A few weeks ago Eric Felten, a reporter for The Daily Beast, interviewed me for a piece he was doing on MGP whiskeys being passed off as “craft” products. It was a good piece, in part because Felten had the wisdom to leave most of my half-baked ramblings on the editing-room floor (N.B.: no longer actually a thing in journalism). But he did quote my speculation that the wide availability of MGP’s 95 percent rye mashbill, under seemingly independent labels, might lead people to think that this is how rye is supposed to taste — to me, that would be a bit like briny pickles.
That was just me shooting my mouth. But in the weeks since, I’ve heard stories along these lines from a disturbingly large number of people. One craft distiller, who makes a fine, young 80 percent rye, told me that visitors to his distillery commonly tell him that his juice doesn’t taste the way rye is supposed to taste, offering Templeton and Bulleit (who both use MGP) in contrast. And a liquor-store owner said that people have returned bottles of Rittenhouse because it wasn’t enough like “real rye.”
What to make of this? MGP makes a tasty rye, and there’s something to be said for a collective turn toward higher-rye-content ryes. But when people think that one single company’s product, because it is quietly sliced up into different independent brands, represents the standard by which all ryes should be judged, then there is something amiss. Small distillers are only now beginning to rediscover the variety of flavor profiles available in rye, but they may find themselves shut out of the market by a monoculture that passes itself off as diversity. If this continues, they will lose big — but the biggest losers would be consumers.
– Clay Risen