2014 Edit: Aside from an ad running in a local magazine that goes too far in touting the Iowa connection, I really need to give these guys more credit given the backlash created by Templeton Rye’s recent marketing misfortunes. Homestead’s bottle DOES say that their whiskey is distilled in Indiana. They deserve a gold star for that.
I was paging through an issue of Edible Magazine when I saw an ad for Homestead barrel proof bourbon whiskey. The ad, reproduced below, states: “Iowa’s one and only artisan barrel proof bourbon.”
I could see from the picture that the bourbon was a fairly deep amber color. That’s odd, I thought to myself. That bourbon has been in barrels for at least four years, probably a lot longer. But there were no federally licensed distilleries in Iowa making bourbon even four years ago. I know because I have an online account with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and I check up on those sorts of things fairly regularly. So, how does it claim to be “Iowa’s one and only?” While it is true that Iowa’s other distilleries don’t sell “artisan barrel proof bourbon” there is nothing stopping them. In fact, if you take any 51% corn whiskey less than 160 proof,skip the dilution stage, and drop it in a new oak “containers” for a minute at not more than 125 proof and you would instantly have “barrel proof bourbon whiskey.”
I’m sure that Iowa’s Broadbent Distillery, Cedar Ridge Distillery, and Mississippi River Distillery are just as gobsmacked to see a six year old Iowa bourbon pop up out of nowhere. So, what is the Iowa connection? It could NOT have been distilled here. Could it have been bottled here? I decided this deserved some investigation. First, I found a bottle on the (top) shelf at the local liquor store and studied it. Nowhere on the bottle is there any claim that this bourbon is from Iowa. That is a good thing, because the Feds tightly regulate what can be printed on liquor bottles and cans. Flipping the bottle around, I find the following:
Homestead American Whiskey
Distilled in Indiana
Here is a closeup of the bottle:
So, what is the Iowa connection? It turns out that the owners of Homestead American Whiskey are from Iowa. As far as I can tell, that, and maybe a storefront in the Amanas, is the only connection. I know that liquor marketing is an inexact and misleading art. But guys, when we have hard working Iowans actually distilling whiskey here in Iowa it takes some balls to call yourself “Iowa’s only artisan barrel proof bourbon.” I suppose one could call it “America’s only artisan barrel proof bourbon marketed by two Iowa dudes” but that might not sound very interesting. So, who makes it? Well, the only bourbon distillery in Indiana that has been business long enough to make this particular deep amber bourbon is the old Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana distillery, now known as Midwest Grain Products Ingredients (owned by MGP). MGP recently bought LDI out. All this is further explained in a whiskey forum where the highly respected Chuck Cowdry goes into more detail. Basically, it appears that the Homestead company buys pre-existing barrels produced by LDI and then ships them, or the whiskey, to Bardstown, Kentucky where there are plenty of federally licensed whiskey bottlers willing to bottle the whiskey. I’m guessing that the whiskey from a lot of different LDI bourbon barrels is poured into a single large tank for use in the bottling process as that is the only way to legally test the “barrel proof” without having to make a separate label for every barrel. Note that these labels are pre-printed, not filled in like single cask or single barrel whiskeys. Is it any good? I’ve found that if a person pays a lot for a whiskey that they will really, really want to believe that it is better. Is it? I have no idea. I’m not about to pay through the nose for LDI bourbon. So, this is not a review. It is a request to stop marketing this as an Iowa bourbon. Of course, Homestead isn’t the only company buying LDI stock and selling it to gullible Iowans as an “Iowa product.” It isn’t the only whiskey company named for a small town in Iowa, either.