Templeton Rye cannot legally use the original “Prohibition Era Recipe.”

TempletonAfter Templeton Rye’s public relations disaster last week when the owners were unable to adequately respond to inquires from Des Moines Register reporter Josh Hafner (See: Should Templeton Rye labels include Indiana“), Templeton Rye’s President Scott Bush and the Chairman of the Board Vern Underwood came pretty clean in an interview with the Register that was published in a couple of articles last Thursday and Friday. (See: Templeton Rye to Change labels, clarifies how much is made in Iowa and How Templeton Rye is Produced).

Here are the high points of the article:

  • The company admitted that the original “prohibition era recipe” is not used.
  • The standard MGP/LDI rye recipe is used.
  • As a lot of whiskey fans had guessed, it is aged about four years. This is provable if you try flights of different MGP/LDI whiskies all aged for different lengths of time.
  • The company will be changing its label to comply with Federal laws that require that the label state which state it is distilled in.

Most of these points have been known for years by industry insiders. But where it gets interesting are the following points:

Why can’t Templeton Rye use the “Original Prohibition Era Recipe”?

The most stunning statement from Chairman Underwood was

[T]the Kerkhoff family’s recipe is impossible because of federal rules regulating the proof and production of rye whiskey.”

The earlier article put it this way:

[S]elling the Kerkhoffs’ whiskey in the U.S. would be illegal because it doesn’t adhere to federal requirements.

The federal requirements are pretty basic, so the inability of the original “prohibition era” whiskey to comply is a knee-slapping statement.

The federal rules state:

27 CFR § 5.22(b)(1)(i) “Bourbon whisky”, “rye whisky”, “wheat whisky”, “malt whisky”, or “rye malt whisky” is whisky produced at not exceeding 160° proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain, respectively, and stored at not more than 125° proof in charred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type.

For a whiskey to fail to meet this simple requirement, it must either contain something in addition to the ingredients listed, must not have any one of those ingredients that exceed 50% (imagine a mash bill of 40% rye, 5% malted barley, 30% corn, and 25% wheat), have been produced at more than 160° proof, stored at more than 126° proof and/or stored in something other than new oak containers.  So, which requirements cause the original recipe to flunk the federal regulation? It would be easy to believe that the proofing requirements are different (or missing) from the original recipe, but I don’t think anybody would care much if that were the case. It is not likely to stand in the way of using the old recipe at a different proof. Likewise, I doubt if anybody would quibble if new barrels were used instead of old barrels.

All of this leaves another possibility: other ingredients. Lets look at the second amazing statement in the Register interview:

Templeton blends the rye whiskey with other whiskeys and ingredients that augment the taste. The added ingredients are called “blenders,” Chairman Vern Underwood said, “things that we add to it to make it as close as we can to the recipe that Keith’s father had.”

There we have it. The current Templeton Rye is blended with “other whiskeys and ingredients that augment the taste!”  This is done to get as “close as possible” to the original recipe. What about the other ingredients? Despite the fact that Scott Bush and the Kerkhoffs have always maintained that the original recipe has a very high level of rye, Templeton Rye’s 2006 Kerkhoff” application shows that it was 10% rye and 90% cane sugar. The ingredients used in this particular federal application fail to qualify the resulting product as either a Rye Whiskey or a whiskey at all. Under federal law it is a “Specialty Distilled Spirit” since it also does not qualify as a rum due to the 10% rye on the mash bill.  If this product is the actual Kerkhoff recipe then there is no way that Templeton Rye tastes even remotely like the original product. It would have been more of like a rum with a rye flavoring.

So, does any of this matter? For those who thought that they were drinking the same hooch that Al Capone and his murderous henchmen drank, then it might be a letdown. On the other hand, I doubt that there is a soul alive today that drank any of that stuff and if there is, they would surely prefer the modern version over the original.



Note: This posting only contains statements of opinion and in some cases wild speculation based on publicly-available information.

Edited on September 2, 2014 to point out the Kerkhoff recipe of 10% rye as identified by Josh Hafner at the Register.


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