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1969 - Man Walks on the Moon

2007 - The First iPhone is Released

2024 - Breaking Bourbon Makes History at MGP (...and Single Barrel Club members benefit!)

Humorous embellishments aside, this past week we had the opportunity to make history, and we dove in head first! We were invited to the Ross & Squibb Distillery, owned by MGP Ingredients, the storied American whiskey distillery. The distillery is often shrouded in mystery only in that it isn’t open for public tours or really anyone else for that matter. It’s a working distillery first and foremost, and being able to peek inside was a chance we weren’t going to pass up.

The Ross & Squibb Distillery was founded a little over 175 years ago in 1847. The distillery was purchased by Seagram in 1933. Over the years following, the distillery changed hands several times, first with Pernod Ricard, followed by CL Financial, and finally MGP Ingredients in 2011.

Started in 1941 by Cloud L. Cray, Sr. Midwest Grain Products, Inc, or more commonly known as MGP, has its own storied history as a distilled spirits and food ingredients producer. In fact, the company became a major supplier of neutral alcohol during World War II. Today, whiskey drinkers know it as the major source of whiskey for many established and upstart brands throughout America.

While MGP also has its own brands of whiskey, with George Remus Bourbon and Rossville Union Rye being the most well-known, it made waves in 2023 when it acquired Penelope Bourbon. The move made synergistic sense, as Penelope had been exclusively sourcing whiskeys from MGP since their founding in 2018. At the time, David Colo, president and CEO of MGP Ingredients stated, “This acquisition aligns well with our premiumization strategy and our focus on growing high potential, high margin brands. Penelope is an excellent addition to our Branded Spirits portfolio as we look to expand its availability throughout our national distribution platform. We are enthusiastic about this acquisition and its ability to further our participation in the growing American Whiskey category while delivering meaningful long-term growth.”

All this backstory is nice to know, but what does this have to do with us making history at MGP. Last week we traveled to the Ross & Squibb Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, along with the founders of Penelope and Seelbach's. According to the Penelope founders, this was the first time in over 80+ years that outside visitors had the privilege of conducting a private barrel pick inside a MGP rickhouse. No outside person in the company’s modern history has taken a whiskey thief out in an MGP rickhouse and sampled directly from barrels to determine which one to select for their single barrel pick.

While MGP may be one of the largest distillers in America, most people don’t get a chance to go to the distillery. The reason soon became clear to us the moment we pulled into the small parking lot that was much more an employee parking lot than a grand visitors center. This isn’t a distillery that has been outfitted over the years to cater to the explosion in bourbon tourism. Instead, it’s a working person’s distillery, with the focus being on catering to the growing needs of outsourcing  whiskey to buyers versus pomp and circumstance that comes with showcasing their operation to outsiders. It’s a stark contrast from most modern-day distilleries because when it was built, the idea of the public “experiencing” a distillery wasn’t en vogue. And, unlike many of Kentucky’s large distilleries that showcase their own brands, MGP being the distillery behind many brands didn’t have the need to be retrofitted in order to facilitate tourists and promote in-house brands.

As we toured the various buildings on campus and got a behind-the-scenes look at the distillery’s operations, it became clear that MGP is striving to move into modern times. The Ross & Squibb branding is prominently displayed throughout the facilities, all the while parts of the distillery’s history peeked through at various times. Whether it was the aged brick rickhouses (the company won’t disclose how many are housed onsite), the massive old industrial equipment, or even old cast iron S’s from its Seagram’s days, touring it makes you feel like you are constantly transported between history and modern times.

Compared to other large Kentucky operations, Ross & Squibb is truly a large-scale production facility that relies on a mix of old and new equipment. But throughout our tour, it’s the men and women - who sometimes seem siloed in their departments in this massive place - that care a great deal about the end product tasting the best it can. This can’t be easy to do with an operation this large, where we’d walk into connected building after building that contained numerous stills, boilers, fermenters, and staging tanks. It’s an amazing site to see rows after rows of open-air fermenters all going about their business.

As we made our way to the 6th story of a massive rickhouse, the entire group took a moment to appreciate the history that was about to be made. Most bourbon drinkers have had a whiskey distilled at MGP, but when you're given the ability to pick barrels directly onsite, you end up feeling connected to the whiskey in a more real way. We sampled through several barrels onsite before deciding on a fantastic 21% rye bourbon which will be bottled under the Penelope upcoming Family Estate brand.

As we retreated to the boardroom in another building, we decided to keep the good times rolling and sampled through several pre-drawn barrels for this occasion. There, we selected a light whiskey that was just shy of 17 years old, which really impressed us, and will also be bottled under the Penelope brand. It was at this time that we were joined by MGP’s Master Distiller Ian Stirsman. He had a few surprises up his sleeve, as he let us select a single barrel from the Rossville Union line, which is a delicious well-aged rye. In the coming months, all three of these whiskeys will be offered to our Single Barrel Club members.

While others will certainly come after us, it’s always a special feeling when you get to be part of history and be the first to do something. We look forward to exploring more of MGP in the future, but in the meantime, we’ll be relishing these special whiskeys for years to come.

Written By: BB Team

April 5, 2024
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Making History At MGP
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