Each week, we bring you the latest whisky news on WhiskyCast, but a lot can happen during the week. Now, you can keep up with whisky news as it happens here on WhiskyCast.com!

Dave Pickerell, Craft Whiskey’s “Johnny Appleseed”: 1956-2018

November 2, 2018 – Dave Pickerell, the master distiller and blender responsible for helping dozens of would-be whiskey entrepreneurs achieve their dreams, has died at the age of 62. He passed away Thursday in San Francisco, where he was scheduled to be at tonight’s WhiskyFest sponsored by Whisky Advocate magazine, and where his next distillery project was also to be built. Pickerell had been touring this fall with the members of Metallica to promote their Blackened American Whiskey, and the next step was to build a distillery in the Bay Area to make their own whiskey. In fact, he, the four members of Metallica, and their management team were scheduled to visit the proposed site of the distillery Saturday morning to get Pickerell’s final approval before moving forward with the project. Smooth Amber CEO John Billelo told WhiskyCast in a telephone interview that not only will the band go ahead with the distillery, but it will be named the Dave Pickerell Distillery when it opens.

According to Danielle Eddy, one of the publicists who worked with him on many of his projects, Pickerell had spent the day Thursday doing a full slate of appearances in the San Francisco area on behalf of his clients’ brands, and returned to his hotel room to rest. He was found later in the evening, and died of natural causes.

As word spread of Dave Pickerell’s passing, many of the distilleries he worked with posted tributes to him on their web pages. The members of Metallica took down the entire Blackened American Whiskey web site, and replaced it with a single image of Dave at one of their concerts.

The Blackened American Whiskey web site's tribute to Dave Pickerell. Image courtesy Blackened American Whiskey.

In a September WhiskyCast interview, when asked about his work with Metallica, Dave broke into song, singing “On the Cover of the Rolling Stone.”

“Oh my God, this boy from the slums got his picture with Metallica in the Rolling Stone…what’s not to love about that.”

The feeling was mutual, according to John Billelo. “The reality is, we were on our way to becoming quite the family, and obviously, Dave will be terribly, terribly missed. There’s not much we can say that hasn’t been said other than the fact that there are very few people in life that walk the talk, and Dave was proud of saying that he did business by handshake…he was a true gentleman, a man of his word, an amazing artist in the spirit he created, but more importantly, he was a dear and wonderful person who enjoyed being around people, and we will miss him,” Billelo said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon.

Billelo also passed on condolences from Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, who was unavailable for a telephone interview because of rehearsals for the band’s acoustic concert Saturday night to raise money for their All Within My Hands Foundation. “He adored Dave and the time they spent together and the whiskies he created for them, and like the rest of us, it’s just a very, very difficult day,” Billelo said. Dave had donated one of his trademark felt hats to be auctioned at the concert along with a bottle of Blackened signed by himself and the four members of Metallica. Billelo says the hat has been pulled from the auction, and will instead be displayed in the new distillery, which will also be named the Dave Pickerell Distillery in his honor.

Pickerell was a 1978 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating with a degree in chemistry and playing on the Army football team. He later received his Master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville in 1988 while serving in the Army, and after leaving the military,  went on to become a consultant in the distilling industry. One of his clients at the time was Maker’s Mark, and Bill Samuels, Jr. hired him away in 1994 to become the distillery’s Vice President of Operations and Master Distiller. Maker’s Mark released a statement on behalf of the Samuels family Friday afternoon:

“We were very saddened to learn of the passing of Dave Pickerell and send our heartfelt condolences to the Pickerell family.  Dave was an accomplished and important figure in bourbon. He certainly made a mark on the industry he loved, and will truly be missed.”

After leaving Maker’s Mark in 2008, he founded Oak View Spirits and began working with startup distillery projects and whisky brands worldwide, along with serving as the original master distiller for the restored George Washington’s Distillery at Mount Vernon in Virginia.

His partners and clients included Hillrock Estate Distillery in New York, J. Rieger & Sons in Kansas City, and Vermont’s WhistlePig Farm, where Dave sourced the original Canadian Rye whisky that became the foundation for WhistlePig’s early releases. In a statement, WhistlePig CEO Jeff Kozak said:

“To us, Dave was family. He was larger than life and truly part of the WhistlePig fabric. Working with him never felt like work. It was his passion, humor and storytelling that helped this brand come alive. Saying we are going to miss him isn’t enough, and we will continue to honor his memory and keep him in our stories and our hearts.”

Funeral arrangements are pending, but following a private service for the family in Kentucky, plans are being made for memorial services in several cities around the United States.

Please join us in expressing our condolences to Dave Pickerell’s family and his many friends around the world.

Editor’s note: Dave rarely discussed his age, and our original reporting that he was 70 years old was based on information provided by one of his publicists. We have since confirmed through West Point alumni records that Dave was born in 1956 and was 62 when he died. We regret the error. 

Links: Oak View Spirits | Blackened Whiskey | WhistlePig Rye  | Maker’s Mark

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UK Whisky Taxes Frozen For Second Consecutive Year

October 29, 2018 – While announcing billions of pounds in new government spending, Great Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer gave his country’s whisky lovers a break. Philip Hammond announced in today’s budget address to the House of Commons that the government will extend the current duty freeze on whisky and other spirits, along with beer and cider.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond delivers his budget address to the House of Commons October 29, 2018. Image courtesy Parliament TV.“I realize that many people are feeling pressure on their household budgets now, and because the hard work of the British people is paying off, I am pleased to be able to announce today a series of measures to help families across Britain with the cost of living,” Hammond said. The finance minister told members of Parliament that the freeze will save consumers two pence on a pint of beer, one pence on a pint of cider, and 30 pence on a bottle of Scotch or gin based on the government’s inflation forecast of 3.4 percent in the coming year. Hammond froze duties on whisky and most alcoholic beverages last autumn after raising them by four percent in the government’s 2017 spring budget, and acknowledged intense lobbying from Scottish Conservative members of Parliament to extend the freeze.

Scotch Whisky Association executives welcomed the announcement after previously expressing pessimism ahead of Hammond’s budget address, given that the UK Government faces financial pressures from Brexit and a host of other funding issues. The SWA had led a public campaign calling for a continued duty freeze, arguing that the government’s tax revenues from spirits showed a 9.1 percent gain between February and the end of September due to increased sales.

“We’ve been banging on the Treasury for years now that a more competitive and more stable rate of tax on Scotch Whisky will drive revenue,” said the SWA’s Graeme Littlejohn. “It did it when we got a cut in 2015, it did it after a freeze in 2016, and it did it again after the freeze in November 2017, but interestingly, when we put tax up by four percent in March 2017, tax revenues went down in the first six months of that year…spirits is a very price-elastic product in the UK, it’s very price-sensitive, so therefore, the Treasury and the Chancellor have to be very careful about how they’re applying duty rates on spirits,” he said in a telephone interview following the budget address.


 

However, the Association still refers to the UK’s current level of spirits taxes as the “Scotch Super Tax,” given that taxes make up 74 percent of the price consumers pay for an average-priced bottle of Scotch Whisky. According to the SWA, that average bottle of Scotch sells for £14.15 ($18.12 USD). Excise duty accounts for £8.05 ($10.31 USD) and VAT of £2.36 ($3.02 USD), bringing the total tax on that bottle to £10.41 ($13.33 USD). The Association called on Hammond and his colleagues to begin discussions with the industry on a long-term reform of the UK’s spirits taxation system, noting that spirits are still taxed at a much higher rate than beer, cider, or wine.

Links: Scotch Whisky Association

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Scotch Whisky Exports Show Strong Gains, But Outlook Is Uncertain

October 23, 2018 – Scotch Whisky exports appear to be headed for a new record in 2018, based on statistics for the first half of the year released Friday by the Scotch Whisky Association. According to data from HM Revenue & Customs, the value of Scotland’s whisky exports rose 10.8 percent over the same period in 2017 to around £1.97 billion GBP ($2.557 billion USD), while the volume of exports rose by 5.6 percent to the equivalent of nearly 558 million (70cl) bottles. Assuming that the second half of 2018 follows a similar pattern, the year’s exports are likely to break the record set in 2017 when the value of Scotch Whisky exports totaled £4.36 billion GBP ($6.03 billion USD)

“Value has gone up more than volume, which to generalize, means that there’s continued premiumization in the market as people switch to higher value products,” said Graeme Littlejohn of the SWA. That trend is reflected in the exports of Single Malt Scotch Whiskies, which accounted for a record 28 percent share of all Scotch Whisky exports, while the value of Blended Scotches also rose by 8.9 percent as consumers “traded up” to more expensive whiskies.

Littlejohn highlighted sharp increases in exports to India and China, along with other emerging markets. The value of exports to India increased by 44.4 percent to more than £56 million GBP, while China’s imports rose by 34.8 percent to more than £36 million GBP. However, exports to the industry’s traditional markets remained strong, with Japan accounting for a strong increase in sales. The volume of exports to Japan rose 46.4 percent to 21.4 million bottles, while the value of those exports grew by 31.1 percent to £56.2 million pounds. The United States and France remain the largest export markets, with the Americans holding on to the top spot by value (£407.8 million GBP) and the French consuming far more Scotch Whisky by volume (89.7 million bottles).

2018 1H Scotch Whisky Exports. Graphic ©2018, CaskStrength Media.

However, there are storm clouds on the horizon that could affect the industry’s long-term outlook. With a little more than five months left before Great Britain leaves the European Union, there is still no “divorce agreement” that will govern relations between Britain and the other 27 EU member nations. Together, those nations account for around a third of all Scotch Whisky exports each year, and there are concerns with the industry over the potential impacts of a “no-deal” Brexit likely to affect the ability to move whisky shipments from Scotland to markets within Europe. The SWA’s Littlejohn also notes a key goal of making sure the UK is able to extend the terms of existing free trade agreements with Mexico and other emerging markets that were negotiated by the European Union on Great Britain’s behalf after Brexit.

Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with the SWA’s Graeme Littlejohn:

 

Of more immediate concern, though, is the UK domestic market. Chancellor Philip Hammond is scheduled to present the government’s annual budget in London this coming Monday. The SWA has been leading a campaign to persuade Hammond to freeze duties on whiskies and other spirits for a second consecutive year, arguing that a duty increase will lead to reduced sales with a resulting decrease in tax revenue.

“The freeze last year in the budget have actually generated additional revenue for government…there’s been an additional £163 million in pounds this year compared to last year in spirits revenue. That’s up 9.1 percent,” Littlejohn said. “We’ve been saying for years that a more competitive rate of duty on Scotch Whisky can drive revenue to the UK government, which can then be used to fund vital public services.” While there have been no signals out of Hammond’s office on where the final decision will come down, Littlejohn noted that the inflation rate is expected to reach 3.4 percent, and members of Parliament have indicated that the government’s need for additional revenue heading into Brexit make a second year of a duty freeze unlikely.

Links: Scotch Whisky Association

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Tom Jago: 1925-2018

October 15, 2018 – Long before master blenders became celebrities within the spirits industry, Tom Jago was creating spirits that are regarded as global icons to this day. He was responsible for developing Johnnie Walker Oldest – known today as Blue Label, along with the original Classic Malts range of single malts, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Malibu Rum, and many others during his career. Tom Jago passed away Friday at the age of 93, just months after the death of his wife Penelope.

Drinks industry veteran Tom Jago. Image courtesy The Last Drop Distillers.His drinks career spanned six decades, starting with Diageo predecessor IDV. In 1977, as IDV’s head of global innovation, he teamed up with marketing guru James Espey in what became a lifelong partnership. Over the years, Jago and Espey worked together at United Distillers, where Jago selected the whiskies and Espey created the marketing programs behind the Classic Malts and Johnnie Walker Oldest. At Chivas, where Espey was the company’s chairman and brought in Jago to run new product development, they created the iconic Chivas Regal 18.

In a statement announcing his friend and partner’s death, James Espey noted that today’s drinks industry owes a lasting debt to Tom Jago for his decades of work. “Today, a significant proportion of the profits of both Diageo and Pernod Ricard are due to the creative genius of Tom Jago. He never received a bonus for his work but he genuinely loved what he did until his very last day,” Espey noted. “Only a fortnight ago he was teaching his granddaughter Emily all about the Scotch Whisky industry, including a tutored tasting, before her WSET exam!”

“If you aren’t having fun doing it, you can go and be a hedge funder or something…I’ve had fun all the time I’ve been in since 1963, and I’m still having a lot of fun.” – Tom Jago

In 2007, at an age where most people would have gratefully retired after a long and successful career, Jago and Espey teamed up with Peter Fleck to create The Last Drop Distillers in 2007 to bottle small unique parcels of spirits. Their first release came in 2008 with The Last Drop 1960 Blended Scotch, and Tom Jago continued to serve as the company’s president until his death. Both men brought their daughters, Rebecca Jago and Beanie Espey, into management roles with the company, which became a unit of Sazerac in 2016.

“Tom and I have worked together for 40-odd years,” James Espey said in a 2008 WhiskyCast interview with both men. “If you like, I painted the big picture while Tom is the craftsman who puts in all the details and makes it happen, so we complement each other.” Together, they ignored market research and went with their gut instincts. “Nobody ever loved any of the brands we created,” Jago said at the time – until the profits started rolling in.

In addition to his daughter Rebecca, Tom Jago is survived by three other children, including Berry Bros. & Rudd CEO Dan Jago, along with six grandchildren and a brother.

Links: The Last Drop Distillers

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Pernod Ricard Plans $174 Million Expansion in Ireland

October 15, 2018 – Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard has scotched rumors of a planned second distillery in Ireland, at least for now. The country’s largest distiller has announced plans for a €150 million ($173.7 million USD) investment to upgrade its facilities in Midleton and Dublin over the next two years, with the bulk of the work to be done at Midleton Distillery in County Cork.

The Barry Crockett Stillhouse at Ireland's Midleton Distillery. Photo ©2018, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

The Barry Crockett Stillhouse at Ireland’s Midleton Distillery. Photo ©2018, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

Irish Distillers executives cited the continued growth in global sales for their flagship Jameson Irish Whiskey and the need to meet projected future demand for the latest investment. In a news release, Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard Chairman & CEO Conor McQuaid said “Irish whiskey is the fastest growing premium spirit in the world, with sales now accounting for more than one third of all Irish beverage exports. This investment will help to allow this growth to continue for years to come.”  WhiskyCast has requested interviews with Irish Distillers executives, and this story will be updated with additional information. 

The project calls for new fermenters and a third mash filter to be installed at Midleton, along with another vapor recompression evaporator to allow for increased production capacity. In addition, a new office building is being constructed to replace the distillery’s original offices that date back to 1975, when the current Midleton Distillery opened adjacent to the original distillery. The building will include upgraded laboratory space, as well as offices for the distillery’s production team, and is expected to be completed in July of 2019.

Irish Distillers chemist Dr. Dagmara Dabrowska examines whisky samples in the Midleton Distillery laboratory. Photo ©2018, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

Irish Distillers chemist Dr. Dagmara Dabrowska examines whisky samples in the Midleton Distillery laboratory. Photo ©2018, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

The latest expansion at Midleton was completed in early 2017 with the addition of three new pot stills in the Garden Stillhouse, which opened in 2013 next to the original 1975 Barry Crockett Stillhouse named for Midleton’s longtime Master Distiller Emeritus. The company also plans to expand its Dungourney maturation campus near Midleton with eight new warehouses capable of holding 16,800 barrels each, and is also investing in additional land for more warehouses at the site.

More than €20 million ($23 million USD) will be invested in upgrades at the Fox and Geese bottling plant in Dublin, which bottles all of the Irish Distillers whiskies. That site will see an expansion to the bottling hall and equipment upgrades, along with new storage warehouses and office space.

Links: Irish Distillers

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Whisky Auction World Record Fails to Fall at Sotheby’s Auction

October 13, 2018 – Close, but not quite. That’s the best way to describe bidding for a rare bottle of The Macallan 1926 today at Sotheby’s in New York City. Bottle number nine of twelve with custom labels by British artist Sir Peter Blake brought a winning bid of $843,200 including all premiums, according to the Sotheby’s web site. Last week, another bottle of the 60-year-old single malt with a label by Italian artist Valerio Adami set the world record at Bonhams in Edinburgh with a high bid of $1,107,663 (£848,750 GBP), surpassing the previous record set in May by another Adami bottle at Bonhams in Hong Kong.

Bottle #9/12 of the Sir Peter Blake 1926 Macallan 60-year-old single malt. Image courtesy Sotheby's.The bottles date back to 1986, when The Macallan’s owners bottled a single cask of whisky distilled in 1926 and later commissioned Blake and Adami to create custom labels for twelve bottles each. Many of those bottles were used as corporate gifts, however, it appears that the seller of this bottle bought it directly from the distillery. The remaining 16 bottles from that cask were placed on sale as part of The Macallan’s Fine & Rare Collection. One of those bottles with a bespoke label by Irish artist Michael Dillon is scheduled to be auctioned next month at Christie’s in London. That bottle has not been seen in public since it was sold at London’s Fortnum & Mason in 1999, and has been referred to by auction observers as the “Holy Grail” of collectible Macallans.

Sotheby’s has not identified the winning bidder or the anonymous seller of the Blake #9 bottle, which was estimated before the two-day auction to sell for between $700,000 and $1.2 million USD. However, the seller wrote a commentary for the auction house’s web site explaining the story behind their acquisition of the bottle in 1986.

“It is my hope that whoever purchases this bottle will appreciate that it is not simply a rare and exquisite spirit. That he or she understands that it is more than just an investment. It is representative of the finer things in life. It represents the life’s work of many people.”

The seller described their experience with the bottle as “magical,” even though the only taste they may have had of that whisky was at the distillery during a private tasting with The Macallan’s whisky maker at the time, Sandy Curle. The seller did not disclose what the 1986 purchase price was for that bottle. It is assumed that today’s auction was profitable.

Links: Sotheby’s | The Macallan

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Million-Dollar Macallan Smashes World Record…For Now

October 5, 2018 – The frenzy over two dozen bottles of 60-year-old Macallan single malt whisky has led to a likely new world record for the most expensive bottle of whisky ever sold at auction. Bottle number five of The Macallan 1926 60-year-old Valerio Adami edition went on the auction block Wednesday at Bonhams in Edinburgh, Scotland. After the whisky was bottled in 1986, The Macallan’s owners commissioned Adami and Sir Peter Blake to create special labels, with each artist’s work to appear on 12 of the 24 bottles that were used as corporate gifts.

Bottle number five had been in the original giftee’s possession ever since, and according to Bonhams, an unidentified Asian bidder placed the winning bid of £848,750 GBP ($1,107,663 USD) by telephone. The high bid eclipsed the previous record set in May at Bonhams in Hong Kong, when bottle number two of the Adami edition sold for £841,430 GBP ($1,101,936 USD). The previous record was set earlier that day in the same auction when a bottle of the Blake edition sold for £774,511 GBP ($1,014,422 USD).

While the current record has already lasted longer than that Blake bottle’s record, it may well not last long enough for Guinness World Records to complete the certification process. Sotheby’s will place bottle number nine of the Blake edition on the block October 12 in New York City, and Christie’s will auction another 60-year-old 1926 Macallan from the same batch in November. The remaining 16 bottles from the 1986 bottling went into The Macallan’s Fine & Rare Collection for sale to the public, but this was the only one with a label hand-painted by Irish artist Michael Dillon. It has not been seen in public since it was sold at London’s Fortnum & Mason in 1999.

Links: Bonhams | The Macallan

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Beam Suntory CEO Matt Shattock to Step Down

Beam Suntory Chairman & CEO Matt Shattock. File photo ©2018, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.October 4, 2018 – Beam Suntory Chairman & CEO Matt Shattock will step down next April after ten years on the job leading what became the world’s third-largest spirits company under his leadership. Shattock will be succeeded by Albert Baladi, currently the company’s Chief Operating Officer and president of its North American division. He will remain a member of  the Suntory Holdings board and serve as non-executive chairman of the Beam Suntory board.

Shattock was unavailable for an interview, but said in a Beam Suntory news release that he made the decision to step aside “a while back” based on two milestones coming up in April: his tenth anniversary as CEO and five years since the Suntory Holdings acquisition of Beam that created Beam Suntory. “I couldn’t be prouder of what our team has accomplished over the past decade, and especially since the creation of Beam Suntory,” Shattock said in the news release. “Our business is outperforming globally, we’ve established robust long-term strategic growth platforms, and Beam Suntory’s prospects have never been stronger.”

Shattock oversaw the transition of Beam during its 2011 spinoff from Fortune Brands into a standalone company, along with the $16 billion acquisition of Beam by Suntory three years later. He also moved Beam into the Irish Whiskey business with the 2011 acquisition of Cooley Whiskey, and the creation of Beam Suntory in 2014 made it the only spirits company with distilling operations in Scotland, the United States, Canada, Ireland, and Japan. Under his leadership, annual sales more than doubled from $2 billion to $4.3 billion (USD).

Shattock also led the company’s investment of hundreds of millions of dollars to expand production capacity worldwide, with a special emphasis in Kentucky. All of the company’s distilleries in Kentucky have received significant capital investments, and according to a Beam Suntory spokesman, 46 percent of the 7.5 million barrels of Bourbon currently maturing in the state belong to Beam Suntory. The company has also invested extensively in its visitor center operations with the opening of the Jim Beam Stillhouse at the distillery in Clermont, Kentucky and the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse in Louisville along with major upgrades at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto. Shattock also led the move of Beam Suntory’s headquarters into downtown Chicago’s Merchandise Mart from its longtime offices in the Chicago suburb of Deerfield, Illinois.

Last month, Shattock was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame for his contributions to the state’s Bourbon industry. He was named Beam Global Spirits & Wine CEO in 2008, succeeding former CEO Tom Flocco. Ironically, that succession was also announced shortly after Flocco’s own induction into the Hall of Fame. Shattock becomes the second CEO of a major whisky company to step aside in 2018, following Brown-Forman CEO Paul Varga’s decision to retire later this year.

Baladi has been with Beam Suntory since 2011, and served as president of the company’s international operations before being named to head up the North American unit last year. His successor has not been named yet.

Links: Beam Suntory

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Four Roses Strike Ends with Compromise Agreement

September 21, 2018 – The two-week long strike at Kentucky’s Four Roses Distillery has ended after union leaders signed off on a tentative agreement with distillery executives on a new five-year contract this afternoon. Members of the United Food & Commercial Workers locals 10D and 23D and Local 320 of the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers/SEIU will return to work Monday at the distillery in Lawrenceburg and the Four Roses maturation and bottling facility in Cox’s Creek.

The two sides met today for the first time since the strike began, and hammered out a compromise over the key issue of sick leave for new employees that led to the strike. Current workers are allowed ten sick days each year, and can carry over unused days to a maximum of 60. Kirin-owned Four Roses had wanted to replace the ability for future workers to “bank” sick days with short-term disability insurance, but union leaders rejected any change that would treat new employees differently from current workers.

“I could tell right away just how serious they were about working with us, making sure that everything went well, that both sides got what was needed,” UFCW Local 10D President Jeff Royalty told WhiskyCast in a telephone deal after the agreement was announced. The two sides agreed on a compromise that will give each employee a one-time choice to select either the current sick leave banking system or the new plan that includes short-term disability insurance. Royalty said the new plan will let each employee decide which option is best for their family while not creating a “two-tier” system with different levels of benefits for current and future workers.

“These guys understood how serious we were about that, and how damaging I thought it would be for everything and everybody involved, so they sat down with us and got it worked out,” Royalty said. According to Royalty, union members will get the final text of the agreement early in the coming week and all three bargaining units are expected to vote on ratification within several days.

WhiskyCast has requested an interview with Four Roses Chief Operating Officer Ryan Ashley, who led the company’s negotiating team. The distillery is still declining interview requests, but said in a statement that “Four Roses looks forward to beginning full production again soon.” The distillery has been shut down since before the strike for construction work on a $55 million expansion project, while bottling operations at the Cox’s Creek facility were not affected by the walkout.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a statement from Four Roses management after the company declined an interview request Friday evening.

Links: Four RosesUnited Food & Commercial Workers | National Conference of Firemen & Oilers

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Major Changes At Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, and Heaven Hill

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.

Denny Potter (R), shown with Mike Miller of Delilah's in Chicago at the 2017 Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

Denny Potter (R), shown with Mike Miller of Delilah’s in Chicago at the 2017 Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

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.

Links: Maker’s Mark | Beam Suntory | Heaven Hill

 

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