Wednesday, May 1, 2013

MGP of Indiana Changes Its Whiskey Recipe Descriptions

MGP Ingredients, a big corn processor out of Kansas, bought the former Seagram's distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, in 2011. Observing how they run and position it has been fascinating.

Although unique today, commodity producers like MGP of Indiana used to be a prominent part of the American whiskey landscape. Wild Turkey was a non-distiller producer (NDP) for the first 30 or so years of that brand's existence. It was made from whiskey purchased from commodity producers until Austin-Nichols acquired the Ripy family's distillery in the 1970s, the distillery we know as Wild Turkey today.

MGP's distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, was acquired and rebuilt by Seagram's at the end of Prohibition. It made a lot of whiskey but all of it was used for Seagram's products. After the break-up of Seagram's by Pernod and Diageo, Pernod became its owner and began to sell bulk whiskey to Templeton Rye, High West, and others in a small way. They kept a low profile, as did their successor, Angostura (i.e., CL Financial), and as do the distilleries like Heaven Hill that operate a substantial contract distilling and bulk whiskey business along with their branded business.

MGP is taking a different approach, in part because they're a public company, but also because they want to make a name for themselves as a quality producer for the NDP community. Early last month, they announced the addition of six new recipes to their portfolio. As people began to look at that portfolio, it became apparent the distillery was using some odd and confusing naming conventions, probably inherited from Seagram's.

The naming convention for the ten bourbon recipes made at Four Roses, also a former Seagram's enclave, is similarly vestigial. It uses four letters, two of which are the same for every recipe and have no meaning that's relevant to their current application.

Unlike Four Roses, which pretty much leaves things like that alone, MGP has moved swiftly to correct its confusing names. Here's some of what yesterday's notice to its customers said:

"This is to notify you that effective immediately the names of four of MGP's beverage alcohol products are being changed. The previous naming practice varied as certain product names listed the percentage of the total small grains used in the mash bill while other names did not. Going forward, the product names will note the feature grain of the mash bill."

Here they are, with the new name first.

'Bourbon (21% Rye)' was called '25% Bourbon.' Mash bill is 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt.

'Bourbon (36% Rye)' was called '40% Bourbon.' Mash bill is 60% corn, 36% rye, 4% barley malt.

'Bourbon (99%)' was called 'Corn Bourbon Whiskey.' Mash bill is 99% corn, 1% barley malt.

'Corn Whiskey (15% Rye)' was called 'Corn Whiskey.' Mash bill is 81% corn, 15% rye, 4% barley malt.

The bourbons, of course, must be aged in new charred oak barrels while aging is optional for corn whiskey, but if aged the barrels must be used or un-charred. Take that corn whiskey recipe, put it into new charred wood, and it becomes a fourth bourbon.


Anonymous said...

Thank You MGPI......

Easier to understand now that you're using "normal whiskey lingo" !

EllenJ said...

"...Take that corn whiskey recipe, put it into new charred wood, and it becomes a fourth bourbon. "

If I'm not mistaken, that's pretty close to what Old Charter's recipe was, at least until it left Bernheim. Do you know if it's still made that way at Buffalo Trace?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Buffalo Trace is coy about its mash bills, but Old Charter uses the lower rye of their two rye-based bourbon recipes. Actually, 15% is a lot of rye for a corn. Many bourbons and both Tennessee whiskeys are more than 80% corn. Heaven Hill's corn whiskey, e.g., Georgia Moon, Mellow Corn; is 90% corn, 5% rye, and 5% barley malt.

Anonymous said...

Why did they destine a 99%corn/1% for new charred oak (to become Bourbon), and a 15%rye/4%malt recipe into unaged/used oak/uncharred-aged (Corn Whiskey). Seems like 99% corn recipe should the one left out of new charred oak.

Anonymous said...

How much water is used to determine the percentages in these mash bills? why don't they use pounds?


Chuck Cowdery said...

A mash bill has nothing to do with water, it is simply ratios. You scale the actual amounts (in bushels, a measure of volume, not weight) up or down depending on how much you want to make. The amount of water you use depends on how thick you want the mash to be. A thin mash is easier to work with while a thick mash needs less energy to distill.