Michter’s names a new master distiller

Michter’s current distiller, Dan McKee is to succeed his mentor, Pamela Heilmann as the brand’s master distiller

Michter’s master distiller, Pamela Heilmann has announced her retirement from full time work, which will come into effect from 1 May this year.

Following on from the news, the brand has implemented its succession plan, in which their current distiller, Dan McKee will become master distiller and distillery manager, Matt Bell will become distiller.

In May the 2019 bottling of Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon will go on sale, a fitting tribute and the final release of Heilmann’s tenure as master distiller at Michter’s.

“After we hired Pam, she brought over Dan from her prior company. It quickly became apparent that he was extraordinarily talented and would someday be an outstanding master distiller,” said Michter’s president, Joseph J. Magliocco. “Pam’s contributions to Michter’s have been incredible. She is a truly great distiller, and a truly great person. We’re all thrilled that she has agreed to stay on in a part-time capacity as a master distiller emerita, and I know Dan and Matt will be terrific in their new roles.”

Michter's Senior Production Team

The process of succession looks set to be a smooth one, particularly when you take into consideration that McKee and Heilmann have worked closely together for more than a decade, firstly at Jim Beam and then Michter’s.

Heilmann commented: “I’ve really enjoyed my time at Michter’s, and I’m very proud of what we have done here. One of the favorite parts of my job has been coaching and training younger people as they come up in the industry. Dan is a brilliant distiller, and I am confident that with him and Matt at the helm, our production is in great hands.”

McKee added: “I am so grateful to Pam. To work with her and learn from her has been an honor and a privilege. We will do everything we can to continue Pam’s work and pursue Michter’s goal of producing the greatest American whiskey.”

Michter’s senior management continues to include its master of maturation and executive vice president, Andrea Wilson. She commented: “Pam has been a tremendous leader, and I’m very proud of the team we’ve put together here at Michter’s. Dan and Matt are world class distillers.”

The 2019 release of Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon will be available in May, at 94.4 proof and will sell for a suggested retail price of $130 in the US.

Buffalo Trace Distillery breaks another record for visitation

More than 230,000 guests visited historic distillery in 2018

Buffalo Trace Distillery ended 2018 with a record-breaking 231,523 visitors during the calendar year, showing a 15 per cent increase on visitation from the previous year, as well as a 345 per cent increase since 2010.

The increase in tourism is perfectly on trend with the growing bourbon sales and has enabled the Distillery to undergo a $1.2 billion investment, expanding its capabilities.

“It’s exciting to be growing in all aspects, we are thrilled that so many people took their time to come and see our team at work,” Meredith Moody, director of Homeplace development said. “Our growth in visitation has allowed us to expand our tour offerings to six different complimentary tours, and offer our guests a unique look at the Distillery with each visit. Having just completed an expansion of our Visitor Center in 2015, we are looking forward to again expanding our tour capabilities to accommodate even more guests as we continue to grow.”

There is planning underway for the second expansion of the Visitor Center, while the Distillery construction is anticipated to begin by fall this year.


History Reborn

The opening of Castle & Key Distillery gives a glimpse into golden age of distilling

American distillers owe a huge debt of gratitude to Col. Edmund Haynes Taylor, but not just for his pioneering use of copper fermentation tanks, perfection of sour mash fermentation or helping push the Bottled-In-Bond Act through Congress in 1897. Taylor deserves adoration for envisioning whiskey tourism more than a century before most drinkers dared dip a finger into a fermenter.

CastleAndKey Sunken Garden 2

His creation of Old Taylor Distillery in 1887 brought grandeur to a historically gritty industry. His distillery was fronted by a magnificent limestone castle of medieval design, featuring towers at all four corners. Behind the distillery he built a key-shaped peristyle supported by Roman columns that surrounded the campus’s aquifer. On the distillery’s opposite side, he built a sunken garden that would stir envy among royalty.

His death in 1923 at age 90 spared him an impossibly long-enough life to witness the eventual decline into dereliction of his castle and distillery. Had God granted him the chance to outlive Moses, he may have prayed for a hastened demise had he seen its condition 81 years later.

“Are you guys nuts?”

In 2014, the only thing Will Arvin and Wes Murry knew about distilling was that they liked liquor. Burdened by the idea of what to do with the second half of their working years, Arvin, a real estate investor, and Murry, a lawyer, thought making whiskey would jazz up their lives. Their plans for a distillery were initially modest: a plant that made a barrel or two of boutique whiskey each day, liquor they could sell at a premium to the growing hoard of high-end buyers.

“We didn’t have a clue what we were getting into,” Murry says with a grin. “We were figuring it out as we went.”

CastleAndKey Entrance and Castle

As if their plan wasn’t naïve already, the men wanted to set up shop at the site of the Old Taylor Distilling Co., a distillery that hadn’t rectified even a handful of corn into whiskey in 42 years. Shortly after Prohibition ended, National Distillers bought the plant from the American Medicinal Spirts Co., expanded it and made whiskey there until 1972. At its peak, the distillery made 1,000 barrels of whiskey per day. 

Bottling and aging continued at the site until a 1987 merger with Jim Beam idled the once-glorious distillery. 

In 1990, a quarter century before Murry’s and Arvin’s first visit, Joe Magliocco came to Old Taylor to sample some of the whiskey still aging there. The whole place, he says, spooked him.

“You’d walk into rooms where people and been working, and there on desks were pencils and coffee cups lying in such a way that you thought they had only gotten up to go to the bathroom,” says Magliocco, president of Michter’s Distillery. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was so eerie.”

Still, Arvin and Murry believed the Taylor site had promise as a micro-distillery with an historical tourism play: the castle, its grounds, its bucolic setting next to Glenns Creek, its rural location in Millville. Problem was the site was a hell hole far worse than the place that unnerved Magliocco. The grounds were better suited for use as a set for a post-apocalyptic movie than a distillery: varmints and vandals knew the grounds better than humans. Simply clearing out the overgrowth was a daunting proposition.

“Every time we told people that’s what we wanted to do, they’d look at us and say, ‘Are you guys nuts?’” Arvin says.

The disbelief wouldn’t die down for years, and for good reason. When making an appointment to tour the site, Arvin and Murry were warned to wear snake boots. When famed landscape designer, Jon Carloftis joined them for a peek at the site, he recalls saying, “You’ll need a machete to get in there!” Murry says the safest way to navigate the 83-acre jungle-scape was to follow narrow paths trodden by deer.

CastleAndKey Springhouse 2

“Everything else was covered up,” Murry recalls. “When we got off those paths, you really wondered what you’d step into since you couldn’t see the ground clearly below you. That’s how we found the sunken garden. You couldn’t see it because it was covered with every plant imaginable.”

Bigger plans require more action

It didn’t take long before the men realized their vision would require far more revenue from spirits sales than a micro-distillery would generate. Now named Castle & Key Distillery, 2015 saw them make bolder moves: ordering a 24-inch-column still and doubler set, plus a still and a pair of botanicals baskets for vodka and gin production. They also hired Marianne Eaves as their master distiller. Though Eaves had never held the title, her résumé was more than promising: she was then Brown-Forman’s master taster and first in line to succeed her boss, Chris Morris, as master distiller.


To generate cash, they began renting out their vast warehousing capacity to other brands lacking barrel space. Once its stills were running, they solicited clients for contract spirits production. That portion of the business grew so quickly, they added a 32-inch column still beside the original in 2018.

All the while, the cleanup of the grounds continued. As Carloftis transformed the greenery by trading gangly invaders for tidier shrubbery and perennials, he suggested parts of the grounds be converted to nature paths visitors could walk.

At a pre-opening press event in September, when Carloftis was asked to comment on the overhaul, the typically loquacious landscaper struggled for descriptors.

“You can’t oversell this place when you tell people about it,” he says. “It gives me the shivers to look at it…  to see what’s been done here. The courage it took for you guys to do this… everything here is the best.”

Carloftis isn’t just crowing over his and others’ work. Remaking the neglected Old Taylor distillery into the stunning Castle & Key was akin to transforming Medusa into Meaghan Markle. Amazingly, other than the new concrete and paver footpaths and thoroughly modern distilling and bottling systems, the painstaking restoration and reparations left it looking much as it did in 1937, when ND owned it. All 15 fermenters from the late 1930s are back in use, as is its grain milling machinery, and its warehouses are fully functional. The rusting remnants of its two massive water towers and aged water storage tanks remain as historic markers, as do the hulking brick and cast-iron guts of a coal fired boiler system that now serves as the centerpiece of its visitors center.

CastleAndKey Fermentation Tanks

“We wanted to do everything we could to honor its past,” says Donna Winfield, who oversaw interior design duties. “We wanted to preserve its rougher industrial look as much as possible, which I think is beautiful.”

Eaves is equally smitten with her spirits, especially her first releases of gin and vodka. Both are made from the distillery’s rye whiskey mashbill. The former is exceptionally fragrant and soft even at 106 proof; the latter is, unlike most vodkas, lovely sipped neat. Her rye bourbon and wheat bourbon liquids are about 18 months old and not expected to be bottled until at least 2021. “If then,” Eaves interjects. “We’re not rushing it. We’ve taken our time with everything else, so why rush the most important things?”

Blackened Metal

The inspiration behind rock band Metallica’s latest release 

Metallica’s raucous rendering of WHISKY IN THE JAR, a 17th century song by the way, might have inspired the aging bad boys’ launch of Blackened, their own whiskey brand, however AWM’s investigation uncovers this much anticipated dram’s astonishing back story… a master distiller’s Merlin-like alchemy, a giant Moller pipe organ, and, would you believe it, classical music to boot.

I finally caught up with Dave Pickerell, onetime West Point Military Academy cadet, professor of chemistry, music lover and master distiller, formerly with Makers Mark and many craft distillers, as he boarded a flight to San Francisco who tells me how he got into the whiskey lark.


West Point’s Moller Organ 

“During my West Point student cadet days, majoring in chemistry and nuclear engineering, I joined a group called the Ushers and Acolytes Society, spending much time in the Military Academy’s Chapel. “There I became friends with then Chapel organist Dr. Davis. After services one Sunday evening, the setting sun filtered through stained glass windows and only he and I were there, he called me over, ‘listen to this…’ he nods, launching into Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor (think Phantom of the Opera), a composition which so masterfully demonstrated the great organ’s mind blowing acoustic range.

“Following his impromptu concert Dr. Davis said, ‘and now, for the full effect of the voice’ reverberating throughout the chapel, rattling stained glass windows. “I was transfixed, utterly amazed.” Dave recalls.

The chapel’s massive Moller, built and installed in 1911, boasts 874 speaking stops controlling 23,236 pipes, and, in recognition of its mind blowing tonal scales and unique character, it has been called the Grandfather of all pipe organs. He adds, “You could almost count the vibrations as it shook your guts, reverberations so powerful, if played and held too long, they could actually damage the building.”

Never in a thousand years could Dave have imagined those soaring reverberations of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, or even for that matter Saint-Saens thundering Symphony No 3 Organ Symphony finale, might one day form the genesis for Metallica’s sonically infused whiskey.

Dave tells me, “Lars Ulrich and the lads wanted something fans would take to heart, something of refined signature – something very special.”

The band already had a working relationship with Meyer Sound, creators of the sound system used during Metallica’s live concerts, including a giant subwoofer used while playing ultra-low frequencies from Metallica’s music, based on playlists including all four musicians, the throbbing sounds are directed towards the barrels.

“We are not playing music just to make the barrels happy!” Dave interjects, “Metallica’s clean, crisp rhythms assist in the process, but I’m sure you could get an effect just by hitting the barrels with a low-frequency hum. But to cause molecules to vibrate, which affects the whiskey, during bombardment we can demonstrate a color change very quickly using Metallica soundtracks, put some science into it.”

He’d seen videos of beakers of liquids subjected to sound waves, noting how liquids would vibrate, swirl, and come to a mirror smooth stop when subjected to sound waves; ‘Merlin’ Dave was ready to work his magical experiment, acoustic sound waves and their effect on whiskey.

The result – Blackened – is a collaboration of Bourbons, ryes and whiskeys from all across North America, carefully selected by himself which, “once married, make their way into black brandy barrels for finishing.”

In subsequent blind tasting of nips, Blackened batch 81 and batch 82, one noted taster questioned their noticeable differences. “All we did was varying Metallica’s playlist, this was the only variant between batches, and amazingly the final taste was different!” Dave remarks. I’m told each batch of only 5,000 bottles of Blackened will utilize a different ‘Black Sonics’ from Metallica playlist, details of which can be found find on the band’s website.

No, YouTube video reviewer Van Holton isn’t raving over Metallica! What caught her attention, the astounding rendition of the finale of Saint-Saen’s Organ Symphony No 3. Normally a masterpiece for full orchestra, this organ solo, arranged and played by organist, Jonathan Scott, blew her away.

What’s all this music stuff really got to do with whiskey?

While whiskey pairings with food and cigars are often lauded, I’ve often mused about matching whiskeys with music? I mentioned this to Dave, who agrees sounds do have an effect on the palate.

He states, “We’re running a seminar where we blindfold people, have them taste food to varied sounds, it’s really cool.”

Music does have a distinct empowerment in the enjoyment of a chosen dram. Depending on mercurial mood swings, during contemplative moments I absolutely relish the celestial beauty of Sanctus sublimely performed by Libera, (a not too churchy all boy English vocal group) enjoyed with RUA, a smooth and soulful American single malt from Ollie Mulligan’s Great Wagon Road Distillery of Charlotte NC.

Then for Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Caveoverture from The Hebrides, a rare and robust Balmaha 15-year-old Scotch whisky, (a restricted bottling of 270, of which my prized bottle is number 100) picked up along Loch Lomond a few years back.

As for Irish singer-songwriter and musician Enya’s (Sail Away…) Orinoco Flow, released in 1988, brilliantly adapted by Robert Prizeman for Libera.

Again, an example of full choral majesty, pure vocals amidst stunning wind and percussion, I’ve listened with a gentle nip of H. Clark Distillery’s new Tennessee Rye in hand. Heath tells me his new Rye is their tribute to America’s first whiskey.

OK, Getting back to the band Metallica, I’ve opened the Fed Ex delivery box, unwrapped first ever Blackened bottle delivered in North Carolina; uncork, pour, observe honey gold nectar cascade into glass.

Nose, take notice, no ordinary bevy! The taste demands eye opening attention. Swallow… whew, nice one Dave indeed! One can almost hear that mighty Moller… or is it Metallica’s version of Whisky in the Jar? I’ll let readers be the judge of that…



Introducing Templeton Rye Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey

The limited edition expression will pay homage to the distillery’s hometown, Templeton, Iowa

Templeton Rye has announced a limited edition expression named Barrel Strength Straight Rye Whiskey, celebrating the history of its hometown in Iowa.

The new release is complex and a fitting tribute to Templeton, known as the strong town with a strong spirit.

This addition to the Templeton Rye portfolio is non-chill filtered and bottled at 57.2% ABV, a barrel strength whiskey aged in flame charred American oak barrels.

In August this year, Templeton Rye hosted an opening event in celebration of the organisation’s new 34,500 square-foot distillery where they will produce 500,000 proof gallons of rye whiskey annually.