Archive for the ‘Distillery news’ Category

Happy anniversary, Jimmy Russell

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Author - Lew Bryson

Jimmy Russell: 60 years at Wild Turkey

Jimmy Russell: 60 years at Wild Turkey

I was in Kentucky on Tuesday for the grand opening of the new Wild Turkey visitor center. At least, that was the big billing for the day to the press, and Kentucky Governor Beshear was there for the event, as was the head of Campari North America, Jean Jacques Dubau. It was cocktails and toasts all around as we stood in the glass-wrapped structure, high on the bluff over the Kentucky River; the view was tremendous, the whiskey exceptional, and the engagingly open rickhouse-like interior of the center, all raw, unpainted wood and steel supports, was a reflection of the honesty of the product being celebrated. It’s the crowning touch of $100 million worth of expansion and improvements that Campari has made at Wild Turkey, and that kind of investment is noteworthy.

But the real reason I was there, and the real reason people like Fred Noe (Beam), Al Young (Four Roses), Mark Coffman (Alltech’s distiller), Greg Davis (Maker’s Mark), Craig Beam and yes, even Parker Beam (Heaven Hill) were there, was something more momentous. We were celebrating Jimmy Russell’s 60 years with Wild Turkey; a little early, maybe, since he started at Wild Turkey on September 10, 1954…but that just means we’ll get to do it again in five months.

Al Young, Mark Coffman, Craig and Parker Beam, Jimmy, Gov. Beshear, Eddie Russell, Fred Noe, and Greg Davis: some real bourbon firepower

Al Young, Mark Coffman, Craig and Parker Beam, Jimmy, Gov. Beshear, Eddie Russell, Fred Noe, and Greg Davis: some real bourbon firepower

If there was any doubt about how important Jimmy has been to the long-term success of Wild Turkey, the billboard over the river at the west end of the Rt. 62 bridge should dismiss it. “Welcome to the house that Jimmy built.” We toured the new distillery, and Jimmy pointed out the reassuring sameness. The still is built just the same — five feet wide, 52 feet high — as the old one (which is on display in the visitor center with the hatches open so visitors can get a rare look inside a column still), the fermenters are bigger and more numerous (there are twenty 30,000 gallon wells) but still open, the barrels are still air-dried white oak burnt to a #4 ”alligator” char, and the yeast is still grown up fresh from the same strain that was being used in 1954.

The house that Jimmy built

The house that Jimmy built; the new distillery.

So what exactly was it that Jimmy did, if everything is the same? That’s the point: he kept it that way. It wasn’t always easy, and it certainly wasn’t always popular when bourbon sales were sinking badly through the 1980s. But Pernod Ricard went with his solidly stated advice, and it has turned out to be right, much like the oft-quoted advice of Dickel’s first distiller, Ralph Dupps: “Don’t change a damn thing.”

Now, there have been some changes at Wild Turkey, and not just building a big new visitor’s center to replace the old 2-bedroom house that used to serve that function! The entry proof is a little bit higher than it used to be; some are going in as high as 57.5%, though most are going in at 55%, where they used to be down around 52.5%. Eddie Russell (he’s been there for 33 years himself, of course) said he had to get the proof up a bit; he wasn’t getting a high enough proof out of the barrel often enough to make the higher proof Rare Breed and Single Barrel bottlings.

That’s another change: up through the early 1980s, the flagship 101 bottling was the only bourbon they made, along with the rye and the liqueur (which is now bottled as American Honey). More bottlings were added, including the 80 proof bourbon…which is now gone. “Jimmy and I didn’t even drink the 80,” Eddie said. It was 4 ½ years old, the new 81 is about 6 ½ years old (Jimmy likes to add a half year, “an extra season,” to every barrel). The 101 is 7 ½ years old, and the Rare Breed is a mingling of whiskeys between 6 and 10 years old.

IMG_20140415_151622788Which brings us to the new whiskey we got to taste: the Diamond Anniversary, a 91 proof bourbon that’s a mingling of 13 to 16 year old whiskeys. That’s pretty well-aged for Wild Turkey! It was definitely Wild Turkey — hot honey sweetness, a bit smoky, and strongly smooth — but with much more wood character — drying spiciness — than I’ve ever encountered in a Wild Turkey bottling. There’s not a lot of it, and at $125, I believe it’s the most expensive bottling they’ve ever done, but it’s like nothing else you’ve ever had from this distillery.

Did I like it? We tried it at a tasting in the distillery (there’s a small gallery right by the yeast room) along with five other whiskeys, and I not only finished the Diamond, I figured there was nothing to be lost by asking for more. Ask and ye shall receive, it turned out, and I finished that one, too!

It was a pleasure to be there to wish Jimmy the full congratulations he deserves for his long, illustrious run at Wild Turkey. He’s not slowing down, either; Eddie’s feeling the pressure to not retire before Jimmy, and he admits that may be quite a while yet. After all, it’s getting busy. That was one of the biggest changes Jimmy noted from when he started. “We were making around 60 to 70 barrels a day when I came,” he said. “We had four storage buildings, we had about 70,000 barrels in storage. Now we’re making 560 barrels a day, we have 27 warehouses, and we have over half a million barrels in storage right now.” He seems to figure, why stop now?

As Jimmy said, several times during the day, and again during his acceptance of the key to the town of Lawrenceburg and an honorary plaque from the Governor, “It’s been a blessing for me.” He honestly seems to be the luckiest kind of person, someone’s who’s enjoyed their job so much that he’s never worked a day in his life. Happy anniversary, Jimmy.

Good News – and Bad – for Mortlach lovers

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

There is good news for lovers of Mortlach the distinctive, near-triple distilled Speyside single malt, renowned for its meaty full flavor, with the announcement by Diageo of four new expressions. And, I fear, bad.Ian Buxton

Due to be available mid-2014 in global markets, the range comprises Rare Old (43.4%, no age statement); Special Strength (49%, no age statement, non-chill filtered, Travel Retail exclusive); 18 Years Old and 25 Years Old (both 43.4%). Packaging details and prices have yet to be finalized, but I understand that the ‘new’ Mortlach will be positioned as a luxury brand, with the entry level Rare Old priced alongside Johnnie Walker Platinum, and other expressions higher still.

So the good news is tempered with a wealth warning, and the further disappointing

news that stocks of the current 16 Years Old Flora & Fauna expression will not be replaced; it has effectively been withdrawn. If this is a favorite, better lay in a bottle or two!

Current stillhouse

Current stillhouse

The move has been three years in the planning and follows the welcome announcement that production of Mortlach is to double beginning November 2015, with the opening of a new, purpose-built facility that replicates in every detail the current distillery, a process that a Diageo spokesman described as “idiosyncratic, not state of the art.”  Investment in the new plant exceeds £30 million ($48.5 million).

Diageo’s Dr. Nicholas Morgan, head of whisky outreach, described the move as the company’s most significant in single malt in the past decade, claiming that the new Mortlach brand will “define luxury for single malt [and] become the next great luxury brand.” Though specific competitors were not identified, this suggests that Diageo have category leaders Glenlivet and Macallan very much in their sights.

Based on a limited tasting of the new expressions, the distinctive meaty, sulfur-influenced taste of Mortlach, with heavy sherry notes, has been evolved to a more elegant and refined style, without compromising the signature power and weight beloved of fans.

Site manager Steve McGingle

Site manager Steve McGingle

These are complex, multi-layered whiskies with a considerable depth of flavor. While the beefy note has been muted (think roast pork and BBQ juices), the fruit and spice impact has been dialed up through a different balance of casks. Rare Old and Special Strength illustrate this in fascinating detail, being basically the same cask mix but presented at different strengths to draw out varying facets of spirit character. At 25 Years Old, Mortlach offers a dense, layered and extraordinarily rich taste that demands contemplation.

While lamenting the loss of the Flora & Fauna expressions, Mortlach drinkers will find much to enjoy in the new range, which will be available more readily, albeit at higher prices. Further details of the range will be announced in February next year with the products in market from the early summer.

Buffalo Trace’s Experimental Funhouse: Warehouse X

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Lew BrysonPhotos by Fred Minnick

Buffalo Trace is well-known as an innovator. They’ve won awards for it, they’ve seen plenty of ink (and pixels) for it, and they even sell the results of this innovation as their Experimental Collection; selected barrels from a reported 1,500+ variations aging in various warehouses. Distillery president Mark Brown has likened the multi-decade experimental project to a car company’s Formula 1 racing program: technical innovation to improve the general process and product.

But up until now, the experiments have focused on recipe (different grains and proportions), barrel (type of oak, size, seasoning, entry proof, and the whole Single Oak project), and things that are easily changed one or two or five barrels at a time. The E.H. Taylor microdistillery is able to feed that kind of experimentation with very small batches of different distillate. But now things move into a new arena with the christening of Warehouse X, a building expressly designed to test the effects of environment on aging. (Buffalo Trace has always designated their warehouses with single letters; the sequencing of “X” for this experimental warehouse was happily fortuitous.)

The idea for Warehouse X started years ago, literally with a sketch on the back of a napkin, a conversation between Mark Brown and former warehouse manager Ronnie Eddins. “If it hadn’t been for Ronnie Eddins,” Brown said in tribute, “there wouldn’t have been the energy for the Experimental Collection. I was intrigued by his ideas for warehouse experimentation. All the research on aging has been done to get rid of it. What about getting more out of it? Why not a glass roof, bigger windows, or smaller ones?”

North side of Warehouse X

North side of Warehouse X

But warehouses aren’t cheap, not even small experimental warehouses, so the idea slumbered for years, until a tornado tore off the back of Warehouse C in 2006. For six months, until repairs could be made, the barrels aged in the open; no wall, no roof. The whiskey was eventually bottled as E.H. Taylor “Warehouse C Tornado Surviving Bourbon.” It was, as Brown admits, a bit of a stunt, some fun.

“But the whiskey was great!” he hooted. “The whole debate on warehouse experimentation resurfaced.” Master distiller Harlen Wheatley got a $250,000 budget to design and build a small warehouse with four different bays and a “patio.”

It turned out to cost more like a million dollars when everything was said and done. One bay will age whiskey in total darkness, one will cycle in temperature (on varying schedules), one will be subject to changes in humidity (“Humidity’s a mystery,” Brown said), and the fourth will be affected by changes in airflow. The patio will try to replicate the effects of the tornado; open-air aging.

Brown thinks sunlight on the barrels may be the key, though the thought worries him, in a humorous way. “We’ll look like a bunch of chimpanzees if all we needed to age the perfect bourbon was a field full of barrels and a guard tower,” he said with a grin…a wry grin.

Of course, the question is…”the key” to what? When Buffalo Trace embarked on this project some years ago (officially; Ronnie Eddins had been running it off the books for years!), there was talk of the “holy grail,” the “perfect bourbon.” Like bourbon, we’re all older, more mature, and more mellow now (and maybe a bit woody, too), and talk of the “perfect bourbon” makes us edgy. Who’s to say what is the perfect bourbon?

Indeed, Brown agreed, and easily acknowledged that different people have clearly different ideas about it. The purpose of the experimental program is to learn what will create different character in bourbons so that the process can be more readily controlled and optimized for flavor, and sometimes very different flavor. After we’d seen the warehouse, we sat down to taste whiskeys that had been aged in Mongolian oak (incredibly smooth and fruity at only 5 years old, but at about $1,000 a barrel, don’t expect a lot of it), four and six grain bourbons, and a shockingly different — peppery, sweet mint, explosively spicy — 1 year old whiskey that Brown and Wheatley mostly grinned about without saying much, other than that it was “bourbon.”

It was clear that this project is not about changing Buffalo Trace, or Elmer T. Lee, or the Antique Collection. “We’ve thought a lot about the project on a technical level,” Brown said. “We didn’t think about retailing it.” However, he did say that there are some Experimental Collection projects that will go commercial, and allowed that the portfolio had room for “one more brand.”

Brown also emphasized that while innovation looked to the future, the distillery’s recent recognition as a National Historical Landmark (there were new banners up all over the grounds) looks to the past. The process of approval brought out even more about the site’s history, which goes back over 200 years (older than most Scotch whisky distilleries).

Mark Brown and Harlen Wheatley

Mark Brown and Harlen Wheatley

“This is a crusade for us,” he said. “We feel we have a custodial role; we have to get this distillery intact to the next generation.” Despite some low points, Buffalo Trace has survived, and as we walked around the distillery, it’s clear that it is thriving, stronger than ever. There are plans for expansion, something I never would have guessed would be needed when I first toured here in the 1990s.

But innovation, like the Experimental Collection and Warehouse X, begets success, especially when linked to the independence that’s characterized Buffalo Trace. Don’t expect the desire to investigate the art of bourbon manufacture and aging to change here any time soon.

 

The Laird of Fintry has Landed

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

author-beaumontIt’s been a good year for Canada’s Okanagan Spirits. To begin with, a break on the standard retail mark-up in the provincially-owned liquor stores for distillers using locally-grown ingredients – which this fruit belt operation does exclusively – was rather unexpectedly announced in the early spring by the government of the company’s home province of British Columbia.  Then came word from the World Spirits Competition in Klagenfurt, Austria, where Okanagan Spirits was awarded not only World Class Distillery certification, but also the titles of Distillery of the Year 2013 and Spirit of the Year 2013, the latter for their Blackcurrant Liqueur.

Now a six-year project has finally come to completion with the arrival of Laird of Fintry Single Malt Whisky, distilled from 100% British Columbia-grown barley and aged in French and American oak. Although no doubt better known for their fruit-based eaux de vie lof.bottleshotand Taboo Absinthe, the Laird of Fintry is in many ways a landmark release for Okanagan Spirits, representing in production and aging almost a full two-thirds of the distillery’s existence.

“At the time, we weren’t sure we could even make a whisky, so it was more of an experiment than anything else,” explains Rodney Goodchild, marketing and operations director for Okanagan Spirits. “We had a brewery make the wash for us and were able to distill just a single barrel out of it. Then, as time went on, we kept tasting it and tasting it until at about eighteen months we realized that it was evolving into something quite nice.”

The whisky is titled with the nickname given to an early 20th century settler, James Cameron Dun Waters, who named what is now the Fintry Estate provincial park for his Scottish hometown. The distillery has been producing about a dozen barrels of whisky per year, says Goodchild. So while that initial run has resulted in rather meagre release – leading to a lottery-style sale that had 1,527 people vying for an opportunity to buy the a mere 210 bottles of the whisky – there will be more available next year and in the years to come. One key to Okanagan generating more whisky for sale will definitely be a change in what can only in the loosest of terms be called “warehousing.”

“The distillery has no real warehouse,” says Goodchild, noting that the only other significantly aged product is an 18 month old apple brandy, “So we’re currently storing the barrels in the retail area. The problem is, with the changes in temperature and the dryness of our winters, we estimate that we’re losing about 12% of the spirit per year.” Okanagan Spirits aims to reduce that overly generous angel’s share with the construction of a glass walled barrel room adjacent to their current retail space and tasting bar.

OKS-1223

Distiller Peter von Hahn

As for the whisky itself, its nose is possessed of a surprising maturity for a spirit so relatively young, with aromas of plum, cooked pear, and stewed and spiced raisins accompanying the expected notes of vanilla and toffee. On the palate, however, its youthfulness shines, with ample but integrated oakiness and effusive, sweet notes of both fresh and baked pear, apple and yellow plum, caramel and baking spice, all leading to a still fruity, vanilla-accented finish.

Although it is obviously a grain-based spirit, the Laird of Fintry seems to channel the character of many of its stablemates in the Okanagan Spirits portfolio, specifically the fruit eaux de vie for which the distillery is becoming quite famous. As an operation committed to the use of local ingredients, that is not at all a bad thing.

True, in this batch and at this age, the whisky is not likely to excite anyone approaching it in search of Speyside or Highland complexities, or even the simpler charms of a pot-distilled Irish whiskey. But in terms of speaking to its terroir in the one of the largest fruit-growing regions in Canada, it can only be considered a success, and a harbinger of greater things to come from western Canada’s original and arguably greatest and most successful craft distillery.

Islay to get ninth distillery

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

Dominic RoskrowExclusive by Dominic Roskrow

Islay is to get a brand new distillery, the ninth for the island.

Plans have been drawn up and work will begin soon on the new distillery site, which is on the shores of Loch Indaal, close to Bowmore and across the water from Bruichladdich. It is set to open in the spring of 2015.

IMG_1002

Not the view from the distillery, but not far away.

The distillery will be called Gartbreck and will be Islay’s smallest. It is presumed that it is named after Gartbreck Farm, which lies on the road from Bowmore to the airport and is within sight of the Bowmore distillery. Its lands stretch down to the sea loch.

No official announcement will be made for some weeks—probably towards the end of the year—but the independent initiator of the project, who will also be its future manager, says that work on the new distillery will definitely go ahead. The source of this story has considerable distilling experience.

“I am providing this information very much unofficially, but it is 100 percent correct,” he said. “The project has now reached the stage where it will inevitably start to leak, so I would prefer to allow some limited and controlled leaks to make sure that the information is not distorted.”

To prove the substance of the story, the source outlined in confidence further details of the new distillery, including output, water source and style of the buildings, and he sent through pictures of the site.

The new distillery is further evidence (were it needed) of the continuing boom for whisky, and for Scotch whisky in particular. Islay went 125 years without getting a new distillery. Now it is set to have two in a decade, following Kilchoman’s opening in 2005.

The Housewarming at Midleton

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Dominic RoskrowDominic Roskrow was at Midleton’s coming out party for their new pot still room, and a lot more.

Over the years Irish Distillers has built quite a reputation for making its major announcements with some style, and this week’s event in Cork was no different. But while the scale of the event itself was no surprise, the ambition from the flurry of news announcements certainly was. Irish Distillers is aiming for the stars…and then some.

The event, held at the Midleton Distillery, was called “The Housewarming,” and DC 040913 DISTILLERY 70was ostensibly to unveil the new (and not completely finished) still room for the production of pot still whiskey. It was staged in the heart of the old distillery itself, and about 900 people from across the world were invited to take part.

The party consisted of a generous number of stalls serving a diverse selection of quality food, live music, a limitless supply of Irish whiskey and cocktails, and the odd stylish flourish, such as the announcement that the old still room was to be named after retiring Irish whiskey master distiller and legend Barry Crockett.

But while all of this and a gorgeous late summer day gave the proceedings a carnival feel, it was the business end of the offering that made the day so special.

First there was the stillroom itself, capable of eventually producing an amazing 20 million liters of pot still whiskey: that’s equal toDC 040913 DISTILLERY 119 two Glenfiddich distilleries. Much of it will go into blends, but Irish Distillers showed its full commitment to the resurrection of the Irish category with the announcement that it will release two new pot still whiskeys a year for the next ten years. It hinted at Blue Spot and Red Spot products to join the existing Yellow and Green Spot ones, and suggested that very soon we might see an older Redbreast product, possibly 21 years old.

The big surprise, though, was the unveiling of an educational facility to teach about Irish whiskey, complete with a working mini-still made of glass, and stylish display and information material. It marks a clear commitment by the company to play a leading role in protecting and developing  Irish whiskey in the future. All the up and coming Irish craft distillers were invited to the event.

Impressive stuff, and proof positive that the Irish rebirth is not only safe from stalling, but is moving forward at pace.

Jack Daniel’s Big, To Get a Lot Bigger

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Liza WeisstuchBrown-Forman announced a major expansion of the Jack Daniel distillery. Here are the details provided by Liza Weisstuch.

You can buy a lot of drinks for a lot of people with $100 million. With the number of people drinking Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey around the planet growing exponentially, Jack Daniel is footing a bill of over $100 million to make sure there’s enough to go around.

Cabin2On August 22, Brown-Forman Corporation, the parent company of Jack Daniel, announced the addition of barrel warehouses, stills, and other infrastructure to accommodate increased production of the historic brand. The current facility in Lynchburg, Tennessee stands next to a storied cave, its water source. It’s the same site where Mister Jack founded his distillery, a year after the Civil War ended. After Prohibition, that original facility was rejuvenated, and over the years, more column stills, fermenters, and cookers as whiskey production grew. But with global demand for the product skyrocketing, now is the time for a grand scale construction. The company will break ground in the fall and the build-out is expected to take two years. The new facility will be near the current one.

For 21 straight years, the brand has seen volume growth. The United States remains the single largest market, but it’s the international sales that have really given the numbers a supernova-caliber boost. Since 2004, sales of global cases have increased from about 7.7 million to almost 11 million last year. The whiskey is sold in 160 countries and the international sales make up just over half of the overall numbers.

“When you add that all together, if we don’t have the expansion, there will literally be supply issues,” said John Hayes, senior vice president, managing directorfor Jack Daniel. But that supply is not just going into bottles for Jack Daniel’s iconic Old No. 7. New products have been flowing into the market faster than you can say “Bar-B-Que Caboose Café.”S1596C20_R0_Btle34.2

Tennessee Honey, which launched in the United States in 2011, clocked in at 770,000 cases in 2012. The premium expressions Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel have seen double-digit growth for each of the past two years. Speaking of premium, the brand unveiled Sinatra Select, a product created under licensing agreement with Old Blue Eyes’s family, in January. Bottles fetch upwards of $150 in global travel retailers.

Perhaps building on the success of Tennessee Honey, which plays into the flavored spirit boom, Winter Jack, a low-proof spiced-punch-like product, was created for and launched in the German market in 2011. Hayes, who calls it a “crazy idea” and was “surprised by the success,” says it’s being tested in several American markets right now, and there are plans to roll it out to twenty-some states for the holidays.

Innovation has become a hallmark of the brand, and the new distillery facility offers a way for the company to maintain the velocity of creative output while holding strong to its roots.

“We’re thoughtful about how we expand the brand,” said Hayes. “The facility knows how to make Jack Daniel’s. The more we throw new things at them, the more difficult it can be to keep up with distiller operations. The new distillery can help,” said Hayes, who also noted there’s a rye currently aging. “It’s not as easy to make that in the current operation.”

The international market, however, is clamoring for more American whiskey these days.

“Clearly we’re in a global whiskey renaissance, so this is just the American manifestation of that extraordinary growth,” said Frank Coleman, senior vice president of public affairs for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade organization. “A lot of work has gone into the globalization of whiskey. Jack Daniel’s and other great American whiskeys found a home on a global stage.”

U.S. distilled spirits exports have increased significantly over the past decade due, in part, to the lowering of tariff and non-tariff barriers in many foreign markets. That’s only bolstered the growth of American whiskey exports to emerging markets like Russia, India, Vietnam, and Brazil. For last five years, more than half of the American whiskey consumption on earth was outside American borders.

“Things American are very popular everywhere you go around the world. Jack Daniel’s plays well into interests of foreign consumers, in that they’re interested in heritage,” said Coleman. “In some country, they may not like our foreign policy, but they like our products.”

Angel’s Envy Distillery Breaks Ground

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Whisky Advocate contributor Fred Minnick reports on the new Angel’s Envy distillery.

Angel's Envy Three HendersonsLouisville Distilling Company, the maker’s of Angel’s Envy, is turning a former hobo hangout into a $12 million distillery in downtown Louisville. Kentucky governor Steve Beshear, Louisville mayor Greg Fischer, spirits executives, and dozens of reporters attended the Angel’s Envy distillery groundbreaking on July 9 at the former Vermont American building, which had been vacant since 1986.

“Four years ago, we started looking for a distillery and kicked every piece of dirt in area,” said Wes Henderson, the company’s chief operating officer.

In May, InsiderLouisville.com broke the news about a downtown location with social media rumors circling around the Vermont building, a stone’s throw away from the city’s minor league baseball park, Slugger Field. “This was the worst-kept secret in the history of urban development,” Fischer said.

The planned opening is December 2014, and there’s a lot of work to do. When Angel’s Envy selected the building, public officials kicked out 30 homeless people, who, along with gang members, had shattered glass, cracked floors, busted brick walls, and marked their territory with spray cans. In the future stillroom, artists from the “Hole in the Wall Gang” and the “Living Dead” gang painted wolf’s heads and hypnotizing owls. On the second floor, where future fermenters will stand, gorgeous city and Ohio river views are marred by tacky markings.

Despite a few soft floors with holes, and busted brick façades, the foundation is in good shape. Nonetheless, standing water and yellow caution tape make the future distillery appear more like a CSI scene.

But the architects, Joseph & Joseph, are accustomed with distillery fixer-uppers. Since 1908, the firm has built dozens of distilleries, including Four Roses, Stitzel-Weller, and Brown-Forman facilities. Joseph & Joseph is also turning downtown Louisville’s Fort Nelson building into the Michter’s distillery.

The building actually carries a historical significance to the brand. Master distiller Lincoln Henderson’s father built equipment for the Vermont building; Lincoln remembers hanging out at the building as a kid. Now the legendary Henderson, a member of the Bourbon Hall of Fame and former Brown-Forman master distiller, works alongside his son, Wes, and grandson, Kyle, to create one of the fastest-growing spirits in the U.S. market.

The new distillery will eventually have the capacity to create roughly 31 barrels of whiskey a day from a column still made by the Louisville-based Vendome Copper & Brass Works.

Since launching its first product in 2010, Angel’s Envy has become a lightning rod of sorts in the bourbon industry. The first non-extension bourbon product line finished in port casks made Angel’s Envy a “love it or hate it” whiskey. Purists denied its bourbon ties…while fans quickly bought up as much as they could.

One fan of Angel’s Envy is the Kentucky governor. Thanks to the Kentucky Economic Finance Authority, Angel’s Envy is eligible for $800,000 in state tax incentives and another $72,000 through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act.

“This is another great development for our international industry of bourbon,” Beshear said. “Kentucky produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon. And quite frankly, the other 5 percent is counterfeit.”

Louisville was once the American whiskey Wall Street. Hundreds of rectifiers and distillers were headquartered along Main Street, an area known as Whiskey Row. Today, developers are calling the area Bourbon Row and are trying to resurrect a forgotten piece of American history.

In the past year, Michter’s, Evan Williams and the Peerless Distillery have broken ground on Main Street distilleries. I’m also aware of another very famous bourbon name working on a Main Street distillery location, while Louisville’s Stitzel-Weller distillery may be the most highly anticipated distillery reopening in history.

Of all these, Wes Henderson believes Angel’s Envy “will bring bourbon back to Whiskey Row.”

Glen Keith Arises

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Ian BuxtonIan Buxton goes to the “official” Glen Keith re-opening.

Another Friday and I’m back on Speyside. Another distillery must be re-opening.

And so it proves. This time, it’s the eponymous Glen Keith (that means it’s located in the town of Keith, after which it takes its name – please excuse, I’m just showing off the thesaurus function on this computer). Mothballed in 1999 it’s been comprehensively overhauled, renewed and enlarged by owners Chivas Brothers (part of the giant Pernod Ricard group) and can now produce some 6 million lpa of new make annually.

Of course, it’s already going full blast. What are we to make of this?

 

I’ve been working in and around the Scotch whisky industry for more than 25 years (sometimes it feels longer; sometimes it seems to have passed in a moment) and I really have never seen anything like the present day. Nor has any other industry veteran that I talk to: “Let’s hope it carries on for another five years,” said one old hand I chatted to at the opening, no doubt with a keen eye on his pension.

Front Entrance

If you’ll forgive a short reminiscence, I entered the Scotch whisky industry to work for a major company convinced that scotch had had its day and that white spirits were the future. While the cash still rolled in my job was to work on a diversification team. We bought a preserves (jam and marmalade; “jellies” for the U.S. reader) business and a biscuit (“cookies”) company. What a disaster!

Eventually both were sold, as they realized that they had overreacted, and the good times rolled round again. But nothing like today.

Frankly, most of the companies will tell you—off the record, of course, and well away from their spinmeisters—that they can’t believe their luck. For the first time in living memory (well, almost), everything has fallen just right for Scotch whisky, as emerging market after emerging market gets ever more affluent and develops an apparently insatiable demand for Scotch whisky. The fly in the ointment, of course, is that the new consumer appears to like things better the more expensive they are, and the industry is happy to oblige. That’s bad luck if you happen to have developed your scotch habit ten years or more ago, as Dave Broom pointed out in the last issue of Whisky Advocate.

But enough of my ramblings. You want to know about Glen Keith.

Well, it’s all about blends and emerging markets. Established in 1959 and opened in 1960, the distillery last worked in 1999 and required some major modifications to meet today’s health and safety standards. A curiosity is that for the first ten years or so of its operating life it operated a triple distillation process, highly unusually for Speyside. That, however, was in decline by 1970 and Washbacksdropped entirely by the early 1980s. My question as to whether or not any triple-distilled stock remains from that period was politely glossed over. In all probability, the nice young PR person didn’t know (probably didn’t realize why I was interested!). Interestingly, a column still also ran here during the 1970s, but again, this has long since been retired.

In those early days there was a substantial malting operation here, complete with Saladin boxes. All that has been swept away in the expansion, which has added 6 new washbacks to increase the distillery’s capacity from 3.5 million to 6 million lpa. No increase was required to the three pairs of stills, but a brand new mashtun with a faster four-hour cycle has allowed output to be expanded. All the building at the rear of Expansion at rear of buildingthe distillery covered in white harling is new.

Chivas were at pains to stress the distillery’s environmental credentials, pointing out their new thermo-compressors, which recycle hot water with a heat recovery system that CEO Christian Porta noted, “makes Glen Keith an environmentally-friendly, responsible investment [that is] 15% more efficient than any other in the group.”

Historically, the distillery’s output went into Passport and 100 Pipers. That will continue, but with Chivas Regal and Ballantine’s crying out for stock, it isn’t too great an imaginative leap to work out where at least Process Controlsome will end up.

There are no visitor facilities, and for the foreseeable future all the output will be required for blending, though 800 bottles have been released in the Cask Strength Edition series (available only from the group’s visitor centers). This is a 54.9% 17 year old drawn from American oak and exhibiting typical vanilla and crème caramel notes, with flavors of pears, licorice, and citrus.

Open! Christian Porta (left, CEO, Chivas Brothers) & Richard Lochead (right, Scotland's Minister for Whisky).The opening ceremony was performed jointly by Christian Porta (left) and Richard Lochhead (right), Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment (or “Minister for Whisky,” as he termed himself), who said, “This is a vote of confidence in the future. A special day for Keith; for Speyside; for the local economy and for Chivas Brothers.”

Around $11 million was spent on the redevelopment; part of Chivas Brothers’ planned $63 million expansion of Scotch whisky production. So far as I could see…they have no plans to get into the cookie business.

Tamdhu opens its doors (for one day only!)

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Ian Buxton, Whisky Advocate contributor, takes a look at Tamdhu: the past, the present, and a re-opening.

Tamdhu. It’s not a name that comes easily to mind, or trips off the lips of even a hard-core malt enthusiast. Which is a shame because this classic Speyside distillery, located close to the River Spey, near-neighbor to Knockando (and, not so very far away, Cardhu and The Macallan), probably deserves to be better known. But its luck is changing.

We haven’t heard very much about it in recent years, apart from the bad news of its closure.  That’s because this Speyside malt was, for the most part, operated by its previous owners Highland Distillers to provide fillings for their blends and to exchange in the market for other whisky they needed. Then they decided that their priorities had changed and decided to mothball it.

That was in April 2010.  To my knowledge, several potential buyers expressed an interest in taking it on.  But, one by one, they dropped out: the distillery was too large for one group to operate cost-effectively and the old dark grains plant represented a problem; another would-be buyer got close to the finishing line but couldn’t quite raise the finance.tamdhu-distillery

Then, to some raised eyebrows, it was smoothly acquired in June 2011 by Ian Macleod Distillers, an independent, family-owned firm of distillers, blenders, and bottlers until then best-known for reviving the Glengoyne distillery and for their Isle of Skye blend.  Macleod had, of course, previously purchased Glengoyne from Highland Distillers, so perhaps the purchase wasn’t quite as surprising as it seemed at the time.

However, successful though they had been with Glengoyne, Tamdhu represented quite a step up in scale. Glengoyne makes around 1 million liters of spirit annually; a fully-operational Tamdhu can produce around 4 times that, making it a very different challenge. What is more, the brand had less previous exposure than Glengoyne, giving them less of a foundation to build on.

But Macleod’s blended business is in good shape and, with pressure all round on stocks, it made commercial sense for them to secure a second source of supply to ensure their continued independence.  In January 2012, Tamdhu was quietly brushed up; eight full-time employees taken on and the distillery made ready to go back into production. The plant has been quietly gathering speed since then.  But there was a lot to do: 14,500 maturing casks to evaluate; new packaging to design; distributors to appoint and brief and a relaunch to plan.

That will finally get underway at the forthcoming Speyside Whisky Festival when Tamdhu will open its doors (for one day only; there is no visitor center yet, though given Glengoyne’s success in that field it can only be a matter of time).  That’s on Saturday, May 4 (noon to 4 p.m.), when a Victorian-themed “Whisky Fete” will take visitors through the history from 1897 to the present day.

So what will you see and do? For the technically minded, Tamdhu has a twelve-ton semi-lauter mash tun, nine Oregon pine washbacks, three pairs of stills, and those 14,500 casks maturing in five warehouses. The tours will be led by the distillery workers themselves (no work experience students here) and, best of all, visitors will be given a rare opportunity to experience one-off tastings of some single casks, handpicked for the occasion.

There is, of course, a special Limited Edition whisky of which only 1,000 bottles will be released worldwide (price TBD).  Festival visitors will be the first to taste and have the chance to buy.

With continued growth and increased numbers of international visitors, the Speyside Festival event will certainly sell out.  But, if you’re not lucky enough to snag a ticket, don’t despair; Tamdhu will shortly be available in world markets, giving malt enthusiasts a long-lost chance to add this grand old lady of Speyside to their drinks cabinet.

Once Ian Macleod Distillers get this project behind them, we can only look forward to the next distillery they decide to bring back to life…