Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Rational Way to Regard NDP Whiskeys

NDP is short for 'non-distiller producer.' The designation is self-explanatory. Some producers make what they sell, starting with the raw materials of grains, water, yeast, and charred oak barrels. They mill, cook, ferment, distill, age, and ultimately bottle the product, put one of their own names on it, and sell it through their own distribution channels.

Other producers buy aged whiskey in bulk from one of the distillers, either directly or indirectly through a broker. Then they bottle and market it. Those are NDPs.

You can't tell distillers from NDPs by reading the product label. You more-or-less have to know. This isn't as hard as it sounds because the number of distillers is small, especially if you exclude micro-distillers (who rarely sell in bulk). Virtually all of America's whiskey is made at 13 distilleries owned by eight companies. All of the NDP whiskey is made by those producers too.

Most distillers market their whiskey under multiple names. Some produce a handful of brands, others dozens, but they're not a secret. Some make a couple of different recipes and matching recipes to brands takes a little more research but that's not a secret either. The companies are usually upfront about it on their web sites.

The Maker's Mark Distillery, which is owned by Beam Inc., makes Maker's Mark bourbon and nothing else, no other brands. The Jack Daniel's, Woodford Reserve, and George Dickel distilleries likewise make only their namesake brands in a couple of different expressions. Everybody else makes multiple brands. Jim Beam, for example, makes Jim Beam bourbon and Jim Beam Rye, but also Knob Creek, Booker's, Baker's, Basil Hayden's, Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow, Old Overholt, and a couple more.

MGP of Indiana is included among the distiller producers, although they make no brands of their own. However, most of the NDPs who use MGP whiskey identify it as the source.

That brings us to the NDPs who keep the source or sources of their whiskey a deep, dark secret. Templeton Rye, for instance, would like you to think its product is made at a little distillery in Templeton, Iowa, when it's actually made at a great big distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

Templeton is not unique. Some other NDPs you may know are Michter's, KBD (Willett), Black Maple Hill, Whistle Pig, Jefferson's, Pogue, and Angel's Envy. They make nothing themselves. Because most of their products are quite good, there is always a lot of speculation about who made this or that expression.

You are of course free to buy whatever you want and equally free to speculate about the provenance but consider this: why do business with someone who makes you play stupid guessing games about the basic question of who made their product?

"Because I like it and don't care who made it," is a fair answer.

There used to be a lot of bulk whiskey around that was made by closed distilleries, but virtually all of that juice is gone. All of the NDP whiskey you get today was made at one of those 13 distilleries by one of those eight companies. With the exception of MGP, it was made by someone who also sells that same whiskey (more-or-less) under their own names. When a distillery makes a bulk whiskey sale, do you think they deliver their best whiskey? Of course not, their best whiskey goes into the products they put their name on.

NDPs are secretive because they want you to believe they made the product themselves and some go to great lengths to create that illusion. They rarely lie but will spin like dervishes. When pressed, they claim they're contractually prevented from revealing their sources. Maybe they are, or maybe that's just a convenient excuse to continue the deception.

Look at it this way. You can get plenty of good whiskey from companies that don't try to deceive you at every turn. Do business with them.

ADDED A FEW HOURS LATER: Here's a good example of how NDPs hurt themselves with their dissembling. After this went up, a poster in a discussion group where I linked to it took great offense at it. She felt I was insulting her friends who work for the companies I named. She got very upset with me and called me many names, but who do you think she'll be mad at if she eventually learns that everything I wrote is true and what they told her is a big load of crap? And she's a bar manager, their customer.


Anonymous said...

If anything you too kind. When a company purposefully sets out to lie and mislead they have it coming to them and should get what they deserve.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the biggest smoke and mirrors is up north where there is increasing speculation about Forty Creek as an NDP, some have questioned how they can produce so much whiskey with so small capacity.

Stanley said...

LOL! So by this post I take it you don't think much of the marketing wonder that is Pappy Van Winkle?

Anonymous said...

I like it and don't care who made it.

Dan said...

You should add High West to the list, unless they really are now setting down their own stock. Also, Whistle Pig sources its rye from Canada, and not one of the major US distillers.

Macdeffe said...

Some distillers are not very open about the source of their brands either. Rittenhouse, Woodford Reserve is just a couple of examples

Who knows where Heaven Hill products were made ? They had a change in distillery and a gap of a couple of years. End of the day, bourbon is focused more on brands than distilleries

Even my bottle of Elijah Craig 18yo says "Distilled and bottled by The Elijah Craig Distillery Co."

Very confusing. You can gain some knowledge by searching the internet, but bottle labels are not helping as a general rule

In Scotland distilleries often sell casks to brokers and other distilleries under the condition that it cannot be bottled with the distillery name on it. Brand protection they call it. So sometimes you see single malts bottled with "brand names" like Westport, Blairfindy, Ballindalloch etc.

Does bourbon producers sell barrels with the same conditions ?


Anonymous said...

In which discussion group did the bar manager take offense?

Anonymous said...

Personally Thinking......

I would like to have my own whiskey brand with tall tale about ancestors distilling and selling Frontier Bourbon !

MGP not far from me.

Who should I talk to ?

Anonymous said...

Thought Willett and Pogue were now distilling too - I know those products aren't to market yet but does that garner an asterix or some other distinction as they would be a hybrid, since they are technically distilling, the NDP moniker wouldn't fit would it?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Willet is distilling but nothing they've distilled is available. Pogue has introduced a rye they made, but it's only for sale at the distillery. High West is a distiller and sells its own-made products along with its NDP products. Smooth Ambler, Great Lakes, and several other micros sell both own-made and NDP products. You can sort them out, but you have to be diligent and set your BS detector on high.

North American Whiskey List said...

Since you mention 13 main distilleries with 8 companies, how about saving us some digging time? Is this list close:

George Dickel Distillery - Diageo
Four Roses Distillery - Kirin
Wild Turkey Distillery - Wild Turkey
Barton 1792 Distillery, Buffalo Trace Distillery, A. Smith Bowman Distillery - Sazerac
Heaven Hill Distillery - Heaven Hill
Brown-Forman Distillery, Woodford Reserve Distillery, jack Daniels Distillery - Brown-Forman
Booker Noe Distillery, Jim Beam Distillery, Makers Mark Distillery - Beam
Lexington Brewing & Distilling - Alltech
MGPI - doesnt sell under its own brands

Chuck Cowdery said...

That's the list except I didn't count A. Smith Bowman, because they don't make anything from scratch, and would be considered a micro if they did. I also didn't count Alltech because they are a micro.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Wild Turkey is part of Campari Group?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Yes, Wild Turkey is owned by Campari.

Anonymous said...

Drink the bourbon you like. Who gives a shit where it came from. Making a huge deal about it makes you seem elitist.

On a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, it says it's produced by Old Rip Van Winkle distillery, which technically doesn't exist. Isn't that misleading? Who f-ing cares. Drink it and be merry.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Knowing who made something is the first step to knowing how it was made. If you only care about drinking and don't care about learning something about what you drink, why are you reading this?

Mark Fleetwood said...

Not caring, or worse not having the slightest interest in knowing who is taking your money for a product you might find from the true producer at a lower price makes you seem......

Doctor Tarr said...

I think grocery stores should tell us where their store brands are made, too. "Packaged for Kroger, Cincinnati, Ohio" isn't useful information. They can change suppliers without notice and start selling a different product in the same package.

Anonymous said...

Even if someone doesn't care how their drink is made, knowing where it came from is an important part of keeping track of whether it continues to come from the same source.

And if the "craft" NDP you liked so much goes bankrupt, wouldn't it be nice to know where they got their whiskey so that maybe you can track down more of it from a different bottler?

Maybe U.S. producers should list who manufactures a product, regardless of the brand. It could be like the Norma Oficial Mexicana number on tequila bottles. If the whiskey is good, there's no reason subtle disclosure should detract from sales.

Lazer said...

To all the "who cares" people:

I have bought a lot of whiskey over the years, probably more than you, and probably mot as much as Chuck, and I can tell you that I don't like buying NDP products because they are generally a bad value, or not as good a value as a normal distillery product. In other words, the people that care are the people that don't want to waste their time and money.

Anonymous said...

And you should disclose your relationships, conversations, and the earnings you have/had with the 13 distilleries owned by eight companies who've given you the mandate (and probably money) to market this 'issue'. Or would you have us speculate about the provenance of your reportage? And get back to us with some counter-arguments by going straight to the people and companies you allege are deceptive for feedback. Or, just continue selling the perversity of their deceptive standards... from undisclosed sources.

Tuthilltown Sprits said...

Most of the producers I know accept the market fact of bulk whiskey production and brands which are only that, "Brands" and are not actually produced by the brand owner. But they all agree there must be some clarity and honesty on the label since that is exactly why labels are so thoroughly vetted, for truth. The absence of a clear indication if the brand is produced by others is necessary if the TTB is to live up to its mandate to police the inaccuracies and misleading statements on spirit labels. Chuck's suggestion is solid. It should be something required, who made it? where was it made? It's a reasonable expectation of the consumers and fair to those brand owners who actually make their spirit brands.

Justin said...

This is why I love your blog Chuck: You aren't afraid to stir up the shit and tell it like it is.

More to the point: Here's why I care. Templeton or Bulleit rye? Which do you choose? I now know that they both come from MGP, but Bulleit is bottled at a higher strength and is half the price. It seems like a no brainer to me. Also, for as much as huge companies get grief for their efforts to screw up your favorite spirit, one has to admire Diageo's transparency regarding Bulleit Rye. They have never tried to hide the fact that they source this whiskey from MGP.

Knowing more about your choices helps you to make a better decision.

Kyle Henderson said...

What would you suggest would be the best way to identify the "where" its made requirement? Should NDPs have to put the DSP of the producer, or would a DBA at said distillery suffice? I think there would be way to many voices fighting this if it were ever proposed as a real idea, but conceivably would work.

SmokyBeast said...

Normally I don't care. Independent bottling has been a valuable contribution to the single malt world for years. But this one really bothered me:

"As great whiskey distillers throughout the world — from Kentucky to Scotland — have long known, it takes sweet water from tough rock to make great whiskey. And, that’s what Widow Jane Whiskey, distilled in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, is all about."

Actually it's NDP and says "Kentucky Bourbon" right on the bottle.

Why they'd put the lie on their website is beyond me.

Josh Feldman said...

To the Anonymous commenter who suggested that Chuck Cowdery should reveal his industry work - you should read his books. He does. Chuck is plenty tough on BS wherever he finds it. On this blog he regularly points out BS from distillers. The charge that he is industry biased holds no water. Meanwhile, his arguments about NDP whiskies are factually true. You cannot tell by reading a bottle label where the spirit inside was distilled. That's a shortfall in our labeling requirements. Companies that sell someone else's juice can legitimately add value. I just tasted Lincoln Henderson's new Angel's Envy Rye and can attest that the extra 18 months in rum cask meaningfully improve the palate of that 6 year old 95% rye mash LDI rye. I'll gladly pay for that extra barrel management. The same goes for Willett's - where I'm paying for some proven barrel selection and for some extra maturation in KBD's rick houses. But, as a whiskey geek, I want to know the source of my drinks. Sellers should be transparent about it. Independent bottlers of Scotch are (except in particular cases of teaspooned or "bastard" malts). The mystery games, lies, and BS that are rampant in the Bourbon world aren't healthy. The added mystery only misleads. We would all be better off with more transparency and information for consumers.

Anonymous said...

When I drink my High West Rye whiskey it tastes awesome. The fact that I'm not sure it came from XYZ distillery or some dude's bathtub does not change the way it tastes. Isn't that what matters?

I understand the argument about wanting to know where and how it's made, blah blah blah, but at the end of the day, the same question remains: Would the way it tastes on your palate going to change if you knew the source? What if some NDP produced something that was better than PVW 15 or 20? You would really not give them your business because of this issue alone?

Anonymous said...

The thing that drives me crazy are the NDP's that flat out lie with their marketing bullshit. They talk about family recipes and what they do in the still house when I know they don't have a distillery. Julian van Winkle saw the Bourbon shortage coming for his operation years ago. That is why he partnered with Buffalo Trace to start producing his Bourbon for him. He has always been up front and honest about his Bourbon source. As honest and trustworthy a person as there is in the business.

The people that make me cringe are the ones that call themselves master distillers that couldn't find the front door to a distillery, if they could find a distillery. They talk of family recipes when I know they are buying bourbon which they have no say in producing.

I don't know what the answer is to this question, but at least the companies that are not producing anything need to stop lying about their "family recipes" and the work they do in the distillery when they have neither.

Long time industry veterans like Julian van Winkle, who does have a family recipe and is working with a distillery, Buffalo Trace, that I think everyone will agree is producing a lot of great Bourbon, is a completely different animal from the companies buying on the bulk market from anyone who will sell them product. Consistency is important.

The Willett's and the Henderson's at Angel's Envy have already, or are about to make large investments in distillery operations to insure they have their own Bourbon for the future. They are to be commended.

I don't have a problem with NDP's if they can just resist the urge to tell flat out lies to sell their products.

Anonymous said...

Remember when Bourbon used to be fun? Now everybody over analyzes it.

Jason said...

To me there is a marked difference between bottling and selling liquor distilled by someone else *without* presenting it as one's own product (a la High West), and flat-out pretending that you made the juice in question.

I don't have any problem with the former - being a fan-in-parallel of Scotch whisky, it's quite common. The latter is obnoxious and deceptive, however.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Great comments, everyone. Keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

Really bugs me when I see NDP using geographical brand names that obviously help bolster sales and are considered 'local'. Chattanooga Whiskey Company or Belle Meade bourbon (a Nashville neighborhood). Both Indiana juice. Anyone else seeing this?

Anonymous said...


I agree with you completely. It is common in the scotch business and you don't see the secondary market promoting marketing people as master distillers. I could name a couple of the most egregious culprits of this practice, but it is easy to spot them with a little research. James Bond reference.

To Anonymous who said people are over analyzing the business. This is all about telling the truth, or at least not telling blatant lies to sell your product. If I pay a Rolls Royce price for a bottle I want to make sure it wasn't manufactured by Yugo.

There is always going to be some omission of facts in sales. JUST DON'T LIE!

In reference to Chattanooga Whiskey and Belle Meade I must say that I don't have a problem with them. The reason is they have it in their label where the whiskey came from. It might be in small print and you have to look for it, but you can find it. I have seen two versions of Belle Meade. One labeled Lawrenceburg, IN and the other Bardstown, KY. There are three companies in Bardstown. Willett, Heaven Hill and Barton. Belle Meade's Bourbon with the Bardstown designation came from one of those three companies. Not 100% certain which one supplied their Bourbon but you at least have some suspects. I think it was Barton. Both of those companies want to build distilleries and make legitimate products. They are starting to build their brands and generate some cash flow without spewing marketing lies. I wish them good luck.

sam k said...

In the interest of fairness, how about amending the title to "A Rational Way to Regard NDP Whiskeys," since I'm pretty sure this is not the ONLY way that one can regard them?

Wes Henderson said...


This is a great piece, and there are some very insightful comments posted in response.

In the final analysis, honesty is the best policy all the way down the line. I am pleased that the comments mentioning Angel's Envy seem to reflect that our consumers feel that we have adhered to this position. While it is true that we are contractually prohibited against disclosing our producers, in my opinion, this as non-issue, as our final product is result of our own craft.

To be more specific, there should be a line drawn between a NDP who releases a product that is distilled, blended, and bottled by a co-packer, and a NDP who applies their craft to the whiskey with their own specific finishing, blending, or whatever their craft may be.

In this discussion, if applied in the proper context, and to the appropriate NDP's, I would like to see more credit given to the art of blending, and the artistry demonstrated by a number of craft producers around the country.

At the end of the day, the market will dictate which products survive, and which ones don't. The market will also support or refute the value added by NDP's to the final product. Consumers are very educated, and are more than capable of peeling away the onion where something doesn't seem right.

Personally, I have more of a problem with the use of the Master Distiller designation than anything else, as was mentioned in one comment.....don't get me started on that one!

Once again, great dialogue, my friends.


Anonymous said...

Is Breckenridge bourbon NDP?

Anonymous said...

I believe Breckenridge bourbon is sourced. A careful reading of their marketing and label states that Colorado water is used for diluting barrel-strength bourbon when bottling. I don't believe this is what most people have in mind when the company states that its bourbon is "made with" Colorado water and at Colorado's elevation, when the bourbon is likely made in the midwest.

Carlton said...

While the anorak in me would enjoy knowing the source distillery or distilleries for an NDP bottle, I don’t believe we will ever see this level of disclosure. NDPs exist to make money. If I disclose on the bottle that my NDP whiskey is made at a Jim Beam distillery and it sells for $50 a bottle, might not more consumers take a crack at bottle of Knob Creek at $30 a bottle next time around? It seems this would really force the NDPs to differentiate their products by skillful blending, finishing, etc. (As stated, Angel’s Envy is a good example of the type of producer that would enjoy continued success in a full-disclosure environment.) Simply filling bottles with standard juice and selling them at premium might not cut it.
The proliferation of NDPs shows that the big distilleries are making enough product for both themselves and the NDPs, so the big boys with significant bulk sales don’t have an incentive to support more descriptive labeling either. To do so might risk losing some bulk sales; these could be partially offset by consumers switching to the same juice from the big distilleries’ own brands, but I doubt the big distilleries would risk losing the sure thing of bulk sales. Certainly the ultimate market fallout among a distillery’s own brands and NDP brands of the same distillery’s whiskey, with source disclosure on the label, would be unpredictable at best.
It would be interesting to know approximately what percentage of the bulk market is serviced by MGP. I would think they have no incentive whatsoever to support label transparency. What advantage exists to having the consumer know that his three “different” ryes are in fact made by the same distillery to the same mashbill?
Perhaps the only ones who would benefit from disclosing the source of the whiskey on the label would be a limited number of interested consumers and any big distillery with little or no bulk sales (does such a beast exist?) that might hope to capture some of the consumers who would no longer pay a premium for an NDP “craft” brand if they found out it was actually distilled at one of the big producers. Bottom line, distillery disclosure on the label isn’t likely to happen because too much money is stacked against it.

Anonymous said...

@Wes Henderson. All due respect, specific finishing and blending are skills, not craft. Whiskey is a business, not a guild. I'm tired of the industry conflating the two.

Anonymous said...

I want to say that I have been around Kyle and his family at several tastings and respect them for approaching the marketing of Angel's Envy in what I deem an honest and upfront manner. Their emphasis has always been on how they finish their whiskey in port casks, and plans on other types of finishes. While Lincoln Henderson is a true master distiller that trump card of "what I did in the stillhouse with this whiskey" has never been played in my presence. Once they get their distillery built and start producing he will certainly be able to say that. That will be a day I know that they look forward to.

I will restate my position that Kyle mentioned in his last post. People claiming to be master distillers when the extent of their involvement in distilling has been to walk through a distillery on a distillery visit cheapens the position. All you have to do is look at some of the recent inductees into the Bourbon Hall of Fame (Shame?) and realize they are nothing but marketing ploys that are laughable on the surface, and just flat out dishonest at the core. I don't know how these "Master Distillers" can look at themselves in the mirror knowing the only people they are fooling are the consumers they meet at trade shows.

It is a disservice to people like Jimmy Russell, Jim Rutledge, Lincoln Henderson, Booker Noe, Parker Beam, etc., etc., that have worked years in the Bourbon industry making great products having the term Master Distiller whored out to the lowest common denominator by marketing hacks.

lexpierce said...

Everyone keeps mentioning High West, but they are up-front about their status. Take their double rye, for instance. It is a blend of their own (too young to stand on its own) stuff and NBD stuff, and they are honest on the label. Some of these are just getting started, and it takes a few years to get product out the door.

Myself, I like to drink locally produced just to support economies of the places I visit, and that is the only reason I want to see labels. Pretty much all us potato-based vodka comes from eastern Idaho, but they only have a non-vodka spirit under their own name. If it actually came from brooklyn, it would be good to know. Or if they are upfront about the fact they are using someone to distill and age their own mash, that would be different too.

Anonymous said...

If a company is trying to hide they are a NDP company, that's a reflection of the integrity of the owner, not the product. The practice of NDPs has been going on for a long time, it's just now that the general public is catching on. With that, the Feds should put forth a designation in the address information for distilleries that product a craft product - from grain to bottle, all under one roof. This should be per product, not per distillery.

Why do you ask? Let's say a company produces their own as well as source. Their entire operation shouldn't be "craft" but the products should be - for the ones that are grain to bottle under their own roof the entire time. This will remove anyone bringing in NGS or having anything in the process being done elsewhere. At the same time, keeping this type of operation in mind, they can produce sourced product, they just can't have the special designation in the address information but for those they do all in house, they can. To qualify, their annual output should be under a certain amount of pgs and they must have documented with the Feds their ability to produce from grain to bottle - this earns them the right to have the designation. When they submit COLA approval, they will have to provide production information and attest to the accuracy of the data.

Trying to get the Feds to come up with a class of craft distilleries will never happen. BUT, having a special designation for a product just might. It wouldn't be fair to classify a distillery as craft if they are sourcing their current products while they are making their own and allowing it to age.

Keep in mind, the business model of going with sourced products first instead of distilling is just that - a business model. Distilling from the start could put you in a situation where you have to release a product (whiskey) too early or use small barrels to speed up aging. Or, dare I say, produce a vodka, gin or white dog for cash flow.

Anonymous said...

Lex pierce,

High west is indeed upfront about their products and origin. They are to be commended. This is not a black and white issue, but a thousand shades of gray. We go from full disclosure, to putting the source somewhere on the label, to no disclosure (with no marketing BS) to no disclosure with marketing BS, to no disclosure with flat out telling of lies about fake master distillers and "family recipes", to all points in between. I would like to start the clean up of this mess with those companies that are lying in their marketing efforts. If we just did that it would be a huge deal.

Anonymous said...

The over riding factor in this issue is the fact that the bulk market has dried up to a certain extent. We are reading about shortages from Buffalo Trace, other distilleries ending private label contracts, etc., etc. There is a reason that Willett and Angel's Envy, Michter's are building distilleries. They are having a hard time finding aged product, or product of any kind. The market will adjust as it always does. This part of the business has always been around. In fact the largest companies in Louisville at the turn of the century were not distiller's, but rectifiers. Buy product, mingle it to suit a marketing taste profile, and sell it. Just don't tell lies about your family heritage, recipes and distillery when you have none.

Anonymous said...

Peach Street and Deerhammer are the only whiskey I drink out here in Colorado and I know exactly where it comes from. I don't even need to bother with that other BS with labeling.

Mike Ryan said...

Coming in late to the party but I can say as someone in a purchasing role at a relatively high profile establishment the provenance of any spirit is something I question when tasting. Often I'm presented with very very young, roughly made spirits that are honestly distilled and represented by folks who are passionate about what they do, and it's tough to say no to that level of passion. Just as often I'm presented with a very serviceable fully matured bourbon or rye with a label I've never seen before, and all the rep has to talk about is some old family recipe, or a heartwarming tale about someone's dad or grand dad and their dog or something...with little to no information as to the distillery, mash bill, distillation proof, barrel program, etc. At the end of the day it's all about flavor, and if you like a particular label--go for it! Drink what you like! But deliberate obfuscation leaves a bad taste in my mouth, which is why I have a harder time with NDPs that dance around the truth.

EllenJ said...

Chuck, you said that, "Because I like it and don't care who made it," is a fair answer. It's more than "a fair answer", it's the ONLY acceptable answer for anyone whose taste is independent of media hype. Do you care where the corn is grown? Where the malt is imported from? These are vitally important to those who consider themselves well-educated in wines... and therefore distilled spirits such as brandy. Hennessy doesn't grow its own grapes. Neither does Corvousier. Do they do all their own fermenting or do they purchase what you would call "bulk wine"? For that matter, do they do ALL of their own distilling? Who cares? Well, distillers who don't grow their own grain are working with what you would term "bulk produce". Distillers who distill mash produced by others (brewers, for example) would seem to be considered by you as less than legitimate. And apparently, that category would also include marketers of bourbon who select and mix barreled and aged product from distillers that are not themselves (i.e., NDPs). Never mind that that's exactly what Hennessy and Corvoisier do, and have done for longer than there has BEEN a bourbon industry. Never mind that you've conveniently left out iconic "NDPs" whose reputation conflicts with your point, such as A. H. Hirsch and Julian Van Winkle. Even and Drew Kulsveen should be included here as well, IMHO, as should (truth be known) Parker Beam and Truman Cox.

You know all this. And you don't even LIKE unaged white dog whiskey. So why do you keep railing at the bottlers of "whiskey that taste[s] like I want it to taste, regardless of who distilled it" as if the person producing the white dog was making some important contribution that the selector of aged barrels is not?

Chuck Cowdery said...

You know I love you, John, but who's talking about Cognac?

Shane Baker said...

This is one of the main reasons we began our journey into distilling our own products. Not only to know who made it, whats actually in it, but to know what I'm really drinking!

We would support any movement to separate non-producers from producers. We are a small operation and we are offering handmade spirits from grinding our own grain to filling our own bottles in bond, we feel that is the way it should be, but that is just us. We dont want to wait 4-5 years for our Bourbon but we will, because we made it and our brand wont be ready until its ready.

Proudly Distilling in Kentucky!
Shane Baker
Wilderness Trace Distillery

Anonymous said...

What about those "crafts" that just buy their grains and yeast? Shame on them. All they do is mill it, mash it and distill it. Some don't even mill it as I'm finding out. If your not working the dirt, your cheating. All their doing is turning on their "rainmaker". Some of their glass bottles are MADE IN CHINA! You call that American made Bourbon.

Anonymous said...


I find it humorous that you talk about taste independent of media hype when the only brands you mention are the most hyped by the media. You make a good point about the cognac business. Key difference is that you don't have cognac producers spouting marketing BS about family recipes and decisions they make Distilling when they don't own a still.

The problem I have with some, not all, NDP's is they are trading on reputations of brands that were made on products made for a very short period of time 30 years ago, and the current product is not even close to what it was. Michter's and Hirscch being two of the most prominent in the group. I am not saying that they are putting out bad product, but there is nothing in those bottles close to what it was.

Julian van Winkle always sourced his bourbon from Stitzel-Weller and then Bernheim after Stitzel-Weller was shut down because they used Pappy's wheated bourbon recipe. After Diageo gained ownership of those brands his source for wheated bourbon dried up. That is when he contracted with Buffalo Trace to start producing for him. Great distillery which I am sure uses his family recipe with him overseeing production to some extent. There is a common thread of consistency in the production of van Winkle bourbons. That is the main issue here as far as I am concerned. Consistent product time after time. That is Chuck's point in my opinion. Who really has a grip on where their product is coming from, and do they really care? As I said in an earlier post if I am paying a Rolls Royce price I want to make sure it is not coming from Yugo. I trust Julian van Winkle to provide a consistent product. Not so sure about Michter's and Willie Pratt, who managed barrel inventory at BF, but couldn't find the still house if his life depended on it.

Please give me the name of a brand that you drink that is independent of media hype. I have a sneaking suspicion that your taste is totally dependent on said hype.

sam k said...

Oh, bold Mr. Anonymous, I beg to differ. The current Michter's Original Sour Mash tastes virtually identical to Michter's from the 1970s. I did a blind side-by-side tasting recently (with others) of the new, and a high-quality sample from the late 70s, and none of us could identify a substantial difference. I believe they did their homework.

Also, Michter's as a Pennsylvania-distilled brand was produced continually for more than 30 years. That's way more than "a very short period" where I come from.

And lest you think I have no qualifications in this regard, know that I visited the active Schaefferstown facility multiple times between 1979 and its closure in 1990, and may have the largest stash of original Michter's in the country.

As goes Willie Pratt, I do not know what his full background in this industry is, but, having spent the better part of a day with him last week in Louisville, and having had him review previously unseen blueprints from the 1940s of the only known commercial column/pot distillery built in this country after Prohibition (Dillinger, of Ruffs Dale PA), I was amazed at the intricate details that he identified in their various still designs without the slightest bit of hesitation.

I'm pretty sure Mr. Pratt could indeed find a still house, even if his life didn't depend on it..

Oh, and how about you identify yourself before you spout off next time?

EllenJ said...

Well, it IS humorous, and that's my point. Unless you're into obscure craft whiskies, there ARE no brands that you've ever heard of that are independent of media hype. There never were.

You ask me to give you the name of a brand I drink that is independant of media hype. I could say "Collier & McKeel", or "Woodstone Creek", or "Delaware-Phoenix", but would you have ever heard of those, let alone tasted them? Of course not, because whatever media hype may eventually become attached to them hasn't reached you yet. And I'd be willing to bet some money that you've NEVER tasted a whiskey you hadn't read about beforehand, have you?

Well, don't feel alone; mostly I don't either. You just can't hardly escape media hype, and you really shouldn't pretend that it isn't an influence, because it is.

By the way, have you ever actually DRIVEN a Rolls Royce? How about a Yugo? Do you think I have? Then what made you think I'd know what you were talking about in your comparison? Of course I do know... and that's entirely because of media hype 'cause I've never driven either of them myself :-)

Oh, and Chuck... I used well-known Cognac dynasties as examples because they were the marketing forerunners of the bourbon whiskey industry and because their marketing hype didn't depend on fooling customers into believing that they personally grew, milled, fermented, and distilled every drop of their product, the way most of the successful post-Prohibition bourbon barons did.

Anonymous said...

@Shane Baker. Interesting promotional post about your "distilling operations". Where can I purchase your products?

On one hand, in the post above you say, "We don't want to wait 4-5 years for our Bourbon but we will, because we made it and our brand wont be ready until its ready", yet in news releases, you say that there will be some releases after 4-5 months in "small barrels". So, which one is it? Haven't distilled a drop of spirits, yet already making conflicting claims just like the NDP's you are slamming?

Are you saying your "craft" is passing off "bourbon" aged in small barrels for 4-5 months as quality aged product?

Props for doing what you claim to be doing in Danville, and I am sure you will make some great product. It does seem kinda silly to throw rocks at other's because you don't view their craft the same way as you do yours, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Typically NDP's don't have the overhead challenges that the true craft distiller may have.. they dont need all the equipment it must take to produce product and good product. But yet the price point has to be competitive. So these little guys and some not so little must work on low margin if doing it right.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see some of the big Spirit Competitions take the lead on showing the industry that the awards given are given to the right people inclusive...Square One AND the DRI Vodka Plant of Rigby Idaho for example OR at least classify these guys in a Merchant Bottling Category. I cant imagine A.DIas Blue stepping up tho, way to much financially at stake for his empire... but hopefully others may take the step, show some leadership.

sam k said...

Hi Chuck. I'm writing because I don't understand the two-plus day delay in posting my comment (June 1, 1:53 p.m.), which was written in reply to an anonymous commenter who assailed the quality of a recent Michter's bottling and one of their staff.

EllenJ's comment appeared directly after the anonymous comment for those 50 or so hours, and it bugged me immensely, as I didn't feel that anything in my comment was out of line. I still do not, and neither must you, having finally put it up.

It bothered me so much, in fact, that I got out of bed tonight to comment again and ask why this would have happened. When I looked over the responses again, suddenly there I was, now buried in mid-thread.

I assume this was a simple oversight. I have no idea how blog comments are presented for display to the blogger, nor how they are assigned a place in the queue, but in many years of commenting, this has never happened to me before.

What has me a bit off kilter is that my defense of Michter's most recent release and the abilities of their master distiller never received the courtesy of being the last comment in the list, at least temporarily.

Please understand...I'm not accusing you of anything, I just find the circumstances a bit weird. Your thoughts? Thanks!

Chuck Cowdery said...


Blogger is supposed to send me an email for every pending comment. Sometimes it doesn't. I don't know why that is. I only see those comments when I log on. I know all the comments pending have been processed, but blogger says there are others. Then, when I approve those to post, they appear in the order they were received. I can't control that, even with my own comments. I can't, for example, put this right after your comment. So, it happens, I don't know why, but it doesn't mean anything, i.e., it's nothing I'm doing one way or another.

Chuck Cowdery said...

It happens that it did come right after your comment, but only because it was last in the queue. When I started blogging, I wrote my own HTML. My skills in that regard are very limited so in general Blogger is a boon, but it has its drawbacks.

sam k said...

Thanks...I appreciate the clarification.

Anonymous said...

I say just drink what you like. Who cares where it came from. If you like it you like it. Life is short, enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Wanted to check out the old Sam Dillinger and Sons Distillery in Ruffs Dale Pa this weekend, apparently it's less than an hour from my house south of pittsburgh, would you know of a physical address so I can GPS it?

sam k said...

Just go to Ruffs Dale and look for the can't miss it!

ezweave said...

This is a rather late reply, but (and perhaps I've missed it), what bothers me most about NDPs are that the small craft distillers that do make their own whiskey (Peach Street and Leopold's are big examples from Colorado that most definitely make their own) are compared to products made by the big boys.

That's as much of a sin as the lie on the label! It's unfair and rather shitty. You have people learning to make good whiskey and putting out their efforts and you have people merely bottling others' handiwork. To me that is far more fucked up than the "glory of the story" as it were.

Pao Lin said...

They should call themselves RECTIFIERS since that's all they do. rebottle, repackage, rectify and re-sell... Beware of Buffalo Distillery.. not Buffalo Trace...

Anonymous said...

Rather late for a comment...but...
"Blending" is what is being done, not re-packaging. If you were given three different barrels of bourbon and had to come up to a saleable product...that is not easy. (if it were, walmart would have done it). So buying various aged-spirits and concocting a blend that is enjoyable is the "art" of the business. Marketing the product to help you feel unique is simply psychology. That is no different than making you feel good when you give money to the red cross. Psychology.
Sip and enjoy... remember, if it needs a dash of water... don't use tap, for gawds sake.