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Innovation Continues To Roll On, With Whiskies Leading The Way

March 31, 2020

As March draws to a close, some long-planned new product introductions were being put on hold, but most were rolling out despite the COVID-19 crisis. That’s been particularly true among whiskies, where the releases have continued unabated.

In Scotch, Moët Hennessy USA’s Ardbeg single malt brand has unveiled Ardbeg 5-Year-Old Wee Beastie ($44), a new permanent edition to the Ardbeg core range. A 47.5% abv expression matured in Bourbon and Oloroso Sherry casks, Ardbeg Wee Beastie rolls out in April and will be widely available. It’s the fifth permanent edition in the Ardbeg range and the first since Ardbeg An Oa was released in 2017. The other permanent labels in the Ardbeg portfolio are 10-year-old, Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan.

Among blended Scotches, earlier this month Bacardi began a widespread rollout of Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth, a new release finished in mezcal barrels. The 8-year-old whisky ($22 a 750-ml.) is a 40% abv blend of up to 40 malt and grain whiskies finished in ex-Ilegal mezcal barrels. Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth follows last year’s launch of Dewar’s Caribbean Smooth, a rum barrel-finished expression, and it’s available nationwide.

Also in blended Scotch, earlier this month Diageo released Jane Walker by Johnnie Walker, a new limited-edition blended malt. The 41.9% abv whisky ($38 a 750-ml.) was created by master blender Emma Walker and is a blend of single malts, all at least 10 years old. It follows a limited-time release of Jane Walker in 2018. The new Jane Walker by Johnnie Walker is distributed nationwide.

Among American whiskies, Diageo has also debuted Bulleit Blenders’ Select No. 001, a limited-edition label. The 50%-abv Bourbon ($50 a 750-ml.) was made by Bulleit blender Eboni Major and is the first in a series of special releases that will celebrate Bulleit’s whiskey makers. Bulleit Blenders’ Select No. 001 is also available across the U.S. market.

Beam Suntory, meanwhile, has revamped its Old Overholt Straight rye whiskey brand. The reimagined Old Overholt ($18 a 750-ml.) is at 43% abv, up from the previous 40% abv, and the label features a “grumpier” rendering of brand founder Abe Overholt, as the company described it. Old Overholt also will now be bottled without chill filtration, bringing the brand more in line with its pre-Prohibition roots. Later this year, Beam Suntory also will launch a 57% abv, 4-year-old bottling of Old Overholt and a 46.3% abv, 11-year-old release. All the Old Overholt labels will be available nationwide. Beam Suntory has also unveiled its first 2020 batch of Booker’s. Called Granny’s Batch, it’s aged just over 6 years and retail-priced at $90. Like all Booker’s releases, Granny’s Batch is a limited edition.

Elsewhere in the American whiskey space, Lux Row Distillers, part of the Luxco portfolio, is launching Daviess County Bourbon, a new release that revives a heritage label and pays tribute to Bourbon history. The initial lineup for Daviess County includes three whiskies, all at 48% abv: Straight Bourbon ($40); a Bourbon finished in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels ($45); and one finished in French oak casks ($45). All three whiskies are made with wheated and rye-heavy mash bills and are available nationwide. Lux Row also announced the latest release of its Blood Oath series, Blood Oath Pact No. 6 ($100), a limited edition with just 51,000 bottles (4,250 cases) available in the U.S. market.—David Fleming

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