Thursday, March 3, 2011

Diageo May Be Dissing Me.


Another writer and I have taken to calling Diageo 'The Big Galoot,' TBG for short. In case you don't know, TBG is the world's biggest drinks company. It owns Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Bailey's, J&B, José Cuervo, Captain Morgan, and Tanqueray, to name a few.

One of their itty-bitty brands is Bulleit Bourbon, which is soon to be joined by Bulleit Rye, but you didn't hear it from me. Why? Because it appears that TBG is boycotting me, maybe just with regard to Bulleit Rye, or maybe with regard to everything from now on.

The Shanken Combine is all over it but I can't get my calls returned.

If TBG is boycotting me, I think I know why. It's because they don't want to talk about what I want to talk about, which is their source for this whiskey and their relationship to Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI), the Angostura-owned distillery that makes and bottles this rye on Diageo's behalf. Lawrenceburg, Indiana is clearly identified on the label as the source.

It's no scandal that Diageo is buying its whiskey from someone else. Diageo hasn't made a drop of bourbon or rye whiskey in more than a decade.

No, I want somebody to talk to me about LDI because it's interesting. LDI is known-to-be or believed-to-be the source of many recent whiskey releases, all on behalf of other people, none of whom are talking about the real distillery where it was made. LDI whiskey is being sold as Templeton, High West, Harrison, Redemption, and probably others.

LDI is identified as the producer of Bulleit Rye on the TTB label approval form and, of course, it says Lawrenceburg, Indiana on the label. There is only one active distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. (Lawrenceburg is near Cincinnati, by the way.)

The label also says Bulleit Rye has a 95 percent rye mashbill, which is a LDI hallmark.

LDI is owned by Angostura Holdings Ltd. Angostura and LDI are mysterious. I can't get anyone at either place to talk to me. LDI returned my call and referred me to my regular Diageo contact. I had already reached out to her. She usually is great but suddenly doesn't know who I am. (Or maybe she's on vacation.)

We do know this. Angostura is based in Trinidad and Tobago. Yes, it's the company that makes Angostura Bitters, but they're a big rum and vodka producer too for the Caribbean market. Twenty months ago, Angostura Holdings Ltd was suspended from trading on the Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange (TTSE) because the company had failed to submit audited financial statements for 2008 and 2009. The stock resumed trading last month. About 75 percent of Angostura is owned by the CL Financial Group, which is now under the control of the Trinidad and Tobago government as a result of the 2008 worldwide financial meltdown.

So it's understandable that they haven't been very interested in publicity, but now they're trading again, and their chairman says in the latest financials that "there is a bright future ahead for Angostura," so why won't they talk about their American business interests, which also include an active distillery in Florida and a silent one in Kentucky?

If I can get someone at TBG to talk to me, maybe I'll also ask why they're still saying Bulleit Bourbon is made at Four Roses even though the owners of Four Roses say, no, it's not.

The Four Roses Distillery is in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and the Bulleit Bourbon label says "Distilled by the Bulleit Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, Kentucky."

But here's the story. TBG got Four Roses in the Seagram's break-up. When TBG sold Four Roses to Kirin Brewery, the deal included a contract to supply TBG with whiskey. That was more than ten years ago and the amount Four Roses is obliged to supply has decreased in each year of the contract. The exact terms are secret but eventually that sales agreement goes away.

No one is willing to talk about this on the record but I have it from reliable sources that the amount Four Roses is supplying now is way below the amount Bulleit is selling. Similarly, I know Kirin has done chemical analysis and determined that while some of the whiskey in a typical bottle of Bulleit Bourbon was made at Four Roses, it wasn't all made there.

I also know that TBG has been buying bourbon white dog from Brown-Forman, Jim Beam and Tom Moore, in quantities amounting to millions of gallons a year, and aging it at the former Stitzel-Weller Distillery in the Louisville suburb of Shively, Kentucky, which TBG owns.

There is nothing wrong with any of this. It's all a perfectly legitimate way to do business.

What's weird is that I can't get anyone to talk about it, any of it. People are particularly interested in LDI, this major distillery (previously owned by Pernod-Ricard, briefly, and for a long time by Seagram's) that nobody knows much about. I know a few things, but it's mostly pieced together from different sources, some of them dated, most of it vague and incomplete.

There's no reason somebody can't spend 20 minutes on the phone with me or, heaven forbid, give me a tour.

14 comments:

Rob K said...

I love this page that LDI has up: http://www.lawrenceburgdistillersindiana.com/Custom.aspx

The 95% rye mash whiskey must also be what that Willet "family estate bottling" I saw the other day is.

I'd love to get a taste of LDI's 99% corn mash bourbon.

sam k said...

Chuck, for God's sake, and that of your own reputation, please give it up on High West. Due in part to your posts on StraightBourbon.com diminishing his recent award from Malt Advocate, David Perkins has absolutely assumed complete transparency there, in your own clubhouse, as regards his sourcing of aged whiskeys from elsewhere.

As posted by Mr. Perkins on SB, I reference: "High West doesn't just blend old and young whiskey from one distillery (LDI). We actually have whiskeys from Four Roses, Barton, and LDI. Rendezvous blends 6yo LDI with 16yo Barton. Double Rye! blends 2yo LDI and 16 year old Barton. The fun part is, the 16yo's have different mashbills. In Rendezvous, the 16yo has 80% rye, 10% corn, and 10% malt. This was a real shocker to people to know there was an older rye with that high of a rye mashbill. The 16yo in Double Rye has a more conventional rye whiskey mashbill with 53% rye, 37% corn, and 10% malt. Was I lucky when I sourced these? Very! And Bourye is a blend of Four Roses, LDI, and Barton."

Then, "A quick follow-up to a few questions:
- Josh: I got the Four Roses through Pernod Ricard. When I told Jim Rutledge this, he didn't even know Pernod had Four Roses stock!
- Whitedog (!): I also got the Barton from Pernod who got it from Hiram Walker when they bought Hiram. No one knows how Hiram got it.
- Leif: we bottled the 80% rye 16 year old (10% corn 10% malt) I thought it was so unusual and beautiful I has to sell it on its own."

What more do you want? Since these facts have been posted on SB, you have, tellingly, provided absolutely no further input there on the subject, but you continue to impugn Perkins' character on your own blog. The rest of them may have their own issues (who knows or cares...it's all good whiskey, though I understand your overall frustration with subterfuge), but there remain, in my mind, no further questions about the origins of High West's sourced whiskeys.

You may now accuse me of whatever you like, and I will remind your readership that I am the paid copy editor of Malt Advocate, and proud of it.

Anonymous said...

Still someone finally admitted right off the bat that their whiskey was made at LDI. However I wonder if it was because people were finding out about LDI. All in all, it's weird no one wants to talk about this place.

Jake Parrott said...

@Rob yeah, the young Willett ryes that are starting to float out (we are hoping to have a couple more bottlings soon here in DC--I'm with their distributor, Ledroit Brands) are LDI product. The label even says they are "Indiana Rye."

frederic said...

Any word on how the Bulleit Rye compares to the other ryes produced there (like the Redemption or other)?

If they are different, how do people think that is achieved? Different wood aging techniques, different mashing styles, different yeast?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Calm down, Sam. Nowhere have I said anything against Perkin's receipt of the Malt Advocate honor and in the post above I mentioned High West once in the context of several producers who have acquired and resold LDI whiskey, and not critically. Since Perkins is now being transparent about it, what's the problem?

My gripe here is with TBG and LDI, not with their customers. You know, those big boys I'm always being accused of sucking up to.

So, Sam, are you deliberately baiting me, trying to drag me back into something I've let go and put behind me? If so, please stop.

Chuck Cowdery said...

You'll have to ask someone who got a sample, Frederic. I didn't. (See above.)

SeanMike said...

frederic,

As I mentioned last night (maybe it was before you came in), I got a sample of it - I'm going to put it head to head with Redemption and Templeton no later than this weekend.

I'm not the best taster in the world but it'll be interesting to see how they compare.

Chuck Cowdery said...

My expectation is that it will resemble the Redemption more than the Templeton. Let me know what you think.

Chuck Cowdery said...

TBG has checked in, promised sample, more to come.

T Comp said...

Chuck, Even though I don't agree with all your views, tactics or tastes I am thankful that part of your writing is to continue to investigate and disclose the dichotomy that continues between the whiskey product and its marketing. Or put more simply, that you call out the bullsh*t.

Chuck Cowdery said...

This is what I mean when I say producers should talk to me.

Here's the official word from Diageo, "Bulleit Bourbon is made – 100% made – in Lawrenceburg Kentucky."

As I've previously reported, sources connected to Kirin have disagreed but now the deal is, they have to go public with their assertion to the contrary. Diageo has the high ground now.

Diageo also categorically denies that there is any LDI bourbon in Bulleit Bourbon.

Truly, I have no reason to doubt them, and this came from an official spokesperson who wouldn't say it without checking, so good for Diageo and thank you.

Anonymous said...

I worked at LDI until it was sold to Angostura. What questions do you have?

FJ said...

I'm learning a lot about the business side of all this from viewing your blog, and this will seem very naive to say, but I don't get why they can't simply make it all in KENTUCKY. What is the big deal? Why all the hush-hush, secrecy, buying from other vendors, etc. etc....doesn't anyone just make and SELL their own product anymore?