Wednesday, March 9, 2011

LDI Determined To Remain A Mystery.

Fans of American whiskey will sometimes see an unfamiliar label on a liquor store shelf and wonder if they have discovered some previously-unknown distillery. In most cases, what they have found is either an obscure brand from a major distiller, or the product of a non-distiller using whiskey bought from one of the majors.

These days it might also be the product of a micro-distillery, but they are easy to spot and their combined whiskey output doesn’t amount to 1/10 of one percent of US whiskey production.

A straight rye might come from a non-US distillery, such as WhistlePig from Canada, but if it’s bourbon and not from a micro or defunct distillery (now very rare), then it was made by one of the thirteen US whiskey distilleries that are currently active.

If a bottle is bottom shelf, possibly a store brand, vague origins are no big deal. If you don’t pay much you don’t expect much.

But if the product has a premium price you are smart to ask questions and the first and most obvious one is, “who made this?”

Which brings us back to those thirteen large distilleries that produce 99.9 percent of the whiskey made in the USA.

Nine of them are so open they give regular public tours. Three of the remaining four give occasional press and trade tours. That leaves one.

Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana LLC, usually abbreviated as LDI.

Lawrenceburg, Indiana is near Cincinnati and developed in the 19th century as the main distilling center for spirits brokered and distributed through Cincinnati firms. Until the American distilling industry began its big contraction in the 1970s, two of the Big Four -- Seagrams and Schenley -- had large whiskey plants there.

LDI is the old Seagrams place. It traces its roots back to 1847, although little is known about its early days. The name was Rossville then and after 1875 it was owned by the James Walsh Company. They operated it up to Prohibition, and even during Prohibition under a medicinal whiskey license.

At the end of Prohibition, Walsh sold Rossville to Seagrams, which expanded it and operated it until that company was sold for parts in 2001. Pernod-Ricard had it until 2007, then sold it to Angostura, the current owner.

LDI is actually two distilleries. The larger one makes neutral spirits (vodka and gin) while the smaller one makes whiskey. It has maturation warehouses and a bottling house. According to the LDI web site, it sits on 78 acres and is one of the largest beverage alcohol distilleries in the world. It makes distilled and compound gin, corn whiskey, rye whiskey, and three different bourbons.

Of greatest interest to the enthusiast community are their rye, which is 95 percent rye grain, 5 percent malt; and their high-rye bourbon, which is 60 percent corn, 36 percent rye, 4 percent malt.

Unlike the other twelve major whiskey distilleries in the USA, LDI makes no brands of its own. It sells its entire output in bulk to other producers, large and small, up to and including Diageo (Bulleit 95 Rye) and Pernod (Seagrams Gin). Some LDI whiskey in current distribution was brokered by Pernod, the rest seemingly comes from LDI directly.

In that word “seemingly” lies the rub. The people who run LDI won’t give interviews, at least not to me. Some of LDI’s customers will provide a little bit of information but they don’t necessarily know very much, except what type of whiskey they bought and the fact that LDI made it.

Being secretive and close-mouthed is what bulk producers do. Heaven Hill has always had a big bulk whiskey business but getting them to talk about it is like pulling teeth. Four Roses and Brown-Forman will both confirm that they sell whiskey to Diageo, primarily white dog that Diageo barrels and ages in the maturation warehouses at Stitzel-Weller near Louisville. Buffalo Trace has been in and out of the bulk business and currently says it is out, including at its Tom Moore Distillery, which sold bulk when it was owned by Constellation. Everybody sells bulk whiskey from time to time, to adjust their inventory or when the price is just too good to pass up.

Neither the producers nor their customers will say much about the bulk whiskey business. Since a bulk producer doesn’t really know what happens to the whiskey after it leaves their plant, and since they don’t own the brand names under which it is sold, their reluctance makes a kind of sense. If a marketing company wants you to think it’s really a distiller, as some do, its reluctance to talk about the real producer makes sense too.

Or consider this. Diageo confirms that its new Bulleit 95 Rye is LDI. The LDI high-rye bourbon mash bill is the same as the one Four Roses makes, which is no surprise since both plants used to be owned by Seagrams.

That bourbon recipe happens to be the Bulleit Bourbon recipe. Is Diageo taking spirit distilled in Indiana, aging it in Kentucky, mixing it with the all-Kentucky bourbon from Four Roses, and calling the whole thing “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey”?

Can they? The rules say producers may not misrepresent where a product was manufactured, but they don’t define ‘manufactured.’ They do say that when distilled spirits are bottled by or for a rectifier, the phrase ‘manufactured by’ may be used in lieu of the phrase ‘bottled by.’

If mere bottling is considered ‘manufacturing’ then surely aging is too.

Beyond the TTB’s general misrepresentation rule above, no entity regulates the use of ‘Kentucky’ in the phrase ‘Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.’ Nowhere is it decreed that whiskeys using the phrase must be distilled and aged in Kentucky.

So I’m not saying Diageo has done anything wrong if they are doing this, but it sure would be interesting to know.

Maybe that tells you why nobody wants to talk about LDI. The problem, of course, is that when you can’t get information from authoritative sources, the rumor mill takes over. I may hear something that doesn’t sound quite right but if I can’t get a company to confirm or deny a rumor there’s not much I can do to set the record straight.

The best hope is that LDI’s customers will convince them to open up. The place makes good and interesting whiskey. Somebody should be bragging about it.

16 comments:

Bourbon Buzz said...

Chuck, thanks for writing about this. Great article. Keep up the good work that you do. The bourbon enthusiasts out here truly appreciate it!

Filip said...

Chuck, as always thanks for your dedication to providing factual information to American Whiskey fans. I find it very fascinating to learn more about the industry and more importantly how products are made.

I agree that we need to ask for more honesty from the people whose products we purchase. LDI may be a mystery but I am glad they exist, especially in this rye drought we are currently experiencing it's nice to see new product on the shelves.

Chuck Cowdery said...

It has been pointed out that whether or not they can say 'straight' is potentially more serious than whether or not they can say 'Kentucky,' as 'straight' whiskey can be a mixture of straight whiskeys but they all have to be produced in the same state. But like 'manufactured,' the regs don't define 'produced.' One could argue that the state in which the spirit achieved its straightness, i.e., celebrated its second anniversary in wood, is the state where produced.

Scott L Stursa said...

"Dermined?"

Chuck Cowdery said...

Thanks, Scott. Proofreading help is always appreciated.

Steve said...

I was excited by the whole Templeton Rye "rebirth" until I read a Trib article about how and where it's made. Naming a product after where it's bottled just doesn't sit right with me.

Chuck Cowdery said...

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

Here is 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 believe the closed door at LDI is just a carry-over mentality from the previous two owners. I was there for more than a decade. Tours were not very common.

Paul said...

LDI is perhaps mysterious in many ways, but their website is pretty open to all... http://www.lawrenceburgdistillersindiana.com/

Rob said...

Chuck, you reference 13 large distilleries in the post. I think I know most of them, but am a little fuzzy on a couple. Specifically, which ones are the 13 you reference? Thanks!

Chuck Cowdery said...

Jack Daniel's, George Dickel, Maker's Mark, Jim Beam, Booker Noe, Brown-Forman, Woodford Reserve, Heaven Hill, Barton, Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, LDI.

Elizabeth said...

Chuck, do you know much about Templeton Rye that is made by LDI?

Chuck Cowdery said...

I know Templeton is one of the brands that uses LDI's rye. What else would you like to know?

Elizabeth said...

We sell a lot of it at an English Pub I work at in Iowa and I've just heard many many times the misquote of it is actually being made in Templeton Iowa...which I had down some research and found out that it is actually produced by LDI. They market it as the original recipe from prohibition and was just wondering does LDI put that much effort it to making it a solid Rye Whiskey as they market it as?

Chuck Cowdery said...

The "pre-Prohibition Recipe" claim is empty hype. When Templeton started, they bought some existing LDI-made rye whiskey, either directly from LDI or from an intermediary. They continue to buy that whiskey from LDI. The only change is that now they bring the barreled whiskey to Iowa to age. LDI makes very good rye whiskey but it's their recipe, not Templeton's. Templeton is aged and bottled in Iowa but it is distilled in Indiana. So it depends on what your definition of "made" is.

Elizabeth said...

Gotcha..I appreciate the info! The Templeton owners are in our place quite often. We have more bottles then any other bar in town (and probably in state) I just have a huge appreciation for Whiskey and I just thought something was fishy from the start. I've bartended for years and I love whiskey and respect it, so knowledge of my product is very important to me! Keep up the good work!!