“Local” liquor is often entirely distilled from generic booze batches in an industrial factory far, far away from here.

“Local” liquor is often entirely distilled from generic booze batches in an industrial factory far, far away from here.

Insatiable thirst for local spirits inspired more than 600 small-batch distilleries to open across the nation in the past decade. High demand outpaced production, causing some of your favorite “local” distillers to buy their booze from massive factories that routinely pump out thousands of gallons of hooch — all they have to do is bottle, brand and sell it to you.

There are a few of these gargantuan distilleries in Kentucky and Tennessee, but the one that’s drawing the most heat right now is MGP Ingredients. This Lawrenceburg, Indiana factory was once a Seagram’s distillery, and now makes enough food-grade alcohol to inflate the craft distilling industry to the impressive numbers we see today. They produce neutral grain spirits sold as a base for vodka and gins. These scammers make whiskey from every grain whiskey laws will allow, and age it to perfection so it can be sold in bulk as bourbon to be blended and bottled elsewhere.

The small distillers, to their credit, often tweak, filter again, continue to age or blend their own spirits with the stock liquor to make them unique. The bottles are sold to a none-the-wiser lush with “local,” “craft,” “small-batch” and “hand crafted” proudly printed on the label alongside a price tag that any self-proclaimed craft connoisseur could justify.

These factory distilleries are not trying to trick the consumer, they’re simply supplying a surging demand for liquor. Sourcing firewater from someone who is already selling it to many of your competitors is an easy way for a small, start-up distillery to stock their shelves while they wait years for their own recipes to properly age. It’s also a great way to increase production when your bottles are flying off the shelves faster than you can distill the whiskey inside. It makes business sense to source liquor elsewhere if you’re in a pinch, but it’s hardly a transparent practice.

Smart marketers have cracked the code on millennial consumers. Words like, “small-batch,” “hand crafted,” and “local” sell products no matter what they are. Consumers will readily pay more for something that they think was made with care and gives back to their local community. But, when they find out that the gin they’re sipping on wasn’t distilled in their backyard and is in fact a fraction of a massive batch, they grab their pitchforks and lawyers.

For guzzlers of “small-batch” liquor this is an omission lie, like forgetting to disclose you have a wife and kids to your Tinder date. It’s not cool to present yourself as a small, craft, local distillery and tout that you use local spring water and botanicals straight from the garden out back, while forgetting to mention that the actual distilling was done thousands of miles away. It’s deceptive, especially when people go out of their way to learn about where their libations come from and spend half their paycheck to keep it local.

While the ambiguous nature of small-batch distillation is unsettling, the truth is nobody is violating any laws here — although that remains to be seen pending current legislation. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau requires that bottles state where the liquor was produced, but that could mean distilled, bottled or even just blended. Distillers do not have to disclose where the spirit was distilled unless they want to, and normally won’t unless they actually did it themselves.

Also, the mass-produced liquor in question is high quality. It’s made from lawful recipes, and tweaked enough by the small distilleries that even though the base for Bulleit Rye Bourbon and Templeton Rye Whiskey come from MGP, once blended and bottled they’re two very distinct drinks. So, the question becomes is that really that big of a deal?

It is for some people. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is being put in front of a judge for deceptive labeling practices and false advertisement. The distillery claims to hand make their vodka in a small pot still, when in reality a state-of-the-art automated system churns out hundreds of thousands of bottles a day. The vodka is still good, but consumers aren’t standing for the rouse any more. They’re trying to legally bind them to the truth.

Likewise in Iowa, Templeton Rye Whiskey is catching legal flack for claiming their whiskey was made in locally when it really distilled in Indiana. Consumers claim they paid a premium for a local product, but were lied to and deserve the transparency as well as a refund.

Until current legislation cleans up these labeling issues, it’s up to consumers to decide the fate of the distilling industry. You can continue to blindly spend money on bottles simply because “local” or, “craft” is printed on the label, or start buying things based on taste and quality. If you care about where you liquor comes from, start reading labels and become more informed about the regulations and liquor laws so that marketers can no longer cash in on buzzwords. Make companies rely on the integrity of their product. You’ll see that the bad booze will funnel down the drain, and the good stuff will continue to line your liquor cabinet, regardless of where it came from.