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!
September 13, 2017 – The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame has added three new members, while honoring Maker’s Mark Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels Jr. with the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award. During today’s ceremony at My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown, Brown-Forman Master Distiller Chris Morris, Beam Suntory’s Jerry Summers, and the late Harry Shapira of Heaven Hill were named to the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame was created by the Kentucky Distillers Association and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in 2001 to honor individuals and organizations that have contributed to the growth of the state’s Bourbon industry.
“This year’s inductees are joined by the fact that they’re all leading figures behind the growing global renaissance of Kentucky Bourbon,” said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. “Each, in their own way, has helped shape our current success.”
Samuels was a member of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 2001 and was named a lifetime honorary member of the Kentucky Distillers Association’s board of directors in 2011, when he retired after 35 years as president of Maker’s Mark. He has been credited as the marketing genius behind the brand, which was created by his parents, Bill Samuels Sr. and Marjorie Samuels – both of whom are also in the Hall of Fame. He is only the third person to receive the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award, named for the longtime Heaven Hill master distiller who died earlier this year after a four-year battle with ALS. Parker Beam was honored with the award in 2015, and Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell received it in 2016.
Chris Morris was unable to attend the ceremony after being hospitalized several days ago for heart surgery. His colleagues at Brown-Forman accepted on his behalf, and Morris is expected to make a complete recovery. He serves as Master Distiller for all of Brown-Forman’s Kentucky whiskey brands, including Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, and Early Times, and was given the title of Vice President of Whiskey Innovation in 2015. He was named Master Distiller in 2003, and developed the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, and other expressions for the company’s portfolio. He is a former chairman of the KDA’s board, and has also served on the Bourbon Festival board.
Jerry Summers is Beam Suntory’s Director of Community Relations, and focuses on the company’s ties with its neighbors in Kentucky. He has served as chairman for both the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and the Kentucky Tourism Industry Association, along with numerous other organizations in the Bardstown/Clermont area. During his 40-year career, he served as a distiller working with Beam’s legendary master distiller, the late Booker Noe, until making the transition into his current role with the company.
Harry Shapira was a key member of Heaven Hill’s executive team for many years until his death in 2013. He was the son of David Shapira, one of the five Shapira brothers who founded Heaven Hill after the end of Prohibition, and was responsible for developing the company’s tourism program. He led the team that created the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in Louisville.
The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame and its inductees will be part of the new welcome center for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to be developed at Louisville’s Frazier History Museum as part of an agreement announced last week between the KDA and the museum.
August 19, 2017 – Whiskey can take years to mature, so one of the virtues a good distiller needs is patience. Paul and Merry Beth Tomaszewski have been preparing for Monday’s total solar eclipse for years – not because they’re astronomy buffs, but because they’re expecting friends at their MB Roland Distillery in Pembroke, Kentucky this weekend…a lot of friends. The distillery is located not only in the middle of the path the solar eclipse will take across North America as the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun Monday, but it’s right at what astronomers call the “point of greatest eclipse,” where the moon will block the sun for the longest period of time…around 2 minutes and 40 seconds. In other words, they’re located at Ground Zero for the most ardent eclipse watchers.
The Tomaszewskis started thinking ahead to Eclipse Day almost as soon as they opened their distillery when a college professor from California stopped by for a visit. “He asked me ‘do you know what going to happen here on August 21, 2017,’ and we’re talking…I’m not lying…six, seven years ago, maybe eight,” Paul Tomaszewski said. After he said he’d heard something about an eclipse, the professor said “I’m gonna be right here.” At that point, the Tomaszewskis knew they had to start planning ahead.
“It’s coming…this isn’t something that you plan for and it happens…it’s happening whether you plan for it or not.”
Their distillery is located a mile north of Interstate 24 near the Kentucky-Tennessee border, and is surrounded by corn fields and narrow two-lane roads likely to be jammed with tourists. The Tomaszewskis started serious planning five years ago in cooperation with Christian County officials in nearby Hopkinsville, which is expecting thousands of visitors as well. The distillery has been designated as one of the county’s several official viewing areas for the eclipse, with an eye aimed at spreading visitor traffic out as much as possible. The fields around the distillery will be filled with campers coming from California, New York, Canada, and other countries – filling weekend campsites that sold out weeks ago at $400 for a 20 foot by 30 foot tent campsite and $600 for larger campsites capable of holding a recreational vehicle.
MB Roland is hosting the two-day Kentucky Bourbon Mashoree festival with 15 other Kentucky distillers this weekend, followed by the eclipse viewing party on Monday with a crowd projected at between five and eight thousand people. Thousands of pairs of safety glasses will be handed out in advance of the eclipse, and Christian County sheriff’s deputies will be directing traffic and providing overnight security for the campground.
The Tomaszewskis have also taken one other factor into account: etiquette. There will be live music throughout the day on Monday, but the bands will shut down as eclipse time nears around 1:20pm local time. However, it’s not the music that has Paul Tomaszewski worried…it’s the cell phones.
“The biggest thing is going to be to get people to make sure their flashes aren’t on and their phones are turned off to some degree…I know that’s going to be a tall order, but we’re going to do our best, because the idea with the eclipse is you cannot take pictures or video that’s going to replicate what you can see with the naked eye,” he said. Guests will receive a pamphlet explaining eclipse etiquette when they arrive at the distillery, noting that any amount of light can ruin the experience for the people around them. Street lights have already been programmed to not come on during the eclipse, and the distillery’s lights will be turned off in advance.
“Enjoy the two and a half minutes…it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity…you’re never gonna see it again.”
There’s only one thing they can’t control…the weather. Monday’s forecast calls for partly cloudy skies in Christian County.
Links: MB Roland Distillery
August 19, 2017 – Chivas Brothers and the union representing workers at its main Kilmalid blending and bottling plant in Dumbarton, Scotland, have agreed on a new four-year contract. The agreement follows a new round of talks Tuesday and Wednesday in which both sides agreed to compromise on the timetable for harmonizing pay scales between Kilmalid and the nearby Paisley facility. The deal also includes a 1.9% pay increase retroactive to January, and has already been ratified by Unite members.
The union represents engineers and other workers at the Kilmalid plant, and staged a 24-hour walkout on August 7 to protest the disparity in wages between workers doing the same work at both plants. After the walkout, Chivas Brothers CEO Laurent Lacassagne committed to equalizing pay rates beginning in January 2018.
“Staff wanted July ’17, so we have agreed after a couple of negotiating meetings to meet in the middle, and the harmonization will take place on the first of September 2017,” said Unite regional coordinating officer Gordon Casey in a telephone interview for this week’s WhiskyCast. “I think both sides felt it was more reasonable to try and settle it and compromise than to continue with a dispute…we can now get back to a harmonious working relationship with the company,” he said.
The pay disparity dates back to 2004, when the two plants were united under Pernod Ricard’s ownership following a series of whisky industry mergers and acquisitions dating back to the breakups of Seagram’s and Allied Domecq. Each plant has its own separate contracts with Unite and GMB, which primarily represents production workers, and those contracts have different annual dates for pay raises. Unite claimed the disparity for its Kilmalid workers had grown to around £900 ($1,169 USD) this year, and with Paisley workers scheduled to move to Kilmalid when that facility closes in 2019, demanded that Chivas Brothers address the issue in the new contract.
In a statement, Lacassagne praised both sides for open and transparent negotiations. “We’re happy that by working together we have achieved a successful resolution and that we now have a joint agreement on pay that will take us through to 2020,” he said.
Updated August 15, 2017 – Negotiators for Chivas Brothers and its largest labor union will resume contract talks today after workers at the company’s Kilmalid blending and bottling plant in Dumbarton, Scotland, called off a planned strike that was to begin yesterday. Unite regional coordinating officer Gordon Casey confirmed the move in a telephone conversation with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, and said the decision had been made late Friday morning. The resumption of talks follows a 24-hour series of walkouts last Monday and the union’s refusal of all overtime work in recent weeks. Casey declined a recorded interview, saying that the union wanted to remain low-key pending the resumption of talks.
Chivas Brothers also confirmed the move in a statement released Monday via email.
“We can confirm that industrial action by union members at our Kilmalid site has been suspended. Having maintained an open dialogue throughout this process, we have a further meeting scheduled this week and hope to reach an agreement.
“GMB and UNITE members at Paisley, Southern Operations and Northern Operations have now all accepted our pay offer.”
Kilmalid’s workers are the only ones who have rejected two proposed contract offers from the company. The workers have been fighting for a harmonization in pay between sites since 2006, and blame the Pernod Ricard-owned company for what they describe as wage disparities of up to £900 ($1,169 USD) this year between workers at Kilmalid and those holding the same pay grade at the nearby Paisley bottling and blending plant.
Chivas Brothers announced plans earlier this year to close the Paisley site by 2019 and transfer its workers to expanded facilities at Kilmalid. After Monday’s walkouts, a company spokesperson acknowledged to the Daily Record that there are slight differences in basic pay rates between sites, but that part of the difference is based on staggered review dates that exaggerate the disparities. Chivas CEO Laurent Lacassagne reiterated that position in a statement issued after the walkouts, but confirmed the company’s intent to harmonize pay scales starting in January.
“It is not the case that we told employees in 2006 that we would harmonise pay across the Paisley and Kilmalid sites. We did commit to harmonising a number of benefits, and did so in 2007.
“With regards to the current pay harmonisation proposal, it was Chivas Brothers who actively proposed this between Kilmalid and Paisley for the first time late last year and we have committed to bringing forward the harmonisation of pay rates to January 2018.
“The figure quoted regarding the difference in pay between our Paisley and Kilmalid sites is entirely inaccurate. Our Kilmalid and Paisley sites have different salary review dates meaning there are periods in the year where pay differences are exaggerated. While there is a slight difference across sites in terms of basic pay, as previously stated, we have already agreed to bring forward the harmonisation of pay to January 2018.
“We want to reiterate that overall pay levels for these employees are highly competitive and, in addition, we expect the majority of basic salaries at Kilmalid to increase by 11.6% over the duration of the three and half years of the pay deal.”
Unite members at Paisley have already ratified a new contract with the company that will guarantee them positions at Kilmalid after their site closes in 2019.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a statement from Chivas Brothers.
August 3, 2017 – While craft beer lovers may be lamenting the sale of San Francisco’s Anchor Steam beer to Japan’s Sapporo Holdings, craft spirits lovers will be able to rejoice. Anchor’s principal owners, Tony Foglio and Keith Greggor, are splitting Anchor Brewing & Distilling in two with the deal and will retain Anchor’s distillery and its spirits brands under the standalone Anchor Distilling Company name. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“The distilling side of the business has been growing rapidly, and along with the brewing side of the business that has been competing in a very, very crowded and challenging market,” Anchor CEO and President Dennis Carr said in a telephone interview for this week’s WhiskyCast. “The decision was that if we could invest more against distilling, that was the side of the business that we could really accelerate.”
The sale includes Anchor’s current facilities in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, and is expected to be completed at the end of August. Anchor’s current distilling operations are intertwined with the brewery, and according to Carr, Anchor Distilling will start searching for a site to build a new facility of its own.
“We’ll still stay in that same space and continue to distill in that same space as a tenant of Sapporo until we can build a new distillery someplace in San Francisco,” Carr said, noting that the move could take between one and three years. The distillery currently produces Old Potrero rye whiskey and Junipero Gin along with other spirits.
In addition to its own brands, Anchor Distilling is also the U.S. importer for Taiwan’s Kavalan whiskies and Japan’s Nikka whiskies, along with a wide range of other global spirits brands. Carr noted the distilling and distribution side of Anchor’s business has grown by 500% since 2010, with both Asian whisky brands playing a key role in that growth.
“Nikka is still growing exponentially for us…we’re doing fantastic with it,” Carr said. Supply shortages forced Nikka to withdraw many of its whiskies with age statements from the market in 2015 in favor of so-called “no age statement” expressions, but Carr credits the Asahi-owned distiller with handling the issue well. “We were able to develop Coffey Grain and then ultimately Coffey Malt, which are the two main non-age statement brands that do the majority of the volume for us, and they’re able to supply us, so we continue to grow the brand here in the U.S.,” he said. As for Kavalan, Carr credits the award-winning Taiwanese whisky with being one of the most exciting parts of the company’s portfolio. “It looks and feels an awful lot like Nikka did a few years ago, where people are now discovering Taiwanese whisky and they’re learning how fantastic it is.”
Anchor Distilling is also the exclusive U.S. importer for several of the brands owned by Berry Bros. & Rudd, including the highly-regarded Blue Hanger blended Scotch whisky. The London-based retailer and bottler has owned a minority stake in Anchor for several years, and according to Carr, will retain that interest after the separation of Anchor’s brewing and distilling businesses when the Sapporo deal closes. The company took a hit earlier this year when Berry Bros. & Rudd sold ownership of The Glenrothes single malt Scotch to Edrington, which then took the brand under its Edrington Americas division. The company is privately-held and does not release financial reports.
Anchor was also responsible for developing a nationwide presence for Seattle’s Westland Distillery and its single malt whiskies, but lost that brand after Westland was sold to Rémy Cointreau last December. Once again, it was a case where the buyer brought Westland into its own in-house distribution network rather than rely on an outside firm.
Carr expects the company’s owners to invest heavily in building its portfolio of spirits brands following the sale, and credited the overall growth of the U.S. spirits category as one of the key reasons for the decision to leave the beer business. The distilling division was originally an outgrowth of Anchor’s beer business, which was saved by Fritz Maytag in 1965 to keep it from going into bankruptcy. In 1993, Maytag decided to go against the conventional wisdom at that time and start making rye whiskey in what was at the time the only pot still distillery operating in the United States. Maytag retired in 2010 and sold the company to Foglio and Greggor.
Links: Anchor Distilling
July 31, 2017 – Douglas Laing & Co. will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2018, and the family-owned Scotch Whisky blender and independent bottler hopes to be able to add the word “distiller” to its resume by the end of 2018. Fred Laing, the son of company founder Fred Douglas Laing, and his daughter Cara have unveiled plans for a new $14.1 million (USD) distillery and company headquarters on Pacific Quay along the River Clyde.
“It’s not been any secret for a long time we’ve had aspirations of becoming a distiller,” Cara Laing said in a telephone interview for this week’s WhiskyCast. “Left to our own devices, we would have quietly gone about our business behind the scenes making this all happen,” she said. However, the Scottish Government mooted that plan Friday when it announced that Douglas Laing had received a $1.13 million (USD) grant for the project through the Food Processing, Marketing, and Co-Operation Program. “Given we had the support of the Scottish Government, we decided we should announce it at the time the grants were being announced,” Laing said. In addition to the distillery, the project will include a bottling hall, visitors center, bar, and bistro along with Douglas Laing’s offices.
“We’re outgrowing our very quaint Victorian townhouse that we’re in just now,” Laing said, noting that the project will bring the entire company into a single site. “I know from previous whisky experience it works well…when I was at Morrison Bowmore having head office and bottling within walking distance was a huge advantage.” While most of Douglas Laing’s extensive inventory of casks will continue to be stored off-site, Laing said the new facility will have a dedicated warehousing space for some of the company’s rarest casks of whisky from Port Ellen, Macallan, and other distilleries.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Cara Laing:
The new distillery will supply single malt whisky for Douglas Laing’s future needs, and will be bottled under a brand to be determined in the near future. Laing’s “Remarkable Regional Malts” range of blended malts includes Scallywag (Speyside), Big Peat (Islay), Timorous Beastie (Highland), and The Epicurean (Lowland). As Glasgow is located in Scotland’s Lowland whisky region, whisky from the new distillery could eventually be used in the blend for The Epicurean. However, Cara Laing emphasized that the distillery will only be part of the company’s future.
“We want to remain an independent bottler with a focus on the likes of the Old Particular brand as well as our regional malts,” she said. “We continue to aggressively fill (casks) with a number of the distillers across all Scotland’s regions in order to maintain and aggressively grow those brands over the years.”
The new distillery is expected to be completed in late 2018, but likely not until after the other branch of the Laing family opens its own distillery. Brothers Fred and Stewart Laing split up their longtime partnership in 2013 and divided up Douglas Laing’s brands, casks, and other assets, with Fred keeping the company name. Stewart took the bottling hall and used his share of the assets to form Hunter Laing and Co. with his sons Scott and Andrew. Construction began earlier this year on Hunter Laing’s new Ardnahoe Distillery on Islay, with distilling expected to begin in mid-2018. Hunter Laing brought longtime Islay distiller and blender Jim McEwan on board as Ardnahoe’s production manager, and Cara Laing said her side of the family will take a similar approach.
“We’re aware we are not distillers, so we are seeking some external guidance on that front,” Laing said, though she and her father have already decided on the kind of whisky they want to make. “Yes, it will be a Lowland, but it will have more of a chunky, meaty Speyside character…we’ll focus on Sherry butt maturation, so not your archetypal light, elegant, grassy Lowlander in style – much more of a thick, oily mouthfeel with more of that Sherry character coming through.”
The government’s grant program also includes funding for another distillery project in Speyside on the site of the old Coleburn Distillery south of Elgin. Coleburn Investments Limited was awarded a grant of around $325,000 USD for construction and equipment to build a “boutique distillery.” Brothers Dale and Mark Winchester have been trying to develop the site since 2004, and have submitted a series of proposals to local officials over the years, including one last autumn that would see some of the distillery’s buildings converted into a luxury hotel. Coleburn opened in 1896, and was closed in 1985 by United Distillers (now Diageo) as one of the many distilleries shut down between 1983 and 1985 during the whisky recession of that period.