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!

Heaven Hill Completes $25 Million Bernheim Distillery Expansion

The new 66-inch column still at Heaven Hill's Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.October 18, 2017 – The largest Bourbon distillery in Kentucky isn’t located on a hillside surrounded by farms or pastures with grazing Thoroughbreds. As of this week, it’s at the corner of 17th and Breckenridge on Louisville’s west side. Heaven Hill Brands has completed a $25 million dollar expansion of the Bernheim Distillery, giving it an annual production capacity of around 26.5 million proof gallons of spirit – enough to fill 400,000 barrels of whiskey per year. The expansion includes a new 66-inch column still and thumper (a small pot still used to redistill spirit coming off the column still), along with four additional fermenters, a new boiler, and upgrades to the distillery’s grain handling and cooling systems.

“Even with this expansion coming on line, the plan is to continue running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, ” Heaven Hill Master Distiller Denny Potter said during a recent telephone interview. “There’s a daggone good chance that as we wrap this expansion up, we’re already looking at our next expansion,” he said, citing the global demand for Bourbon that shows no sign of slowing down in the short-term future. “It’s a good problem to have,” he laughed.

This is the third expansion at Bernheim since Heaven Hill acquired the distillery in 1999 from United Distillers following the 1996 fire that destroyed Heaven Hill’s own distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. Bernheim produces all of Heaven Hill’s Bourbon and Rye whiskies, including the Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Henry McKenna, Rittenhouse, and Pikesvile brands. Spirit from the distillery is taken by tanker trucks to Heaven Hill’s campus in Bardstown for barreling, with maturation in 54 warehouses located around Nelson and Jefferson counties. The company is scheduled to open another new warehouse in the next several weeks, and has more than 1.3 million barrels of whiskey maturing in those warehouses.

As part of a ceremony dedicating the new expansion, Heaven Hill donated $10,000 to Dare to Care, a local non-profit agency working to fight hunger issues in the West Louisville area. The donation will support a mobile pantry unit and six freezers to be supplied to Dare to Care’s partner agencies for storing fresh food and produce.

Links: Heaven Hill

Leave a response

Everything’s Coming Up Roses…Rosebank Whisky, That Is…

October 12, 2017 – For whisky lovers longing to see some of Scotland’s silent stills brought back to life, this week has become a lifetime’s worth of Christmases. Following Diageo’s announcement of a $46.1 million USD plan to revive the Port Ellen and Brora distilleries Monday, we asked WhiskyCast listeners on social media which distillery they most wanted to see reopened. The most popular answer: Rosebank, the legendary Lowland distillery in Falkirk on the banks of the Forth & Clyde Canal. As one responder posted:

“Rosebank…oops, too late!”

A day after Diageo’s announcement, Ian Macleod Distillers announced its plans to revive Rosebank in a project that required two separate negotiations. While the former Distillers Company Limited (DCL) had sold off the Rosebank site to Scottish Canals after closing the distillery in 1993, it retained the rights to the Rosebank name and the distillery’s remaining inventory. Ian Macleod was able to acquire both from Diageo, while also acquiring the Rosebank property from Scottish Canals quietly over the past two years. The deal comes as a 25-year moratorium on whisky production at Rosebank included in the original property sale is set to expire.

“We’ve got a very close relationship with Diageo and have had for many years,”  Ian Macleod operations director Gordon Doctor explained in a telephone interview. “We fill their whiskies, they fill our whiskies, and so we were able to reach some arrangement with them,” he said while not disclosing financial terms of the agreement. The agreement will give Ian Macleod’s team access to the original Rosebank engineering designs at Abercrombie & Co., the Diageo-owned still maker, along with Diageo’s company archive. “We are visiting the Diageo archive over the next couple of weeks to see what they’ve got on Rosebank,” Doctor said, expressing hope that a sample of Rosebank’s original new make spirit might still exist in the archive.

Ian Macleod Distillers managing director Leonard Russell. Photo ©Chris Watt courtesy Ian Macleod Distillers.

Ian Macleod Distillers managing director Leonard Russell. Photo ©Chris Watt courtesy Ian Macleod Distillers.

Ian Macleod managing director Leonard Russell was the driving force behind the move to acquire the Rosebank site and the rights to the name, according to Gordon Doctor. There have been previous attempts to revive the distillery, but Diageo’s hold on the intellectual property rights to the Rosebank name scuttled those plans. Russell is traveling this week and unavailable for an interview, but said in a company statement “we will produce Rosebank Lowland single malt in exactly the same way as it is known, using the famous triple distillation and worm tub condensers. This way we ensure the revival of its classic style and taste.”

In the quarter-century since Rosebank closed, many of its buildings have been torn down, though the warehouses still line the canal. The stills and mash tun were stolen in 2009, and the project will require that a completely new distillery be built within the existing still house. Doctor said Ian Macleod will apply for planning permission “ASAP” with the hope of beginning construction in early 2018 and distilling at some point in 2019. The project will include a visitors center, and the company is eager to hear from retirees who worked at the original distillery.

In the meantime, Ian Macleod is using the whisky stocks it acquired from Diageo to produce a special bottling of Rosebank for release next year, and will release other Rosebank whiskies on a limited basis until whisky from the revived distillery is ready for bottling.

For the record, Doctor said it was a coincidence that the announcements of Port Ellen, Brora, and Rosebank happened as close as they did. “I believe those three are probably the iconic closed distilleries…we knew that Diageo were going to make some sort of announcement, but we had no idea what it was, although I had guessed it might be the reopening of Port Ellen. I hadn’t considered they were going to reopen Brora as well.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a link to our audio interview with Gordon Doctor.

Links: Rosebank Whisky | Ian Macleod Distillers

Leave a response

Diageo Plans to Reopen Port Ellen and Brora Distilleries

October 9, 2017 – When Scotch Whisky history buffs gather over a few drams, the discussion usually turns to a question along the lines of “If you had a time machine and could go back to 1983, which of the DCL distilleries would you stop from being closed?” While Diageo has not perfected time travel, it plans to try and revive two of the distilleries most often mentioned in those discussions: Islay’s Port Ellen and Brora in the Highlands. Both have achieved nearly mythical status in the 34 years since they were closed along with eight other distilleries in DCL’s move to cut back on what was seen at the time as an oversupply of Scotch Whisky stocks. With the announcement of a £35 million GBP ($46.1 million USD) project to revive both distilleries, and assuming planning permission is granted by local officials, Brora and Port Ellen could be back in production sometime during 2020.

“The first thing that went into this was a lot of love and a lot of passion from a small group of people,” said Dr. Nick Morgan, Diageo’s Director of Whisky Outreach and a long-time whisky historian. In a phone interview, Morgan explained that the resurrection project was coordinated in secret over the past 12 months, with only a handful of company executives brought into the loop as necessary until the official announcement. “There’s a sense in the business in Diageo at the moment of great confidence about where Scotch Whisky is going…you know, we think, 10, 15, 20, 25 years ahead when we look at investments, and as with our billion pound investment that we put through about four or five years ago, we still see indicators that say that in that long-term period, Scotch Whisky’s trajectory is exceptionally healthy.” The long-term outlook is especially important in this case, since the company’s current plan calls for the first new bottlings from both distilleries to be released as 12-year-old expressions no earlier than 2032.

In Biblical terms, DCL begat United Distillers (after it was acquired by Guinness and merged with IDV), and the 1997 Guinness merger with Grand Metropolitan begat Diageo. Through all of those mergers, the company held on to the distillery properties at Port Ellen and Brora, leaving many whisky lovers hoping that they might be revived at some point. Diageo operates the Port Ellen maltings adjacent to the old distillery, and still uses its warehouses for maturing casks from the nearby Lagavulin Distillery. Brora was built as the original Clynelish Distillery in 1819, and first closed in 1967 after DCL built the current Clynelish Distillery next door, only to reopen it two years later as Brora making peated whisky.

The Port Ellen Distillery and its warehouses as seen from the Port Ellen Maltings. Photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

The Port Ellen Distillery and its warehouses as seen from the Port Ellen Maltings. Photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

According to Morgan, Brora’s existing stills can be refurbished and reused, while new fermenters, mash tuns, and other equipment will be needed. While Port Ellen’s iconic malt house, warehouses, and an engineering building are still usable, reviving that distillery will require construction of a new stillhouse and other facilities. Both distilleries will be designed with an annual production capacity of 800,000 liters per year, less than half of what Port Ellen was producing (2.1 million lpa) when it closed in 1983. At that time, Port Ellen had two pairs of pot stills, but Diageo’s resurrection plans call for only a single pair of stills to be installed. When it closed in 1983, Brora’s production capacity was around 1 million liters per year, and with plans to reuse the existing pair of stills, the final capacity will depend on the design of the mash tuns and fermenters. The plan calls for both distilleries to use their existing maturation warehouses for as much of their production as possible, with the rest to be matured at Diageo’s centralized warehouses.

“This is no ordinary Scotch whisky distillery investment. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring these iconic distilleries back to life. We will take great care to be true to the spirit of the original distilleries in everything we do and to operate them with all the knowledge, skill, craft and love of Scotch that our people and our company has gathered through centuries of whisky-making,” Diageo President of Global Supply & Procurement David Cutter said in the company’s statement Monday. Assuming that planning permission is granted for both distilleries, these would be Diageo’s first new distilleries in Scotland since Roseile opened in 2010 to produce malt whisky for blending use.

Single malts from both Port Ellen and Brora have become extremely rare as the dwindling inventory of available stocks from both distilleries are bottled. Both have been a regular feature in Diageo’s annual Special Releases series of limited-edition bottlings, with the 2017 Port Ellen selling for around $3,400 per bottle and this year’s Brora for nearly $1,900 per bottle. Independent bottlings of Brora are rarely found, while Port Ellen bottlings are more widely available. Of course, no pricing decisions will be made for many years on the first new whiskies from Port Ellen and Brora.

Scottish Government officials are welcoming the new investment, in a statement issued by Economy Secretary Keith Brown:

“The return of these distilleries will help to act as a catalyst to draw in tourists to see where these iconic brands are produced, and to discover why they are so revered. The Scottish Government, its enterprise agencies, and the food and drink industry are supporting delivery of the new food and drink strategy – ‘Ambition 2030’, which has set its sights to double the value of the industry by then.  This investment by Diageo will help contribute towards that target.”

Listen to this weekend’s WhiskyCast for more on this story, including our complete interview with Dr. Nick Morgan.

Editor’s note: This story was updated following an interview with Diageo’s Dr. Nick Morgan.

Links: Diageo

Leave a response

Gordon & MacPhail Unveils Another 70-Year-Old Single Malt

October 2, 2017 – Gordon & MacPhail already has the world’s oldest single malt Scotch Whisky on the family-owned firm’s 122-year-old resumé – a 75-year-old Mortlach single cask released in 2015, along with two 70-year-old bottlings from Mortlach and Glenlivet. Now, Gordon & MacPhail has added a second 70-year-old Glenlivet single cask to that vintage lineup with the release of Private Collection Glenlivet 1943. Just 40 bespoke decanters will be available worldwide, with a recommended retail price of £30,000 GBP ($39,780 USD) each.

The Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection Glenlivet 1943. Image courtesy Gordon & MacPhail.“While it’s not the oldest whisky in the world, it is obviously incredibly special due to its place in time,” Gordon & MacPhail director Stephen Rankin told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in a telephone interview. “It was distilled on the 14th of January in 1943, at a time when the world was a completely different place…it was a place of uncertainty, a place of risk, and every decision was key.” One of those decisions was the British government’s move to ration barley supplies for the war effort, which forced most of Scotland’s distilleries to close in 1941 and 1942. Glenlivet was one of the final distilleries to remain open until it closed for the duration of the war in the spring of 1943 after its supply of grain ran out.

The cask comes from Gordon & MacPhail’s own inventory of barrels it has had filled with new make spirit at many of Scotland’s historic distilleries for decades, and that played a key role in its survival over the decades. The wartime closings meant distillers and blenders faced a shortage of aged whisky from that period during the 1950’s and 1960’s, and many companies blew through their stocks of mature whisky to meet the post-war demand.

Gordon & MacPhail's Stephen Rankin with a glass of the Private Collection Glenlivet 1943. Image courtesy Gordon & MacPhail.“For anything to have lasted beyond the demands of the industry into the 60’s would have been almost unheard of,” Rankin said. His great-grandfather, John Urquhart, had originally arranged for this first-fill Sherry cask to be filled at Glenlivet as part of a parcel of Gordon & MacPhail casks, and it was stored in a warehouse at the distillery until 1967, when Rankin’s grandfather had it moved to the company’s own warehouse in Elgin, Scotland. Rankin, part of the family’s fourth generation to work at Gordon & MacPhail, selected the cask for bottling in 2013 and had the barrel emptied into an inert container for storage until today’s release.

Unlike many extremely old casks, in which the alcoholic strength of the whisky has declined to a point dangerously close to the legal minimum of 40% ABV (after which it can no longer be bottled as whisky), the whisky in Cask 121 retained much of its strength, and was bottled at 49.1% ABV. “It’s still got the wonderful structure of the spirit, but there’s still a wonderful complexity that’s been driven from the oak,” Rankin said.

While this bottling represents the last of Gordon & MacPhail’s casks of whisky distilled in 1943, that does not necessarily mean the end of the company’s pre-WWII whisky stocks. Rankin declined to be specific about the company’s inventory, but said the family is “privileged to be the custodians and curators of an outstanding range of great aged whiskies.”

The Private Collection Glenlivet 1943 will be available through select whisky specialist retailers worldwide, along with Gordon & MacPhail’s own retail shop in Elgin. Buyers there will have the opportunity to receive a exclusive tasting of the whisky from a 1cl sample bottle in the shop’s private tasting room.

Links: Gordon & MacPhail

Leave a response

Ringleader Pleads Guilty in “Pappygate” Bourbon Thefts

September 21, 2017 – And then there was one…one remaining defendant left in Kentucky’s “Pappygate” scandal involving the insider thefts of more than $100,000 worth of whiskey from Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries. Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger is no longer the “alleged” ringleader of the group behind the thefts following his guilty pleas Wednesday in Franklin Circuit Court, and faces a 15-year prison sentence. Curtsinger pleaded guilty to reduced charges in a deal with prosecutors and has agreed to testify against the one remaining defendant, former Wild Turkey truck driver Mark Sean Searcy, assuming that Searcy’s case goes to trial.

“This was a decision made by my client so that he can find some peace and resolution to this,” attorney Whitney Lawson told reporters in the courthouse after the hearing. The 47-year-old former Buffalo Trace employee was one of nine defendants indicted by a grand jury in 2015 after sheriff’s deputies found five full barrels of stolen whiskey at his home, along with guns, anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and needles. Last year, Curtsinger’s wife, Julie Curtsinger, entered a so-called “Alford plea” to two drug-related misdemeanor charges. While an “Alford plea” does not admit wrongdoing, it acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence to secure a conviction. That plea also led to charges being dropped against her father, Robert McKinney, another suspect facing charges in the case.

“I think that this is a just and fair resolution of this case considering everything involved,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Zach Becker told WhiskyCast in a telephone interview. “We have Mr. Searcy who is still yet to be resolved…of course, we’re still working to either get that a new trial date or have a resolution, but hopefully, one of those occurs in the near future, and then after that, we’ll bring everybody in to be sentenced,” he said. Searcy remains accused of taking barrels of Wild Turkey whiskey he was supposed to deliver to one of the distillery’s warehouses and giving them to Curtsinger in exchange for a share of the profits.

Gilbert Curtsinger’s plea makes eight “Pappygate” defendants who have pleaded guilty before going to trial and agreed to testify against their co-conspirators. In addition to the nine originally indicted, a tenth defendant was later indicted and pleaded guilty. Former Buffalo Trace security guard Leslie Wright admitted to taking money from Curtsinger on two occasions to ignore him and another man stealing barrels of whiskey from the distillery. The defendants sold some of their stolen whiskey out of their car trunks at area softball games, and according to court documents, the former police chief of Georgetown, Kentucky bought a barrel of whiskey from the group. Greg Reeves cooperated with investigators and was not charged in the case, nor have other customers who bought whiskey from the group and later came forward to work with investigators.

In addition to the five barrels of stolen Bourbon found at the Curtsinger family’s home, the thefts included 195 bottles of the 2013 edition of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20-year-old Bourbon and 27 bottles of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. The whiskey was stolen from pallets in a Buffalo Trace warehouse in the fall of 2013, and the thieves attempted to  mask their heist by removing cases of whiskey from the interior stacks on a pallet so that no one would notice them missing until after they had been shipped from the distillery. Gilbert Curtsinger worked at the distillery for 26 years, and had access to the loading docks and warehouses. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Curtsinger’s attorney claimed Wednesday that her client was not involved in the 2013 Pappy Van Winkle thefts, but Zach Becker notes that the plea agreement Curtsinger signed specifically includes theft and distribution of more than 250 bottles of “Pappy.”

“When you think of Kentucky…you think about Kentucky basketball, you think about Kentucky Fried Chicken, you think of horse racing, and you think of Bourbon,” Becker said. “This is a case that has certainly captured everybody’s sense of the romanticism of the Bourbon industry, and kind of also the dark side of it at times.”

While the final case in “Pappygate” plays itself out, the stolen whiskey seized by sheriff’s deputies remains in a secure location as evidence. Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate will issue a ruling on the fate of that whiskey after all of the defendants have been sentenced, and is likely to order that the whiskey be safely destroyed. Becker notes there have been discussions with Buffalo Trace, the Van Winkle family, and Wild Turkey on what should eventually be done with the whiskey, and that environmental safety concerns will also be taken into account.

Becker provided WhiskyCast with a complete list of the whiskies seized during the case:

  • 21 wooden barrels of whiskey – according to Becker, “some full and a few empty”
  • 1 stainless steel barrel of Eagle Rare 17
  • the contents of three barrels that had been bottled by purchasers, and
  • 28 bottles of various Van Winkle whiskies.

“As a Bourbon collector myself and a Bourbon whiskey fan, I hate to think that it’s going to have to go down a drain, but if that’s what required, and what’s required by law, then we’ll have to buck up,” Becker said, while laughing that he hopes to at least be able to smell some of the “angels share.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information on the whiskies being held as evidence in the Pappygate case.

Links: Old Rip Van Winkle | Buffalo Trace | Wild Turkey

Leave a response

Brown-Forman Investing $45 Million in Louisville Cooperage, 70 Jobs To Be Eliminated

A whiskey barrel being charred at the Brown-Forman Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky. File photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

September 21, 2017 – Last year, Brown-Forman introduced “Cooper’s Craft” Bourbon to honor the men and women who make whiskey barrels at its cooperage on the south side of Louisville near Louisville International Airport. Now, 70 of the cooperage’s hourly workers are working on borrowed time. Brown-Forman has announced plans to invest $45 million over the next two years to upgrade the cooperage with new equipment for making whiskey barrels. Those 70 workers will lose their jobs once the project is completed in 2019, according to the company

The Brown-Forman Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky. File photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.“This investment will help ensure the long-term viability of our Cooperage in Louisville, reduce injuries, and preserve our unique competitive advantage of barrel-making,” said Brown-Forman chief production officer Alex Alvarez. Brown-Forman is the only whiskey distiller that owns its own cooperages for building new barrels, and bought the Louisville cooperage in 1945. The facility makes more than 2,500 barrels each weekday to be used for maturing all of Brown-Forman’s whiskey brands, including Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, Woodford Reserve and Old Forester Bourbons, Canadian Mist Canadian Whisky, and the Herradura and el Jimador tequilas from the company’s distillery in Mexico. A second cooperage opened two years ago in Alabama to supply additional barrels exclusively for the various Jack Daniel’s whiskies distilled in Lynchburg, Tennessee.

A worker assembles a whiskey barrel head at the Brown-Forman Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky. File photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.In a statement, Brown-Forman said the equipment upgrade will be focused on the cooperage’s Heading and Staving departments. The Heading department makes the heads used at each end of a whiskey barrel, while the Staving department cuts the staves that make up the rest of a barrel. While the planing of staves is largely automated, barrel heads are still assembled by hand from planks held together by wooden pins forced together under pressure before being trimmed and toasted.

The cooperage will remain open while the modernization project is underway, and Brown-Forman has pledged to work with the United Auto Workers, which represents hourly employees at the facility, to provide transitional assistance for those workers who will lose their jobs. While the company’s statement was not specific about whether affected workers have already been notified of their eventual layoffs, the plan calls for workers to be selected based on the current union contract’s seniority provisions.

The cooperage will continue to employ around 205 workers after the modernization project is completed. Brown-Forman will be eligible for Kentucky state tax credits available to distillers who invest in capital projects in the Commonwealth. The tax credits have helped spur investment in new distilleries, visitor attractions, warehouses, and other projects that support Kentucky’s Bourbon industry and its $8.5 billion annual economic impact.

Links: Brown-Forman

Leave a response

Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame Honors Three New Members

Bill Samuels Jr. receives the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award from Kentucky Distillers Association President Eric Gregory (L) and retired Keeneland President Nick Nicholson during the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame induction ceremony September 13, 2017. Photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

September 13, 2017 – The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame has added three new members, while honoring Maker’s Mark Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels Jr. with the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award. During today’s ceremony at My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown, Brown-Forman Master Distiller Chris Morris, Beam Suntory’s Jerry Summers, and the late Harry Shapira of Heaven Hill were named to the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame was created by the Kentucky Distillers Association and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in 2001 to honor individuals and organizations that have contributed to the growth of the state’s Bourbon industry.

“This year’s inductees are joined by the fact that they’re all leading figures behind the growing global renaissance of Kentucky Bourbon,” said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. “Each, in their own way, has helped shape our current success.”

Samuels was a member of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 2001 and was named a lifetime honorary member of the Kentucky Distillers Association’s board of directors in 2011, when he retired after 35 years as president of Maker’s Mark. He has been credited as the marketing genius behind the brand, which was created by his parents, Bill Samuels Sr. and Marjorie Samuels – both of whom are also in the Hall of Fame. He is only the third person to receive the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award, named for the longtime Heaven Hill master distiller who died earlier this year after a four-year battle with ALS. Parker Beam was honored with the award in 2015, and Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell received it in 2016.

Chris Morris was unable to attend the ceremony after being hospitalized several days ago for heart surgery. His colleagues at Brown-Forman accepted on his behalf, and Morris is expected to make a complete recovery. He serves as Master Distiller for all of Brown-Forman’s Kentucky whiskey brands, including Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, and Early Times, and was given the title of Vice President of Whiskey Innovation in 2015. He was named Master Distiller in 2003, and developed the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, and other expressions for the company’s portfolio. He is a former chairman of the KDA’s board, and has also served on the Bourbon Festival board.

Jerry Summers is Beam Suntory’s Director of Community Relations, and focuses on the company’s ties with its neighbors in Kentucky. He has served as chairman for both the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and the Kentucky Tourism Industry Association, along with numerous other organizations in the Bardstown/Clermont area. During his 40-year career, he served as a distiller working with Beam’s legendary master distiller, the late Booker Noe, until making the transition into his current role with the company.

Harry Shapira was a key member of Heaven Hill’s executive team for many years until his death in 2013. He was the son of David Shapira, one of the five Shapira brothers who founded Heaven Hill after the end of Prohibition, and was responsible for developing the company’s tourism program. He led the team that created the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in Louisville.

The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame and its inductees will be part of the new welcome center for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to be developed at Louisville’s Frazier History Museum as part of an agreement announced last week between the KDA and the museum.

Links: Kentucky Distillers Association | Kentucky Bourbon Festival

Leave a response

Waiting for the Eclipse? No Problem for Whiskey Distillers at “Ground Zero” in Kentucky

August 19, 2017 – Whiskey can take years to mature, so one of the virtues a good distiller needs is patience. Paul and Merry Beth Tomaszewski have been preparing for Monday’s total solar eclipse for years – not because they’re astronomy buffs, but because they’re expecting friends at their MB Roland Distillery in Pembroke, Kentucky this weekend…a lot of friends. The distillery is located not only in the middle of the path the solar eclipse will take across North America as the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun Monday, but it’s right at what astronomers call the “point of greatest eclipse,” where the moon will block the sun for the longest period of time…around 2 minutes and 40 seconds. In other words, they’re located at Ground Zero for the most ardent eclipse watchers.

The Tomaszewskis started thinking ahead to Eclipse Day almost as soon as they opened their distillery when a college professor from California stopped by for a visit.  “He asked me ‘do you know what going to happen here on August 21, 2017,’ and we’re talking…I’m not lying…six, seven years ago, maybe eight,” Paul Tomaszewski said. After he said he’d heard something about an eclipse, the professor said “I’m gonna be right here.” At that point, the Tomaszewskis knew they had to start planning ahead.

“It’s coming…this isn’t something that you plan for and it happens…it’s happening whether you plan for it or not.”

Their distillery is located a mile north of Interstate 24 near the Kentucky-Tennessee border, and is surrounded by corn fields and narrow two-lane roads likely to be jammed with tourists. The Tomaszewskis started serious planning five years ago in cooperation with Christian County officials in nearby Hopkinsville, which is expecting thousands of visitors as well. The distillery has been designated as one of the county’s several official viewing areas for the eclipse, with an eye aimed at spreading visitor traffic out as much as possible. The fields around the distillery will be filled with campers coming from California, New York, Canada, and other countries – filling weekend campsites that sold out weeks ago at $400 for a 20 foot by 30 foot tent campsite and $600 for larger campsites capable of holding a recreational vehicle.

MB Roland is hosting the two-day Kentucky Bourbon Mashoree festival with 15 other Kentucky distillers this weekend, followed by the eclipse viewing party on Monday with a crowd projected at between five and eight thousand people. Thousands of pairs of safety glasses will be handed out in advance of the eclipse, and Christian County sheriff’s deputies will be directing traffic and providing overnight security for the campground.

The Tomaszewskis have also taken one other factor into account: etiquette. There will be live music throughout the day on Monday, but the bands will shut down as eclipse time nears around 1:20pm local time. However, it’s not the music that has Paul Tomaszewski worried…it’s the cell phones.

“The biggest thing is going to be to get people to make sure their flashes aren’t on and their phones are turned off to some degree…I know that’s going to be a tall order, but we’re going to do our best, because the idea with the eclipse is you cannot take pictures or video that’s going to replicate what you can see with the naked eye,” he said. Guests will receive a pamphlet explaining eclipse etiquette when they arrive at the distillery, noting that any amount of light can ruin the experience for the people around them. Street lights have already been programmed to not come on during the eclipse, and the distillery’s lights will be turned off in advance.

“Enjoy the two and a half minutes…it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity…you’re never gonna see it again.”

There’s only one thing they can’t control…the weather. Monday’s forecast calls for partly cloudy skies in Christian County.

Links: MB Roland Distillery

Leave a response

Chivas Brothers, Whisky Workers Toast New Kilmalid Contract

The Chivas Brothers Kilmalid blending and bottling facility in Dumbarton, Scotland. Image courtesy Chivas Brothers.

August 19, 2017 – Chivas Brothers and the union representing workers at its main Kilmalid blending and bottling plant in Dumbarton, Scotland, have agreed on a new four-year contract. The agreement follows a new round of talks Tuesday and Wednesday in which both sides agreed to compromise on the timetable for harmonizing pay scales between Kilmalid and the nearby Paisley facility. The deal also includes a 1.9% pay increase retroactive to January, and has already been ratified by Unite members.

The union represents engineers and other workers at the Kilmalid plant, and staged a 24-hour walkout on August 7 to protest the disparity in wages between workers doing the same work at both plants. After the walkout, Chivas Brothers CEO Laurent Lacassagne committed to equalizing pay rates beginning in January 2018.

“Staff wanted July ’17, so we have agreed after a couple of negotiating meetings to meet in the middle, and the harmonization will take place on the first of September 2017,” said Unite regional coordinating officer Gordon Casey in a telephone interview for this week’s WhiskyCast. “I think both sides felt it was more reasonable to try and settle it and compromise than to continue with a dispute…we can now get back to a harmonious working relationship with the company,” he said.

The pay disparity dates back to 2004, when the two plants were united under Pernod Ricard’s ownership following a series of whisky industry mergers and acquisitions dating back to the breakups of Seagram’s and Allied Domecq. Each plant has its own separate contracts with Unite and GMB, which primarily represents production workers, and those contracts have different annual dates for pay raises. Unite claimed the disparity for its Kilmalid workers had grown to around £900 ($1,169 USD) this year, and with Paisley workers scheduled to move to Kilmalid when that facility closes in 2019, demanded that Chivas Brothers address the issue in the new contract.

In a statement, Lacassagne praised both sides for open and transparent negotiations. “We’re happy that by working together we have achieved a successful resolution and that we now have a joint agreement on pay that will take us through to 2020,” he said.

Links: Chivas Brothers | Unite

Leave a response

Talks Resume Tuesday in Scotch Whisky Labor Dispute

The Chivas Brothers Kilmalid blending and bottling facility in Dumbarton, Scotland. Image courtesy Chivas Brothers.

Updated August 15, 2017 – Negotiators for Chivas Brothers and its largest labor union will resume contract talks today after workers at the company’s Kilmalid blending and bottling plant in Dumbarton, Scotland, called off a planned strike that was to begin yesterday. Unite regional coordinating officer Gordon Casey confirmed the move in a telephone conversation with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, and said the decision had been made late Friday morning.  The resumption of talks follows a 24-hour series of walkouts last Monday and the union’s refusal of all overtime work in recent weeks. Casey declined a recorded interview, saying that the union wanted to remain low-key pending the resumption of talks.

Chivas Brothers also confirmed the move in a statement released Monday via email.

“We can confirm that industrial action by union members at our Kilmalid site has been suspended. Having maintained an open dialogue throughout this process, we have a further meeting scheduled this week and hope to reach an agreement.

“GMB and UNITE members at Paisley, Southern Operations and Northern Operations have now all accepted our pay offer.”

Kilmalid’s workers are the only ones who have rejected two proposed contract offers from the company. The workers have been fighting for a harmonization in pay between sites since 2006, and blame the Pernod Ricard-owned company for what they describe as wage disparities of up to £900 ($1,169 USD) this year between workers at Kilmalid and those holding the same pay grade at the nearby Paisley bottling and blending plant.

Chivas Brothers announced plans earlier this year to close the Paisley site by 2019 and transfer its workers to expanded facilities at Kilmalid. After Monday’s walkouts, a company spokesperson acknowledged to the Daily Record that there are slight differences in basic pay rates between sites, but that part of the difference is based on staggered review dates that exaggerate the disparities. Chivas CEO Laurent Lacassagne reiterated that position in a statement issued after the walkouts, but confirmed the company’s intent to harmonize pay scales starting in January.

“It is not the case that we told employees in 2006 that we would harmonise pay across the Paisley and Kilmalid sites. We did commit to harmonising a number of benefits, and did so in 2007.

“With regards to the current pay harmonisation proposal, it was Chivas Brothers who actively proposed this between Kilmalid and Paisley for the first time late last year and we have committed to bringing forward the harmonisation of pay rates to January 2018.

“The figure quoted regarding the difference in pay between our Paisley and Kilmalid sites is entirely inaccurate. Our Kilmalid and Paisley sites have different salary review dates meaning there are periods in the year where pay differences are exaggerated. While there is a slight difference across sites in terms of basic pay, as previously stated, we have already agreed to bring forward the harmonisation of pay to January 2018.

“We want to reiterate that overall pay levels for these employees are highly competitive and, in addition, we expect the majority of basic salaries at Kilmalid to increase by 11.6% over the duration of the three and half years of the pay deal.”

Unite members at Paisley have already ratified a new contract with the company that will guarantee them positions at Kilmalid after their site closes in 2019.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a statement from Chivas Brothers.

Links: Chivas Brothers | Unite

Leave a response