Monday, July 29, 2013

The Complete List of American Whiskey Distilleries and Brands

Steve Ury, known online as 'SKU,' has done all of us a great service. He has compiled and published (and pledged to maintain) a list that many will find very useful. He isn't paid to do this. In fact, I suspect there are people who would pay him to take it down. He did it because this is what he does. And it's a fine piece of work.

SKU calls it 'The Complete List of American Whiskey Distilleries and Brands.' Making the 'complete' claim for a project such as this takes chutzpah, but it is without doubt the most complete and accurate list of its kind ever compiled.

As he explains, it is two lists. The first is companies who actually make the stuff, distillers. It's a long list because, big or tiny, everybody is in the pool. This list is broken down by state. The second list is companies who sell whiskey they didn't make. It is alphabetical. In both cases, he lists the brand names under which the products are sold.

Many people, myself included, have taken stabs at the 'who makes what' question. As you've read here many times, eight companies (the 'Big 8') operating thirteen distilleries make all of the bourbon and rye you can buy. Since the advent of micro-distilleries that statement needs a small caveat, a 'virtually' before the 'all.'

The key issue for most people is getting a handle on who the non-distiller producers (NDPs) are and the even tougher nut, which distiller's juice is in those NDP bottles. This matters because some NDPs want the public to think they're distillers. SKU doesn't judge, he just reports the facts.

For the most part, by which I mean 99.9 percent, he's right as far as I can tell. Where he's not sure about something, he says so.

The list isn't perfect. The bulk of the bulk whiskey market remains a mystery. We know so-and-so isn't a distiller, but we don't know whose whiskey they're using. Likewise we know it's all coming from the 'Big 8,' but those customer lists are well guarded. Even SKU hasn't cracked that nut -- not yet.

Though imperfect, SKU's list is the best we have and imminently more useful than the one ADI recently issued. SKU's list is so good, it may render the whole idea of a certification system unnecessary. It turns out you don't need a trade association to do this. All it takes is a guy with grit, determination, good internet search skills, and maybe a touch of OCD.

Whenever this subject comes up, someone inevitably comments that they don't care who makes it, just what it tastes like. There's nothing wrong with that. You don't have to care. But if you do, bookmark SKU's list immediately.


sku said...

Thanks so much Chuck! I can't tell you how flattered I am by your kind words. It's definitely a labor of love (or maybe OCD).

You're absolutely right that my use of the term "complete" is more aspirational than anything. It's frustrating that even using COLA reports, the KY Secretary of State and countless other sources, it's still extremely difficult to untangle who is distilling for whom, who is just a bottler, who owns the brands, etc., etc. If you or others ever have corrections or additional information, I'd love to hear them.

Bas said...

Very useful list indeed.
And the only one now as the other list by the Harold Dean Bussel's National Bourbon League isn't online anymore.

Chuck Cowdery said...

If you read this before and saw 'Big 7' instead of 'Big 8,' you're not imagining things. It's eight. They are: Beam, Brown-Forman, Sazerac, Campari, Kirin, Heaven Hill, Diageo, and MGPI.

EllenJ said...

It can get even MORE difficult when you consider that, according to the law, if I buy a barrel of whiskey from you (or from Barton/Sazerac) it becomes MY whiskey. If I'm one of the Big Eight, that is still just as true. Now, if I then, perhaps years later, sell it to someone else, it becomes THEIR whiskey. If they're an NDP, and if they want to tell you, they can say the whiskey was sourced from me, but they really have no idea that I bought it from you. And if they're a distiller themselves, it just becomes theirs as if they distilled it in the first place.

Anonymous said...

What a mysterious, bourbony farrago! Kudos to SKU for his comprehensive attempt to unravel it.