In the September 12, 2014 episode of the WhiskyCast, Scott Bush and Keith Kerkhoff were interviewed by Mark Gillespie. Mr. Gillespie asked them a number of questions about the recent labeling controversy involving Templeton Rye and its current reign as the “poster child” of the labeling issue affecting many sourced whiskies. For those of you not familiar with the WhiskyCast, this is very much an industry insider podcast that is very heavy on industry events and management changes. It is the best podcast on whisky news that is currently in production.
There were a couple of interesting statements by Bush and Kerkoff that go back to the original marketing decisions that led to the current situation and I will not get into those other than to recommend that you listen to the whole interview. Otherwise, the interview clarified two remaining mysteries: First, what about the persistent rumor that there is some whiskey that was made and sold using the Templeton still? Second, does Templeton Rye add anything to the rye whiskey that it buys from MGP/LDI in Indiana?
Regarding the first issue, there was this statement:
We launched a product that was fully produced and distilled here back in ’07 for the Templeton Quasquicentennial. It was only 2,000 cases but we were kind of quickly on our way to going out of business to be honest with you and didn’t know what the hell we were doing.
(at the 27:17 time stamp). This explains why I keep meeting people who swear that they have a friend of a friend that drank some Templeton Rye that was distilled from the small “showpiece” still. I suspect that there is very little of this original run left and it is unlikely that you or I will ever come across any.
The second issue that I do find to be very interesting is their clear admission that they add flavoring or blending materials to the MGP/LDI product at the Templeton bottling facility. Let me be clear on this point: As long as the materials are legal and do not exceed 2.5% of the finished product, this is completely legal and does not need to be disclosed on the label. The TTB (old ATF) allows the addition of other whiskeys, or “harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials such as caramel, straight malt or straight rye malt whiskies, fruit juices, sugar, infusion of oak chips . . . ” 27 CFR § 5.23(a)(2). The catch is that these ingredients cannot exceed 2.5% by volume of the finished product.
The backstory, according to the Whiskycast interview, is that Templeton Rye hired Clarendon Flavor Engineers, a Louisville, Kentucky-based flavoring firm that developed some proprietary flavorings to help the final product better match the Templeton-distilled and the Kerkhoff family recipe. Exactly what those flavorings are is, and I suspect will remain, a mystery.
This information also adds some clarity to a statement attributed to Templeton Rye Chairman Vern Underwood in from the earlier Des Moines Register article that clearly states that some other whiskies are also used as a flavoring agent.
From there, 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.
Since that other whiskey cannot exceed 2.5% of the total volume, (TTB Ruling 55-165), I can’t imagine that it offers much in the way of taste. This would be the equivalent of a little more than one tablespoon of whiskey to each bottle. I’m no flavoring engineer and until this WhiskyCast interview I didn’t even know that whiskey flavoring engineers even existed or needed to exist, so why Templeton Rye felt compelled to do this is a mystery to me unless it was truly to try to match the flavor profile of the more original products. There are some 100% mashbill rye whiskies out there that could push the final rye mashbill above the MGB/LDI standard of 95%, but it would be a minuscule increase. Another bit of shear speculation on my part is that a rum is added in order to better approximate the original Kerkoff family recipe which, according to the TTB COLA filing used a 75% sugar 25% rye mash. I have some other speculations as to what they are doing, but I’ll leave it right here.
Chuck Cowdrey covers much the same ground in his blog, but in his uniquely authoritative style HERE.
Mr. Cowdrey notes that whiskey marked “straight” cannot contain additives:
“Such coloring and flavoring as described above is not permitted in straight bourbon whiskey (or straight rye, etc.) but it is permitted in products just labeled ‘bourbon whiskey’ or ‘rye whiskey,’ without the ‘straight.'”
Templeton Rye has now explained the additives issue on their website HERE.
“We found a high quality rye from Lawrenceburg Distillers of Indiana (now owned by MGP) and sent samples of that rye – along with a bottle produced from Grandpa Kerkhoff’s original recipe – to independent third-party experts at Clarendon Engineering in Louisville, Kentucky. These experts formulated the rye recipe, within federal guidelines, to match the taste of the original Prohibition era Kerkhoff recipe.
Meryl and Keith (and some folks from Templeton) tried many versions and selected the one that best-matched Grandpa Kerkhoff’s whiskey. Following this recipe is part of the process we perform here in Templeton and is what makes our whiskey unique. Every bottle of Templeton Rye you’ve ever enjoyed has been made this way in order to match the taste of the Prohibition era whiskey made by Keith’s grandfather, Alphonse Kerkhoff, in Templeton, Iowa.”