“This is like Oz. You can see it, but you can’t get in,” says Andrew Mansinne, Vice President of Brands for MGP Ingredients, to a roomful of journalists at MGP’s Lawrenceburg, Indiana distillery.
The L. Frank Baum-inspired flourish is fitting. The massive, 170 year-old distillery is the largest producer of rye whiskey in the United States, and has given Lawrenceburg the nickname “Whiskey City.” Yet there’s no visitor’s center, no opportunity to buy a T-shirt, and little name recognition outside of whiskey die-hards.
“We’re the largest distillery you’ve never heard of,” is something of an unofficial slogan at MGP. But that’s slowly changing, thanks to a small roster of spirits that the distiller has begun releasing on its own over the last two years.
MGP is the latest in a long line of distillers that have called its Lawrenceburg site home. The first recorded, Rossville Distillery, was built in 1847. After Prohibition, the site was bought by Seagram, who constructed the mid-century campus that stands today. The towering, Art Deco industrial buildings—many of which still say SEAGRAM in tall, white letters—give it the feeling of a miniature, whiskey-making Gotham city.
From Seagram, ownership passed to Pernod Ricard in 2001 and then LDI (Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana), who set up shop in 2007. MGP purchased the distillery in 2011, and while they converted its power source from coal to natural gas, they retained many of its historic buildings and equipment including a 1941 gin still that remains in operation.
If you’re a would-be whiskey brand in need of juice, MGP has a catalog of over a dozen standard mash bills to choose from. (If you’ve got a bottle of 95% rye whiskey at home, there’s a good chance it hails from Indiana.) You can also order a blend, or commission MGP to make your own custom recipe—so long as you can hit the minimum order size of 250 barrels. A smattering of six-story rack houses with whiskey barrels on each distinct floor suggests that MGP whiskey is in demand.
Some brands are open about their sourcing of MGP whiskey (Templeton, Bulleit, High West), but others prefer to keep it discreet. For that reason, it’s unlikely that MGP will ever be fully open to the public. But don’t despair—MGP is coming to you.
MGP’s move to sell their own juice directly started with George Remus. The brand, named after the prohibition-era “King of Bootleggers” who appeared as a character on Boardwalk Empire and is believed to have inspired The Great Gatsby, was initially a customer. MGP liked George Remus so much that they bought it outright in 2016, improving its quality and spinning off an annual Remus Repeal Reserve, whose second edition was just released November 13—George Remus’s birthday.
MGP is currently selling five spirits split across three brands in 12 states (plus Tanner’s Creek, a blended bourbon whiskey that is only available in Indiana). The Oz of whiskey may still be off-limits, but sipping any of the spirits below counts as a peek behind the curtain.
Till American Wheat Vodka
Till is a useful reminder that whiskey isn’t the only thing coming out of MGP. Till is an 80-proof, glycerin-free vodka made with Kansas wheat, whose flavor is faintly present in the clear, crisp spirit.
Rossville Union Straight Rye Whiskey
Launched in the summer of 2018 alongside its barrel-proof brother, Rossville pays tribute to Whiskey City’s original inhabitant. Its contents are a minimum four years old and bottled at 94 proof. Its main notes are soft vanilla, caramel, and honey, with a lightly spiced finish and a cool, clean character.
Rossville Union Barrel Proof Straight Rye Whiskey
The barrel-proof Rossville ups the ante to a cask-strength 112.6 proof. It’s an unsurprisingly bold and warming spirit, with notes of cherry and stone fruit and a respectable serving of rye heat at the finish.
George Remus Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Remus is a high-rye bourbon with a mash bill of 75% corn, 21% rye and 4% malted barley, aged for a minimum of four years and bottled at 94 proof. It has a soft, round body with plenty of honey and vanilla and a detectable rye kick.
Remus Repeal Reserve
No two releases of Repeal Reserve will ever be alike. Series II is a blend of four high-rye bourbons laid down in 2007 and 2008, and the whiskey is bottled at 100 proof. It possesses a chewy, fudge-like core with plenty of caramel, and a spice-charged, slow-burn finish.