Friday, August 29, 2014

Templeton Chairman Tells Des Moines Register, "The Whiskey Is Not the Most Important Thing"

Vern Underwood is Chairman of the Board and CEO of Templeton Rye
Spirits and also Chairman of the Board for Young's Market Company. 
In discussions about widespread violations of TTB rule 5.36(d), and about Potemkin distilleries in general, Templeton Rye has been Exhibit A. Since its founding in 2005, the company has carefully obscured the fact that its whiskey is made in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, from a standard recipe shared by dozens of other brands, and not in Templeton, Iowa from a unique, Prohibition-era moonshine recipe.

Templeton's many lies and obfuscations have been widely reported within the whiskey community, but recently Iowa's largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, has joined the fray with a series of articles. Today, the company's owner stepped out of the shadows and spoke to Register reporter Josh Hafner. The whole story is here.

In addition to having a lot of money at stake in Templeton, Underwood is Chairman of Young's Market Company, a major wine and spirits distributor in California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, and six other Western states. Presumably, he knows the industry and the rules by which it is regulated, and the antics of company president Scott Bush had become an embarrassment.

In the article, Underwood says that Templeton will bring its labels into compliance within 60 days. He also admitted that the Prohibition-era recipe claims are false and promised to build a distillery in Templeton to make the product.

Then this: "The whiskey is not the most important thing," Underwood said. "The town of Templeton is the most important thing, and the state of Iowa. The whiskey almost is the afterthought. It helps. It brings this to life."

Speaking about the label change and other misinformation disseminated by the company, Underwood said, "Currently there is some confusion. So all that confusion is going to be cleared up. If it implies that the rye whiskey is made in Templeton, then that should be changed. Anything that is misleading should be changed."

Underwood's role in the company has not so much been hidden as not widely known, although Tasting Panel reported his involvement more than a year ago in one of the fluffiest pieces of so-called journalism that you will ever read. The Des Moines Register article is the first time he has taken a lead role in speaking for the company, which currently sells about 60,000 cases of premium-priced Templeton Rye a year.

Underwood's other business, Young’s Market Company, was founded in 1888 and is one of the oldest continuously operating companies in the United States. In the 68 years since Young’s decided to engage exclusively in the sale and distribution of wine and spirits, it has grown from a relatively small local distributor servicing Southern California to the fourth largest wine and spirits distributor in the United States.

Underwood clearly knows the law and how best to manipulate it. Although federal and state laws specifically prohibit cross-ownership across tiers of the three-tier alcoholic beverage distribution system, clever owners such as Underwood have learned how to circumvent those laws. Underwood is both a producer (Templeton) and a distributor (Young's). Clearly, everything has been done legally, but it violates the law in spirit.

He is hardly alone. The Goldring family, which owns Sazerac, used to own a distribution company too, in Texas and Louisiana. The Philips (producer) and Johnson (distributor) families, a single family with two branches, do it in the upper Midwest. Again, nothing illegal about it, but it's one more example of how the way alcoholic beverages are regulated in the country is a sick joke.

NOTE: I revised the last paragraph to put the Goldring tie-up in the past tense. The Goldring family sold its interest in Republic (RNDC) about four years ago.


Anonymous said...


Perhaps it is you that is a joke.

Exhibit 1

"Templeton's many lies and obfuscations have been widely reported within the whiskey community"

- no chuck , it is just you that has been doing the yapping.

I'm not here to defend Templeton, but can't stand that you as a journalist or quasi journalistic are full of vitrol when your passion and knowledge can be much more constructive. How about applauding that Templeton is finally coming clean and move on. In fact, you say what they did was legal, yet you clearly have pointed out that they violated labeling laws? Which is it Chuck?

Our system is not perfect and TTB should get its act together better in regard to COLA approval, but seriously what country does it better? Mexico? You want to move there? The UK? Counterfeit goods are a problem there, not here.

Seriously, you did not know Underwood has been involved with Templeton for years, a pro like you? who has his ears in the industry or is your forte cutting and pasting press releases in between being negative about a business that you are not a player in? Yes, Chuck, it's an industry one that provides jobs for people and dreams for others. I understand your quest for truth, and I do respect that, but you have a responsibility to be more accurate and careful and perhaps less negative than you are.

Anonymous said...

So, its not about the whiskey?

Chuck Cowdery said...

If you don't care for what I do, the solution for you could not be simpler. Why torment yourself? You read these horrible things and then have to waste time writing about them too. How sad for you. Free yourself! Turn off the computer and walk away!

Anonymous said...


Thanks for posting my comment.
If your comments stayed in your world, ignoring you would be a fine solution. However you have made yourself a source for others who write in a more public forum. To be fair, you have some knowledge and solid opinions, however you often rattle off without all the facts, others quoting you don't realize that. That creates misinformation as damaging as any misleading label, marketing, etc.
Hold yourself to higher standards, that's all i got. Enjoy your weekend.

dutch05 said...

perhaps Anonymous would be as happy to identify him/herself as Chuck is to let everyone know who he is.

Anonymous said...

Whisky Compliance Officers (WCOs) are much needed these days, so it seems, with all the hucksters and charlatans peddling their misleading, phony wares.

More government regulations please. Left alone, without regulation, most outfits, in whatever industry, will screw us all to no end.

Excellent work Chuck on shining the light and calling folks out. Keep on Shining on.

Destro said...

Hey Anonymous --
If someone robbed you and then "came clean", would you "applaud" them and "move on?"
...what a dumb thing to say for someone trying so hard to sound smart on someone else's blog.

Chuck - keep up the good work for drinkers that like reading your blog!

sku said...

Chuck, you need to take Anon's sincere advice and realize that it is every journalists duty not to be negative!

Seriously though, I've noticed a disturbing trend that when you write about Templeton, going back to your first posts about them five or six years ago, you tend to get a lot of very critical anonymous comments.

Oscar said...

Keep up the good work Chuck!

Capn Jimbo's Rum Project said...

Chuck Cowdery has long been a gift to the world of informed lovers of spirits, truth, quality and purity. I am personally proud to have followed and to have communicated with him on matters of fact.

At the Rum Project we have fought equally hard for truth in labeling for rogue rum, an even more deceptive spirit. Thus I too have become well acquainted with those who'd rather retain their marketing induced propaganda and outright lies in their "'s all good" worlds of unconditional acceptance of whatever fell along with them, off the Templeton turnip truck.

Kudo's - again - to you Chuck. You deserve them.

Anonymous said...

Well, I guess, first, I like the article, and I think it is important to post stories like this one. This is a regulated industry, and rules are rules, and they should be followed, or the rules should be changed following established practice. As far as the attack comments go, I feel they are way off base. Mr. Cowdery does a great job with his site. Read, and enjoy, comment as you please, but really, some of the comments attacking Mr. Cowdery really do give the appearance of "employees of the company."

Anonymous said...

They will never replicate MGP sourced whisky. No way. No friggin way. Not in my lifetime. But it hardly matters since "the whisky is not the most important thing" and "the whiskey almost is the afterthought". What fools. What bovine excrement. On their own, without that MGP teet, they will go down in flames.

Anonymous said...

As the first anon post here, let me clarify a few things.

- I remain anon, because I need to keep my job, lame but it's the truth...
- I am not an employee of Templeton- Without a doubt they were not following regulations on the labels. Their marketing was more than a little PT Barnum - (see raj from Whistlepig - they went too far, but they did bring good whiskey to the marketplace- this is a business and some of you forget that, though I do understand the responsibility of a business to be honest with their customers-- there is a balance templeton clearly lost their balance
- I do respect what Chuck is trying to accomplish, but his word is not gospell, and I know he has "printed" stuff that is simply his opinion masquerading as fact. There is a negative bias here (though in this case, I clearly understand why_)that should be tempered, and more regard should be paid to getting the story right (i know that you dont always reach out to people you opine on) when you are treated as a source by other journalists
- Claim your victory here, Templeton is moving in the right direction, but be graceful about it. their corporate doublespeak notwithstanding, they will continue to bring quality and interesting whiskey to the marketplace and grow more jobs, celebrate that. Use your passion and energy to tell more positive stories or if you want to go negative- help Capn Jimbo in the rum world, the rum industry deceptions make whiskey shennagins look like amatuer

Iakov Alenchik said...

Templeton is decent juice, but we really don't need the "story" about it. I don't understand why the "distillers" can't be honest (quasi-honest?) about the source of their juice. Really, I think the FTC should go after some of them vis-à-vis truth in advertising.

My wife and I were in a very fine dining establishment 2-3 months ago. The server asked us if we wanted to start with a cocktail. I usually start with a simple cocktail like a Manhattan. So I said I would like a Manhattan. Before I could specify the bourbon (I prefer it over rye), the waiter suggested a Templeton Rye Manhattan. Then he paraphrased the "story," hook, line and sinker and how great this whiskey is. I was incredulous. I muttered [in Italian] to my Italian-heritage wife, "these guys were really sold."

I replied that was all fine and dandy, but the stuff really comes from another place and the history was a bit stretched (I was in a charitable mood). Then I said, "I'll take what's in the well."

Shane Campbell said...

I think MGP produces fine products and though I've never poured any from a bottle labeled Templeton I'm sure I've had the same stuff under another label.

I've no bias against NDPs but I won't buy products marketed by outright liars. In this case, it's not about the whiskey for me, it's the odor of deceit I can't stand.

Anonymous said...

In the latest vlog from Ralfy (#482) he has taken a shot across the bow of the American bourbon whiskey industry and their labeling misdirections. Part of a commentary he tacked on to a review on EWSB 2003.

He gets some of the players mixed up, but does make a point in his comparison between labeling of Scotch whisky vs. its American cousins.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Ralfy sez: "When it comes to American [whiskey] it’s a very different landscape from scotch whisky. I’m spoiled as a Scotsman who features scotch whiskey primarily in my reviews in that when a whisky, single malt, comes from Bowmore, for example, we know it’s made in Bowmore, it’s not made anywhere else. If it says ‘Bowmore’ on the label, Bowmore’s where it comes from. Bowmore does not come from Lagavulin, period. Simple! That’s transparent, that’s honest. It’s called integrity. We like that. In fact it’s very successful marketing, being honest with the punters! However, with American spirits you have to be a little more careful. You need a map to use to understand which bourbons are actually made where and who actually produces them."

MadMex said...

....using my executive order powers - I hereby appoint Chuck Cowdery, Chief Whisky Compliance Officer, to now head both the (WIA) Whisky Intelligence Agency and the (WBI) Whisky Bureau of Investigations.

Signed, P. (POTUS)

Lets get to work.
Who is exhibit B?

Sam Komlenic said...

Not one thing on Templeton's website has been updated for clarity at this juncture. Wonder how long we'll have to wait?

Anonymous said...

References to Ralfy's remarks, reinforces the point that American whiskey producers need to step up, and start being honest - and careful - on their labeling. Ralfy read from the Evan Williams single barrel label, and I checked myself, and he is right in his comment. The label does not say distilled by Evan Williams. It says only "distilled in Kentucky." It does specify "bottled by Old Evan Williams Distillery." I have nothing but presumptions that this bourbon was in fact distilled by the Old Evan Williams Distillery. Sloppy, all around. I love Evan Williams Single barrel. So, why not just add all the words necessary, on the label, so that there is no points of confusion. It makes sense to me.

Chuck Cowdery said...

A class action lawsuit has been filed against Templeton.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Templeton's most recent statement: “The most damaging and patently false statement made in the lawsuit is that stock rye whiskey purchased from (contract producer) MGP is simply poured into bottles and labeled ‘Templeton Rye.’ That is simply not true,” read the statement. “The fact is Templeton purchases rye whiskey from MGP. Templeton has never hidden that fact from consumers. However, Templeton also purchases a flavoring formula from Clarendon Engineering in Louisville, Kentucky. That proprietary formula was created specifically for Templeton to match the flavor profile of the Prohibition-era recipe rye whiskey produced by the ancestors of one of the founders of Templeton. That formula is blended with the rye whiskey distilled by MGP in a small vessel in Templeton, then bottled and labeled in Templeton.

“It is the formula created for Templeton that gives Templeton Rye Whiskey its unique flavor and distinctive taste,” the statement added. “The product in a bottle of Templeton Rye is made in Templeton, Iowa. The company has never said it was distilled in Iowa.”