Chapter 10: Indiana’s Invisible Giant
The great scandal of rye whiskey, one that is periodically (and gleefully) exposed in articles and posts on the Web, is that many of the boutique ryes you like so much are not distilled on the picturesque farms or rehabbed factory buildings from which they are sold. Rather, they are bought from mega-distilleries in Indiana.
This is true and, for the most part, it doesn’t matter much.
Here’s the dirt.
Midwest Grain Products, almost universally known as MGP, is a megafactory distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana that produces rye and bourbon in bulk and sells it to over fifty different labels that bottle and resell it as their own, at prices that can make you wince. So that “craft distillery” you love so dearly may not even own a still.
That sounds scandalous and, indeed, when the word got out, there was a scandal. One famous distillery was found guilty of outright fraud in a court of law.
MGP makes very good rye—as witness all the people paying sometimes premium prices for those fifty-plus brands. Also, they sell dozens of different mash bills, which the smaller distilleries often mix in different proportions. (Hence the references to “our own recipe” on a bottle that deftly sidesteps where the distilling takes place.) Nor is the production of whiskey over when it leaves Indiana. The rye is aged for different periods of time and often finished in barrels with varying histories behind them—sherry perhaps or even, to bring this history full-circle, rum. So the taste, as experienced samplers of rye whiskey know, really does differ from label to label.
One of my favorite ryes for everyday Manhattans was born in Indiana and finished and sold in the beach town of Cape May, New Jersey. Cape May is where Mom and Dad take the family to avoid seeing drunken antics and young women in thong bikinis. If a whiskey can survive that, you know it’s fundamentally sound.
To honor the fine craftspeople of the all but anonymous Indiana corporation that produces so many first-rate bourbons and rye whiskeys, a noble cocktail like the Boulevardier is only appropriate:
2 ounces rye
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouthorange peel
directions: combine ingredients, chill, and serve with an orange peel for garnish
The Boulevardier is a close relation of the Negroni with rye substituted for gin and increased in volume so the flavor of the rye won’t be swamped. Negronis are summer drinks, where Manhattans are best drunk in autumn and winter. So the Boulevardier makes a fine bridge between the seasons. Also, it is one tasty cocktail!
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