Wyoming Whiskey’s used barrels, while DeFazio says the distillery will continue to supply barrels to a number of local craft brewers for use in aging their beers. The Wyoming team will also get access to Edrington’s inventory of ex-Sherry casks, allowing Mead and Fraley to experiment with finishing their whiskies in those casks.
While the initial focus will be to expand Wyoming Whiskey distribution to all 50 states, DeFazio sees the potential for worldwide distribution through Edrington’s global network in the future. “That could be in a couple of years, it could be beyond that…we need to make sure that we have enough product to adequately supply the markets that we will be in first,” he said.
The deal is the latest in a series of acquisitions and strategic partnerships involving small-scale US distillers over the last three years. Bacardi acquired Angel’s Envy Bourbon in 2015, while 2016 saw deals including High West’s acquisition by Constellation Brands along with a minority stake in Catoctin Creek Distillery, Rémy Cointreau’s purchase of Westland Whiskey, and the sale of West Virginia’s Smooth Ambler Distillery to Pernod Ricard. 2017 saw Woodinville Whiskey’s acquisition by Möet Hennessy, along with the sale of Tuthilltown Spirits to William Grant & Sons.
Listen to the next episode of WhiskyCast for our interviews with David DeFazio and Chris Spalding.
August 22, 2018 – Forget all the puns about “knock, knock, knockin’ on the courthouse door” and other Bob Dylan-related jokes about a legal “shelter from the storm.” Dylan and his partners in Heaven’s Door Spirits are facing a trademark infringement lawsuit from Heaven Hill Distilleries over the branding of their Heaven’s Door whiskies that went on sale in May. The lawsuit filed last Friday in U.S. District Court in Louisville asks for a preliminary injunction barring the distribution or sale of Heaven’s Door whiskies until the lawsuit is resolved, based on Heaven Hill’s claim that the new brand is creating consumer confusion with its Heaven Hill whiskies.
Heaven’s Door Spirits is a partnership between the legendary singer-songwriter and entrepreneur Marc Bushala, who was one of the founders of Angel’s Envy Bourbon along with longtime master distiller Lincoln Henderson. The brand was sold to Bacardi for around $150 million in 2015, and Bushala has been building up stocks of aged whiskies since then with plans to launch a new whisky brand – which he did with Dylan and Heaven’s Door.
While Heaven Hill spokesmen declined to comment on pending litigation, Heaven’s Door Spirits issued this statement Monday evening.
“Heaven’s Door Spirits, LLC has developed an award winning collection of handcrafted, American whiskies developed in partnership with legendary singer, songwriter and visual artist, Bob Dylan. Each bottle of “HEAVEN’S DOOR” not only references the world famous song,“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, written by Nobel Prize laureate Bob Dylan, but also showcases images of his unique iron metalworks designed and made by Mr. Dylan. The Company’s trademark applications were examined and approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the “Heaven’s Door” name and stylized versions of its name. Heaven’s Door Spirits, LLC has recently been named in a complaint alleging trademark infringement, trade name infringement and unfair competition by Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc., which is believed to be the owner of the “HEAVEN HILL” trademark. Heaven’s Door Spirits, LLC finds the allegations to be completely without merit and intends to vigorously defend itself and its HEAVEN’S DOOR brand.”
However, Bushala addressed the potential for a trademark dispute with Heaven Hill in a telephone interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie on May 4. That portion of the interview was edited out of the May 6 episode of WhiskyCast for time constraints, but Bushala maintained there would be no infringement.
“There are other products in the alcohol beverage space that use the word ‘heaven” – it’s not something that one can trademark, so it’s a bit of a stretch to say that any company can own that mark,” Bushala said.
Listen to an excerpt of the May 4 interview with Marc Bushala:
According to the lawsuit, Heaven Hill sent a “cease and desist” letter to Bushala’s company in April threatening legal action, but Heaven’s Door Spirits responded by saying it had no plans to change the branding.
No date has been set for a hearing in the case. In civil cases filed in U.S. federal courts, defendants generally have 21 days to respond to the initial filing of a lawsuit by a plaintiff. In addition, Heaven’s Door has 21 days to respond to the motion for a preliminary injunction.
This story will be updated with additional information as necessary.
The Heaven Hill complaint is available to download from our web site. As with all civil lawsuits, please remember that court filings only tell one side’s version of a case, and should not be considered proven until litigated at trial.
Editor’s note: Heaven Hill Distillery is a sponsor of WhiskyCast, but our editorial policydictates that sponsors have no influence or control over editorial content. This story has been updated to include a link to the Heaven Hill lawsuit as filed with the U.S. District Court in Louisville and also correct the time period defendants have to respond to an initial filing.
On June 22, 2018, half of Warehouse 30 collapsed at the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, spilling around 9,000 barrels of whiskey. The rest of the warehouse collapsed on July 4 with another 9,000 barrels. Crews have been working since then to recover as many barrels – and as much Bourbon – as possible. The site is closed to reporters, but Sazerac has released a video and new images showing cleanup work at the warehouse site.