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!
October 15, 2018 – Long before master blenders became celebrities within the spirits industry, Tom Jago was creating spirits that are regarded as global icons to this day. He was responsible for developing Johnnie Walker Oldest – known today as Blue Label, along with the original Classic Malts range of single malts, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Malibu Rum, and many others during his career. Tom Jago passed away Friday at the age of 93, just months after the death of his wife Penelope.
His drinks career spanned six decades, starting with Diageo predecessor IDV. In 1977, as IDV’s head of global innovation, he teamed up with marketing guru James Espey in what became a lifelong partnership. Over the years, Jago and Espey worked together at United Distillers, where Jago selected the whiskies and Espey created the marketing programs behind the Classic Malts and Johnnie Walker Oldest. At Chivas, where Espey was the company’s chairman and brought in Jago to run new product development, they created the iconic Chivas Regal 18.
In a statement announcing his friend and partner’s death, James Espey noted that today’s drinks industry owes a lasting debt to Tom Jago for his decades of work. “Today, a significant proportion of the profits of both Diageo and Pernod Ricard are due to the creative genius of Tom Jago. He never received a bonus for his work but he genuinely loved what he did until his very last day,” Espey noted. “Only a fortnight ago he was teaching his granddaughter Emily all about the Scotch Whisky industry, including a tutored tasting, before her WSET exam!”
“If you aren’t having fun doing it, you can go and be a hedge funder or something…I’ve had fun all the time I’ve been in since 1963, and I’m still having a lot of fun.” – Tom Jago
In 2007, at an age where most people would have gratefully retired after a long and successful career, Jago and Espey teamed up with Peter Fleck to create The Last Drop Distillers in 2007 to bottle small unique parcels of spirits. Their first release came in 2008 with The Last Drop 1960 Blended Scotch, and Tom Jago continued to serve as the company’s president until his death. Both men brought their daughters, Rebecca Jago and Beanie Espey, into management roles with the company, which became a unit of Sazerac in 2016.
“Tom and I have worked together for 40-odd years,” James Espey said in a 2008 WhiskyCast interview with both men. “If you like, I painted the big picture while Tom is the craftsman who puts in all the details and makes it happen, so we complement each other.” Together, they ignored market research and went with their gut instincts. “Nobody ever loved any of the brands we created,” Jago said at the time – until the profits started rolling in.
In addition to his daughter Rebecca, Tom Jago is survived by three other children, including Berry Bros. & Rudd CEO Dan Jago, along with six grandchildren and a brother.
Links: The Last Drop Distillers
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.