The quotes around 'problem' in the headline above are there to signify that there is nothing wrong with NDP whiskey per se. We've had a lively discussion beneath Sunday's post about non-distiller producer (NDP) whiskeys. Here's a recap, and a modest proposal.
As some of the comments note, NDPs have always been part of the business. In fact, they were the business before Prohibition. Prior to 1920, it was NDPs (then called rectifiers) who owned and marketed most whiskey brands, not the distilleries. Although this began to shift after Prohibition, NDP brands were still common in the modern era. Wild Turkey, which began in 1940, was originally an NDP brand. They only bought their distillery in 1971.
Today, most American-made whiskey is sold by the same company that distills, ages, and bottles it. All of the major brands you know and love -- Wild Turkey, Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, Evan Williams, Four Roses, Maker's Mark -- are distillery-produced. Although you won't find the words 'Heaven Hill Distilleries' on a bottle of Evan Williams bourbon, it's well known that Heaven Hill is the producer. Distilleries using assumed business names aren't the problem.
The 'problem' comes when companies fudge about the source of their whiskey, or about how much of a hand they really had in making the product. Most won't tell a provable lie, but they will go to great lengths to create a false impression, with a goal of deceiving the consumer and appearing to be something they are not. Rather than quibble about who should or should not be on that list, because every faker fakes differently, let's just agree that many producers are coy about this subject, hence the high intensity of feeling in many of the comments about Sunday's post.
This problem is particularly acute among small producers, because it's a crime when people who work so hard to establish a distillery and make a good product have to compete against Potemkins. Some have proposed that the U.S. Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) should require distiller disclosure on product labels, but the TTB has a hard enough time doing the job it already has. More stringent source labeling would be opposed by almost everyone in the industry, for different reasons, and who really wants the Federal government all up in the liquor business any more than it already is?
Hence this modest proposal. The industry has several voluntary trade associations: the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), the Kentucky Distillers' Association (KDA), the American Distilling Institute (ADI), and the newly formed American Craft Distillers Association (ACDA), to name a few. Several universities, such as Michigan State, have distilling programs. One of those entities, or a new one established for this purpose, could create a certification program. It would establish criteria, and a monitoring and enforcement system, and award certifications to producers who apply and meet the requirements. It would all be voluntary and funded by the participants. Then it is up to the participants to promote and support it, to imbue it with sufficient credibility so that concerned consumers will learn to look for and trust that designation.
This has worked for many product categories, from 'organic' to 'kosher,' with the consumer deciding how important the designation is, and with no role for the government whatsoever.
Somebody just needs to do it.