Do you have a favorite craft whiskey? Maybe you’re drinking Willett or Templeton Rye right now as you read this—or maybe you just wish you were.
We hate to break the news, but your favorite whiskey may actually be hiding something from you.
It’s not that it’s criminally underage or anything. But chances are excellent that your favorite ‘craft’ whiskey is actually sourced from a factory distillery in Indiana called MGP Ingredients (MGPI). Small-batch whiskey distillers take the well-made (but definitely not artisanal) MGP product, then age it in barrels, “hand bottle” it, and call it something entirely different.
The Daily Beast explains,
If a distiller uses MGP product, that doesn’t mean their whiskey is bad or should be judged. There are several very good reasons for this level of seeming subterfuge among microdistilleries, but they all basically stem from the same fact…
Good whiskey takes time and money to make.
According to Slate, a decent whiskey needs to age at least four to five years. Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell still considers whiskeys that have aged that long to be “a little green.”
If you’re a brand new microdistillery and you’re operating on a shoestring budget—even if you have an amazing long-lost recipe sourced from before the Civil War—that’s a long time to wait before turning a profit.
Cleveland Scene adds that distillers pay taxes twice: the first time, while the whiskey’s aging, and the second time when it’s bottled. Add to that basic equipment and bottling costs, as well as labeling and marketing. While virtually any kind of business that produces goods for sale is expensive to start up, this is a special level of expensive.
Meanwhile, the Lawrenceburg, IN factory distillery called MGPI has stores of its 95 percent rye that have had time to age, just waiting to go. According to Whisky Advocate, while MGPI’s contracts don’t require anonymity, it also doesn’t disclose that it supplies any microdistillery unless that company okays it. They’re basically saying, “it’s OK, little startup microdistiller—we won’t tell if you won’t.”
It’s not a complete Still of Lies based solely upon clever marketing, though. Most of these craft distilleries take the basic MGPI product and make it their own by taking it another step: for example, aging it in barrels, or doing something else to make the flavor their own. Others just bottle up the MGPI and stick their own labels on it. Tomato, potato.
Sku’s Recent Eats keeps a running list of whiskeys made by MGPI, including Bulleit, High West, and Willet Rye.
This whole argument is a lot like arguing whether Kanye sold out. Do you like drinking what you’re drinking? Then keep drinking it. Just be better informed while you do.
If you like what you’ve tasted from MGPI and you like a particular microdistillery’s spin on it, then fill up that glass. Who knows, seeing that list might show you some other variations on that recipe that you might want to try as well.
Also, it’ll point you toward the distilleries that do actually make their own, so you can continue to develop your palate. Ultimately, being informed helps you to know why you like what you like.
Correction: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated that Buffalo Trace, Kings County Distillery, and a number of other brands source whiskey from MGPI. It has been updated to fix this error.