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!
November 14, 2017 – Police in Paris are investigating what may well be one of the largest whisky thefts on record after an audacious team of burglars struck at the legendary La Maison du Whisky shop Sunday night. According to media reports, the thieves broke through the store’s metal shutter and door, then took 69 bottles of rare whiskies valued at €683,000 ($793,670 USD). Not only did the thieves manage to not alert residents of Rue d’Anjou in the city’s 8th arrondissement, but La Maison du Whisky is located directly across the street from the British Embassy, which is usually under tight security and often guarded by police officers. The neighborhood is within several blocks of the Élysée Palace, and in addition to the British Embassy, is home to numerous other embassies.
Among the bottles stolen was one of the rarest Japanese whiskies in the world: a 1960 Karuizawa single cask bottling known as “The Squirrel” and billed as the oldest Japanese single malt ever bottled. Only 41 bottles were released in 2013, when the whisky was bottled after being matured for 52 years in cask #5627, an ex-Sherry butt. Each of the 41 bottles has a different name, based upon the character on the unique “netsuke” that hangs from the bottle’s neck.
Estimates of the stolen bottle’s value have been as high as €195,000 ($229,800 USD) in the aftermath of the break-in. However, other bottles from the same cask have gone for much less at auction. Last April, WhiskyAuctioneer.com sold “The Archer” from the same cask in an online auction for £100,100 ($131,561 USD). Another bottle from the same cask, known as “The Cockerel,” brought a high bid of $117,744 at a 2015 Bonhams auction in Hong Kong.
La Maison du Whisky is one of Paris’s oldest whisky shops, having opened on Rue d’Anjou in 1968, 12 years after Georges Bénitah founded the family-owned spirits importer and distributor. His son, Thierry Bénitah, is the current managing director of LMDW, which also operates a second shop in Paris’s Carrefour de l’Odéon and locations in Singapore and Reunion Island. The company is also the promoter of the annual Whisky Live Paris festival held each September and publishes the French edition of Whisky Magazine.
WhiskyCast has contacted Thierry Bénitah for an interview, and this story will be updated with additional information.
Links: La Maison du Whisky
November 10, 2017 – Kentucky’s Bourbon boom is getting another shot in the arm, as Stoli Group has now officially confirmed its widely-rumored plans to build a distillery in Bardstown to make its Kentucky Owl Bourbon, while developing a full range of American whiskies to complement the brand it acquired in January from hotelier and whisky blender Dixon Dedman. When completed, the Kentucky Owl Park will be not just a distillery, but a destination complete with its own hotel, convention center, art gallery, and even a concert hall. The division of Luxembourg-based SPI group has acquired 420 acres of land, including the current Cedar Creek Quarry site, and will begin construction on its first rickhouses and the distillery in early 2018.
“It’s hard to surprise somebody with a distillery…there are a lot of great sites,” said Dmitry Efimov, who heads Stoli Group’s American Whiskey Division. “We decided to approach it from a slightly different angle. We want to build a state-of-the-art distillery…but we also want to take it as a destination to a completely different level. We want to have a site that will be known way beyond Kentucky, and way beyond the United States, actually,” he said in a telephone interview.
Much of the distillery site has been used as a stone quarry for the last 70 years, and the plans call for the pits to be turned into 200 acres of lakes that will provide recreational opportunities along with a water supply for the distillery. In addition, the old train station on the quarry site will be refurbished, with plans to have the “My Old Kentucky Dinner Train” make regular stops at the station once the distillery opens in 2020. According to Efimov, the initial $150 million dollar construction phase will include the distillery and production facilities, with an overall timeline of eight to ten years for the convention center, a hotel, and other facilities. Efimov declined to provide an estimate for the project’s overall cost.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Dmitry Efimov:
The Kentucky Owl Park site will span both sides of Highway 245, which runs along the north and eastern edges of Bardstown, and is close to Luxco’s new Lux Row Distillery, which is scheduled to begin production in early 2018. The distillery is also about a mile from the Bardstown Bourbon Company, which opened in September 2016, and is another major investment in Bardstown’s economic development program centered on its history as the “Bourbon Capital of the World.” In a news release, Bardstown Mayor Dick Heaton praised the move. “This new investment is a testament that there is no better place to make bourbon, educate and entertain visitors than Bardstown, Kentucky. The announcement comes as a result of much hard work by many people in the public and private sector here. The City of Bardstown is proud to be a part of this exciting project,” he said.
Kentucky Owl is Stoli Group’s entry into the American Whiskey market. The company is most well-known for its Stolichnaya Vodka, but also operates a tequila distillery in Mexico and a rum distillery in Louisiana. It bought Kentucky Owl in January from Dixon Dedman, who operates the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, Kentucky with his family. His great-great grandfather, C.M. Dedman, started distilling Kentucky Owl in 1879 and made it until 1917, when Prohibition forced the distillery to close and the U.S. Government seized Dedman’s maturing stocks of whiskey. Dixon Dedman released the first modern bottling of Kentucky Owl in 2014, and joined Stoli Group as its master blender as part of the January deal. Earlier this fall, Stoli Group released the first bottling of Kentucky Owl Straight Rye Whiskey, along with the seventh batch of Kentucky Owl Straight Bourbon.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and other state officials pledged their support for the Kentucky Owl Park project during a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday at the quarry in Bardstown. The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority has already approved a $2 million package of tax credits and incentives based on an estimated 77 new jobs that will be created when the distillery opens.
Dublin’s Liberties neighborhood was once the center of the whiskey universe at a time when Irish Whiskey ruled the world more than 100 years ago. Changing tastes, wars, and economics ended that, and the last heritage distillery in the Liberties closed in 1976.
Four decades later, the resurgence of Irish Whiskey has led to a resurgence of distilling in the Liberties, with two distilleries now in production and two more under construction as the Liberties reclaims its place in the whiskey world. We’ll explore that revival with a visit to Dublin on this episode of WhiskyCast HD!
Editor’s note: Production support for this episode was provided by Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard. In accordance with our ethics policy, WhiskyCast retains full editorial control over the content of this episode.
October 30, 2017 – Single Malt Scotch Whiskies are one of the few bright spots in the latest report on Scotland’s whisky exports from the Scotch Whisky Association. The trade group’s analysis of export data from HM Revenue & Customs for the first half of 2017 shows a 7 percent increase in exports of Single Malts during the period, with an estimated value of £479 million ($631.2 million USD). Single Malts now account for more than 25 percent of the value of all Scotch Whisky exports – an all-time high.
Overall Scotch Whisky exports increased in value to £1.8 billion ($2.37 billion USD), up 3.4 percent from a year ago. While that would appear to be a positive gain, a closer look at the data indicates reasons for concern among industry leaders.
“It’s quite a mixed picture,” said Rosemary Gallagher of the SWA. “Things are looking very positive in terms of value – some large markets are up in value, such as the USA, China, and Japan, but there were some markets which didn’t perform quite so well in part to political and economic headwinds.” France, the number one market in export volume, fell in both areas with a 6.8 percent decrease in the number of bottles shipped and a 0.2 percent decrease in the value of those bottles. Overall, the volume of Scotch Whisky exports fell by two percent during the first half of the year, despite the Brexit-induced plunge in the British pound’s value against other world currencies that made Scotch Whisky more attractive on the export market.
While part of the change can be attributed to consumers switching to higher-end Blended Scotch and Single Malts, the SWA’s Gallagher expressed the industry’s growing concern over the decline in volume. “We’re looking now to address that fall in volume to create some more growth there as well,” she said in a telephone interview. The association has been arguing for a reduction in taxes on spirits when Chancellor Philip Hammond releases the British government’s autumn budget next month. Hammond’s spring budget imposed a 3.9 percent increase in spirits taxes, and UK consumers responded by buying a million fewer bottles of Scotch Whisky during the first half of the year.
“That now sees Scotch Whisky taxed at 80 percent – that’s 8-0 percent per bottle in the UK market,” Gallagher said. “That very high level of tax is slowing growth in the UK…it’s an issue we’d like to address with an excise duty cut in the budget next month.” The SWA argues that whisky producers need a strong domestic market to help justify additional investment that would benefit both domestic and export sales.
The United States posted gains in both volume and value, with a 10.5 percent increase in volume to 58.7 million bottles of Scotch Whisky and an 8.6 percent gain in value to £387.9 million ($511.8 million USD), remaining the world leader in that category. Despite the drop in volume, France remains the overwhelming leader in exports by volume with 85.9 million bottles shipped during the first half of the year. Spain’s ongoing economic problems led to declines in both volume and value for one of Scotch Whisky’s consistent “top ten” export markets, while Brazil, South Africa, and India also posted declines in both categories.
In looking at the countries with significant exports, it is necessary to consider whether those countries have a large domestic market for Scotch Whisky or serve as a trans-shipment point, since Customs data generally tracks only the initial export country. For instance, Singapore serves as a hub for exports to the Asia-Pacific region, and reported increases in both volume (+5.6%) and value (+12.9%). The United Arab Emirates, which imposes strict limits on domestic alcohol consumption but also serves as a key shipping hub, showed a significant decline in Scotch Whisky exports with a 22.7 percent decrease in volume and a 17.4 percent decrease in value.
One surprising statistic that jumps out from the data. Latvia imported 11.9 million bottles (+78.8%) of Scotch Whisky during the first half of 2017, enough to provide each one of the country’s 1.96 million men, women, and children with six bottles of Scotch. Presumably, the Latvian government has not implemented a “whisky welfare” scheme, and it is likely that almost all of that whisky made its way to Russia by way of Latvia. For the record, Russia does not show up on the SWA’s ranking of the top 20 countries by export volume or value, largely because of trade sanctions imposed by the European Union and other Western countries over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
October 22, 2017 – New York’s nickname is the Empire State, and of course, that is where New York City’s landmark Empire State Building gets its name from. While New York’s growing community of distillers has yet to achieve King Kong-like status, a handful of rye whiskey makers hopes their new Empire Rye style of whiskey can eventually become one of the whisky world’s 800-pound gorillas.
“Our hope is that this stands up in time to all of the great whiskies of the world, and is categorically respected and uttered in the same breath as Kentucky Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, Scotch Single Malt, Japanese whisky…Empire Rye,” says Christopher Briar Williams of Coppersea Distilling. His Hudson Valley distillery was one of the six founding distilleries behind the Empire Rye standard, which is not a specific brand of whiskey but a style of whiskey with specific parameters that allows each distillery its own creative flexibility.
The first whiskies certified as Empire Rye were introduced Saturday during an event at the New York Distilling Company in Brooklyn. In addition to Coppersea and New York Distilling Company, Black Button Distilling, Finger Lakes Distilling, Kings County Distilling, Tuthilltown Spirits, and Van Brunt Stillhouse have released whiskies that conform to the Empire Rye standard. Taconic Distillery and Yankee Distillers have whiskies maturing in their warehouses that will be released when they meet the standard.
“I think they’re on the Rye-ght track,” longtime distiller and industry consultant Dave Pickerell said with a laugh. Pickerell works with New York’s Hillrock Estate Distillery, which has released rye whiskies in the past but has not become part of the Empire Rye project. He noted that Colonial-era distillers were making rye whiskey long before Bourbon became the dominant American-made whiskey style.
In New York, rye remained the predominant style of whiskey for the state’s distillers right up until Prohibition brought an end to whiskey production in the state. The industry only began to come alive again when Tuthilltown Spirits co-founder Ralph Erenzo lobbied state legislators to create a special class of licenses for farm distilleries in 2007. Distilleries operating under those licenses must use grain or fruits grown within New York for at least 75 percent of their production, and the Empire Rye creators decided to make that the cornerstone of their standard.
“In deciding what a New York State whiskey should be, and having determined that that whiskey should be a rye, it was fairly simple for us to kind of look at that and say ‘oh, if we have to use 75 percent New York grain anyway, let’s require that the entire 75 percent be New York State-grown ryes’,” Williams said in a telephone interview for this week’s WhiskyCast. The Empire Rye standard is stricter than the federal government’s rye whiskey standard, which requires only that rye make up at least 51 percent of the mash bill (recipe).
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Christopher Williams:
The standards for Empire Rye are based largely on the U.S. Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, with two exceptions. The Empire Rye standard only requires two years of maturation instead of the law’s four-year minimum and does not specify that a conforming whiskey be bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV).
“We all liked the language of the Bottled-in-Bond Act in terms of insisting upon the provenance of the whiskey in terms of the distillery…so basically, you can’t source Empire Rye,” Williams said. “The authenticity of the whiskey in terms of where it’s coming from cannot be fudged.” Of course, an Empire Rye whiskey that has been matured for at least four years and is bottled at 50% ABV could legally use the “Bottled-in-Bond” designation.
The Empire Rye standard is not an official standard of identity as defined under federal regulations, but is owned by the Empire Rye Whiskey Association, a partnership of the founding distilleries and those who have signed on over the two years of development leading up to the public introduction. New York State has more than 100 licensed distilleries, though it is estimated that only between 70 and 80 are actively distilling at this time. At least four additional distillers have committed to distilling whiskey that will meet the Empire Rye standard, and any of the state’s distillers who choose to are eligible to have their whiskies certified as Empire Rye.
“We’re New Yorkers, and we love New York,” Williams said. “This is kind of our love poem to New York, to the extent that whiskey is our art, this is our gift to the state, and hopefully … to the world.”
Links: Empire Rye Whiskey Association | Coppersea Distilling | Black Button Distilling | Finger Lakes Distilling | Kings County Distillery | New York Distilling Company | Taconic Distillery | Tuthilltown Spirits | Van Brunt Stillhouse | Yankee Distillers
The boom in Bourbon and American Whiskey sales isn’t just a North American phenomenon. Whisky lovers around the world are demanding Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, and other whiskies from legendary and new distilleries alike, as we found during The Whisky Show in London. Part of the demand is being created by the cocktail culture, as American whiskies are key to making both classic and modern cocktails, but there’s also a demand for the unique flavors of American whiskies, too.
Editor’s note: Production support for this episode was provided by Speciality Drinks Ltd. In accordance with our ethics policy, WhiskyCast retains full editorial control over the content of this episode.