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The Flavored Whiskey All Frat Boys Want: Piehole Apple Pie

Last week, Diageo announced its new flavored whiskey lineup, including extensions of Jeremiah Weed and Crown Royal, as well as the new brand “Piehole.”

The company said: “Piehole was inspired by grandma’s favorite pie recipes. They are a delicious blend of Canadian whisky and pie flavored liqueur. This new-to-world product is available in three tempting flavors: Apple Pie, Cherry Pie and Pecan Pie. Piehole Whiskies will be available beginning in November for a suggested retail price of $14.99 for a 750 mL bottle.”

Piehole - Cherry Pie Piehole - Apple PieI’ve made my opinions on flavored whiskey fairly public in Whisky Magazine columns and my blog post “Flavored Whiskey, Big Money & The Toilet Bowl.” I don’t like the stuff and never will. But I completely understand there is a market for flavored products. Last year, according to Nielsen research, flavored North American Whiskey grew 63 percent with all other market signs pointing toward more room to grow.

Distilleries are going to keep making this stuff, no matter how much I protest it. So, let’s acknowledge the category for what it is–Frat Boy Liqueurs.

For the first time, a spirits company has come right out of the gate with a product and not hidden its intentions whatsoever. With busty women holding pies and sitting on pies, Piehole will appeal perfectly to the 21-year-old “what’s up, dude?” demographic in the fraternity houses.

Piehole will be a success in every circle that includes immature men. So, kudos to Diageo for not trying to hide from this fact.

But in a time when society is trying to move away from sexism and 1950s-era female stereotypes, Piehole is a huge fail. In its marketing, Diageo says Piehole is inspired by grandma. If that’s the case, why are there mid-20th Century strippers on the label? If we’re really trying to sell grandma’s recipes, how about a tasteful image of a grandma? Oh, yeah, that’s not going to appeal to Johnny Frat Boy.

With that said, I do not believe Piehole violates any industry edicts that the Dewar’s advertisement was guilty of last year. The women sitting on pies evokes imagination, but likely manages to comply within industry code.

Much like what we saw with the Woodford Reserve television commercials, which many deemed sexist, we’ll probably see a social media outcry, but Diageo will likely not budge on its Pieohole marketing. After all, Diageo’s job is to make money for shareholders. And Pieohole will capture the targeted demographic.

BREAKING: Balcones Owner Responds to Chip Tate Comments

After my Whisky Advocate blog post about Balcones founder Chip Tate, I immediately requested an interview with the current Balcones ownership for their side of the story. I did not receive an interview, but received an email statement, which I’m publishing in its entirety.


A Message from Michael Rockafellow, Owner and Director, Balcones Distilling October 20, 2014

All of us at Balcones Distilling understand and appreciate the interest in the recent litigation activity; however, we believe that it is not appropriate or fair at the current time to discuss the pending case beyond referring to details that are readily available in public filings and court rulings. After Judge Myers held Chip in contempt of court for violating the Court’s TRO, we agreed to pursue mediation as a next step in the process. At the same time, we also agreed to narrow some of the TRO restrictions imposed on Chip in return for his agreement to abide by some other restrictions as part of an attempt to move forward.

Putting aside the litigation, the Balcones team would like its fans and supporters to know that it is operating at full capacity and proceeding with expansion plans to increase production of our popular spirits. Current production and blending continues to be managed and supervised by Jared Himstedt, long term Distillery Manager for Balcones. A recent Brimstone blend won Best in Class and a Gold Medal in the Innovative Whisky category at the Whiskies of the World competition, with Texas Single Malt winning a Silver medal for USA Malt whiskies, and Balcones’ newest expression, FR.OAK, our Texas Single Malt finished in French oak casks, earning a Silver medal as well. Jared has been a part of building this company, constructing equipment, designing products and blending from the beginning, and is garnering well deserved recognition and respect for his contributions to our ongoing success.

As the largest owner, an early investor, and the sole lender to Balcones until 16 months ago, it’s immensely satisfying for me to watch Balcones’ success exceed our original aspirations. I remain active in the management of the business and want all our fans to know that we have a great team who are committed to the Company’s vision and enjoying renewed enthusiasm for working in a safe, collaborative and supportive culture.

The entire team is excited about the future. We’re producing the whiskies our fans have come to expect, and we look forward to creating great new expressions.

Bourbon Keeps Blowing Up

I just returned from a Kentucky Distillers Association press conference in Frankfort, Ky., where there were more politicians than actual distillers.  The KDA and politicians were announcing the economic impacts of Kentucky’s distilling industry.

Bourbon now gets people elected in Kentucky. In fact, Senator Mitch McConnell met with KDA members two weeks ago at Four Roses, where one source told me he questioned his opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes’ leadership for the bourbon industry. However, the KDA says McConnell did not talk about Grimes and only spoke about his support for bourbon.

Meanwhile, Governor Steve Beshear said at the presser: “Bourbon is our heritage. It’s a part of our DNA in this state.” While this is true, Beshear is the only governor in my lifetime to make the state’s tax structure more friendly for bourbon distillers.

Governor Steve Beshear delivers the economic impact to the media at the new Jim Beam distribution center in Frankfurt, Ky.  Standing behind Beshear is KDA president Eric Gregory.

Governor Steve Beshear delivers the economic impact to the media at the new Jim Beam distribution center in Frankfort, Ky. Standing behind Beshear is KDA president Eric Gregory.

An interesting bourbon political piece to the presser, Senate President and Kentucky Republican Majority Leader Robert Stivers offered an anecdote about an Indiana senator visiting the Buffalo Trace Distillery. The Indiana senator wrote Stivers about the “Kentucky Bourbon Trail” and said that future State Senator forums should be held at bourbon facilities. Of course, Buffalo Trace is not on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which is ran by the KDA.

Here are the key points referenced in the press conference, which were also in the KDA press release.

  • Distilling now contributes $3 billion in gross state product to Kentucky’s economy every year, up from $1.8 billion just two years ago, a 67 percent increase.
  • More than 15,400 people owe their paychecks to the Bourbon industry, compared to 8,690 in 2012, a 77 percent increase.
  • Payroll for those workers has skyrocketed to more than $707 million from $413 million in 2012, a 71 percent increase.
  • Average salary for distillery employees is $91,188.
  • Distilleries plan to spend $630 million in capital investment over the next five years as the ad valorem “barrel tax” is offset by a corporate tax credit that distillers are required to reinvest in their Kentucky operations. This will create an additional 1,500 jobs, $43 million in payroll and $5 million in tax revenue.
  • Total capital investment will surpass $1.3 billion in projects over a 10-year period starting in 2008.
  • The number of licensed distilling companies has tripled – from 10 to 31 in two years. That’s the most distilleries in Kentucky since the repeal of Prohibition.
  • Distilling remains one of the state’s top job creators with a 4.35 spin-off factor. It now ranks second, behind animal processing, in total employment and job multiplier out of 245 industries.
  • Distilling industry employment is up 21 percent since 2000, while the rest of Kentucky’s manufacturers lost 26 percent of their jobs.
  • New craft distilleries employ 127 people with salaries totaling more than $4 million. They have invested $30 million and plan to spend another $25 to $30 million in the next five years.
  • Total property tax assessments have jumped to $2 billion from $1.3 billion in 2012, a 54 percent increase.
  • More than $166 million in tax revenue for local and state governments is generated by spirits production and consumption, up from $126 million in 2012 (a 32 percent increase).
  • Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey account for $1 billion of the total $1.5 billion in distilled spirits exports, up from $768 million in 2012. It is, by far, the largest export category among all U.S. distilled spirits.
  • Barrel inventories are at their highest levels in 40 years, with more than 5.3 million aging currently in Kentucky. Production levels are up 53 percent in the last two years and 150 percent in the last 15 years.

Master Distillers: A History, The Truth & Fake Bourbon

Master distiller is a commonly used term with no consistent definition.

Michter’s Willie Pratt and Bulleit’s Tom Bulleit are referred to as “master distiller” even though their companies are just now building their respective distilleries. (Note: Diageo does not market Bulleit as a master distiller, but he is commonly introduced as one in media and at events.) MGP Ingredients’ Greg Metze and Four Roses’ Jim Rutledge use the same title, but their duties are drastically different. Greg only makes distilled spirits, while Jim spends much of his time marketing Four Roses to consumers and media.

Craft distillers who started making distillate less than a year ago, former marketing managers and converted small business owners all call themselves master distillers right now. Perhaps, after taking a distilling class or receiving on-the-job training, they consider themselves qualified. But even if you disagree with their using the title, show me the contemporary position announcement that defines the job.

For such a specific title like master distiller, the duties range from talking to media and taking distributors to dinner and from smelling corn for mold to actually turning a knob for distilling. Hell, I could call myself a master distiller right now, buy six cases of bourbon and blend them for the “Old Minnick, America’s Smoothest Fake Bourbon” and nobody would stop me. Just for argument’s sake, let’s say I get away with the illegally making such a product, I assure you every newspaper story would title me as “master distiller” because they don’t know better. And why would I stop them? My master distiller title could help sell Old Minnick, America’s Smoothest Fake Bourbon.

Whiskey Women AdMaster distiller is catchy and authoritative. But it may surprise you that it is not new.

Believe it or not, master distiller goes back much further than the modern guys and gals signing bottles at WhiskyFest.

In my research, I’ve found several 1800s references to so-called master distillers. None were more poignant and defined than in the 1867 “Arts & Sciences” section of The English Cyclopaedia (Note: UK English spelling): “He tests the specific gravity of all the liquids as often as he pleases; he requires that the numerous pipes shall be painted, some black, some red, some blue, and some white, in order that he may know which is for the conveyance of wort, which for wash, which for the first spirit, and which for the finished spirit; he demands the aid of ladders and passages to give him access to every part of every piece of apparatus. In short, the master distiller is so thoroughly controlled in all the operations, that nothing but the prospect of large profits, arising out of a large business, would induce a manufacturer to wear such shackles.”

Even though it’s been more than 140 years, the above definition could still work today.

In the bourbon world, master distiller was frequently used before and after Prohibition. In the mid-1930s newspaper ads, trying to win over new post-Prohibition customers, Nicholas O. Blair championed himself the master distiller of The Blair Distilling Company in Chicago, Kentucky. “Nick Blair….was practically born a distiller,” a 1936 ad stated. “….Blair had been a full-fledged master distiller for ten years and was ready to carry on the business….”

Of the legendary Dant distilling family, Michael J. Dant’s December 27, 1956, obituary refers to him as the “oldest master distiller in Kentucky when he died….”

When Joseph L. Beam passed away, the former Heaven Hill distiller’s obituary lede: “A master distiller for more than 58 years…..” Interestingly, Joseph L.’s cousin, Col. Jim Beam, is referred to as the “oldest practical distiller” vs. master distiller in his 1947 obituary.

Nonetheless, the term existed in the olden days and was widely used.

It goes without saying that the average 1930s master distiller was more qualified than today’s. Back then, from what I’ve been able to gather in historical archives, Kentucky companies referred to their distillery hierarchy in this order: distiller, head distiller and then master distiller. They were actually distilling, too. Today, anybody can use the title, cheapening its meaning and worth on a résumé.

Popular brands like Jefferson’s, Pappy Van Winkle and Black Maple Hill are either contract distilling or purchasing warehouse barrels to blend their respective products. That doesn’t take away from their juice; it simply means they don’t have a true master distiller. (In all fairness, Julian Van Winkle informs people he’s not a distiller, but he’s commonly referred to as one.)

So, it’s just a suggestion: Maybe you don’t call yourself a master distiller if you’re not a master distiller. There’s no shame in mingling barrels together. In fact, I encourage all brands not distilling their own whiskey at their own distillery to create a new title–Master Mingler. That has a nice ring to it.


What does Scotch Whisky Association think about Scotland’s referendum vote?

From David Frost, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, regarding Scotland independence vote.

“The people of Scotland have made a historic choice against the background of the most profound national debate.

“We welcome the stability that this choice brings and now urge politicians of all parties to work to bring our country together.

“The referendum debate has shown the need for government and business to collaborate to address long-term economic challenges. We will be looking closely at plans for further devolution within this context.  There must now be a renewed focus on improving the business environment so that Scotland’s economy can grow to everyone’s benefit.

“The Scotch Whisky industry is determined to play a leading role in shaping discussions that are fundamental to the future success of our industry and our nation.”