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