Each week, we bring you the latest whisky news on WhiskyCast. Now, we’ll be bringing it to you as it happens here on our News Updates page!
January 13, 2017 – Tourism promoters in Louisville, Kentucky have no problems with reported plans for a new Bourbon-flavored Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be named “Urban Bourbon.” In fact, they’re almost salivating at the thought. The Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau holds a trademark for “Urban Bourbon” to promote the city’s Urban Bourbon Trail, a network of 35 local bars and restaurants that offer extensive Bourbon selections or feature whiskey as a key ingredient in their menu selections.
The Vermont-based ice cream company is reportedly planning to introduce its “Urban Bourbon” ice cream later this year, though it has not confirmed that following an Instagram post by @candyhunting last week showing the label for the new flavor.
According to Stacey Yates of the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, the law firm that handles the agency’s trademark registrations has been tracking the Ben & Jerry’s project for at least two years as the ice cream company explored possible names. In mid-2016, they had to make a decision on whether to challenge Ben & Jerry’s application to use the “Urban Bourbon” trademark in the food category.
“We own the trademark for use as a tourism destination, so we are very aggressively going to protect that to keep other cities from having their own “Urban Bourbon” anything…we want to have our stake in the sand on that, but we decided that we are a tourism organization,” she said. “We are not looking to get into the food production business and have jams, jellies, sauces, ice cream, or anything like that, and unless we were going to do that and then show that we had, then we really didn’t have standing to keep that mark parked.”
However, Yates also admits there was an even more logical reason for not challenging Ben & Jerry’s. “Since we’re not going to ever produce ice cream, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a national brand, especially one that has such a halo effect as Ben & Jerry’s, to be out there pushing an “Urban Bourbon” ice cream and if anyone correlates that back to Bourbon Country, yay for us!” It should be noted that “Bourbon Country” is another tourism-related trademark owned by the agency.
Trademarks can be issued across a wide range of product categories or services, but are generally issued to only one owner in a specific category, such as the trademark the Louisville CVB owns for “Urban Bourbon” in the tourism category. However, a trademark owner can lose those rights if the mark is not used for a specific period of time – usually five years.
The Louisville CVB originally owned the trademark to “Urban Bourbon Trail” as well, but Yates said the agency transferred the rights to that trademark to the Kentucky Distillers Association several years ago. At the time, the KDA was involved in litigation over its trademark for the “Kentucky Bourbon Trail” and was advised by lawyers to secure the rights to “Urban Bourbon Trail” to help build its case. The agreement gives the Louisville CVB the exclusive rights to use the “Urban Bourbon Trail” trademark in exchange for a $1 per year licensing fee. The CVB also has a similar licensing agreement for its “Urban Bourbon” trademark with the organizers of the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon held in Louisville each October.
As for Ben & Jerry’s, Yates says the agency has not heard from the ice cream company’s marketing team about plans for the new flavor, but she is eager to discuss it with them. When asked if that might include inviting Ben & Jerry’s to hold a launch party for “Urban Bourbon” in Louisville when it is released, Yates immediately made note to have a member of her staff start working on that.
WhiskyCast has contacted Ben & Jerry’s for comment, and this story will be updated with additional information as necessary.
January 13, 2017 – While Friday the 13th is often considered an unlucky day, Colin Plint will likely never forget this Friday the 13th after paying £6,000 GBP ($7,300 USD) for a unique bottle of whisky. The Air Canada pilot and whisky collector won the bidding for a bottle of GlenDronach Scotch Whisky signed by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump that went on the auction block today at McTear’s in Glasgow. The bottle comes from a 26-year-old GlenDronach single cask purchased in 2012 by The Trump Organization to be bottled for the opening of the Trump International Golf Links resort near the distillery in Aberdeenshire.
Plint told an interviewer after the auction he had traveled to Glasgow to sell a bottle of 1964 Black Bowmore that went for £5,200 GBP ($6,342), and decided to use the proceeds from that sale to bid for the Trump bottle. “It might not be worth the full weight of the money, but it’s a story…it’s a story that I’ve taken, and the bottle will be well-received in Canada,” he said.
Before the auction, McTear’s whisky specialist Laurie Black had placed an estimate of £2,500-£3,500 GBP ($3,075-$4,300 USD) on the bottle, which was one of 504 bottles sold by the resort but was one of a limited number with a presentation box signed by Trump. Black told WhiskyCast before the auction that he believed the estimate was high, but fair given that interest in Trump is at an all-time high before his inauguration in Washington a week from today. However, a McTear’s statement today described the bidding as “fierce” with intense bidding from potential buyers online, on the phone, and in the McTear’s gallery.
In the statement, Black noted that “there was a huge amount of interest in the bottle and we were delighted with the final price, which was several times more than previous Trump bottles have sold for. The GlenDronach is a stunning whisky in its own right however, the Trump connection gave this particular bottle a presidential boost.” The only signed bottle of the “Trump Scotland” whisky that has sold at auction until now went for a high bid of £1,950 ($2,395 USD) last year at the online-only Scotch Whisky Auctions site.
However, the Trump bottle was not the most expensive lot on the block at the first McTear’s auction of the year. Two lots brought high bids of £10,000 GBP ($12,187 USD) each: a 52-year-old Macallan distilled in 1950 and a Springbank Millennium Collection with full-size and miniature bottles of 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, and 50-year old Springbank whiskies. In addition, a charity lot to benefit the Earl Mountbatten Hospice on the Isle of Wight brought a high bid of £1,500 GBP ($1,829) for an 18-year-old Macallan. The bottle came from a longtime Macallan employee whose mother was cared for by the hospice.
The next McTear’s whisky auction is scheduled for February 24 in Glasgow.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with details on the high bidder for the Donald Trump-signed GlenDronach whisky.
January 9, 2017 – It’s a sad day for whiskey lovers. Parker Beam, one of Bourbon’s legendary distillers, passed away at his home near Bardstown, Kentucky last night at the age of 75 following a four-year-long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Heaven Hill Distillery announced his passing in a statement from company president Max Shapira Monday afternoon.
“All of us within the company, and the general public, watched with awe and admiration as Parker and Linda waged a much publicized war against this terrible disease, using their courage, his standing as one of the industry’s great Master Distillers and his wide sphere of influence to generate international awareness, and millions of dollars, for ALS research and treatment.”
It should go without saying that Parker Beam was one of the leaders responsible for today’s Bourbon renaissance. He started working at Heaven Hill’s distillery in Bardstown in 1960 under his father, master distiller Earl Beam, though at that time the title “master distiller” was rarely used. In 1975, Parker Beam succeeded his father as Heaven Hill’s master distiller, and only when his health problems forced him to cut back on his workload did he agree to take on the role of Master Distiller Emeritus. Eventually, his son Craig Beam joined him to form a father and son team of co-Master Distillers, and Craig retains that title to this day along with Denny Potter. Parker was one of the few living distillers (who didn’t own a distillery) to have a whiskey named in his honor when Heaven Hill created the Parker’s Heritage Collection series of annual whiskey releases in 2007.
As Shapira noted in his statement, Parker Beam’s fight with ALS inspired the entire whiskey industry through the ALS Association’s “Parker Beam’s Promise of Hope Fund.” Heaven Hill and Parker’s family established the fund shortly after announcing on January 31, 2013 that he had been diagnosed with ALS, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” Starting that year and each year since, Heaven Hill has donated part of the proceeds from each year’s release of Parker’s Heritage Collection to the Promise of Hope Fund. That, along with projects such as the 2013 “Master Distillers’ Unity” charity bottling, has helped raise more than a million dollars for ALS research and treatment over the last four years.
On October 23, 2009, a little more than three years before ALS would start to affect Parker Beam’s voice, Heaven Hill honored his 50th anniversary in whiskey with a celebration at the company’s Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown. Here is his short, but poignant speech from that night as more than 150 of his colleagues, friends, and family honored him.
The next evening, as Heaven Hill unveiled that year’s Evan Williams Single Barrel release at an event in Bardstown, the quiet, soft-spoken Parker Beam agreed to talk about his long career making whiskey.
Parker Beam received virtually every award that a member of the whiskey industry could possibly receive, but in September of 2015, his colleagues in the industry gave him perhaps the ultimate honor. Not only did the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame give him its first Lifetime Achievement Award, but named the award after him for all future recipients. His longtime friend, Wild Turkey’s Jimmy Russell, presented the award – and was the second to receive it a year later. Both men were part of the inaugural class of Hall of Fame inductees in 2001.
Please join us in expressing our condolences to Parker’s wife, Linda Beam, along with their entire family. A funeral service will be held at Bardstown Baptist Church on Thursday, January 12 at 1:00pm, with visitation from 3:00-8:00pm Wednesday and 11:00am-12:30pm Thursday at the Barlow Funeral Home in Bardstown.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with details on the memorial service for Parker Beam.
Links: Heaven Hill
January 6, 2017 – One week before Donald Trump takes the oath of office as the 45th President of the United States, a bottle of the only single malt Scotch whisky that bears his brand will go on the auction block at McTear’s in Glasgow with a presentation box signed by the President-elect. The bottle of 26-year-old comes from a single cask of whisky from GlenDronach Distillery, and was bottled for the 2012 opening of the Trump International Golf Links resort near Aberdeen, Scotland. Only 504 bottles of “Trump Scotland Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky” were produced from that cask for sale at the resort, which no longer has any bottles available for sale.
“When it was released, a lot of people would have bought the bottle and just opened it and enjoyed it, so the number of bottles left…obviously, it’s hard to put a figure on it, but there’s not going to be that many…we’re excited to see what happens when it goes under the hammer on January 13th,” said McTear’s whisky specialist Laurie Black. The bottle was consigned to McTear’s for its first 2017 whisky auction by one of the auction house’s regular clients, who acquired it shortly after the resort opened from a person who lives near the course. In a telephone interview, Black set the pre-auction estimate for the bottle at between £2,500 and £3,500 pounds ($3,075-$4,300 USD), but noted that the seller has set an undisclosed reserve price that must be met for the bottle to sell. “He had a sneaking suspicion that it was going to increase in value, so he had no intention of opening it, no intention of drinking it…he just looked after it at his Aberdeenshire home for the last four years, and now is obviously as good a time as ever, you would think.” It should be noted that the box comes with number cards for two different bottles (#198 and #391), and since the individual bottles were not numbered, it is impossible to tell which card was originally included in the box.
The whisky was distilled in 1985, and matured in an ex-Pedro Ximenez Sherry puncheon until it was bottled on June 26, 2012 at 53.3% ABV. When plans for the bottling were announced in the fall of 2011, GlenDronach’s Alistair Walker confirmed to WhiskyCast that Donald Trump, who publicly avoids alcohol use, did not actually help select the cask but delegated the task to his team.
GlenDronach was picked because it is the closest distillery to the golf resort, but its whiskies have won a significant number of awards in worldwide whisky competitions since master distiller Billy Walker and his partners acquired it in 2008. In early 2016, they sold the BenRiach Distillery Company, including GlenDronach, BenRiach, and Glenglassaugh distilleries to Brown-Forman in a deal valued at $416 million, with Walker staying on to run the distilleries under the U.S.-based owners. Ironically, Matthew Barzun, the current U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, is married to Brooke Brown Barzun of Louisville’s Brown family, which controls Brown-Forman. Matthew Barzun is one of the Obama Administration’s politically-appointed ambassadors who have been ordered by the President-elect’s transition team to return home with their families from their overseas posts by Inauguration Day instead of being given a grace period following the change in administrations as has been done in previous transitions.
At the time the resort opened, Trump-signed bottles were being sold for £500 ($614 USD), while unsigned bottles were priced at £195 ($239.50 USD). It is not clear how many bottles Trump signed, but Black said the resort did raise its prices significantly on the remaining bottles as the 2016 presidential campaign developed. He understands the Trump campaign acquired all of the remaining inventory at some point in 2016 for its use. WhiskyCast has contacted the President-elect’s transition team to confirm this, and this story will be updated with additional information as necessary. The golf course is currently closed until January 18, according to the resort’s web site.
This is the first time one of the “Trump Scotland” bottles has gone on the block at a live auction, though several have appeared in online auctions. One signed bottle sold last year for £1,950 ($2,395 USD) through ScotchWhiskyAuctions.com, while a second signed bottle failed to meet the reserve price. Unsigned bottles have sold at the same site for prices ranging from £195-£360 ($239.50-$442 USD). At least one signed bottle is available at retail, with the UK’s Hard To Find Whisky offering it for £4,999.95 ($6,138 USD).
Editor’s note: All currency conversions in this story were done using today’s Bloomberg Generic Composite Rate, and conversions for historical data do not reflect exchange rates at the time.
January 5, 2017 – As retailers try to decide whether to raise their prices for Beam Suntory’s Booker’s Bourbon now or wait until existing stocks have been depleted, the world’s largest Bourbon producer has responded to a series of questions over the sudden decision to phase in a planned price hike. Monday, Beam Suntory confirmed that instead of raising the suggested retail price of Booker’s from its longtime $59.99 per bottle to $99.99 on January 1, it would phase in the 66 percent price hike over a period of time. The first step in that plan was a 17 percent increase to $69.99, with prices to rise to around $74.99 by the end of 2017 and additional increases expected in 2018.
While not making company executives available for interviews, a Beam Suntory spokesman offered this statement in an email to WhiskyCast late Thursday as a response to questions posed Monday after the announcement.
“Several factors were taken into consideration in determining the pricing approach for Booker’s Bourbon, and in the final analysis, we simply decided to implement the previously announced pricing on a longer timeline. We regret any inconvenience to retailers and have communicated the updated suggested pricing approach of Booker’s Bourbon to our sales force and distributor partners. While we cannot directly control on-shelf pricing as a supplier, consumers should expect to see Booker’s pricing updated to an SRP of $69.99-$74.99 for the coming year. Given the brand’s supply constraints, we aim to release one batch of Booker’s Bourbon per quarter in 2017, and we look forward to discussing the next batch in the months to come.”
The statement does not address the impact on consumers, nor does it say whether one of the factors in the change was the intense criticism on social media following the December 9 announcement and after a number of retailers raised prices on January 1. As previously reported, company executives have acknowledged that a Beam Suntory external spokesperson “misspoke” in confirming on December 9 that the price hike would not take effect until the first Booker’s release of 2017.
Listen to this weekend’s WhiskyCast for more on this story.
January 5, 2017 – Three business days into the new year is all it took for the first distillery deal to be announced in 2017, as Constellation Brands has acquired a minority stake in Virginia’s Catoctin Creek Distillery. Becky and Scott Harris, who founded the Purcellville distillery in 2009, continue to own the majority of the company and will continue to run the day-to-day operations. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, and while the transaction closed in the fall of 2016, it was announced today in conjunction with Constellation’s release of its quarterly earnings.
“The whole industry is trending toward consolidation,” Scott Harris said in a telephone interview. “We had created a business that was profitable…very thin profits, and not enough to really generate some capital for growth of the business. You kind of are always up against payroll, cash flow, and things like that, so even a profitable business like ours – the profits can be close to razor-thin.” With bank financing difficult to obtain, the Harrises decided investment from a strategic partner was their only route. “We just had an instant chemistry with them (Constellation), they really understood what we were doing…for such a large company, they’re run like a small family-run company themselves, and the key people that came down that we’ve been dealing with were really salt of the Earth and understood what we were doing.”
“We didn’t want somebody that would come in and say OK, well…we’re going to now start making bubble gum-flavored whiskey…that was something that we were never going to be interested in…”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Scott Harris:
The investment will help fund an expansion of production and distribution for Catoctin Creek’s spirits, which are now available in 14 states. The Harrises plan to start work on expanding that with a goal of adding 10 to 14 more states by the end of 2017, and Scott Harris said Catoctin Creek has enough mature stock on hand to handle increased demand from retailers.
The distillery produces Roundstone Rye and Rabble Rouser rye whiskies, along with the unaged Mosby’s Spirit and a range of gins and brandies. According to Scott Harris, new fermenters and other equipment are in the process of being ordered for the distillery that will double annual production, and negotiations are underway for additional maturation warehouse space. There is enough room for expansion in the existing distillery, which opened in 2013 after the Harrises restored a historic building in Purcellville and moved operations from the original site in a nearby industrial park.
Catoctin Creek’s spirits have won a number of awards, and the distillery was a finalist for U.S. Craft Distiller of the Year in Whisky Magazine’s 2016 Icons of Whisky Awards. Becky Harris was a finalist for Master Distiller of the Year in the same competition.
The move is the third in recent months for Constellation, which has been aggressively expanding its portfolio in the U.S. craft spirits sector. In October, the New York-based company paid $160 million for High West Distillery in Utah. As with Catoctin Creek, High West’s existing management team remained with the company after the deal, and at the time, Constellation’s executive in charge of its wine and spirits division, Bill Newlands, cited the company’s desire to build a high-end spirits portfolio. The company also acquired a minority stake in the new Bardstown Bourbon Company distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, which began production in the fall of 2016.
Constellation is the third-largest American brewer, and generates most of its revenue from sales of Corona beer along with a premium wine portfolio. Last month, Constellation sold its entire Canadian wine business to the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan for $776 million (USD), and today reported third quarter sales of $1.8 billion.
WhiskyCast has also requested an interview with Constellation Brands executives, and this story will be updated with more information.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information following an interview with Catoctin Creek’s Scott Harris.