Monday, October 12, 2015
The Flavoring Game
A few months ago, Templeton Rye announced that it settled a lawsuit which had alleged that it had used misleading labeling. This brouhaha largely dealt with sourcing issues and was one of many lawsuits filed after a Daily Beast article about sourcing whiskey went viral last summer.
But whiskey geeks have known about sourcing for years. One of the biggest revelations to come out around the Templeton Rye lawsuit was not that Templeton sources its whiskey from MGP in Indiana, we all know that, but that they also use flavoring additives provided by a Louisville company called Clarendon Flavors. This was revealed last year on an episode of Mark Gillespie's WhiskyCast.
While few of us guessed that Templeton was adding flavoring, it's all perfectly legal because Templeton is not labeled "straight" whiskey. As I've noted before, according to the TTB regulations, rye, wheat and malt whiskeys that are not labeled "straight" can have up to 2.5% "harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials." 27 CFR 5.23. These can include caramel, sugar, oak chips, wine or other whiskeys.
I was curious as to what other whiskeys were adding flavoring and what exactly they were adding, so I started looking into it. The most important thing I learned was that no one wants to talk about flavoring.
For instance, I contacted a number of other producers of non-straight rye whiskey to ask if they use flavoring.
Knob Creek Rye is now labeled as straight but initially was not. I asked if they used flavoring in the non-straight rye. The company did not respond.
George Dickel Rye, which like Templeton is sourced from MGP, is not labeled straight. Interestingly, Diageo's other MGP rye, Bulleit, is labeled straight. That being said, none of the Dickel line of products is labeled straight. In any case, the company did not reply to my inquiry.
Angel's Envy markets a straight bourbon finished in port casks and a non-straight rye finished in rum casks. I had numerous exchanges with Angel's Envy's Wes Henderson but could not get him to give me a "straight" yes or no answer about whether they use flavoring in the rye.
Unlike rye, bourbon, even if not straight, may not include flavoring additives without disclosing them as part of the label description. Recently, Sazerac has cleared new labels for "bourbon whiskey with natural flavors" for Kentucky Tavern, Ancient Age and Ten High. I asked why they were adding flavoring to those whiskeys and what exactly they were using as flavoring. I was told that information is "proprietary and confidential."
Jeez, you'd think I was poking into a matter of national security. I can't understand why whiskey companies are so unwilling to tell customers about the ingredients in the whiskey we purchase. There is no legal issue here as they are allowed to use a certain amount of flavoring and coloring additives. Presumably, the companies that use flavoring believe it improves their whiskey or else they wouldn't use it. Other whiskeys are known to use additives, including Scotch (coloring) and Canadian Whiskey, and their sales don't seem to suffer, but something about flavoring makes American companies go dark.
Are there flavoring and coloring additives in some American whiskeys? Clearly there are. There are flavoring companies that are in this business, and we have at least one documented case in Templeton. I would appeal to the companies to exercise a bit more transparency and let us know what they add and why. Meanwhile, keep in mind that any rye that isn't labeled straight can legally include additives.