Bourbon’s Area 51

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December 27, 2013 by Bourbon Empire

When whiskey geeks write about MGPI, the distillery best known for making whiskey on contract for other brands, they describe the place as if it were the Death Star. Dark and foreboding, you half expect the place to be run by Dr. Claw. Plus, it’s in Indiana, a state name that whiskey geeks spit out like venom. Eyebrows get arched and the word “Indiana” falls out of mouths with the same disdain wine snobs had for “merlot” after they saw the movie Sideways.

When that movie came out, I had a number of friends working in wine shops with countless stories of customers that suddenly hated merlot, the grape of the lumpenprole. But in one interview, film director Alexander Payne explained that merlot was a random choice. He just needed a vehicle for showing how arbitrary the “rules” of connoisseurship can get.

Granted, the case of MPGI isn’t a perfect analogy, but it’s worth remembering. MGPI often gets a bum rap, especially considering that it actually makes good whiskey. It’s a real distillery, with real people working there, and a real master distiller. If it sold its liquid under its own labels instead of making it for other people, it would probably be revered (or, to be honest, at least respected). Lots of brands take a ton of shit for simply buying their juice from MGPI…that’s all fair criticism for a host of reasons that include arguments about authenticity and the sense of individualism that corporate conglomeration has been draining from this country like blood from a slaughtered pig.

But to be fair, MGPI does make good whiskey and absolutely knows what it’s doing…better than many of the brands that slam their competitors for sourcing from there. I don’t necessarily want it to be that way, but that’s the way it is for now. Just say that you get your whiskey from there and things are cool from my side. Perhaps it’s not as interesting as us whiskey geeks would prefer, but also not the end of the world. I just got done reading one description of MGPI written by a competing distillery and his physical description of the place makes it sound like a prison camp. I’m chalking that one up to sour grapes, since MGPI’s stuff is generally better in terms of both taste and value. Way better. Ouch.

Fred Minnick recently had a good piece in the latest Whisky Advocate about MGPI, which is starting to open up and give people a closer look. I highly recommend the article, which does a good job of balancing out the tidal wave of crap coverage this distillery suffers under. He took pictures, and it’s not an evil-looking place at all. It look like, you know, a distillery.

And (full disclosure, I’m originally from Indiana), Indiana isn’t a naughty word worthy of Wagnerian background music every time it’s mumbled. MGPI is actually closer to some Kentucky distilleries than those distilleries are to each other. It sits on the exact same limestone shelf that treats the water of Kentucky’s whiskey and has an identical climate…there’s nothing nefarious about it. There isn’t a wall on the Kentucky-Indiana border separating the promised land from the Hoosier state. Ubiquitous MGPI whiskies might contribute to a boring/bland whiskey environment, but it’s not bad whiskey.

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