Friday, June 22, 2018

Partial Warehouse Collapse at Barton 1792



At about 11AM EDT this morning, without warning, a whiskey aging warehouse at the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown partially collapsed. No one was injured but about 9,000 barrels are affected, according to Nelson County Emergency Management spokesman Milt Spalding. Although the visible barrels appear remarkably intact, they may be leaking. So far, according to officials, water in the nearby Beech Fork River has not been impacted.

The building, which is about 60 years old, was being repaired. Bardstown Fire Chief Billy Mattingly said the part still standing is very unstable and may collapse as well. The warehouse held a total of 20,000 barrels.

There is no way to say yet how many barrels were lost. Intact barrels, still full, can be salvaged. Even so, the financial cost surely will be in the millions, not just from lost whiskey but also the cost of replacing the building. New warehouses cost about $2 million each. As for the whiskey, the value of a barrel will vary according to its age but let's say a full barrel is worth about $2,000, a low estimate. A loss of 9,000 barrels adds up to $18 million.

Here is one mitigating factor. Because accidents happen, distilleries don't put all of their eggs in one basket. Every warehouse contains a mix of barrel ages, from newly-filled to fully mature.

As the images show, the warehouse was built at the edge of a hill and that is the side that collapsed. This has been an unusually wet spring throughout the region. One possible reason for the collapse is subsidence caused by oversaturated soil. Barton 1792 is owned by Sazerac. As of now, the company has not made any announcements about the accident.

Click here for some drone-shot video of the scene.

Sazerac has released the following statement:

Barton 1792 Distillery is confirming it did have an incident with one of its barrel warehouses, Warehouse #30 today, Friday, June 22nd around 11 a.m. EDT. 

One side of the barrel warehouse collapsed causing structural damage.  No one was inside the warehouse and there were no injuries. 

The Distillery team took proactive measures to access and contain the damage immediately.  The Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection has been on site and the Distillery team implemented a number of actions to minimize any environmental risk.

Barrel Warehouse #30 was built in the 1940s and held approximately 18,000 barrels.  We believe no more than half of the barrels inside are impacted; we are assessing how many of the impacted barrels can be recovered.  A mix of various distilled products at various ages were stored in that warehouse.

The Warehouse incident will not affect normal operations or tourism activities; the Distillery expects to be open for tours on Saturday and it will resume normal business operations on Monday.   Barton 1792’s normal “summer shutdown,” which is when bourbon distilleries shut down for a short time period in the summer for repairs and routine maintenance, began last week. This will not affect bourbon production once the Distillery’s summer shutdown time period ends as already planned.   

It may be several days or weeks before a full assessment of the damage to Warehouse 30 at Barton 1792 is fully complete.  At this time we do not know which Barton 1792 brands or customers will be impacted.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Elijah Craig Did Not Make the First Bourbon



One of the most persistent bourbon myths is the one about Elijah Craig. Here is a typical example, from Alexis Lichine's New Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits: "Early in the colonial history of America, a Baptist minister, Elijah Craig, established a still in Georgetown, Kentucky and began producing whiskey from a base of corn. The still is said to have been one of the first in Kentucky and customers in neighboring towns christened his product Bourbon County Whiskey, from the county of origin."

The myth can be traced to Richard Collins, whose History of Kentucky was published in 1874. Collins does not identify Craig by name, but writes that "the first Bourbon Whiskey was made in 1789, at Georgetown, at the fulling mill at the Royal spring." This claim is included, without elaboration, on a densely-packed page of short statements under the heading 'Kentucky firsts.' 

Collins does not attempt to substantiate the claim nor has any evidence ever been produced to support it. Craig was a real person—a major character in early Kentucky history—and he was a distiller. He also operated a fulling mill at the Royal Spring in 1789, so there is little doubt that Collins intended to attribute this milestone to Craig. What is lacking is any evidence that Craig’s whiskey was unique in its day, that it alone had somehow been elevated from the raw, green, corn distillate made throughout the frontier to the bourbon whiskey we know today.

In addition to a lack of any evidence to support the Collins claim, which was made almost 100 years after the fact, there is another, more significant problem about connecting the Craig claim to bourbon’s name. Craig's distilling operation was never in Bourbon County, even with the shifting of county boundaries that took place during Kentucky's early history. Craig didn’t move, but the boundaries did as new, smaller counties were created from older and larger ones. Craig's site was first in Fayette County (1780), then Woodford (1788), then Scott (1792), but never Bourbon. 

In Craig's day, making whiskey was commonplace, universally viewed as an economic and personal necessity. It was only much later, in Collins’ time, that making and consuming whiskey became controversial. Collins himself sympathized with the prohibitionists who would eventually outlaw whiskey, but distillers and their supporters were quick to embrace his assertion that bourbon was 'invented' by a respected Baptist preacher. This does not explain why Collins attributed the invention of bourbon to Craig, but it does explain why that legend has endured.

Now, of course, it is in the interest of a certain distillery to keep the myth alive. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Buffalo Trace Updates Bourbon Shortage Status



I don't generally publish press releases. I am publishing this one for two reasons. (1) It contains a lot of interesting information. (2) I wish everybody would put out something like this. Don't you?
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Thirsty Drinkers Cope with Scarcity amidst Bourbon Shortage

Buffalo Trace Distillery Now Investing $1.2 Billion to make more  

FRANKFORT, FRANKLIN COUNTY, KY (June 12, 2018) In 2013, Buffalo Trace Distillery looked at its bourbon inventory, current sales, and 20 year sales projections and determined it had a problem: fans were drinking more bourbon than the company had predicted. In short, the company was facing a bourbon shortage. 

So it took the next logical steps: put bourbons most in danger of running out on allocation, warned fans there might be periodic shortages at the liquor stores, increased distillation, added more bottling lines, and hired more employees, including a dedicated position to watch and balance bourbon inventory. The company thought these steps were the appropriate reaction to the problem, rather than raising prices to slow sales or compromising taste or quality to bottle more by diluting proof, or bottling barrels before they fully matured.

Now, five years later, the bourbon boom is still booming, Bourbon sales continue to grow in the United States by five percent annually. The number of new brands has exploded as consumers seek more variety. Over 1,500 craft distilleries dot the landscape across America. The craft cocktail scene has arrived and a new bourbon bar seems to open weekly.

Those national trends are good news for Buffalo Trace Distillery who has more barrels coming of age over the next 12 months. Fans of Buffalo Trace Bourbon will enjoy finding more bottles available in 2018, but the company still suspects it will not be enough to meet demand.

There’s good news on other brands too, like Eagle Rare, W. L. Weller, E. H. Taylor Jr, and Blanton’s Single Barrel, as all of these brands will see more barrels come of age and bottles produced in 2018.

The Distillery will continue to bottle other fan favorites such as Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, Elmer T. Lee and Sazerac Rye as barrels mature, but unfortunately there will be little growth on these brands.

The company expects the majority of its whiskeys will still be on allocation, and will continue bourbon allocations across the U.S. to ensure each state receives some.

“When I started with the company in 1995, we filled 12,000 barrels a year. Today the growth seems moderate, but when you think about how far we’ve come, it’s actually phenomenal, considering when we’re on track to produce 200,000 barrels this year,” said Harlen Wheatley, master distiller.

All that growth takes capital investment, and Buffalo Trace is in the early stages of spending $1.2 billion over the next 10 years at this National Historic Landmark. Already, two new barrel warehouses are complete with new barrels being loaded inside. The third is going up rapidly, and the foundation has been started for the fourth. When complete, each of these new warehouses will hold 58,800 barrels of whiskey. The plan is to build one new warehouse every four months for the next several years. Each warehouse cost $7.5 million to build and $21.0 million to fill with barrels.

Each warehouse will be insulated, an industry first, to protect it from the cold Kentucky winters, when bourbon lies dormant inside a barrel when temperatures drop. Already, Buffalo Trace is one of the few distilleries to steam heat its existing warehouses, now another layer of environmental protection has been added with insulation. 

But all those barrels means whiskey production must be increased too, which is why Buffalo Trace is in the process of replacing its boilers (some of which have been in place since the 1950s) and is preparing its site to add a new cooling tower next summer. The cooling tower cools down the water that is used for cooling down the grain after its cooked into mash. 

Also next summer, the Distillery plans to add four new cookers, twice the size of the existing cookers. Plus, four new fermenters will be installed. These 92,000 gallons fermenting tanks will be same size as the existing fermenters - the largest in the distilling industry.

As whiskey production capacity increases, the distllery expansion will displace the main bottling operation at Buffalo Trace. So a new bottling hall is being built at a cost of $50.0 million which will improve efficiency, flexibility and overall quality. The move is expected to be complete by the end of 2018.

Buffalo Trace Distillery would like to stress that while the bourbon shortages are prevalent on all of its brands, they speak only for themselves, not for the entire bourbon industry. 

Although Buffalo Trace is moving forward aggressively with expansion plans, allocations will continue, with no foreseeable end in sight.  Buffalo Trace Distillery would like to thank its customers for their continued support and to ask them to remain patient as they endeavor to make more bourbon. Unfortunately, you can’t cheat Father Time when making good bourbon!

About Buffalo Trace Distillery

Buffalo Trace Distillery is an American family-owned company based in Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky. The Distillery's rich tradition dates back to 1773 and includes such legends as E.H. Taylor, Jr., George T. Stagg, Albert B. Blanton, Orville Schupp, and Elmer T. Lee.  Buffalo Trace Distillery is a fully operational Distillery producing bourbon, rye and vodka on site and is a National Historic Landmark as well as is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Distillery has won 21 distillery titles since 2000 from such notable publications as Whisky Magazine, Whisky Advocate Magazine and Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Its Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Four Grain Bourbon was named World Whiskey of the Year by “Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible 2018.”  Buffalo Trace Distillery has also garnered more than 500 awards for its wide range of premium whiskies. To learn more about Buffalo Trace Distillery visit www.buffalotracedistillery.com

Monday, June 11, 2018

International Law? There Is No Such Thing



WARNING: No bourbon content.

In their criticism of the Trump administration's recent policy change, regarding separating the children of asylum-seekers from their parents upon arrival, many have cited the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol that says the U.S. must recognize refugees that fear persecution and are not able to get help from their home country. They say that by arresting asylum-seekers and putting their minor children into protective custody, the U.S. is in violation of that international law.

I don't approve of that policy, nor did I approve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, but both events raise the question. What is international law? Here is something I wrote in 2004.
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On September 17th, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation World Service that he believed there should have been a second U.N. resolution to determine the consequences of Iraq's failure to comply over weapons inspections.

Asked if he viewed the invasion of Iraq as illegal, he said: "Yes, if you wish. I have indicated it was not in conformity with the U.N. charter--from our point of view, from the [U.N.] charter point of view, it was illegal."

When politicians and commentators talk about international law, they usually fail to explain that what is called 'international law' is very different from the ordinary, everyday law to which you and I are subject. If we break a law and are found guilty by a court, we can go to jail, be required to pay a fine, or required to pay some sum of money to another person. Ultimately, the jurisdiction in question (whether it be a city, state, or nation) has the authority and power to enforce its rulings, by force if necessary, and they usually do so without hesitation.

If, like most people, that is what you think of when you see the word 'law,' then by comparison 'international law' is practically a euphemism.

Advocates of international law would like everyone to equate it with the common understanding of the word 'law.' That is why they use the term. But if there were truth-in-advertising in international rhetoric, the term 'international law' would have to be banned.

International law consists of a web of multilateral and bilateral agreements among and between sovereign states. The first 'international laws' were trading agreements that became standardized and to which most nations subscribed. Today, the various courts of international law operate under the auspices of the United Nations. If you understand the United Nations to be to international law what the State of Illinois is to Illinois law, you can begin to see the problem. Persons, whether natural (you and me) or unnatural (corporations), are subject to Illinois law. The state of Illinois can send armed officers to take me into custody to enforce its laws. It can order my bank to give it my money. It can even kill me.

With international law, sovereign nations are the subjects. What can the United Nations do to a member nation found guilty of violating an international law? If the United Nations imposes sanctions on a nation, it relies on its member states to abide by the sanctions regime. International law only works when it is in everyone’s interest to go along. When it is not, they don’t, and there isn’t much anyone can do about it.

Unless, that is, they have a military and the willingness to use it. Then so-called international law can provide a handy rationale for military action.

In an Illinois courtroom, at least ideally (and, in fact, in most cases), the law applies equally to everyone. This may be true of international law in theory, but in reality it is always political.

Nations voluntarily submit themselves to the various bodies charged with hearing cases and making rulings about alleged breaches of international law. They can cooperate during a trial and then say, “no thank you” to the verdict, or they can say “no thank you” to the entire process.

As a rule, nations abide by international law except when they don’t. When they don’t, the political part kicks in, first prodding and persuasion, then maybe sanctions, which might or might not be effective at punishing the violator, depending on the violator’s susceptibility to international pressure and on the willingness of other nations to bring it. Imagine if the IRS collected taxes that way.

It is often said that the United States Constitution “is not a suicide pact,” meaning that any right can be reasonably limited when permitting its full exercise would threaten the nation. Likewise, international law is not a suicide pact. Sovereign nations never will submit voluntarily to rulings that threaten their sovereignty and the United Nations has no independent ability to compel them to submit.

So, the United States invokes international law to defend its invasion of Iraq and the war’s opponents invoke it to condemn the invasion as illegal. Who is right? Neither? Both? Both sides have a case but, ultimately, so what?

That is what 'law' means when you put an 'international' in front of it. Ultimately, not much.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Kentucky Launches Mail Order Bourbon Business


Governor Matt Bevin signs the 'Bourbon Without Borders Act' at the Frazier History Museum in Louisville.
The bill Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed into law on Friday allows alcoholic beverage producers in Kentucky--distilleries but also small farm wineries--to ship their products out-of-state. Nicknamed the 'Bourbon Without Borders Act,' it was introduced by Chad McCoy, who represents Bardstown in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

"HB 400 is an important step in eliminating red tape and modernizing one of Kentucky's signature industries," said Gov. Bevin in a tweet. "This new law will promote economic development and increase tourism opportunities, ensuring that visitors can take a little piece of Kentucky home with them when they leave."

Some visitors, anyway. Currently, the privilege is limited to states that also allow direct shipment, of which there are seven (Arizona, Hawaii, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Rhode Island), plus Washington, D.C. The hope is that more states will join the club, leading eventually to a national direct sales marketplace.

Kentucky bourbon distillers and other producers celebrated the new law, as did UPS, which has its Worldport hub at Louisville's airport. UPS's largest air facility, Worldport processes an average of 1.6 million packages a day.

The direct shipment law takes on more significance when considered in conjunction with Kentucky's new 'Vintage Spirits Law,' which took effect on January 1. Now collectors in participating states can buy and sell legally without traveling to Kentucky, as long as they sell to and buy from a licensed Kentucky alcohol retailer. (Unlicensed individuals may not ship alcohol, but if you can get it there, everything else is legal and aboveboard.)

Full normalization of the secondary market in alcoholic beverages still has a long way to go, but it is nice to see Kentucky exhibiting this kind of leadership.

Friday, June 1, 2018

That Stuff You're Drinking? It's Not Whiskey



Whiskey has exactly one ingredient, whiskey. A mixture of different whiskeys, and nothing else, is still whiskey. A mixture of whiskey and other stuff is not whiskey. It is a cocktail.

People can drink what they want. You should drink what you like and be proud of it, which means be honest about it. Don't say you are a whiskey drinker if what you are drinking is not whiskey but merely a beverage "made with whiskey." (See label, above.)

You will also notice, on that label, that the word 'Tabasco' appears in larger type and twice as often as the word 'whisky.'

There are several things going on here, about branding and American whiskey having a moment right now. All of a sudden, everybody wants to say they're a whiskey drinker. Just about all of the big producers are getting in on it. Jack Daniel's Honey is not whiskey. Red Stag by Jim Beam is not whiskey. Fireball is not whiskey.

We could talk about the labeling rules, but what's the point? Most of these products follow the rules, more or less. This isn't about rules, this is about common sense, or maybe dignity, or patriotism, honor, faith, courage, respect, something important like that.

We may not all have the same truth, but let's all try to speak the same language.

A manhattan is a drink made with whiskey, but a manhattan is not whiskey. Only whiskey is whiskey.

Wood finishes, like Angels Envy, Maker's 46, or Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, are a different subject. Wood is an ingredient in whiskey, not the other way around. You can mess with the wood and the liquid is still whiskey. If the Dickel product was just Tennessee whiskey finished in Tabasco barrels it might not be good, but it would be whiskey.

But if you add port, or sherry, or honey, or honey liqueur, or 'essence of Tabasco,' the beverage is no longer whiskey. A beverage is not 'cinnamon whiskey' unless it is distilled from the fermented bark of a cinnamon tree. It is, exactly like a manhattan, a drink in which whiskey is an ingredient.

Well, not exactly like a manhattan. A manhattan is good.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Dad's Hat Rye Set to Break 4-Year Age Barrier



All of a sudden, it seems, there are hundreds of small distilleries in the U.S. It is a struggle to keep track of them all. For whiskey drinkers, however, it is possible to quickly shrink the number to a manageable size. Just limit your attention to distilleries selling house-made whiskey that is at least four years old.

Last spring, Whisky Advocate Magazine published a story by me headlined "Craft Whiskey Comes of Age." At the time, I estimated that only about 20 craft distillers met the 4-year standard. I'm sure the number is a little higher now.

Dad's Hat Rye, located in the Philadelphia suburb of Bristol, was on that list. Like several others, their 4-year-old was bottled-in-bond and a very small release, available only at the distillery. Since then, stocks have grown enough that owners John Cooper and Herman Mihalich feel they can make the bond an annual release, available throughout Pennsylvania and soon in other states. The 2018 release will be out at the end of this month.

Later this year, Dad's Hat will transition its Dad's Hat Pennsylvania Straight Rye Whiskey to a 4-year-old as well, probably in September depending on stocks.

As the whiskey matures, so does the craft whiskey movement itself. Dad's has hung its hat on rye, the traditional spirit of Pennsylvania, home of such legendary rye distilleries as Michter's, Large, Old Overholt, Schenley, and Broad Ford. They are one to watch.