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!
November 14, 2017 – Police in Paris are investigating what may well be one of the largest whisky thefts on record after an audacious team of burglars struck at the legendary La Maison du Whisky shop Sunday night. According to media reports, the thieves broke through the store’s metal shutter and door, then took 69 bottles of rare whiskies valued at €683,000 ($793,670 USD). Not only did the thieves manage to not alert residents of Rue d’Anjou in the city’s 8th arrondissement, but La Maison du Whisky is located directly across the street from the British Embassy, which is usually under tight security and often guarded by police officers. The neighborhood is within several blocks of the Élysée Palace, and in addition to the British Embassy, is home to numerous other embassies.
Among the bottles stolen was one of the rarest Japanese whiskies in the world: a 1960 Karuizawa single cask bottling known as “The Squirrel” and billed as the oldest Japanese single malt ever bottled. Only 41 bottles were released in 2013, when the whisky was bottled after being matured for 52 years in cask #5627, an ex-Sherry butt. Each of the 41 bottles has a different name, based upon the character on the unique “netsuke” that hangs from the bottle’s neck.
Estimates of the stolen bottle’s value have been as high as €195,000 ($229,800 USD) in the aftermath of the break-in. However, other bottles from the same cask have gone for much less at auction. Last April, WhiskyAuctioneer.com sold “The Archer” from the same cask in an online auction for £100,100 ($131,561 USD). Another bottle from the same cask, known as “The Cockerel,” brought a high bid of $117,744 at a 2015 Bonhams auction in Hong Kong.
La Maison du Whisky is one of Paris’s oldest whisky shops, having opened on Rue d’Anjou in 1968, 12 years after Georges Bénitah founded the family-owned spirits importer and distributor. His son, Thierry Bénitah, is the current managing director of LMDW, which also operates a second shop in Paris’s Carrefour de l’Odéon and locations in Singapore and Reunion Island. The company is also the promoter of the annual Whisky Live Paris festival held each September and publishes the French edition of Whisky Magazine.
WhiskyCast has contacted Thierry Bénitah for an interview, and this story will be updated with additional information.
Links: La Maison du Whisky
November 10, 2017 – Kentucky’s Bourbon boom is getting another shot in the arm, as Stoli Group has now officially confirmed its widely-rumored plans to build a distillery in Bardstown to make its Kentucky Owl Bourbon, while developing a full range of American whiskies to complement the brand it acquired in January from hotelier and whisky blender Dixon Dedman. When completed, the Kentucky Owl Park will be not just a distillery, but a destination complete with its own hotel, convention center, art gallery, and even a concert hall. The division of Luxembourg-based SPI group has acquired 420 acres of land, including the current Cedar Creek Quarry site, and will begin construction on its first rickhouses and the distillery in early 2018.
“It’s hard to surprise somebody with a distillery…there are a lot of great sites,” said Dmitry Efimov, who heads Stoli Group’s American Whiskey Division. “We decided to approach it from a slightly different angle. We want to build a state-of-the-art distillery…but we also want to take it as a destination to a completely different level. We want to have a site that will be known way beyond Kentucky, and way beyond the United States, actually,” he said in a telephone interview.
Much of the distillery site has been used as a stone quarry for the last 70 years, and the plans call for the pits to be turned into 200 acres of lakes that will provide recreational opportunities along with a water supply for the distillery. In addition, the old train station on the quarry site will be refurbished, with plans to have the “My Old Kentucky Dinner Train” make regular stops at the station once the distillery opens in 2020. According to Efimov, the initial $150 million dollar construction phase will include the distillery and production facilities, with an overall timeline of eight to ten years for the convention center, a hotel, and other facilities. Efimov declined to provide an estimate for the project’s overall cost.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Dmitry Efimov:
The Kentucky Owl Park site will span both sides of Highway 245, which runs along the north and eastern edges of Bardstown, and is close to Luxco’s new Lux Row Distillery, which is scheduled to begin production in early 2018. The distillery is also about a mile from the Bardstown Bourbon Company, which opened in September 2016, and is another major investment in Bardstown’s economic development program centered on its history as the “Bourbon Capital of the World.” In a news release, Bardstown Mayor Dick Heaton praised the move. “This new investment is a testament that there is no better place to make bourbon, educate and entertain visitors than Bardstown, Kentucky. The announcement comes as a result of much hard work by many people in the public and private sector here. The City of Bardstown is proud to be a part of this exciting project,” he said.
Kentucky Owl is Stoli Group’s entry into the American Whiskey market. The company is most well-known for its Stolichnaya Vodka, but also operates a tequila distillery in Mexico and a rum distillery in Louisiana. It bought Kentucky Owl in January from Dixon Dedman, who operates the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, Kentucky with his family. His great-great grandfather, C.M. Dedman, started distilling Kentucky Owl in 1879 and made it until 1917, when Prohibition forced the distillery to close and the U.S. Government seized Dedman’s maturing stocks of whiskey. Dixon Dedman released the first modern bottling of Kentucky Owl in 2014, and joined Stoli Group as its master blender as part of the January deal. Earlier this fall, Stoli Group released the first bottling of Kentucky Owl Straight Rye Whiskey, along with the seventh batch of Kentucky Owl Straight Bourbon.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and other state officials pledged their support for the Kentucky Owl Park project during a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday at the quarry in Bardstown. The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority has already approved a $2 million package of tax credits and incentives based on an estimated 77 new jobs that will be created when the distillery opens.
Dublin’s Liberties neighborhood was once the center of the whiskey universe at a time when Irish Whiskey ruled the world more than 100 years ago. Changing tastes, wars, and economics ended that, and the last heritage distillery in the Liberties closed in 1976.
Four decades later, the resurgence of Irish Whiskey has led to a resurgence of distilling in the Liberties, with two distilleries now in production and two more under construction as the Liberties reclaims its place in the whiskey world. We’ll explore that revival with a visit to Dublin on this episode of WhiskyCast HD!
Editor’s note: Production support for this episode was provided by Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard. In accordance with our ethics policy, WhiskyCast retains full editorial control over the content of this episode.
October 30, 2017 – Single Malt Scotch Whiskies are one of the few bright spots in the latest report on Scotland’s whisky exports from the Scotch Whisky Association. The trade group’s analysis of export data from HM Revenue & Customs for the first half of 2017 shows a 7 percent increase in exports of Single Malts during the period, with an estimated value of £479 million ($631.2 million USD). Single Malts now account for more than 25 percent of the value of all Scotch Whisky exports – an all-time high.
Overall Scotch Whisky exports increased in value to £1.8 billion ($2.37 billion USD), up 3.4 percent from a year ago. While that would appear to be a positive gain, a closer look at the data indicates reasons for concern among industry leaders.
“It’s quite a mixed picture,” said Rosemary Gallagher of the SWA. “Things are looking very positive in terms of value – some large markets are up in value, such as the USA, China, and Japan, but there were some markets which didn’t perform quite so well in part to political and economic headwinds.” France, the number one market in export volume, fell in both areas with a 6.8 percent decrease in the number of bottles shipped and a 0.2 percent decrease in the value of those bottles. Overall, the volume of Scotch Whisky exports fell by two percent during the first half of the year, despite the Brexit-induced plunge in the British pound’s value against other world currencies that made Scotch Whisky more attractive on the export market.
While part of the change can be attributed to consumers switching to higher-end Blended Scotch and Single Malts, the SWA’s Gallagher expressed the industry’s growing concern over the decline in volume. “We’re looking now to address that fall in volume to create some more growth there as well,” she said in a telephone interview. The association has been arguing for a reduction in taxes on spirits when Chancellor Philip Hammond releases the British government’s autumn budget next month. Hammond’s spring budget imposed a 3.9 percent increase in spirits taxes, and UK consumers responded by buying a million fewer bottles of Scotch Whisky during the first half of the year.
“That now sees Scotch Whisky taxed at 80 percent – that’s 8-0 percent per bottle in the UK market,” Gallagher said. “That very high level of tax is slowing growth in the UK…it’s an issue we’d like to address with an excise duty cut in the budget next month.” The SWA argues that whisky producers need a strong domestic market to help justify additional investment that would benefit both domestic and export sales.
The United States posted gains in both volume and value, with a 10.5 percent increase in volume to 58.7 million bottles of Scotch Whisky and an 8.6 percent gain in value to £387.9 million ($511.8 million USD), remaining the world leader in that category. Despite the drop in volume, France remains the overwhelming leader in exports by volume with 85.9 million bottles shipped during the first half of the year. Spain’s ongoing economic problems led to declines in both volume and value for one of Scotch Whisky’s consistent “top ten” export markets, while Brazil, South Africa, and India also posted declines in both categories.
In looking at the countries with significant exports, it is necessary to consider whether those countries have a large domestic market for Scotch Whisky or serve as a trans-shipment point, since Customs data generally tracks only the initial export country. For instance, Singapore serves as a hub for exports to the Asia-Pacific region, and reported increases in both volume (+5.6%) and value (+12.9%). The United Arab Emirates, which imposes strict limits on domestic alcohol consumption but also serves as a key shipping hub, showed a significant decline in Scotch Whisky exports with a 22.7 percent decrease in volume and a 17.4 percent decrease in value.
One surprising statistic that jumps out from the data. Latvia imported 11.9 million bottles (+78.8%) of Scotch Whisky during the first half of 2017, enough to provide each one of the country’s 1.96 million men, women, and children with six bottles of Scotch. Presumably, the Latvian government has not implemented a “whisky welfare” scheme, and it is likely that almost all of that whisky made its way to Russia by way of Latvia. For the record, Russia does not show up on the SWA’s ranking of the top 20 countries by export volume or value, largely because of trade sanctions imposed by the European Union and other Western countries over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
October 22, 2017 – New York’s nickname is the Empire State, and of course, that is where New York City’s landmark Empire State Building gets its name from. While New York’s growing community of distillers has yet to achieve King Kong-like status, a handful of rye whiskey makers hopes their new Empire Rye style of whiskey can eventually become one of the whisky world’s 800-pound gorillas.
“Our hope is that this stands up in time to all of the great whiskies of the world, and is categorically respected and uttered in the same breath as Kentucky Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, Scotch Single Malt, Japanese whisky…Empire Rye,” says Christopher Briar Williams of Coppersea Distilling. His Hudson Valley distillery was one of the six founding distilleries behind the Empire Rye standard, which is not a specific brand of whiskey but a style of whiskey with specific parameters that allows each distillery its own creative flexibility.
The first whiskies certified as Empire Rye were introduced Saturday during an event at the New York Distilling Company in Brooklyn. In addition to Coppersea and New York Distilling Company, Black Button Distilling, Finger Lakes Distilling, Kings County Distilling, Tuthilltown Spirits, and Van Brunt Stillhouse have released whiskies that conform to the Empire Rye standard. Taconic Distillery and Yankee Distillers have whiskies maturing in their warehouses that will be released when they meet the standard.
“I think they’re on the Rye-ght track,” longtime distiller and industry consultant Dave Pickerell said with a laugh. Pickerell works with New York’s Hillrock Estate Distillery, which has released rye whiskies in the past but has not become part of the Empire Rye project. He noted that Colonial-era distillers were making rye whiskey long before Bourbon became the dominant American-made whiskey style.
In New York, rye remained the predominant style of whiskey for the state’s distillers right up until Prohibition brought an end to whiskey production in the state. The industry only began to come alive again when Tuthilltown Spirits co-founder Ralph Erenzo lobbied state legislators to create a special class of licenses for farm distilleries in 2007. Distilleries operating under those licenses must use grain or fruits grown within New York for at least 75 percent of their production, and the Empire Rye creators decided to make that the cornerstone of their standard.
“In deciding what a New York State whiskey should be, and having determined that that whiskey should be a rye, it was fairly simple for us to kind of look at that and say ‘oh, if we have to use 75 percent New York grain anyway, let’s require that the entire 75 percent be New York State-grown ryes’,” Williams said in a telephone interview for this week’s WhiskyCast. The Empire Rye standard is stricter than the federal government’s rye whiskey standard, which requires only that rye make up at least 51 percent of the mash bill (recipe).
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Christopher Williams:
The standards for Empire Rye are based largely on the U.S. Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, with two exceptions. The Empire Rye standard only requires two years of maturation instead of the law’s four-year minimum and does not specify that a conforming whiskey be bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV).
“We all liked the language of the Bottled-in-Bond Act in terms of insisting upon the provenance of the whiskey in terms of the distillery…so basically, you can’t source Empire Rye,” Williams said. “The authenticity of the whiskey in terms of where it’s coming from cannot be fudged.” Of course, an Empire Rye whiskey that has been matured for at least four years and is bottled at 50% ABV could legally use the “Bottled-in-Bond” designation.
The Empire Rye standard is not an official standard of identity as defined under federal regulations, but is owned by the Empire Rye Whiskey Association, a partnership of the founding distilleries and those who have signed on over the two years of development leading up to the public introduction. New York State has more than 100 licensed distilleries, though it is estimated that only between 70 and 80 are actively distilling at this time. At least four additional distillers have committed to distilling whiskey that will meet the Empire Rye standard, and any of the state’s distillers who choose to are eligible to have their whiskies certified as Empire Rye.
“We’re New Yorkers, and we love New York,” Williams said. “This is kind of our love poem to New York, to the extent that whiskey is our art, this is our gift to the state, and hopefully … to the world.”
Links: Empire Rye Whiskey Association | Coppersea Distilling | Black Button Distilling | Finger Lakes Distilling | Kings County Distillery | New York Distilling Company | Taconic Distillery | Tuthilltown Spirits | Van Brunt Stillhouse | Yankee Distillers
The boom in Bourbon and American Whiskey sales isn’t just a North American phenomenon. Whisky lovers around the world are demanding Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, and other whiskies from legendary and new distilleries alike, as we found during The Whisky Show in London. Part of the demand is being created by the cocktail culture, as American whiskies are key to making both classic and modern cocktails, but there’s also a demand for the unique flavors of American whiskies, too.
Editor’s note: Production support for this episode was provided by Speciality Drinks Ltd. In accordance with our ethics policy, WhiskyCast retains full editorial control over the content of this episode.
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
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.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Gordon Doctor:
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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