Steve Gertman of California’s Ascendant Spirits produces Breaker Bourbon, and his brand is one of those targeted by a Chicago-based law firm that specializes in class-action lawsuits, and is “investigating” claims by small-batch whisky brands about the source of their whiskies. Like many small producers, Gertman has been sourcing whiskey from other distillers while the Bourbon he’s making is aging, and he responds to the claims on this week’s WhiskyCast In-Depth along with criticism he’s received since appearing on WhiskyCast last January. In the news, Templeton Rye is also a target of the law firm’s probe, and has announced that it will change its label to reflect that the whiskey is distilled in Indiana and not Iowa. We’ll also have reaction from other targets of the probe as well, along with the reaction of Charbay’s Marko Karakasevic to last weekend’s Napa Valley earthquake and much more!
Links: Ascendant Spirits | Templeton Rye | Consumer Class Actions.com | Edelson | High West | Redemption | Angel’s Envy | WhistlePig | KGB Spirits | Maker’s Mark | Bulleit | Tullamore Dew | Charbay | Heaven Hill | Ardbeg | Mackie’s of Scotland | Willett
The class action is silly, but potentially serious. I have no issue with sourcing and selling bourbon or calling it small batch. For me it’s simply one issue – failure to comply with 5.36 d. The law is clear; Chuck Cowdery asked the TTB, Tom Hogue, if we were interpreting this law correctly and the answer is the law is pretty straight forward. If AS has nothing to hide, then follow the law and list the actual State of Distillation label.
I am enjoying the weekly podcasts and I am slowly learning something about all the scotch I have been drinking. Thank you for the regular updates.
I was a little amused today to hear the distillers response to the potential lawsuit for misleading marketing/advertising. He basically said, “everyone does it.” However, despite the fact, ‘everyone does it’, it can still be wrong. I did not know some or many of the small whiskeys were reselling other distillers product. I am disappointed to learn it.
We have all experienced many instances where one industry has a ‘normal’ practice which also violates the law. We are still recovering from the mortgage industries problems with bad or fraudulent loans and loan securities. Everyone did it and everyone knew it was wrong but it went on for years.
Until I started really paying attention to the scotch and bourbon industry news, I did not know that some small batch bottlers did not distill their own whisky. Heck, I was disappointed to learn that virtually every scotch distiller in Islay buys their malted barley from one company which is not on Islay.
The whisky industry could be much more open with their processes and provide more information to the purchasers. Put more information on the labels, provide inserts if the bottles are in boxes, post information on websites. If all the important information is known, no one can complain of being misled and you may draw some more interested and knowledgeable consumers.
Thanks for your comments! Bulk whisky sales have been common practice for many years, especially in Scotland, where whisky producers trade casks regularly for use in blending, and there’s a bit more transparency in Scotland when independent bottlers are bottling casks from distilleries they don’t own. However, I would agree with you that bottlers who aren’t distilling their own whisky need to be more open about that in their marketing and labeling – even if they’re just using bulk whisky while the whisky they distill is maturing. I suspect it’s going to take a regulatory change to make that happen, though.
I’m curious about your comment on Islay’s malt supply, though…most of the barley used at the Islay distilleries comes from Diageo’s Port Ellen maltings on the island, with some exceptions. Kilchoman, Bowmore, and Laphroaig still malt at least some of their own barley, and most of the mainland distilleries closed their malting floors years ago to save money. Port Ellen also can’t supply all of the island’s needs, so some of it has to come from the mainland.
Mark – I was wrong. I should have said that I was disappointed that almost all of the malted barley in Islay comes from one large producer – Diageo. One of the significant differences between the Islay scotch is their peatiness. I thought the peat comes from the malted barley. Therefore, if they all use the same barley, they are likely to share the same level of peat. Obviously, I must not understand the actual process because Ardbeg is much peatier than Bowmore. Do you know why?
Also, does Bruchladdich also malt their own barley? I know they have scotch which is listed as ‘Scottich Barley’. Does it use Barley grown and malted on Islay?
I really do enjoy the podcasts!
Port Ellen, as with most maltings, is able to vary the level of peating from batch to batch depending on the customer’s requirements. Ardbeg may specify a higher level of peating that Caol Ila or Lagavulin does, for example — and that’s just a hypothetical example, so please don’t quote me on it. Bruichladdich does not malt its own barley, but uses barley from some of the Islay farms in its Islay Barley expression. If I remember correctly, I believe they send it to the mainland for malting – and I seem to recall the reason was that Port Ellen Maltings could either not handle a small amount of barley separately or keep it segregated from its own barley supplies. I will check with the distillery and try to get the correct answer.
Glad you’re enjoying the podcasts!