Thursday, March 19, 2009

Who Makes America's Whiskey?

Go to the American whiskey section of any large liquor store and you will see dozens of different brands on the shelves, so many people are surprised to learn that all of the whiskey made in America (excluding the handful of very small micro-distilleries) comes from eight companies, operating 13 distilleries.

They are:

1. Beam Global -- three active whiskey distilleries, all in Kentucky.

2. Brown-Forman -- three active whiskey distilleries, two in Kentucky, one in Tennessee.

3. Sazerac -- two active whiskey distilleries in Kentucky (Buffalo Trace and Tom Moore), honorable mention for a redistiller in Virginia (A. Smith Bowman).

4. Pernod Ricard -- one active whiskey distillery in Kentucky. (Wild Turkey)

5. Kirin -- one active whiskey distillery in Kentucky. (Four Roses)

6. Diageo -- one active whiskey distillery in Tennessee. (George Dickel)

7. Heaven Hill -- one active whiskey distillery in Kentucky.

8. Angostura -- one active whiskey distillery in Indiana, one currently being restored in Kentucky.


Unknown said...

At least for me, that is great info. I've recently been wanting to figure out the relationship between the name on a bourbon bottle, the distillery that made the liquor, the company that owns the distillery, and what role those big-name distributors have in the mix. I guess, from your info, the chain of command is more simple that I thought: distributor (if I am using that description accurately) own distilleries, which in turn make the bourbon.

Another question for you - is a master distiller employed by a distillery or a distributor? Is the relationship one in which Diageo, for example, just owns the rights to Dickel's production? Or does Diageo's influence impact the creativity and artfulness of indivual distillery products/whiskey expressions? Thanks.

Chuck Cowdery said...

The term "distributor" has a very specific meaning in the alcoholic beverage world. It describes the middle man who buys from producers and sells to retailers. By law, producers may only sell to distributors and retailers may only buy from distributors.

Distributors must be incorporated and based in the states in which they operate, and are licensed by the state, so they are more directly within the state's control than are the producers, which is the point.

There are, however, many producers who are not distillers and who could be called distributors in the ordinary sense of that word, but calling them that can be confusing. That's why I use the term non-distiller producer to describe companies that do not distill but, rather, buy bulk spirits (including whiskey) which they bottle and sell as brands they own.

Distillers, including the celebrity master distillers we all know about, work for distiller producers. I don't know of any non-distiller producer who is touting their master distiller. Every master distiller out there is associated with an actual distillery.

For all major brands it is very easy to determine where they are made. The brands sold by non-distiller producers tend to be very small.

I hope this clears things up.

Reid said...

I'm a little confused about a couple of distillers hanging out there. What about Anchor Distilling in San Francisco, since they make Old Potrero rye? Are they owned by one of the eight companies you mention? I know that Maker's Mark is, or at least at one time was, owned by Allied Domecq. Is Allied under one of these umbrellas? Finally, is the Barton distillery still owned by Constellation Brands? Are they owned by one of these companies?

The relationships between these distillers/owners can by byzantine. It makes my head swim.

Keep up the work with the blog. I'm a big fan.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I didn't mention Anchor because it is very small.

Maker's Mark is now owned by Beam Global. Allied no longer exists.

Constellation renamed Barton as Tom Moore, then sold it to Sazerac (Buffalo Trace). Although that deal has not closed yet, that's where I listed the distillery.

It's hard to keep up, I know.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I just noticed that I failed to answer part of the question about Anchor. No, Anchor is not owned by one of the other companies. So far as I know, it is solely owned by Fritz Maytag.