Small Batch

by wjw on June 10, 2018

I’m fond of a whisky of a cold evening, and sometimes a warm evening too, and I’m particularly fond of Scotch.  I’ve enjoyed Irish, too, but I’ve never much cared for bourbon or rye.

Maybe I was onto something without knowing it.  Turns out that a lot of American whiskies labeled “small-batch” or “hand-crafted” are all produced in the same distillery in Indiana.

Bulleit “Frontier” Whiskey, for instance, is owned by multinational spirits conglomerate Diageo. For years, it sourced much of its bourbon and rye from MGP, a wholesale distiller. Only after the brand became established did Diageo open a distillery in Kentucky, where the product has been made since 2016.

 Templeton Rye — marketed as Al Capone’s favorite whiskey and proud product of Templeton, Iowa — is also distilled by MGP. Tincup Whiskey, a self-described “mountain whiskey” replete with commercials conjuring a frontiersman image and Rocky Mountain ethos, is mostly MGP, too.

Since “small-batch,” “hand-crafted,” and “craft” have no legal meaning, anybody can apply the terms to their product.  I can employ those terms any time I make a pitcher of margaritas.

And nobody’s saying that MGP (the country’s fifth-largest distiller) makes crap whiskey.  It’s just that when MGP’s product is marketed by another label, that label might choose to market its product deceptively.

So next time you look at a small-batch bourbon or rye, and the label tells you that’s it’s made using great-grandpappy’s recipe from before Prohibition, you might want to be a little skeptical, and see if the small print on the label says “Distilled in Indiana.”

As for producing the well-known 10-year-old straight bourbon, it’s understandable why Widow Jane sources that — opened in 2012, the distillery isn’t old enough to produce a 10-year varietal.

As for me, I’ll stick to Scotch.

chris heinz June 11, 2018 at 12:14 am

I’m sorry, bourbon.

I live in Kentucky & have access to 100s of bourbons. I stock Maker’s Mark, but lately when I’m out playing music in bars 3-4x/week, I get the house bourbon. Haven’t had a bad one yet.

wjw June 11, 2018 at 1:55 am

You’re luckier than me. I’ve had crap bourbon, crap rye, and scotch that tasted like gym socks.

Etaoin Shrdlu June 11, 2018 at 12:29 pm

> gym socks


I’ve been living in le Renegade Province for several years now. The fookin’ Scots go so far as to make “special” runs just for shipment here. And they are the worst. There’s even a “brand” here that is sold in all the convenience stores which (I am told) is actually a “whatever anyone wants to avoid dumping down the sewer” catchall.

After years of looking for any bottle of [name deleted at insistence of publisher’s lawyer], I suddenly ran into one at the only decent bar in all of Taipei. And it was horrible. Sure enough, “Specially bottled just for Taiwan.”

Anyway, at least we get the good Laphroaigs. That’s all that really matters.

Do check out all the various interesting runs from Edradour, though. Their Chateauneuf du Pepe is excellent, as is their Sassicaia.

John Appel June 11, 2018 at 2:47 pm

I’m primarily a rum drinker, but I’m fortunate that in Maryland we’ve seen a number of local distilleries pop up since 2012. (When the first one opened, there was only one state employee left who’d ever even seen the required paperwork, as the most recent one before had been in the 1980s, since closed.) Several make very nice whiskeys indeed, and one, Lyon Distilling over on the Eastern Shore, makes a bona fide Maryland Rye that’s very, very good. (They also make a fine malt whiskey.)

Lyon’s rums are also top-notch. I’ve got a bottle each of their dark and black rums in my liquor cabinet now.

pixlaw June 11, 2018 at 5:52 pm

I’m more of a fan of brandy, and I’ve been pretty impressed by a smallish craft distillery in KY called Copper and Kings. Although they’ve been using other distillers for their product so far, they do their own barrel-aging and it looks as though their first own distilled product will be going into bottles this year.

wjw June 11, 2018 at 9:02 pm

Etaoin, you should also avoid the whiskeys in duty-free shops. A lot of them are
“special” runs made just for duty-free shops, marketed under famous labels but with “special gold edition” or some other meaningless descriptor on the label that tells you it isn’t the real thing. Unless you know what you’re doing when you buy, you can really get burned.

Kaleberg June 14, 2018 at 5:11 pm

This kind of thing is extremely common. If you want to make a branded wine, sauce, pasta, stew, perfume or whatever, you can find a company that specializes in helping you design and produce the item.

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