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Shane Campbell

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Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by Shane Campbell » Mon Jan 21, 2013 1:02 am

Last summer I was sitting in one of my regular drinking establishments enjoying a quality brewed beverage when I spied a bottle of whiskey on the shelf behind the bar that I didn't recognize. The bartender fetched it over for me and said, “It's bourbon from Harrison County.” Really, how cool! A quick glance at the label quickly establish the untruth of that statement. But where was Lawrenceburg, Indiana I wondered?

Over the next several months I experience exasperation several more times as other customers noticed the whiskey and were also misinformed about its origin. I politely corrected the error a couple of times and then I just gave up. What was the point really? Ignorance is bliss.

Last month I was in a chain liquor store in French Lick checking out their large selection of quality bourbons, Scotches, and other whiskies. The clerk seemed fairly knowledgable and when she told me that the owner's favorite was a new bourbon named Spring Mill my interest was piqued. She said it was from Indianapolis. When I got home I decided to check it out.

At first it seemed that Heartland Distillers founded in 2008 and located in Indianapolis was indeed the producer. The web site http://www.heartlanddistillers.com/Brands/Indiana+Bourbon.html
links you a separate page that announced that Spring Mill Bourbon is Produced and bottled by Colglazier & Hobson Distilling Company, Indianapolis, IN. The web site states “The 90 proof bourbon is aged for four years in new charred oak barrels, decanted, and then transferred to a second set of new charred oak, delivering unique sweet oak and ripe fruit flavors on the palate, with a clean, spicy finish. While it doesn't say how long the whiskey was aged in the second set of barrels, since the company was only founded in 2008, it would seem impossible for this company to have distilled this product and aged it for more than four years.

A further search for independent reviews established that this whiskey also originated at the Lawrenceburg Distiller, Indiana facility (LDI). Now it suddenly seemed not so special to me. This bulk distilling thing has apparently been going on forever and while there is no negative aspect of the practice that I'm aware of, it does seem misleading to me for these reseller's, who also claim to be distillers themselves, to claim the whiskey as being produced by themselves. Finished and bottled would seem more accurate.

The event that finally got under my skin enough to prompt this post was an argument I had with a friend after we left Manny and Merl on Friday. My friend had asked to see yet another bottle of unfamiliar whiskey. It was called Beer Barrel Bourbon and it carried a label from the well-known beer brewer New Holland. The minute I saw it's label I predicted it was an LDI product however, the bar tender insisted it was from Michigan. I asked her to bring it over and I showed her where it said on the bottle that it was distilled in Indiana and bottled in Michigan. This seemed clear enough.

Later my friend, who apparently had not been paying attention when I clarified the issue for the bar tender, started calling me out for being wrong about the origin of the bourbon. I told him he was full of fecal matter and if he was dumb enough to drink bourbon aged in beer barrels then he deserved to stay blissfully ignorant. The rest of us don't have to be.

Whiskey blogs have been discussing this issue for some time now. Below are a couple of links that describe LDI (now MGPI/LDI) at length as well as at least a partial list of products they produce. Some of these products are widely recognized for their quality. I have a few of them myself. I will continue to enjoy them – just not so blissfully.
http://chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2012/12/more-news-about-that-distillery-in.html

http://sourmashed.com/american-whiskey-database/mpg-ingredients-aka-lawrenceburgdistillers-indiana/

Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana is the dirty secret of the American whiskey establishment. For every 30 new craft distilleries that open, there is an operation like Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana. Now owned by MPG Ingredients, LDI produces a huge amount of whiskeys that are then labeled and sold under an enormous amounts of other brands. Some of these are mass market efforts like Seagram’s Whiskey. Others are seemingly artisan small batch products like Templeton Rye and Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon that are instead off a distillery assembly line and are nothing more than a marketing endeavour.
 
Products:

4 Spirits Bourbon (4 Spirits)

Backbone Bourbon (Crossroads Vitners)

Big Ass Bourbon (Strong Spirits)

Big Bottom Bourbon (Big Bottom)

Bulleit Rye (Diageo)

Chattanooga Whiskey
1816 Reserve (Chatanooga Whiskey Co.)

Cougar Rye (Foster’s)
Cougar Bourbon(Foster’s)

Filibuster Bourbon (M.S. Trading LP)

Filibuster Rye (M.S. Trading LP)

George Dickel Rye (George Dickel)

High Liquors Bourbon(High Liquors)

High Liquors Rye (High Liquors)

High West Whiskey

James E. Pepper 1776 Rye (James E. Pepper)

Redemption Rye (Dynamic Beverages)
Redemption Bourbon (Dynamic Beverages)

Riverboat Rye (Dynamic Beverages)

Seagram’s 7 Blended Whiskey (Diageo)

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon (Smooth Ambler)

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye (Smooth Ambler)
Spring Mill Bourbon (Heartland Distillers)

Templeton Rye (Templeton)

Temptation Bourbon (Dynamic Beverages)

WH Harrison Bourbon (Tipton Spirits)
I'm a bitter drinker....I just prefer it that way
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DanB

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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by DanB » Mon Jan 21, 2013 4:30 am

Lord, I could write a boook about bizarre bourbons they sell in Europe. After Jack & Jim you get a raft of bourbon labels no one has every heard of, usually with the stars and stripes on the label or some sort of Western motif. Recently my supermarket shelf featured "Stetson" bourbon which seems to have been licensed by the famous hat maker. No word on the label who actually makes the stuff.

You can click through a few more and tell me if you've ever heard of them:


http://src.discounto.de/pics/Angebote/2 ... ey_xxl.jpg

http://www.whiskyparadise.com/public/RANCHWOOD_w.jpg

http://www.lidl.ie/static_content/lidl_ ... 7_99_b.jpg

http://www.whiskey-test.de/wp-content/u ... r-fort.jpg

http://www.aldi-sued.de/de/media/produc ... t_03_d.jpg

http://www.whisky.de/archiv/usa/medley/f04805_6.jpg
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Ryan Rogers

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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by Ryan Rogers » Mon Jan 21, 2013 6:38 am

We have Stetson here in the states as well, just don't expect to see it on the shelf at your average bar. They're vying to compete in what I deem to be the already overcrowded Jack Daniel/Wild Turkey/Jim Beam/Rebel Yell/Evan Williams market.

The bourbon industry is quite incestuous to say the least with juice for multiple brands being produced at only a handful of distilleries and sold directly to be aged elsewhere or aged on site and then sold off.
Willet, one of my favorite bourbon brands was up until last year buying all of their juice from elsewhere and aging it onsite in their own barrel houses to create their fantastic Rowan's Creek, Noah's Mill, Johnny Drum, Willet, etc brands.

Don't believe a lot of what you hear from bartenders who are educated by their liquor reps or who try to glean information directly from the bottle as according to the bottle they're all distilled at some pseudonym distillery. Pappy Van Winkle for instance.

This of course doesn't mean that bourbons produced at LDI or elsewhere and sold off to smaller labels are necessarily subpar bourbons/ryes/whiskeys, that really more lies in the hands of the final brand and the aging/blending they select. Riverboat unfiltered Rye and W.H. Harrison (Especially the Governers Reserve, though I find both Harrison's well overpriced) are all LDI distilled and good.
Feast BBQ
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New Albany, IN 47150
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Willie Myers

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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by Willie Myers » Mon Jan 21, 2013 10:49 am

DanB wrote:Lord, I could write a boook about bizarre bourbons they sell in Europe. After Jack & Jim
Dan, that's an incredible collection of photos! Thanks for sharing those.
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Eric Hall

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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by Eric Hall » Mon Jan 21, 2013 11:41 am

There are only a handful of places actually producing and bottling aged bourbon. A few of those places sell off a good amount to others to bottle and distribute. LDI, Heaven Hill, beam, and four roses lead the crowd when it comes to this practice but nearly every large producer has done it at some point.

And that Stetson bourbon is wheated juice from heaven hill. When it was rolled out, a brand manager from the bottler visited my store and told me the history of it.

Some places are very open about where the whiskey in the bottle is sourced and others are not. The producers of the bourbon rarely discuss who they sell to so we must rely on the place doing the bottling/branding. LDI is an exception because they do not bottle/brand any of their own whiskey.

I too have found that KBD/Willett bourbons to be great. Especially those bearing the willett family reserve name. You can find some that are over 20 years old.
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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by James Natsis » Mon Jan 21, 2013 12:22 pm

I went on a bourbon distillery tour last month visiting 9 major distilleries in the Louisville-Lexington region. It was a wonderful education and I recommend it to anyone. The closest is Jim Beam just down I-65 across from Bernheim forest. The others are located mainly around Bardstown and further out between Frankfort and Lexington. There is heavy investment in many distilleries as exports and tourist visits have increased significantly everywhere I visited. It is an exciting time for bourbon.

Several mentioned Wiilets. They just opened a small visiting center and offer tours now. They are also constructing a bed and breakfast on the grounds. They just joined the newly formed "craft bourbon trail" last year.
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Clay Cundiff

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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by Clay Cundiff » Mon Jan 21, 2013 12:35 pm

Not much of a secret at all. There are only maybe 9 distilleries producing bourbon in the state (Brown Foreman Louisville, Woodford, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Beam, Makers, Heaven Hill/Bernheim and maybe Medley in Owensboro are all I can think of.) and probably well over a hundred brands of Kentucky bourbon on the market these days. Willet (Formerly KBD) and Town Branch just started distilling their own product this year, and none of it will be going to market any time soon, so any of their products are going to be distilled at one of the other producers for the next several years. Brands tend to move from distillery to distillery as they are sold or distilleries close or merge.
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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by Clay Cundiff » Mon Jan 21, 2013 12:43 pm

Julian Van Winkle has made Pappy Van Winkle into probably the most revered label in the industry without ever distilling a drop of whiskey. Older Pappy stocks were distilled at the now closed Stitzel-Weller distllery in Shively, and the newer stuff comes from Bernheim and most recently Buffalo Trace. The fact that Van Winkle does not distill their own product doesn't make the bourbon any less good, and does not in any way detract from Julian's ability to select and blend the best available aged whiskey to consistently produce a really fine product.
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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by Shane Campbell » Mon Jan 21, 2013 12:56 pm

Clay Cundiff wrote:Not much of a secret at all.


Not much of a secret for those who take some time to research the subject. I went to a Bourbon Society meeting a while ago and I would say among the people in the room, who you'd think would be among the group most knowledgeable about the subject, few appeared to know where the bourbons we were drinking were distilled and most seemed on vaguely interested. So while it's not actually a secret, it's not well-known amongst even regular whiskey drinkers.

I believe that the typical person ordering a shot of bourbon in a bar in Louisville likely has no clue about the origins of the drink they are served. More disappointing is that few of the bartenders serving the bourbon know either. I find it fascinating and I am learning from the plethora of whiskey blogs.

I find the story of Four Roses especially interesting. Once it was the most popular bourbon sold in the states. It was bought long ago by Seagrams who turned it from a bourbon into a blended whiskey and it languished on shelves in America for decades. The original bourbon was still produced but was only sold in the Asian market. Jim Rutledge is credited with bringing this product back onto the American market. The Four Roses Single Barrel is one of my favorites right now and it is so affordable compared to my other favorites. You can check out the story below.

http://sourmashmanifesto.com/2011/02/15/the-four-roses-story/
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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by Shane Campbell » Mon Jan 21, 2013 1:07 pm

Clay Cundiff wrote:The fact that Van Winkle does not distill their own product doesn't make the bourbon any less good, and does not in any way detract from Julian's ability to select and blend the best available aged whiskey to consistently produce a really fine product.



I agree with this completely and never meant to insinuate otherwise. I'm not going to stop drinking a product I like because it's source was unknown to me when I tried it.

Since 2011 the 15 year old and younger Pappy has been all Buffalo Trace. It's terrific by everyone's account. There is a report somewhere that the S/W distillery now owned by Diageo is going to be restarted. If so, many years from now they will have some whiskey that will be......something else entirely.
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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by Clay Cundiff » Mon Jan 21, 2013 1:09 pm

I'm a big fan of the Four Roses single barrel also, especially the OBSV mash bill. Picked up a bottle of barrel strength OBSF at the distillery weekend before last, but haven't opened it yet.
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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by Shane Campbell » Mon Jan 21, 2013 1:25 pm

Clay Cundiff wrote:I'm a big fan of the Four Roses single barrel also, especially the OBSV mash bill. Picked up a bottle of barrel strength OBSF at the distillery weekend before last, but haven't opened it yet.


I have a bottle of Specially Selected OBSV 17 years, 5 months age that I scored at the warehouse facility quite by luck last fall. It's from the four barrels selected by the Master Distiller to commemorate the opening of the visitors center.

I've been awaiting a special occasion to open it. Won't share it with anyone who wants to put it in anything.
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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by Joel H » Mon Jan 21, 2013 4:37 pm

Shane Campbell wrote:Not much of a secret for those who take some time to research the subject. I went to a Bourbon Society meeting a while ago and I would say among the people in the room, who you'd think would be among the group most knowledgeable about the subject, few appeared to know where the bourbons we were drinking were distilled and most seemed on vaguely interested. So while it's not actually a secret, it's not well-known amongst even regular whiskey drinkers.


Given the fact that the Bourbon Society holds their meetings at the Pendennis Club, that should be your first hint that they are, in fact, clueless.
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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by Shane Campbell » Mon Jan 21, 2013 6:03 pm

Joel H wrote:
Shane Campbell wrote:Not much of a secret for those who take some time to research the subject. I went to a Bourbon Society meeting a while ago and I would say among the people in the room, who you'd think would be among the group most knowledgeable about the subject, few appeared to know where the bourbons we were drinking were distilled and most seemed on vaguely interested. So while it's not actually a secret, it's not well-known amongst even regular whiskey drinkers.


Given the fact that the Bourbon Society holds their meetings at the Pendennis Club, that should be your first hint that they are, in fact, clueless.


If you're alluding to the perception that the Pendennis Club is "far too selective" in their membership and therefor they must not have a clue about a lot of things then I understand your reaction. I find the idea of it offensive as well. Having said that, I didn't and still don't know the truth of that so I went at the request of a friend.

While it is likely that a least one or more members of the Pendennis Club are also Bourbon Society members it is also unlikely that the reverse is true. The group the night I was there was predominately but not exclusively white. There were quite a few women at the meeting and several new joining members were women. I won't damn the group of people that I met that night as bigots based on rumors and speculation regarding the building they were meeting in.

I had a good time that night but I'm not very interested in joining the Society and if I'm being honest the location and its associated rumors does play into it. While that seems unfair somehow I think that appearances are sometimes as important as reality.

But perhaps I've jumped to the wrong conclusion and that's not what you were getting at.
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Re: Dirty Secret of the American Whiskey Establishment

by Rick G » Mon Jan 21, 2013 10:31 pm

It seems that with the influx of all these so called "Speciality Bourbons" that have popped up the last few years that people are forgetting the bourbons that started it all. Bourbons like Maker's Mark. This is one of the first small batch bourbons. Now people are looking at these bourbons as though they're the "Bud Lites" of the bourbon industry. Everyone wants the new kid on the block, not doing their research on all these so called specialty bourbons that are actually bulk bourbon with a fancy name and label. Bourbons like Maker's Mark and other "old school" bourbons are the real deal. People need to quit ignoring these true bourbons and quit looking for the new kid on the block and do their research. If you haven't had a Maker's Mark or one of the other true bourbons lately now would be a good time to go back and try again. I think you would be surprised and would remember how good these bourbons are quit looking for the next great thing from LDI.
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