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!

Master Blender Rachel Barrie to Join Brown-Forman as Scotch Whisky Maker

Brown-Forman's new whisky maker, Rachel Barrie. Image courtesy Rachel Barrie/Twitter. February 20, 2017 – Brown-Forman has now confirmed the hiring of veteran master blender Rachel Barrie as the new whisky maker for its Scotch Whisky portfolio. News of Barrie’s impending departure from Beam Suntory’s Morrison Bowmore Distillers unit in Scotland spread widely through the Scotch Whisky industry last week, as reported on this week’s episode of WhiskyCast. Barrie’s last day at Morrison Bowmore will be this coming Friday, and she will begin her new role on March 1.

Barrie will succeed Billy Walker, who founded the BenRiach Distillery Company with his South African-based partners in 2004 when they acquired the BenRiach Distillery in Speyside from Chivas Brothers. The company expanded in 2008 with the purchase of GlenDronach Distillery in Aberdeenshire and again in 2013 with a deal to buy Glenglassaugh Distillery in Banffshire. Last year, they sold the company to Brown-Forman in a deal valued at £285 million GBP ($416 million USD).

Billy Walker, master blender for the BenRiach Distillery Company. Photo courtesy BenRiach.In addition to serving as managing director for the company, Billy Walker was also the master blender for the single malts from all three distilleries, winning numerous awards in whisky competitions around the world. In a news release, Brown-Forman chief production officer Alex Alvarez noted that Walker will stay with the company during the transition. “We are very pleased that Rachel Barrie is joining our team and will continue the excellent Scotch whisky-making tradition fostered by the venerable Billy Walker. We take great comfort in knowing that Billy will continue with our team over the coming months to ensure a smooth transition for Rachel,” he said. Brown-Forman has not addressed whether Walker will continue in a management role after the transition is completed. 

Barrie joined Suntory-owned Morrison Bowmore Distillers in 2012 before the company’s acquisition of Beam, Inc. and its merger into Beam Suntory. Her principal responsibility was working with Bowmore, Auchentoshan, and Glen Garioch, but also helped with whisky creation for the Laphroaig and Ardmore single malts and Teacher’s Blended Scotch Whisky. Ron Welsh, Beam Suntory’s senior manager for inventory management and spirit quality, praised Barrie’s contributions in a company statement.

“We are delighted for Rachel, and we know she will be a great asset to BenRiach. Rachel has made a lasting impact during her time at MBD and Beam Suntory, playing an important role in the creation of some of our most innovative and premium whiskies. We wish her all the best as she moves to her new position.”

Before joining Morrison Bowmore, Barrie spent 16 years at The Glenmorangie Company as a member of the company’s whisky creation team for the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg single malts, along with the now-discontinued Baillie Nicol Jarvie blend. She began her career after graduating from the University of Edinburgh as a research scientist at the Scotch Whisky Research Institute.

Links: Brown-Forman | The BenRiach Distillery Company | Beam Suntory

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Dr. Jim Swan: 1941-2017

Dr. Jim Swan and King Car Distillery's Ian Chang examine a fermenter at the distillery. File photo ©2011, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.February 15, 2017 – Most whisky connoisseurs will likely have never heard of Dr. Jim Swan, but the longtime whisky industry consultant helped shape many of the whiskies we enjoy today. Dr. Swan passed away Tuesday at his home in Edinburgh at the age of 75, leaving behind a legacy of whisky excellence. “He will be sadly missed by all who knew him,” his daughter Caroline said in an email today.

While he was known most for his work with Taiwan’s King Car Distillery and its award-winning Kavalan single malt whiskies, Dr. Swan worked with distilleries around the world, including the Welsh Whisky Company (Penderyn), Israel’s Milk & Honey Distillery, the Dublin Distillery Company, the fledgling Lindores Abbey Distillery in Scotland, and countless others. His special touch was in getting whisky from new distilleries to have maturity and complexity well beyond its years.

“There is a secret, there is a technique, but I’m not going to share it,” he said with a laugh during a 2014 WhiskyCast interview. “It’s a case of optimizing each stage of the process for being ready at a young age.” Dr. Swan earned his degrees from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and spent ten years at Pentlands Scotch Whisky Research, which later became the Scotch Whisky Research Institute. He later became one of the partners in the Tatlock & Thompson consultancy before founding his own firm in 2002.

In addition to his academic credentials, Dr. Swan humorously described himself as a graduate of the “school of hard knocks” and the “University of Life.” He was a guest on the very first episode of WhiskyCast in 2005, and was always generous with his time to answer questions about the science behind whisky. Please join us in sending our condolences to his family and friends.

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“Constructive Discussion” Between Beam Suntory, Windsor Mayor

The Canadian Club Heritage Centre in Windsor, Ontario. File photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.February 14, 2017 – Windor, Ontario Mayor Drew Dilkens is back home after meeting with Beam Suntory executives in Chicago Monday hoping to keep his city’s Canadian Club Heritage Centre open. The mayor met with CEO Matt Shattock and other company executives in what Beam Suntory termed a “constructive discussion.” However, there appears to be no change in the company’s plan to close the Canadian Club brand home to public tours March 31.

This is the complete statement Beam Suntory provided to WhiskyCast via email:

“Beam Suntory and Mayor Dilkens had a constructive discussion about the Canadian Club Heritage Centre, and Beam Suntory looks forward to further dialogue about ways that they might be able to work together to support the Windsor community and Canadian Club’s unique role in the city’s history.”  

WhiskyCast has contacted Mayor Dilkens to follow up on the meeting, and we will update this story as more information becomes available. As we reported last week, Beam Suntory plans to reinvest the money it spends on the Heritage Centre into other promotional efforts for Canadian Club, both in Windsor and globally. The museum attracts around 15,000 visitors annually, and the Canadian Club brand has played a major role in Windsor’s history since Hiram Walker opened his distillery in Windsor in 1858.

The Heritage Center occupies the old Hiram Walker & Sons headquarters building adjacent to the Hiram Walker Distillery along the Detroit River. Beam Suntory’s predecessor, Fortune Brands, acquired the Canadian Club brand in 2005 as part of the breakup of Allied Domecq. However, Pernod Ricard’s Corby Spirit & Wine unit would up with the distillery, and signed a 99-year lease with Beam for the headquarters building along with a long-term production contract to supply whisky from the distillery for Canadian Club.

While Beam Suntory has confirmed that – barring a change in plans – it will terminate its lease on the Heritage Centre building at the end of 2017, Corby executive Ross Hendry told WhiskyCast in an email that his company has not received any notice from Beam Suntory on those plans. According to Hendry, it is “too early to speculate on any future plans or activities” for the building housing the Heritage Center. However, Hendry emphasized that Corby and the Hiram Walker Distillery, which produces Corby’s J.P. Wiser’s and other Canadian whisky brands, “have always been – and always will be – committed to Windsor.” Corby has never opened the distillery to public tours, but recently opened a Wiser’s training center at the distillery that could eventually become the base for a tour program.

This story will be updated with more information as it becomes available.

Links: Beam Suntory | Canadian Club | Corby Spirit & Wine


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Beam Suntory Closing Canadian Club Heritage Centre in Windsor

The Canadian Club Heritage Centre in Windsor, Ontario. File photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.February 10, 2017 – Barring a last-minute change of plans, Beam Suntory will close its brand home for Canadian Club in Windsor, Ontario to tours at the end of March. The Canadian Club Heritage Centre occupies the historic building used originally as the headquarters for Hiram Walker, who opened his distillery in what is locally referred to as “Walkerville” in 1858. The visitors center attracts around 15,000 guests annually, according to the Windsor Star, which first reported the company’s plans.

“Certainly, it was a complete shock to me and I was terribly disappointed,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said in a telephone interview, noting that he had only been notified of the decision shortly before Beam Suntory announced it Wednesday. “The history in that brand centre, the history of Hiram Walker and Canadian Club in our community, it runs so deep – it’s the foundation by which so much of this community was built upon,” he said. Dilkens will meet Monday with Beam Suntory CEO Matt Shattock and other executives to make the case for keeping the center open. “I just want to sit down and have a conversation and figure out what is the path forward – how can we work on this together,” he said.

Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Mayor Drew Dilkens:

Beam Suntory declined to make executives available for interviews, but in a statement provided to WhiskyCast, confirmed that tours will end at the Heritage Centre on March 31 while contracts for previously booked weddings will be honored through the end of the year. The Heritage Centre is a popular site for weddings, corporate meetings, receptions, and other special events in addition to serving as a display for the brand’s extensive archive of historical records and artifacts. A Beam Suntory spokeswoman told WhiskyCast in an email the company will retain ownership of that material with plans to use it “to help promote the brand’s rich history and heritage, and to support the Windsor community.”

Canadian Club brand ambassador and Heritage Centre manager Tish Harcus during the 2016 Victoria Whisky Festival. Photo ©2016, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.One full-time employee and five part-time employees will lose their jobs when the center closes, while longtime Heritage Center manager Tish Harcus will stay on as the curator for the historical archives and Beam Suntory’s Canadian Whisky Brand Ambassador. 

The Heritage Centre opened after Beam Suntory’s predecessor, Fortune Brands, acquired the Canadian Club brand in 2005 as part of the breakup of Allied Domecq, and has a complex back story. In the breakup, the distillery went to Pernod Ricard’s Canadian affiliate, Corby Spirit & Wine, along with J.P. Wiser’s and the other brands distilled there. At the time, Fortune Brands signed a 99-year lease for the building that houses the Heritage Centre and a ten-year production contract for whisky from the distillery. While it has never been publicly announced, that contract was apparently extended for an undisclosed length of time, since Beam Suntory’s statement indicates that Canadian Club will continue to be produced in Windsor. Because of the different ownership structure, tours at the Canadian Club Heritage Centre have never been able to include the distillery complex itself, and are limited to the headquarters building.

The building’s future is not clear at this time. According to Mayor Dilkens, the 1894 Renaissance-style building is designated as a heritage property and cannot be torn down or substantially modified without City Council approval. Beam Suntory’s spokeswoman confirmed Friday night that the company intends to terminate its lease at the end of the year and return the building to Corby. Corby has been raising the profile of the J.P. Wiser’s brand in recent years, and recently opened a brand center at the distillery to use for training purposes with the idea of opening it to the public in the future. WhiskyCast has contacted Corby executives to inquire about future plans for the building, and this story will be updated with more details as available.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information on Beam Suntory’s plans to terminate its lease at the end of 2017.

Links: Beam Suntory | Canadian Club | J.P. Wiser’s


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2016 Another Year of Growth for U.S. Spirits Industry

Distilled Spirits Council chief economist David Ozgo presents the group's annual economic briefing February 7, 2017 in New York City. Photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.February 7, 2017 – Led by the whiskey industry, U.S. spirits sales recorded another year of growth during 2016, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Revenue was up by 4.5 percent over 2015 to $25.2 billion (USD), while volume grew by 2.4 percent to 220 million (9-liter) cases as consumers continued a trend of purchasing more expensive premium spirits. While vodkas account for one out of every three bottles of spirits sold in the U.S., American whiskies continued to show increasing sales across all price categories for an overall 6.8 percent increase in volume during the year.

“We’ve added two billion dollars in revenue just from the North American whiskey market since 2010, growing in 2016 from $5.4 billion up to $5.7 billion,” Distilled Spirits Council chief economist David Ozgo told reporters and analysts at the trade body’s annual economic briefing in New York City. That figure includes not only Bourbon, Tennessee, and Rye whiskies, but Canadian whiskies and blended whiskies as well. The American-made whiskies showed significant levels of growth again in 2016, with revenue growth of 7.7 percent to $3.1 billion, while Canadian whiskies grew at a 5.8 percent rate to $2 billion. The value of those Canadian whiskies outpaced the volume (2.4 percent growth) on increased sales of premium whiskies.

Listen to the entire Distilled Spirits Council economic briefing:

Distilled Spirits Council CEO Kraig Naasz speaks at the group's annual economic briefing February 7, 2017 in New York City. Photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.Ireland’s whiskies continued to show strong growth in the world’s largest market for Irish Whiskey exports, with an 18.7 percent increase in volume to nearly 4 million cases and a 19.8 percent increase in value – again on increased sales of higher-end whiskies. Blended Scotch sales were down slightly in volume, but showed a slight increase in value while Single Malt Scotch revenues grew by more than four percent despite less than a one percent increase in volume.

On the export side, American whiskies continue to account for around 70 percent of all U.S. spirits exports, and grew by 10.2 percent over 2015. However, the stronger dollar cut into the value of those exports by nearly 9 percent, reducing the value of American whiskey exports for the year to slightly less than $1 billion. Canada remains the largest export market for U.S. spirits in both value and volume, while Vietnam was the fastest-growing export market during 2016 following a series of industry promotional efforts in that country.

Editor’s note: The entire Distilled Spirits Council 2017 economic report can be downloaded from our web site, along with the supporting data supplement

Links: Distilled Spirits Council

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Bourbon Boom Creating Economic Boom in Kentucky

February 7, 2017 – The global Bourbon boom is paying off in Kentucky, perhaps more than ever before in the Commonwealth’s history. According to a new study released today by the Kentucky Distillers Association, the Bourbon industry is easily Kentucky’s fastest-growing industry with an annual economic impact of $8.5 billion. The report is the latest in a series of economic studies conducted by the University of Louisville Urban Studies Institute and tracks not only the actual spending by distilleries and whiskey producers, but the “spin-off” effect on other industries that benefit from increasing Bourbon sales worldwide. The researchers found an increase of $1 billion in economic impact and an additional 2,000 distillery-related jobs since their last report was released in October, 2014.

Distillers and their associated trades now account for around 17,500 jobs in Kentucky with an annual payroll of more than $800 million. “We know we’re growing…the distilleries are expanding and adding tourism ventures and other things, but we don’t really realize it until we take a step back and have somebody come in to do an independent study to see how successful we really are,” KDA President Eric Gregory said in a telephone interview.

Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Eric Gregory:

A coppersmith working on components for a still at Vendome Still & Copper Works in Louisville, Kentucky. File photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media

A coppersmith working on a still at Vendome Still & Copper Works in Louisville. File photo: Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media

While the state’s distilleries and their parent companies directly employ around 4,300 workers in Kentucky, the links to other industries such as construction, trucking, cooperages, and agriculture creates a significant “multiplier effect.” According to the research team led by Urban Studies Institute Executive Director Janet Kelly, the only industry in Kentucky with a larger multiplier effect is light truck and utility vehicle manufacturing centered around Ford and Toyota’s assembly plants.

The report was released during a news conference at the State Capitol in Frankfort led by Governor Matt Bevin. “The powerful growth of Kentucky’s Bourbon industry is a testament to our proud history of innovation, engineering and manufacturing,” he said in a statement released by the KDA. “It is a genuine, home grown, only-in-Kentucky success story.” Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) concurred, saying” Kentucky Bourbon is proof that our pro-business tax agenda works.”

This maturation warehouse in Lebanon County is part of the Bourbon industry's $1.2 billion in construction and capital investments. File photo ©2017, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

This maturation warehouse in Lebanon County is part of the Bourbon industry’s $1.2 billion in construction and capital investments. File photo: Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

The industry is in the middle of a $1.2 billion construction boom fueled by tax cuts approved under the administration of former Gov. Steve Beshear in which the so-called “barrel tax” that distillers pay on each barrel of maturing whiskey was offset by income tax credits; the caveat being that the money had to be reinvested in capital projects such as distillery expansions, new maturation warehouses, and visitors centers. Bevin, who took office last year, pledged to continue cutting bureaucratic road blocks to the industry’s expansion, and additional tax reforms could come later this year as Bevin and state lawmakers are considering a special legislative session devoted to rewriting the Commonwealth’s tax code.

The potential for tax reform comes as welcome news for the state’s distillers, as the report also shows that they have a higher tax burden than any of Kentucky’s 536 other industrial sectors. When federal, state, and local taxes are combined, distillers pay 34 cents in taxes for every dollar of output. By comparison, the second highest-taxed industry is amusement parks at around 20 cents for every dollar of output. In addition, Kentucky’s tax rate on spirits is the fifth highest in the nation among the so-called “open market” states where sales of alcoholic beverages are not managed directly by state agencies. The KDA’s Gregory says Gov. Bevin and legislative leaders have asked the industry to suggest areas for reform, noting that “we’re currently working on that with our member distilleries to figure out ‘what do we need, what are the obstacles that are keeping us from reaching our full potential here’, because clearly, 34.4 cents per dollar of output in taxes is staggering.”

The report comes just days after the release of tourism data for 2016 from the state’s distilleries. 889,000 visits were recorded at the major distilleries along the KDA’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail during 2016, a 17 percent increase from 2015. Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, which does not participate in the Bourbon Trail promotion, reported 170,587 visitors during the year – also a 17 percent increase.

Editor’s note: The entire University of Louisville Urban Studies Institute report is available to download from our web site. 

Links: Kentucky Distillers Association | University of Louisville Urban Studies Institute



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