Friday, October 3, 2014
Templeton Tale Gets Curiouser and Curiouser
Templeton Rye's current tale of woe is interesting in its own right but also for what it may portend, because Templeton is far from alone in its misleading marketing practices. Products like Tin Cup, Widow Jane, Texas 1835, and many others could be looking at the same kinds of trouble, including lawsuits like the one filed against Templeton and the now two filed against Tito's Vodka.
Vern Underwood is the CEO of Templeton and also Chairman of the Board for Young's Market Company, a big wine and spirits distributor. Yesterday he issued the following public response to the lawsuit.
"As many of you have heard, Templeton Rye Sprits has been sued in Chicago recently alleging deceptive marketing practices.
"The most damaging and patently false statement made in that lawsuit was that stock rye whiskey purchased from MGP is simply poured into bottles and labeled 'Templeton Rye.' That statement is simply not true.
"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 by Clarendon 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 this blending of the whiskey and the formula which results in the production of Templeton Rye Whiskey. Templeton does not purchase 'Templeton Rye' from MGP as alleged in the complaint. Templeton makes (or produces, if you like) Templeton Rye in Iowa using an ingredient supplied by MGP.
"It is the formula created for Templeton that gives Templeton Rye Whiskey its unique flavor and distinctive taste. It is a product unlike any other on the market. The product in a bottle of Templeton Rye is made in Templeton, Iowa. The Company has never said it was distilled in Iowa.
"The Company will vigorously defend itself against these false and misleading allegations and we are confident that we will prevail in the end."
First of all, Templeton absolutely did hide the fact that MGP was its distillery and did so for the first several years of the brand's existence, because I asked Templeton president Scott Bush who distilled it and he refused to tell me. As for this proprietary flavoring, that was never revealed until the Des Moines Register article two months ago.
Can you add flavoring to rye whiskey and still call it rye whiskey? Apparently, yes, but said flavoring may be no more that 2 1/2 percent of the product's volume. More importantly, the added flavoring must be "an essential component part of the particular class or type of distilled spirits to which added" or "customarily employed therein in accordance with established trade usage." Can Templeton meet that standard? It seems like that would be tough since, until a few years ago, only four American distilleries made rye whiskey and they all made straight rye, in which additives are not permitted, so flavoring wasn't "essential" or "customarily employed" in any of those products.
There also seems to be a direct contradiction in their argument. If their flavoring is proprietary, i.e., used only by them, making Templeton Rye "unlike any other on the market," how can it also be "an essential component part" of all rye whiskey, or "customarily employed therein"? You can't have it both ways.
Finally, there is this claim that the flavoring from Clarendon is used to "match the flavor profile of the prohibition-era recipe rye whiskey produced by the ancestors of one of the founders of Templeton." That would be Alphonse Kerkhoff. Back in 2006, when the company was just getting going and filing its first labels with the TTB, one of its COLAs was for something called "Templeton Rye Kerkhoff Recipe." It was classified as a "Specialty Distilled Spirit," TTB's catchall for products that don't qualify for any other classification. The label further stated that the product was to be "bottled in Templeton" (i.e., not distilled there) and would consist of "Spirits Distilled from Cane (90%) and Rye (10%)."
That is a typical moonshine recipe. Real moonshiners*, then and now, ferment table sugar but throw in some grain for flavor. Since no enzymes are used, the grain starch isn't converted into sugar so the grain isn't contributing any alcohol, but it may add a little flavor. It looks like what Templeton planned to do was mix neutral spirit made from cane (i.e., white rum) with a little bit of rye distillate. I don't know if that product was ever produced or what it's relevance might be to this proprietary flavoring, but that's the only "Kerkhoff Recipe" that's on the record.
If you've read this far, you are one of those people who, like me, is way more into this stuff than the average drinker. What is the average drinker and regular buyer of Templeton taking away from all this? Only time -- meaning sales figures -- will tell.
* To learn the true story of moonshine and its makers, read Chasing the White Dog by Max Watman.