I wasn't surprised (but I was still annoyed) to learn that many so-called 'craft' or small-distillery whiskies and other spirits may be mass-produced in a single factory.
Lawrenceburg, Indiana (not to be confused with bourbon-locale Lawrenceburg, Kentucky) is home to a massive brick complex that cranks out mega-industrial quantities of beverage-grade alcohol. The factory, once a Seagram distillery, has changed hands over the decades and was most recently acquired by food-ingredient corporation MGP. It is now a one-stop shop for marketers who want to bottle their own brands of spirits without having to distill the product themselves. MGP sells them bulk vodka and gin, as well as a large selection of whiskies, including bourbons of varying recipes, wheat whiskey, corn whiskey, and rye. (They also make “food grade industrial alcohol” used in everything from solvents and antiseptics to fungicides.) Their products are well-made, but hardly what one thinks of as artisanal. And yet, much of the whiskey now being sold as the hand-crafted product of micro-distilleries actually comes from this one Indiana factory.
Upstart spirits companies selling juice they didn’t distill rarely advertise the fact. But there are ways to tell: whiskey aged longer than a distillery has been in business is one of the telltale signs that the “distiller” is actually just bottling someone else’s product.
. . .
“I have purchased hundreds of barrels of rye and bourbon from them,” John Bernasconi admits when asked about the Indiana factory. A principal in the New Mexico company, Bernasconi says that purchasing whiskey from MGP and bottling it is “a means to develop a brand and help fund the next step” of actually distilling a unique product. It may be a sensible enough business strategy, but as whiskey writer Charles Cowdery points out, “There’s no reason to think anyone knows how to make whiskey or can learn how to make whiskey based on buying whiskey.” Cowdery has been railing for years against the proliferation of what he calls “Potemkin distilleries,” many of which own shiny new copper stills to wow visitors, but actually sell factory-made spirits they’ve acquired in bulk.
. . .
Dozens of new brands are packaging whiskey bought in bulk from Indiana. But it isn’t the only source. Some recently launched whiskey brands, such as the much-hyped WhistlePig Rye (which touts the product as “hand-bottled” on a Vermont farm), get their product from a factory distillery in Canada. Others are picking up cast-off barrels from high-volume Kentucky “macro-distillers” who occasionally find themselves with more whiskey than they can sell under their own labels.
There's more at the link.
I was particularly angry to find out that some well-known small distilleries (including top brands) are named in the article as sourcing at least some of their products from mega-factories like that. Why should I waste my hard-earned money on premium spirits that aren't premium at all? I'm surprised it's even legal to allow such sales without full disclosure of where the product comes from.
As of right now, I won't be buying any 'craft' spirits unless I'm absolutely certain that I'm getting what I'm being asked to pay for.