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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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Four Roses Responds to Striking Unions, Clarifies Bargaining Stance

September 18, 2018 – With the next round of talks between Four Roses Distillery and its striking workers not expected until at least Friday, the Kirin-owned distillery has issued a statement outlining its position on what union leaders have referred to as a “two-tier” benefits package for new workers.

53 members of the United Food & Commercial Workers and the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/SEIU walked off the job September 7 after rejecting the distillery’s final contract offer. UFCW Local 10D represents operations and maintenance workers at the distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, while UFCW Local 23D represents operations and maintenance workers at the distillery’s Cox’s Creek maturation and bottling facility. NCFO/SEIU Local 320 represents five workers in Lawrenceburg who operate and maintain the distillery’s boiler and water treatment systems. Union leaders have consistently indicated that they will reject any contract proposal that treats new employees differently from current ones.

In the statement, Four Roses executives indicated that their proposal never included a “two-tier” wage plan with lower pay scales for new workers. Their plan proposes to change the sick leave policy for new workers to remove the ability to “bank” unused sick days from year to year. Current employees receive ten sick days each year, and can carry over unused days up to a maximum of 60. The distillery’s proposal would replace that for new hires with short-term disability insurance that would take effect after an employee’s annual sick days are used up and last until long-term disability benefits begin.

According to the statement, the distillery offered that same package to the unions for current employees, but withdrew it after union negotiators insisted on keeping the current system, which does not include short-term disability coverage.

“We agree that the new hires would not receive the same sick leave benefits as current employees, but we believe the new hires’ program is better, not worse. Now, a current employee who has insufficient sick days in the “bank” has nothing to rely on until long term disability benefits start. New hires will never find themselves in that situation. So, we gave current employees what they said they wanted, and new hires something different, but, we think, better.”

The company also dropped a proposal from its final contract offer to change vacation time for new employees to a maximum of five weeks after 25 years of service, while keeping the limit at six weeks for current workers.

WhiskyCast has requested interviews with Four Roses executives since the strike began, but the company has declined saying that it has “tried not to conduct negotiations in the media,” but wanted to correct “inaccuracies” in several media reports.

UFCW Local 10D president Jeff Royalty says the company’s statement doesn’t address the problem his members could face if they accepted the new proposal. In a telephone interview, Royalty noted that the current sick leave plan pays employees for a full 8-hour work day, while the short-term disability plan would only pay them 50 percent of a day’s pay after that sick leave is used up.

“Essentially, I would have to be on short-term disability for 120 days to even break even if I had the 60 days banked,” he said. He also said the proposed system could cause problems for an employee who uses up all ten days following an injury and then gets sick later in the year, since short-term disability insurance is not designed to cover a brief absence of just one or two days.

Royalty hopes the Friday negotiating session will lead to a tentative agreement. “I’m losing money personally every day I’m on the picket line, and so is Four Roses…a strike is no good for either side, but it’s just one of those things that has to be done from time to time,” he said.

This story will be updated with additional information as necessary.

Editor’s note: We have made the complete Four Roses statement available to read at the WhiskyCast web site

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

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Conor McGregor Debuts “Proper No. Twelve” Irish Whiskey

September 18, 2018 – More than a year after announcing his plans to launch his own Irish Whiskey brand during a post-fight news conference, mixed martial arts champion Conor McGregor has unveiled Proper No. Twelve. Eire Born Spirits, McGregor’s own spirits company, is working with Bushmills head distiller David Elder and Proximo Spirits on the whiskey, which will be available at first in the U.S. and Ireland starting this month with plans for wider availability in 2019.

The name comes from Dublin 12, the postal district in southwest Dublin that includes Crumlin, the neighborhood where McGregor grew up.

Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey. Image courtesy Eire Born Spirits.

Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey. Image courtesy Eire Born Spirits.

“It’s a place dear to my heart. It’s where I learned how to fight; it made me who I am today. It’s a place I’m still very much a part of every single day of my life. So, that’s where the name came from. It’s proper Irish whiskey and twelve is my hometown,” McGregor said in a news release announcing the whiskey’s release. “Growing up on the streets of Dublin 12, I learned the values of loyalty and hard work. I respect other Irish whiskeys, but I am coming in strong, with passion and with purpose. I am the founder of this company and I am going to give it my all,” the statement quoted McGregor as saying. The fighter plans to donate up to a million dollars of Proper No. Twelve’s annual sales to local first responders and charitable groups supporting first responders. 

When McGregor initially announced his plans to enter the whiskey business immediately following his loss in the ring to boxing champion Floyd Mayweather in August of 2017, he referred to it as “Notorious Irish Whiskey” in line with his “Notorious” nickname. The Irish Examiner reported last week that McGregor was forced to withdraw his trademark application for the name at the European Union Intellectual Property Office because “Notorious” had already been trademarked for use on alcoholic beverages in 2016 by Carlow Brewing Company founder Seamus O’Hara. However, a U.S.-based spokesperson for the brand told WhiskyCast in an email that McGregor had not “planned to call this brand Notorious for over a year,” saying that “he wanted it to be bigger than him and about his country.”

Proper No. Twelve is a blend of single malt and grain whiskies blended and bottled at the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim. While the distilleries that supplied the whiskey have not been identified, the brand’s spokesperson told WhiskyCast it does not contain any whiskey from Bushmills. Proximo Spirits is the distribution arm of Becle, which is owned by Mexico’s Beckmann family of Jose Cuervo fame. Becle also owns Bushmills Irish Whiskey and the Old Bushmills Distillery.

The announcement comes as another Irish celebrity is reported to be considering his own entry into the Irish Whiskey business. According to The Times, U2 lead singer Bono is one of the investors in a €50 million ($58.3 million USD) craft distillery proposed for construction at Ballykelly Mill in County Kildare. Plans for the project were submitted last week to the local council for approval by developer Paddy McKillen, who owns Dublin’s Clarence Hotel along with Bono and fellow U2 member The Edge. No timetable has been set for a vote on the plan.

Links: Proper No. Twelve

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No Talks in Four Roses Strike As Kentucky Bourbon Festival Begins

September 12, 2018 – Bardstown, Kentucky, long known as the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” kicked off the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival today with a cloud hanging over this year’s event. The weather forecast in Bardstown calls for sunny skies through the festival weekend with rain expected from Hurricane Florence early next week, but the cloud over the festival stems from the ongoing strike by union workers at Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg and its Cox’s Creek maturation and bottling facility near Bardstown.

No negotiations have taken place since 53 members of two United Food and Commercial Workers local chapters and the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/SEIU walked off the job at both sites last Friday. The strike follows a 51-2 rejection of the distillery’s final contract offer, which called for implementation of a two-tier benefits structure for new hires with changes to sick leave, and seniority rights. The strike has not affected distilling at Four Roses, which had been shut down before the strike to allow for final construction work on a $55 million expansion project. Bottling operations at Cox’s Creek are done by non-union workers and have not been affected by the strike.

Four Roses executives have declined interviews since the strike began, but the distillery issued the following statement Tuesday:

“We value our employees and recognize they are a crucial part of what makes Four Roses a special Bourbon. We have been negotiating in good faith with the unions and offered a competitive package for our employees. It is our hope that the unions will reconsider their decision.”

That’s not likely to happen, according to UFCW Local 10D President Jeff Royalty, who represents operations and maintenance workers at the Lawrenceburg distillery.

“The union is still standing strong right now…we have no inclination that anyone is willing to change from our initial way of thinking on standing up for the next generation,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “It just appears that this thing is going to lead into the Bourbon Festival, and we are prepared…we’re gonna be at the Bourbon Festival.”

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival draws thousands of whiskey lovers from around the world to Bardstown and the surrounding area each September, but this is the first time in the festival’s 27 years that a distillery strike has taken place during the event. Four Roses is one of the many distilleries participating in the festival, and is expected to draw more than 200 guests to its sold-out annual “Let’s Talk Bourbon” event Friday morning at the distillery. Those guests will have to cross picket lines to attend the tasting and discussion with Master Distiller Brent Elliott, and the unions plan additional activity in Bardstown at the festival’s main venue around Spalding Hall.

“You can’t never tell where we might pop up down there,” Royalty said. “We’re gonna get out and mingle in the crowd, talk to people, get the message across…we want people to have a good time, we’re not going to disrupt any event, but we just want to get the message out that we’re trying to do a positive thing here,” he said, emphasizing that his members will comply with the law while exercising their First Amendment rights. He also expects support from other UFCW members around the region, along with members of other area labor unions.

Hand-painted barrel staves on sale at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. File photo ©2018, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

Hand-painted barrel staves are among the items sold on Spalding Hall’s lawn during the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

Kentucky Bourbon Festival executive director Jill Hawkins has been working with Bardstown police on contingency plans for union activity during the weekend. She told WhiskyCast that no organized picketing will be allowed on the lawn area at Spalding Hall, where the participating distilleries and other exhibitors have their displays starting on Friday afternoon and lasting through the weekend.

“The Festival is all about celebrating Bourbon, the industry, the people. That is our mission, that is our goal, so that is what we are going to do. Certainly, the situation at Four Roses is unfortunate, but we’re going to let those parties handle all of that…we’re just going to continue to execute this celebration here in Bardstown and deliver a great experience for all of our guests,” Hawkins said. Spalding Hall is considered private property, while the festival holds city permits for the weekend giving it control over the adjacent city-owned land used for festival events.

Royalty expects his members to be visible in the festival crowd with bright-green “No Concessions: My Family Matters” t-shirts. “It appears to me that everywhere I go wearing it, someone will stop and ask me what it’s about, and it’s a good conversation piece,” he said.

As long as the union activity is limited to informal acts like those t-shirts, Bardstown assistant police chief Capt. Joe Seelye says there won’t be any limits at the Bourbon Festival.

“That wouldn’t meet the threshold of a protest in terms of what law enforcement would need to be engaged with, but one thing the law talks about is time, place, and manner, and so should it be hypothetically an actual protest with 500, 1000 people, then we have set up an area within the event venue that we would ask the protestors to do their actual protest in,” Seelye said. “We’re there to protect those that are going to the venue, the business owners, the citizens, and the protesters themselves…we want everybody to get along, and law enforcement will be there just to ensure everything goes smoothly.”

So far, only one Bourbon Festival event has been affected by the strike. Saturday’s World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay is not expected to include teams from Four Roses – unless a contract agreement is reached in time.

Editor’s note: This story was edited to remove mention of a two-tier wage structure for new employees. The company indicated after publication that their last contract offer only proposed benefits changes for new hires. 

Links: Kentucky Bourbon Festival | Four RosesUnited Food & Commercial Workers | National Conference of Firemen & Oilers | Bardstown Police Department

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Westward American Single Malt Joins Diageo’s Distill Ventures Portfolio

September 12, 2018 – Diageo’s Distill Ventures unit has made its first investment in the North American whiskey market with a minority stake in Westward American Single Malt Whiskey. Westward is distilled by Portland, Oregon-based House Spirits Distillery, and the current House Spirits management team led by CEO Tom Mooney and founder Christian Krogstad will continue to own the majority of Westward and oversee day-to-day operations.

“We certainly weren’t looking for another investor in a generic sense,” Mooney said in a telephone interview following the announcement. “Years ago, we set out on the journey to establish the leading American Single Malt program and brand in Westward, and we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished up to now,” he said. Westward is distributed by Redwood Brands, another Distill Ventures partner, while Park Street handles distribution for the remainder of the House Spirits portfolio. That portfolio includes Volstead Vodka, Casa Magdalena Rum, and Krogstad Aquavit, and will remain separate from the Distill Ventures/Westward partnership.

“In Diageo, we found somebody who is the world’s leading malt whisky producer … they’re also, somewhat unusually  in the spirits world, one of the leading brewers in the world,” Mooney said. “We’re very committed to the beer program that is the basis for Westward and the quality of the beer that we make to distill into whiskey.”

Distill Ventures is Diageo’s in-house venture capital unit, investing more than $75 million in emerging drinks brands so far. The unit owns minority stakes in Denmark’s Stauning and Australia’s Starward whisky brands, along with the Seedlip non-alcohol distilled spirits brand.

Our team is deeply committed to working with strong founders like Westward’s Thomas Mooney and Christian Krogstad, who deliver on innovation and excel at brand building.  Westward American Single Malt whiskey is an unparalleled spirit that perfectly delivers on the vision of placing a US brand amongst the world’s most coveted single malts,” Distill Ventures North America managing director Gonzalo de la Pezuela said in a statement announcing the deal. 

According to Mooney, the Distill Ventures investment will allow Westward to complete its capital investment plan. That plan began with the construction of the current distillery in Portland’s “Distillery Row” neighborhood, which opened in 2015. The next step will be to add fermenters in the distillery with the goal of increasing production capacity by around 40 percent annually.

The announcement is the second in the past week involving a major spirits industry teaming up with a smaller US distiller. Last Thursday, Edrington announced a similar minority investment in Wyoming Whiskey that will bring the Kirby, Wyoming distillery’s whiskies into the Edrington Americas distribution network.

Listen to our midweek episode of WhiskyCast for our interview with Westward’s Tom Mooney. You can also listen to our recent tour of the House Spirits Distillery with head distiller Miles Munroe in Episode 719 of WhiskyCast.

Links: Westward | Distill Ventures

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