Where is your favorite Vodka actually made?

While doing some research for the Vodka Dialogues posting yesterday I came across some interesting information worth sharing. Industry types already know this, so pardon this display of consumer naiveté. First, I learned that many specialty vodkas (and whiskeys) are initially fermented and distilled at large distilleries, including LDI in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, MGP in Pekin, Illinois, Atchison, and Onaga Kansas, ADM in Peorioa, Illinois, and Diageo’s in Plainville, Illinois. Specialty distillers buy the 190 proof from these large-scale distiller’s rough product (straight 190 proof Everclear) and then continue to distill it, add a pretty label and a nice cap and call it a day. I suspect that this is because building and operating a large-scale grain fermenting facility is very expensive and complicated. There is a lot of plumbing, cooking, grinding, and reheating involved in the process. A large distiller can also handle the considerable job of handling and disposing of the distillers grain, the stuff left over after fermentation. Distillation, on the other hand, is not as messy and labor intensive, though still expensive.

I know it pains a lot of fellow Iowan’s to hear this, but even Templeton Rye comes from the LDI distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. I was also surprised to find that Smirnoff Vodka is made in Illinois (or wherever Diageo, the British-based owner wants to make it). According to some sources, Diageo sells 700,000 bottles of Smirnoff every day! To get the Russian-made vodka look for one of two competing brands of Smirnov vodka at your neighborhood Moscow liquor store. You won’t find it here.

It is fairly difficult to ferret out who is buying their ethanol alcohol from large distilleries for further processing. The vodka makers don’t exactly trumpet that fact in their marketing materials. I found a number of websites that claim Skyy Vodka, a highly rated vodka, the “it” vodka if you will, buys its ethanol from MGP by the trainload. Skyy even outsources the bottling. It is interesting to note that the alleged source of Skyy vodka was shut down for most of 2009, so it was being made at some other location. Change the location, and you likely change the grain that goes into the vodka. Skyy may have been made in Kansas, a big winter wheat growing area but is now evidently made in Illinois, which grows little to no wheat. That would make Skyy a corn-based vodka unless the owners are willing to rail it in from Kansas. Of course, if you distill and filter it enough it may not matter.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at these large distillery websites offering their servcies and food-grade ethanol products:

MGP a/k/a LDI

ADM

MGP Ingredients

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9 thoughts on “Where is your favorite Vodka actually made?

  1. ADM has a Peoria, not Pekin, plant. MGP Ingredients’ Pekin plant has been operating as “Illinois Corn Processing LLC” (a joint-venture with Seacor Energy) since February 2010. Aventine Renewable Energy’s Pekin plant also produces beverage alcohol for shipment in bulk.

  2. Happened upon a reference to Pekin, IL & Skyy Vodka. I leave neat there, and enjoy Vodka ( although not pretentious OR piggy about it); one thing led to another and I found myself here.

    Am I alone in thinking that mass-producing train-car loads of ethanol to sell to as many different brands of producers is some how disingenous?

    It leads one to think that there is essentially no difference between brands – once you get past the label/ marketing!

    • It really makes you wonder, doesn’t it? The differences between triple distilled vodkas are so slight that I think that anybody who raves over any particular vodka is probably full of bunk. If anything is added to the vodka then I cannot believe that any human could possibly tell one from the other as the added flavors would totally overwhelm anything in the vodka. In fact, there is some recent push-back against the rise of clear spirits such as vodka in cocktails that began in the ’60s with a lot of interest in going back to rum, bourbon and related whiskies, especially products made in the old-fashioned pot stills. Fractionating columns are very effective in producing nearly 100% pure ethanol. They can be so effective, especially if the product is returned over and over to the reflux still, that I don’t know what the chemical difference could possibly be between “trybox” or “white dog” intended for rum, bourbon, or vodka.

  3. Booze is more generic than that. In California, we have Frank-Lin Distillers Products, which makes about a thousand brands of booze including Skyy, but admits there are only about a hundred recipes. Frank-Lin isn’t a distiller, they’re a “reifier”. They buy alcohol by the trainload, add city water that’s been run through a de-ionizing and filtering plant, and add the appropriate flavoring for the product. Then they bottle and label, using an enormous variety of bottles.

    Remember how US Federal liquor law works. There are distillers, distributors, and retailers. Distillers can’t sell directly to retailers. (That’s why the US doesn”t have “tied houses”, single-brand bars, like the UK.) But Frank-Lin isn’t a distiller. The distiller is MGP, back in Illinois. Frank-Lin is a distributor. They can sell their brands directly to retailers without going through an extra level of wholesaler.

    So, by breaking up the supply chain in a different way, Frank-Lin gets a huge gain in profitability.

    • It always surprises me how businesses can engage in so much marketing malarkey when there are so many people who know what is really happening, such as people involved in transportation, shipping, quality control and, in your case, security. In this age of social media I think it will be increasingly difficult to pull of slight of hand on product origins.

  4. Skyy is made at MGPs Atchison location. The Illinois plant has been shut down. The contract for Smirnoff used to be MGPs as well. They produce the ethanol for a surprising amount of alcohol companies. They have also recently bought a whiskey/bourbon distillery in Lawrenceburg IN.

    • Actually, MGP resumed production in 2010 after forming a joint venture with Seacor Energy called “Illinois Corn Processing LLC.” Seacor is now majority owner.

      It guess it makes more sense to ship beverage alcohol from Atchison, KS than Pekin IL. I always that sourcing from Pekin was odd, given the additional several hundred miles to San Jose, CA. But it was neat to see those Union Pacific freight trains leaving Peoria with 30,000 gallon tank cars displaying haz-mat placards denoting their content (UN 3065).

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