Friday, August 29, 2014

Templeton Chairman Tells Des Moines Register, "The Whiskey Is Not the Most Important Thing"


Vern Underwood is Chairman of the Board and CEO of Templeton Rye
Spirits and also Chairman of the Board for Young's Market Company. 
In discussions about widespread violations of TTB rule 5.36(d), and about Potemkin distilleries in general, Templeton Rye has been Exhibit A. Since its founding in 2005, the company has carefully obscured the fact that its whiskey is made in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, from a standard recipe shared by dozens of other brands, and not in Templeton, Iowa from a unique, Prohibition-era moonshine recipe.

Templeton's many lies and obfuscations have been widely reported within the whiskey community, but recently Iowa's largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, has joined the fray with a series of articles. Today, the company's owner stepped out of the shadows and spoke to Register reporter Josh Hafner. The whole story is here.

In addition to having a lot of money at stake in Templeton, Underwood is Chairman of Young's Market Company, a major wine and spirits distributor in California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, and six other Western states. Presumably, he knows the industry and the rules by which it is regulated, and the antics of company president Scott Bush had become an embarrassment.

In the article, Underwood says that Templeton will bring its labels into compliance within 60 days. He also admitted that the Prohibition-era recipe claims are false and promised to build a distillery in Templeton to make the product.

Then this: "The whiskey is not the most important thing," Underwood said. "The town of Templeton is the most important thing, and the state of Iowa. The whiskey almost is the afterthought. It helps. It brings this to life."

Speaking about the label change and other misinformation disseminated by the company, Underwood said, "Currently there is some confusion. So all that confusion is going to be cleared up. If it implies that the rye whiskey is made in Templeton, then that should be changed. Anything that is misleading should be changed."

Underwood's role in the company has not so much been hidden as not widely known, although Tasting Panel reported his involvement more than a year ago in one of the fluffiest pieces of so-called journalism that you will ever read. The Des Moines Register article is the first time he has taken a lead role in speaking for the company, which currently sells about 60,000 cases of premium-priced Templeton Rye a year.

Underwood's other business, Young’s Market Company, was founded in 1888 and is one of the oldest continuously operating companies in the United States. In the 68 years since Young’s decided to engage exclusively in the sale and distribution of wine and spirits, it has grown from a relatively small local distributor servicing Southern California to the fourth largest wine and spirits distributor in the United States.

Underwood clearly knows the law and how best to manipulate it. Although federal and state laws specifically prohibit cross-ownership across tiers of the three-tier alcoholic beverage distribution system, clever owners such as Underwood have learned how to circumvent those laws. Underwood is both a producer (Templeton) and a distributor (Young's). Clearly, everything has been done legally, but it violates the law in spirit.

He is hardly alone. The Goldring family, which owns Sazerac, used to own a distribution company too, in Texas and Louisiana. The Philips (producer) and Johnson (distributor) families, a single family with two branches, do it in the upper Midwest. Again, nothing illegal about it, but it's one more example of how the way alcoholic beverages are regulated in the country is a sick joke.

NOTE: I revised the last paragraph to put the Goldring tie-up in the past tense. The Goldring family sold its interest in Republic (RNDC) about four years ago.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kindle Is Updating, Print Copy Is Coming Soon, Tour Deadline Is Here



If you tried to buy the Kindle version of Bourbon, Strange today (and God bless you if you did) you probably couldn't. Proofreading corrections to the print edition were incorporated into the Kindle edition and uploaded earlier today. It should clear Kindle's processing and be available tomorrow.

If you have already bought and downloaded the Kindle version (and God bless you too) you might want to download it again to get the corrections. I'm pretty sure Kindle will let you do that at no cost. Other electronic formats will be dealt with down the road. Although Kindle has apps for every e-reader except Nook (which returns the favor), some people have asked for the ePub format used by Apple's devices, so they can keep all of their books in one place and not have to bother with additional apps. I'll do what I can.

We're still a few weeks away from print edition availability. Amazon is accepting pre-orders and when they have books in stock, they will tell you. If you'd like to buy it directly from the source, just watch for it here. It will be where Bourbon, Straight is now, in the top, right corner, under 'Buy The Book.' Bourbon, Straight will continue to be available under 'The Other Books.' In fact, it's there now.

One advantage to buying it here is that you can get a personalized and signed copy at no extra charge. There is an 'inscription' field on the PayPal order form, where you should write exactly how you would like the inscription to appear. You can also use the 'special instruction' field for that purpose.

In other news, this Monday, September 1, is the deadline for joining the "Chuck Cowdery VIP Bourbon & History Tour Experience," on October 15-17. Details are here.

Part two of Mark Gillespie's WhiskyCast interview with me is here. If you missed it, part one is here.

Finally, the question 'What Is Craft?' when applied to whiskey will probably never be answered conclusively, but I take another stab at it here, on the Whisky Advocate Blog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Diageo to Resume Bottling at Stitzel-Weller


Shanken reported this morning that Diageo will begin construction soon on a new bottling line at Stitzel-Weller. It is expected to be operational later this year. Bottling was done at the distillery in the Louisville suburb of Shively from its founding in 1934 until shortly after it stopped distilling in 1992. As usual, Diageo is vague about the details, saying only that Stitzel-Weller will “bottle a range of American whiskies, and will have the capabilities to handle a range of new whiskey innovations in the years to come.”

Diageo performs maturation and blending at Stitzel-Weller according to John Lunn, master distiller at Diageo's George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee, who is also in charge of production at Stitzel-Weller. Diageo does not disclose what products it matures and blends at Stitzel-Weller, but it is believed that Bulleit Bourbon is matured there.

Whiskey producers typically like to bottle at the site where the whiskey ages, to avoid the cost and risk of transferring the product from barrels into totes or other containers and transporting it. Diageo does most of its bottling at a facility dedicated to that purpose in Plainfield, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. It installed a small hand-bottling line at George Dickel last year.

This announcement comes on top of Diageo's decision to build a new Kentucky distillery in Shelby County, due to open in 2016. For several years Diageo has been developing a visitors center at Stitzel-Weller. The first phase of that project is due to open to the public this fall.

Friday, August 22, 2014

It's Time for Jim Beam to Drop the Number One Bourbon Claim


I like the Beam Suntory company very much. I like the people and most of their products.They are an outstanding operation. They do things the right way and they are very successful. They are truthful and reasonably open. They have been a leader and innovator and respectful participant in the bourbon business, and you know how much I love bourbon.

It is because I have so much respect and affection for them that I am making this suggestion.

Please stop claiming that Jim Beam is the world's #1 bourbon. It's not. You are bragging about a technicality. It's embarrassing.

As most readers can guess, I'm saying this because Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey is bourbon in all but name. It is made like bourbon and tastes like bourbon. Even their acclaimed charcoal mellowing really just jump-starts the barrel aging process. It is a point of difference but not a very big one, objectively. It has more to do with marketing than with the product itself.

Jack Daniel's is the world #1 bourbon and trending toward becoming the world's #1 whiskey, spilling Johnnie Walker from that throne.

Although they were fairly close in sales for many years, Jack Daniel's has pulled away from Jim Beam decisively. Daniel's sells about 60 percent more whiskey than Beam. They're not even close. Beam is doing fine. It has grown and is growing, and is an equally dominant #2. Evan Williams is third.

As people around the world discover American whiskey they will drink Jack and Jim and find them very similar. They will ask, "what's the difference between bourbon and Tennessee whiskey?" We will sound silly when we try to explain. The least silly explanation is the truest one. It's a marketing thing. Tennessee whiskey is bourbon that's made in Tennessee. They don't call it bourbon because bourbon is so closely associated with Kentucky.

This matters because bourbon is competing for share-of-mouth against a wide variety of beverages, alcoholic and not, but it competes most directly against other whiskeys. Classifying whiskeys by their place of origin works because each country, for the most part, produces a different style of whiskey. Among whiskeys, bourbon is the most distinctive because most other nations make whiskey from malted barley in a style that inevitably resembles scotch. The other exception would be Canada, which takes elements from both the Scottish and American styles. Japanese whiskey has emerged as a distinctive style, although it is still very close to scotch. Irish whiskey still struggles to distinguish itself from scotch, which is not to say the Irish don't make fabulous whiskey.

I don't expect Jim Beam to suddenly start crowing "We're Number Two." Nor do I expect Jack Daniel's to claim its primacy, except perhaps to say it is the world's most popular American-made whiskey, which doesn't have the same zip. I just want Beam Suntory to think about it, and maybe look for something else to hang their hat on, realizing that the cat is out of the bag.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Diageo's New Distillery to Bear Bulleit Name


Diageo held a groundbreaking ceremony today for its new Kentucky distillery in Shelby County and announced that it will make Bulleit Bourbon there. What's interesting is that the day this distillery opens, its namesake product will be selling more than its distillery can produce, based on estimates announced by Diageo.

One-hundred-fifteen million dollars just doesn't buy what it used to.

Diageo appears to be following the lead of rival Brown-Forman. Brown-Forman's Woodford Reserve has a beautiful, showcase distillery for the tourists, which makes some of the product. The rest is made in an unseen factory somewhere else.

At Brown-Forman's Jack Daniel's, tourists never see 90 percent of the warehouses. The bottling house and other functions are also hidden. They're not underground or anything, just several miles from the distillery and town proper.

Okay, it's also the Heineken model. The old brewery in Amsterdam that the tourists see produces little or nothing. The real brewery is several miles away.

The approach must work, as Woodford, Jack Daniel's and Heineken are extremely popular tourist destinations. But so is Buffalo Trace, where everything is visible and everything is made there.

There is one hitch in this theory. Diageo says the new distillery won't be open to the public. A visitors center might be built in the future, hinted Diageo North America President Larry Schwartz, but only if Shelby County voters vote the county wet. They have two years. The new distillery is supposed to open late in 2016.

In the meantime, Diageo is building a Bulleit Bourbon visitors center 40 miles away at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, where they make nothing. It is believed they age Bulleit Bourbon there that was made somewhere else, but they won't confirm it.

And that, dear friends, is Diageo.

Our friend Fred Minnick has a detailed report of the groundbreaking here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Is Your Name Jim Beam? Let's Party!


If your name is James Beam, you may have heard that another guy named James 'Jim' Beam rather famously made whiskey a century or so ago, and one of the most popular whiskeys in the world still bears his name.

That's the premise for a party in honor of legendary bourbon distiller Jim Beam's 150th birthday. Jim Beam Bourbon is inviting anyone named Jim Beam (who is of legal drinking age) to join a once-in-a-lifetime birthday party at the historic distillery in Clermont, Kentucky on September 18, 2014 at 11AM EDT. Anyone named James 'Jim' Beam who makes the journey will be an honored guest and play a special role in the day-long festivities.

"If your name is Jim Beam, then you better get down here," said Fred Noe, Jim Beam's great-grandson and 7th Generation Master Distiller. "We want to meet you and we want to treat you to a special day in honor of a special man."

(The party is free but guests are responsible for all travel and expenses associated with the event.)

Fittingly held during National Bourbon Heritage Month and the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival, this milestone birthday celebration will take place at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse

According to Noe, the "Jim Beams" will be treated to a VIP distillery tour, including a private BBQ lunch and the honor of helping to unveil a life-size bronze statue of Jim Beam created to commemorate his birthday.

"They're going to get VIP treatment," said Noe. "Because if they have the same name as my great-granddad, they deserve it."

Born in Bardstown, Kentucky in 1864, Beam was the fourth generation family distiller. His great-grandfather, Jacob Beam, founded the family business in the foothills of Kentucky in 1795. After learning the business from his father, David M., Jim Beam established Jim Beam Bourbon as a national brand after Prohibition.

Bourbon enthusiasts unable to make it to Kentucky need not worry. They can still raise a glass and share the Beam family legacy on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jimbeam or @JimBeam on Twitter.

Fans must be 21 years old or older to participate. For more information or to RSVP to the event, email BeamBirthday@jsha.com by Monday, September 15, 2014. Space is limited and restricted to a first-come basis. Guests not bearing the namesake are also invited to join the birthday celebration, with complimentary cake and ice cream served at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse from 11AM to 5PM EDT.

The name 'Beam' is an Americanization of the German name 'Boehm,' which was itself a shortened form of 'Bohemian,' meaning a Czech from that historical country of Central Europe. Because Bohemia was a common place of origin, Boehm and Beam are relatively common names and persons having that name aren't necessarily related, their ancestors simply all hailed from that region. All of which means there should be quite a few takers for this unusual event.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Buffalo Trace Addresses Rampant Rumors About Portfolio Changes


This may come under the heading of 'no good deed goes unpunished,' for them and for me, but here goes. Buffalo Trace has issued a press release to address some of the rumors that are going around. It follows but, first, a brief commentary.

Buffalo Trace makes more different bourbon and rye brands than anyone else in the business. All of those brands have increased in popularity in recent years That is mostly good -- for them and us -- but a little bit bad, because Buffalo Trace has had a worse shortage problem than anyone else in the business. They also rely on the serious bourbon enthusiast market more than anyone else in the business. And they do a better job than anyone else of showing love to that audience. That's why they take chances and put out announcements like this:

_________________

After providing a recent update to its fans about the bourbon shortage the Distillery currently faces, the rumor mill spun into overdrive as a few folks speculated on why it was difficult to find their favorite Buffalo Trace bourbons on liquor store shelves.

"Many people dismissed the warning about our bourbon shortage, speculating that this was a publicity stunt we conceived to sell more bourbon. That's simply not true. We only provided the update to consumers, retailers, and bartenders in an honest and forthright attempt to explain why bottles seem so scarce these days. Many liquor stores across the country may have empty shelves, and we felt an obligation to explain why," said Kris Comstock, bourbon marketing director.  "While we cannot speak for the bourbon industry as a whole, our bourbon shortages are a very real problem, driven by increased demand for the brands. Every single one of our bourbon brands is currently on strict allocation. While we are, and have been, making more over the last several years, bourbon takes a long time to age in oak barrels. As we wait for barrels to mature, there will be temporary periods in which bottles are hard to find."

Once people started to see empty shelves at the local store, rumors started flying. Here are some of the most popular rumors:

Rumor #1: Weller 12 Year-Old-Bourbon will be being discontinued.  False. There are no plans to discontinue Weller 12 Year. In fact, we have increased production by a considerable amount for future sales.

Rumor #2: All of the Weller Bourbon is now being shipped to Japan.  False.  None of the Weller Bourbons (Special Reserve, Old Weller Antique, 12 Year-Old, and William Larue Weller) are shipped to Japan.

Rumor #3: Buffalo Trace is shipping most of its bourbon to China and Japan. False.  While a modest amount of bourbon is sent to those markets, the quantity is very small as we ensure the overwhelming majority is made available here in the United States.

Rumor #4: Eagle Rare Bourbon is now aged only six or seven years. False.  Eagle Rare Bourbon is still aged for 10 years and there are no plans to change this. The age statement remains on the back of the bottle.

Rumor #5: Elmer T. Lee is being discontinued. False.  We have been making Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel for nearly three decades and have no plans to stop.

Rumor #6: Elmer took the recipe for his bourbon to his grave, so it will never be made again. False. Fortunately and thankfully, we have the recipe for Elmer T. Lee Bourbon and are continuing to make more.  Additionally, we have a very full archive library of samples of his favorite picks to ensure consistency for the future.

Rumor #7: Elmer T. Lee is becoming part of the Antique Collection. False.  We are very happy with our current lineup of the Antique Collection (George T. Stagg, Sazerac 18 Year, Eagle Rare 17 Year, William Larue Weller and Thomas H. Handy Sazerac) and have no plans to change this lineup or discontinue any of the offerings.  Furthermore, our Antique Collection whiskies are only released once annually and we want to offer Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel more regularly throughout the year.

Rumor #8: Buffalo Trace is taking advantage of this bourbon shortage to raise prices. False.  Our prices to our customers have and will remain relatively unchanged. We strive to offer consumers award-winning whiskey at a great value. Although a minority of stores may now be charging a premium for these limited brands, we are not asking them to do so. Our commitment to quality and pricing will remain consistent now and in the future

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Confused About American Whiskey? The Answers Are Here



A lot has been written in the last week or so about deceptive packaging and deceptive marketing of American whiskey. It started with Eric Felten in the Daily Beast with, "Your ‘Craft’ Rye Whiskey Is Probably From a Factory Distillery in Indiana." That article has been widely re-posted and commented upon. It also brought some new attention to the piece Wayne Curtis wrote for The Atlantic back in May, "Has Craft Distilling Lost Its Spirit?"

The media isn't just writing about the Potemkin Distilleries and other fakers. Just today, Bruce Schreiner has a good story going out on AP that you'll probably see in your hometown newspaper or your favorite online aggregator tomorrow, "Bourbon Production Reaches High Point Since Seventies."

I'm a fan of all three writers and they all did a good job with their articles, but if you're interested in the real facts about bourbon, rye, Tennessee, and other American whiskey, I have two extremely self-serving suggestions for you. (Some commenters have accused me of being self-serving like that's a bad thing.)

First, what is depicted above, a group of devoted whiskey enthusiasts having the time of their lives (just ask them) on the inaugural "Chuck Cowdery VIP Bourbon & History Tour Experience" in March. My tour specializes in the truth because I don't work for any of the distilleries, I work for you. I'll even tell you what the tour guides got wrong during our 'official' distillery tours. (I won't tell you during the tour because that wouldn't be polite.)

Specifically, the picture above is of our visit to the grave of Dr. James C. Crow, the Father of Modern Bourbon.

Book now. The tour is October 15-17 but the deadline to sign up is September 1, or when we fill the bus, whichever comes first! To start the ball rolling, call Mint Julep Tours at 502-583-1433 or email chasta@mintjuleptours.com. I think Chasta is out West rock climbing at the moment, but I'm sure somebody at Mint Julep will be able to help you. I suggest you call them first thing Monday morning.

Second, you can read my new book, Bourbon, Strange; Surprising Stories of American Whiskey. I guarantee there is truth on every page. The producers have their multi-million dollar advertising campaigns to tell their stories and a lot of them are just that, stories, i.e., fiction. Most of it is just a bit of fun, but some is deliberately deceptive. In Bourbon, Strange, I've done the best job I can of giving you the true stories. Best of all, they are in most cases a lot more fun than the fiction.

Mark Gillespie was nice enough to interview me about the book for WhiskeyCast. Part one of that interview is available now. At least it started out being about the book. We mostly talked about all of the other crazy stuff that's going on. Thanks for the practice, Mark. I'll try to do a better job selling my product next time. Part two will be in the next program, but that's already recorded and I think I got even crazier.

You can read the Kindle edition of Bourbon, Strange right now. Or you can wait a couple weeks and get the print version right here (well, a little bit to the right and toward the top). If you order it here on the blog, I'll sign it for you if you want. (Write the inscription you want on the order form where it says 'inscription.')

Or you can pre-order it from Amazon. And since we're telling the truth here, Amazon will usually sell it to you for less than I will.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Is Montana About to Become the Whiskey Center of the West?



Headframe Spirits of Butte, Montana, announced today it plans to open a third distillery in Butte with enough capacity to rival the large distilleries in Kentucky and Indiana.

Headframe already operates two small distilleries in Butte. Headframe's owners, John and Courtney McKee, opened Headframe Spirits in 2012 and were named Montana’s Entrepreneurs of the Year for 2013. Even though they've only been in business for two years, they swear they distilled their Neversweat Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which is only just barely possible.

Last summer, Headframe entered into a year long project with Butte Silver Bow Community Development, the Community Development Block Program, and SMA Architects to evaluate three potential sites in Butte suitable for "producing a full size barrel of whiskey every seven minutes."

Assuming a 40-hour work week and a 48-week work year, that's about 16,500 barrels a year. The smallest major distilleries produce about 20,000 barrels a year, so their math is a little off, but for micro-distilleries, who are doing well if they fill a barrel a day, that's huge.

Headframe says that although it will be a value-added agricultural manufacturing facility, the goal of site selection included the need to create ties between agriculture, history, manufacturing, and tourism.

With preliminary engineering and architectural work complete and a suitable site selected, Headframe intends to enter into negotiations with property owners Butte Silver Bow County and Atlantic Richfield Company with the goal to take over 20 acres of a former industrial site, The Kelley Mine Yard, to redevelop it into the largest distillery west of the Mississippi.

This project will incorporate Headframe's proprietary continuous flow distillation technology to produce beverage alcohol both for their own brands and for bulk sale. Not a lot of explanation of this 'proprietary technology' has been provided, but it apparently has to do with adapting for beverage production something owner John McKee and Manufacturing Director Mark Chadek worked on at Nova Biosource Fuels, which developed a commercial-scale biodiesel distillation facility with a rated capacity of 10 to 60 million gallons per year.

Headframe says they will maintain the history of the site, with production and restaurant space located in the historic hoist house. Barrel storage, packaging, shipping and receiving will be located in the 54,000 square foot Kelley garage building.

They also envision the site built out to act as an eastern anchor to Historic Uptown Butte, America, with a strong emphasis on tourism, outdoor event space, and economic development. Onsite overnight bungalows and a restaurant were incorporated into the master plan in order to promote a more fully integrated experience onsite and in the Uptown neighborhood.

Headframe anticipates that this project will create approximately 50 new long-term jobs and they intend to keep the ownership in Butte.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Whiskey Cocktails by Warren Bobrow



Whiskey drinkers tend not to be cocktail enthusiasts, and yet cocktail creators are usually very knowledgeable about their ingredients and often as enthusiastic and knowledgeable about great whiskeys and other straight spirits as the straight sippers. That's why Warren Bobrow deserves your attention even if cocktail concoctions aren't really your thing.

Bobrow, author of last year's Apothecary Cocktails, now gives us Whiskey Cocktails; Rediscovered Classics and Contemporary Craft Drinks Using the World's Most Popular Spirit. It won't be out until the end of September but it's available for preorder now.

Whiskey Cocktails incorporates some of the best whiskeys into hand-crafted cocktails that bring out their subtle notes and flavors. It features 75 traditional, newly-created, and original recipes for whiskey-based cocktails. This wonderfully crafted book also features recipes from noted whiskey experts and bartenders.

To sample a little Bobrow if you're unfamiliar, check out The Cocktail Whisperer blog. Bobrow also writes for the Williams-Sonoma blog, Foodista.com, Voda magazine, Saveur, Serious Eats, The Beverage Journal and Beverage News, and Edible New Jersey. He has taught social media and food writing at the New School in NY as well as the Institute for Culinary Education. He is a Ministry of Rum judge and was the only journalist from the USA asked to participate in Fete de la Gastronomie 2012 in Paris.

Friday, August 8, 2014

One of my Favorite Life Experiences


A small, personal memory, provided for your amusement.

I was covering the 1972 elections as a young reporter, on the scene at the local Board of Elections. I knew some of the other people there, including a friend of mine from one of the major newspapers. He was a grizzled veteran reporter, much older than me, an ink-stained wretch, always in his classic rumpled trenchcoat.

At one point in the festivities, he looked over and signaled for me to follow him. I did and we walked silently through the darkened hallways of a building he obviously knew much better than I did. We arrived at an office. He opened the door, turned on the light, and sat down.

"As you know," he announced, more grandly than his audience of one required, "it is against the law to consume alcohol in the Board of Elections on election day. This, however, is the Board of Education."

He reached into the pockets of his trenchcoat and produced two bottles of beer, handing one to me. He also smoked a cigarette.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Diageo Invests $120M in Three New Bottling Lines



Packaging certainly is not the most glamorous part of whiskey-making, but it's essential. It's also costly, requiring both a lot of labor and a lot of equipment.

Diageo is the only whiskey producer in North America to do its packaging at a facility devoted to nothing else. It is done in a massive but otherwise non-descript facility in an industrial park on the outskirts of Plainfield, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. Roads and rails provide access and the tank farm is the only clue to the plant's purpose. Except for a small hand-bottling line in Tullahoma, used for some Orphan Barrel and George Dickel products, most of Diageo's American whiskeys (Dickel, Bulleit) are bottled here.

This is the sort of thing Diageo rarely talks about. Requests to tour Plainfield are routinely and curtly refused. Diageo did, however, allow the magazine Packaging World to report on its recent addition of three new high-speed bottling lines at Plainfield, including a 300-bpm (bottles per minute) glass bottle line and a 260-bpm filling line for PET (i.e., plastic) flasks.

Since 2010, Packaging World reports, the company has invested more than $250 million in its North American production network to put in place a mix of high-speed, high-volume lines for established brands and lines with greater flexibility for new product innovations.

"Diageo's ambition is to be the best performing, most trusted and respected consumer products company in the world. Our supply chain operations will play a critical role in delivering that goal," said Diageo North America President Larry Schwartz at the unveiling of the company's most recent plant expansion. "The investment we have made in our manufacturing network demonstrates our commitment to developing this important part of our business."

In August 2013, Diageo completed a 90,000-sq-ft expansion at Plainfield, making it the company's largest bottling facility at 531,000-sq-ft The company also added a new cold-filtration system in the processing area, capable of preparing 250,000 gal of liquid per day.

Since it opened in 1966, the Plainfield facility (then owned by Diageo predecessor company Schenley) has been the focus of a number of investments. Diageo added a Brand Technical Center in 2001 to turn new liquid and packaging ideas into commercial products, and in 2009 it created a high-speed bottling area for malt drinks such as Smirnoff Ice. Also in 2009, Diageo partnered with rigid plastic packaging supplier Logoplaste to add a 40,000-sq-ft blow-molding facility adjacent to the plant to supply the majority of its PET bottles. In 2012, Diageo created a flexible production area with two packaging lines geared toward lower-volume, complex production and innovation requirements.

With the latest expansion, Diageo added a pouch filling line for Diageo's frozen cocktail products. That brings the number of packaging lines at Plainfield to 10, with the addition of Line 8 for glass and PET, Line 9 for glass, and Line 10 for PET.

In 2013, Plainfield bottled approximately 31 million cases of product, which is equivalent to 372 million 750-mL bottles. According to Diageo, "if those bottles were laid end-to-end, they would circle the globe nearly three times."

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Should be in Stores Now


Officially, Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary dropped last week, July 28. It's a specially-made, limited edition bourbon to celebrate Master Distiller Jimmy Russell's 60 years at the distillery. If you're interested, contact your whiskey monger now.

How limited is it? All they'll say is it's "available nationally, but in small quantities." If history is any guide, it will be gone fast, even at the MSRP of $124.99. It is 91° proof (45.5% ABV). Having every proof statement end in '1' is a reference and tribute to the brand's 101° proof flagship.

The product, made by Jimmy Russell's son, Eddie, who has 33 years of tenure, is a mingling of 13- and 16-year-old whiskeys. It was unveiled in mid-April at an event in Jimmy Russell's honor at the new visitors center. It went on sale at the distillery that day, so there are many bottles out there. This is the general retail release.

At the April event, Eddie joked that Jimmy rather famously doesn't like anything older than 12-years-old. "I figured I could get away with 13," said Eddie. He used the 16-year-old to give the whiskey extra spice notes. The result tastes like a 13-year-old but with a little something extra.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Coppersea Makes First and Only All-New York Whiskeys


"I know it when I see it" is how many people define craft distilling. See if this one passes that test for you.

Last Wednesday Coppersea Distilling, in New York's Hudson River Valley, announced that it had filled two whiskey barrels made from New York State-grown white oak and constructed by a New York cooperage, U.S. Barrel Company, a first since Prohibition.

One barrel was filled with rye whiskey, the other with bourbon.

The words "mis en bouteille au chateau" have been an important legend on French wine labels for centuries. They signify a producer who does everything on-site, from growing the grapes to corking the bottles. Founded in 2011, Coppersea is one of the few distilleries in the world capable of doing that sort of thing with whiskey. They use only Hudson Valley-grown corn, rye, and barley. They also use open wooden fermenters, direct-fired copper-pot stills, sour-mashing and floor-malting.

“From the outset, Coppersea has gone to great lengths to source all of the ingredients in our whiskeys from New York State,” remarks Coppersea master distiller Angus MacDonald. “There is a tendency to place the barrel outside of those considerations, but when you reflect on how much of the flavor of an oak-matured whiskey comes from the wood it is aged in, it becomes clear that a truly local whiskey must be aged in locally sourced oak.”

U.S. Barrel Company owner and head cooper Bob Hockert agrees. “We feel that making a high-quality whiskey barrel is just as much a craft as making the whiskey that goes into it. Our team has been creating slack barrels [which are not designed to hold fluids] for ten years, so we began this project with a good amount of expertise. Tight-barrel cooperage has its own challenges, though. We've had to build our own equipment, develop an understanding of whiskey distilling, and forge relationships with New York State loggers in order to build barrels that meet the highest standards.”

U.S. Barrel sources premium New York oak and air-seasons it for at least a year.

Unfortunately, as good as all this sounds, tasting notes will have to wait. That rule is the same for all whiskey-makers, craft or not, and may be the hardest part.

P.S., I hope their whiskey turns out as well as their video did. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Bourbon Boom as Beer; the Goose Island Bourbon County Series.


Bourbon makers empty more than a million barrels a year, and can't use them again for bourbon, so they sell them. The market is very good right now. The big bourbon producers can sell a used barrel for almost as much as they pay for a new one. That's a pretty sweet deal.

Most of them go to Scotland. Rumor has it they make a kind of whiskey there too and prefer to age it in used bourbon barrels. A lot of them go to breweries and Chicago's Goose Island (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev) probably buys more than anyone else. Their  Bourbon County Stout, aged in used bourbon barrels, is so popular it has morphed into a series.

It is an annual release program, with the new batch appearing each year on Black Friday, which this year is November 28. See the Goose Island web site for more information.

Beergraphs.com lists seven of the world's top 20 beers as being from the Goose Island Bourbon County Stout series. In addition to Bourbon County Brand Stout, the new releases will include:

Proprietors - It will feature panela sugar made into a syrup with coconut water, Cassia bark (i.e., cinnamon) and cocoa nibs.

Vanilla Rye - A hit from 2010 making a return. It has been aged in rye whiskey barrels from four different distilleries. Into each barrel go two pounds of vanilla beans from Mexico and Madagascar.

Coffee - An annual release, except with a different coffee each year. 2014 will be Rwandan coffee from Intelligentsia.

Barleywine - A return from last year, it's aged in 'third use' barrels that previously held standard Bourbon County Stout.

Used bourbon barrels have a real effect on beer or brewers wouldn't use them, but part of what is driving the popularity of bourbon barrel beers is the appeal of bourbon itself. It has become a name to conjure with. If beer drinkers who like bourbon barrel-aged products are inspired to try bourbon too there's nothing wrong with that.

This whole thing just keeps getting better and better, for people who like bourbon that is.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Kentucky's Distilleries Are Running Full Throttle


I hate that this must be said, but there is nothing in this post about the Full Throttle Saloon, Distillery, or imbecilic TV show. Before all of that idiocy began, 'full throttle' was a perfectly good expression meaning something that was running as hard and fast as it could be run; 'maximum warp,' to use another cultural reference.

I learned earlier this week that the Brown-Forman Distillery in Shively is now running full throttle, meaning at full capacity, more-or-less. They run their two stills 24-hours-a-day for three days, shut them down briefly for cleaning, then do it all again.

This is about the time of year when distilleries go on shutdown. A distillery is like your furnace at home. It doesn't have speeds, it is either on or off, so how much you produce is strictly a function of how long you have the switch turned to 'on.' One way they do this is by shutting down in August and again in December, the shutdown's duration determines total production volume for the year. 'Full throttle' means they take two weeks off for essential maintenance, but that's all.

The news about Brown-Forman was a surprise because it is the first time in living memory that particular distillery has been ridden so hard. It primarily makes Old Forester and Early Times. Old Forester reached its high water mark in 1978. For Early Times, it was even earlier.

For years, Brown-Forman was the contract distillery of choice for the other big producers. I also learned that as of the end of this year, Brown-Forman is out of the contract distilling business, news some of their contract customers were not happy to receive. Everything they make from now on will be for their own products.

What's happening is that there is a corporate mandate to revive the founding brand, Old Forester. Why haven't you heard about it? Because they have to make the whiskey before they can sell it. Ballin' the jack now is an act of faith that their revival campaign will be successful. I'll have more shortly on one of their first initiatives.

Brown-Forman's other two distilleries, Woodford Reserve in Kentucky and Jack Daniel's in Tennessee, are both running balls out with major expansions underway.

Buffalo Trace, probably the second-largest distillery in the state after Jim Beam's Booker Noe plant, is going all out too. That's another distillery that hasn't been close to operating at capacity in decades. Their smaller Barton 1792 Distillery, which like Brown-Forman was running way below capacity just a few years ago, is also going full tilt. Maximum warp has been the rule at Maker's Mark, Heaven Hill, George Dickel, and Four Roses for years. Wild Turkey is ramping up its new distillery and will be at full bore soon. Same with MGP of Indiana.

Jim Beam's two week summer shutdown ends Monday. "While our distilleries are producing extremely high volumes, we are certainly not at max capacity," said a Beam spokesperson.

Still, this is unprecedented, and it is no wonder other parts of the industry, from coopers to truckers to bottle and label makers, are having a hard time keeping up.

If we get a warm, wet August and September, a bumper corn crop is still possible. We're going to need it.

This is all simply remarkable. No one in the industry has ever experienced anything like it. There appears to be no end in sight. Nobody predicted this, so everybody is flying blind and hoping for the best. Bad news from China, as Diageo and Pernod have experienced recently, makes everyone nervous. Because of the aging cycle, whiskey is always made on the if-come, but the bets being laid down now are the biggest in history.

Come on, baby. Daddy needs a new pair of shoes.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Deadline to Join the Chuck Cowdery Fall Tour is September 1



The photograph above was taken during our visit to the grave of Dr. James C. Crow on the "Chuck Cowdery VIP Bourbon & History Tour Experience" in March. That stop is on the itinerary again for the October 15-17 tour, but about half of the itinerary is new. Some folks in the March group had so much fun they're thinking about doing it again.

This being August 1st, October seems a long way off, but there's an important date coming up much sooner, September 1st. That's the deadline for signing up.

Why do we have a deadline? And why is it so early? These tours are a big commitment for everyone: me, the Mint Julep folks, the places that have agreed to give us special access, and you our guests. These special tours are tough to pull off because they are budgeted based on a full bus (i.e., 20 guests). If we don't sell every seat, we can't do it. Hence the deadline.

We understand that it's hard for prospective guests to commit because of the planning and cost involved. By making the deadline 45-days before the event, guests still have plenty of time to make their travel and lodging arrangements if we go, or make other plans if we don't.

If this trip sounds like fun to you, I urge you to contact Mint Julep Tours now, get the details, and join us. We'd like to do a couple of these every year, but it's hard to pull them off for the reasons explained above. If you think you'd like to do it, now is the time. There is no certainty we'll ever do it again.

So what is it like? Because the group is so small, it's very friendly. After all, we already have a lot in common. We spend a good amount of time on the bus, traveling from place to place. That's when we get to know each other and I can answer your questions. A drink or two along the way doesn't hurt either. It's a total bourbon and Kentucky experience, a real immersion. Even if you've been to Kentucky before and visited distilleries, you've never done anything like this.

To start the bus rolling, call Mint Julep Tours at 502-583-1433 or email chasta@mintjuleptours.com.