Uncovering a Double-Top-Secret Indiana Whiskey Maker
By Jennifer Young
It’s not really a secret…but some craft whiskey companies would like to keep it quiet.
MGP produces some of the best-loved whiskeys and bourbons in the U.S., but unless you live near the Lawrenceburg, IN, distillery, you’ve probably never heard of it. However, various craft whiskeys have a secret to spill: they’re made by MGP of Indiana. Many craft breweries around the country and beyond simply buy and bottle MGP’s brews.
Oh, by the way…MGP? “Midwest Grain Products.”
MGP is a massive distilling operation that’s located on the Indiana side of the Ohio River. The distillery dates back to 1847, but it’s changed owners over time and was once owned by the Seagram Company. Although MGP doesn’t advertise, offer any tours, or bottle any of its spirits, it is one of the biggest sources of whiskey in the country–and even brands across the Atlantic are importing its brews.
MGP features a unique business model. It doesn’t put its name on anything–which is probably a good idea with as unspirited a name as MGP. The distiller doesn’t even advertise. Instead, it distills spirit for other companies. These businesses, often craft whiskey brewers, may or may not mention MGP. Typically, they create an origin tale about their great-grandfather’s rye whiskey recipe. It’s a marketing ploy, of course, designed to hide the fact that the delectable brew inside the bottle actually hails from a large-scale operation that’s just very good at what it does: making whiskey. In fact, MGP has earned numerous awards for its whiskey.
MGP also makes whiskey for large brands such as Diageo, which is headquartered in London and is one of the world’s largest whiskey sellers. Diageo sells many spirits and they’re not especially keen on sharing which products feature MGP ingredients. You might be wondering, is this even legal? Can you make up an origin story about your Uncle Joe’s Appalachian moonshine still, knowing full well that your whiskey comes from a big distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana?
Actually, yes, it appears to be legal. In the U.S., bottlers of whiskey frequently source their whiskey from one of the country’s few large distilleries. In essence, these bottlers then become non-distilling producers of whiskey–though they may, especially in the case of small craft whiskey startups, eventually bring their in-house brews to market. The distillery often does not appear on the bottle. Whiskey connoisseurs may be able to divine the real whiskey distiller based on the city and state listed on the bottle.
Of course, if you’re probably thinking–how can so many companies feature the same whiskey from the same distillery? The answer is fairly simple. MGP sells different mashups. Small distillers also add their own ‘spin’ to MGP’s products. They may allow for a second maturation, which changes the taste of the whiskey. They may add port, sherry, or wine to the MGP brew to create a distinctive flavor of their own.
MGP offers customers various aged products to choose from. They can also select between different mashups that include both wheat and corn whiskeys. MGP’s most popular offering is its 95% rye mashbill.
If you want to taste some of the best Indiana-produced whiskey, just check out products like High West Double Rye, Sagamore Spirit Cask Strength Straight Rye, Belle Meade Cognac Cask Bourbon, Joseph A. Magnus Cigar Blend Bourbon, WhistlePig Old World Rye, Angel’s Envy Rye, Bearded Lady Bourbon, Aztec Spirits Whiskey Distilled from Bourbon Mash, Cleveland Rye Whiskey, Fast Luck Light Whiskey, George Remus Bourbon & Rye, Old Hickory Bourbon, Pritchard’s Rye, Riverboat Rye, Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon, Seagram’s 7 Blended Whiskey, Tin Cup Whiskey, and James Oliver Rye.
And those are just a drop in the old whiskey bucket. MGP’s customer list is long–and there’s every reason to believe it’ll keep growing, owing to the quality of its whiskeys.