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Nov 27, 2011 09:12 PM

Are there any bourbons available that are independent (not owned by massive conglomerates)?

I have always been under the impression that my favorite bourbons (Bulleit, Knob Creek, et al) were independently produced...but it appears that they are actually owned by large conglomerates.
Does anyone know of any good bourbons that are not under these corporate umbrellas?

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  1. It depends what you mean by "massive conglomerate" vs. "independent." Bulleit and Knob Creek are pretty extreme examples. The Bulleit label is owned by Diageo, the largest drinks company in the world and Knob Creek is made by Jim Beam, the largest US based spirits company. However, there are a number of large companies that are family held, and there are some corporate owned distilleries that have preserved their sense of craftsmanship.

    Heaven Hill (makers of Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Old Fitzgerald, Rittenhouse Rye and others) is a large company but it is privately held and family owned.

    The Sazerac Company which owns Buffalo Trace, makers of Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg, WL Weller, Blanton's and many other bourbons and ryes is also a large company but it is also privately held and family owned.

    Most of the other big distilleries are owned by publicly traded or internationally based corporations, but that doesn't make them bad. Four Roses, which is owned by the Kirin Beer Company out of Japan, is a fantastic operation with a real personal touch.

    There are a growing number of craft distilleries that are very small (sometimes just a few people), but not many of them make bourbon, and I have yet to have a bourbon from one of these distilleries that can compete with the major players (though I haven't had them all).

    See this link for my best attempt at a complete list of whiskey distillers and bottlers in the US, along with their corporate parents:

    17 Replies
    1. re: sku

      Thank you so much for that link, Sku. It looks like there are at least a few smaller distilleries in California (the first 3 on the list) that appear to fit my criteria of being local and independent. (Would you say this is correct, or am I interpreting your information incorrectly?)
      ...And have you tried any of these 3's products - if so, how are they??

      1. re: Morticia

        Well you asked about bourbon and none of the California distilleries make their own bourbon. The St. George distillery in Alameda just started marketing a bourbon (review linked below) but it is made from barrels they bought from the big Kentucky distilleries. One of the issues with bourbon is that to make a good product, you really need at least four years of ageing, and preferably more, and most of the small distilleries just don't have the ability to sit on product for that long.

        As to the California distilleries, I would guess they would all meet your definition except maybe Anchor/Old Potrero which is owned by a larger company.

        Are they good? I love Old Potrero's rye whiskey and Charbay's hopped whisky is unique and wonderful though extremely pricey. I'm not a huge fan of Barbershop Rye which is an unaged whiskey (I'm just not partial to unaged whiskey). St. George malt whisky is very fruity; if you like fruit brandy, you might like it

          1. re: sku

            Great list, Sku. Thanks. I was especially surprised to see a distillery in Gloucester, MA that just started producing Rye this year (though I couldn't find record on their site - where'd you get that info?). I grew up vacationing in Gloucester at Long Beach and it's my favorite beach in the world. My family recently purchased property there so I'm looking forward to visiting this spot on my next vacation home.

            This is why the internet is awesome. Thanks again.

            1. re: Blind Mind

              Lots of news items from the local press about their rye. Here's one:


              1. re: sku

                Thanks for that. Guess I could've googled that but I was lazy haha. Definitely gonna check these guys out this summer.

              2. re: Blind Mind

                Mr. Yarm suggested it to me. I rather like it. I've seen it here and there around the Cambridge / Somerville area. I have no idea if it is available outside of MA.

                I was astonished to see it in sku's list. I was thinking to myself, "sku will never now about Ryan & Wood..." Drat!

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                1. re: Blind Mind

                  I have a bottle -- honestly, it's mediocre. Not a bad rye flavor, but it's got that bit of drain-cleaner odor I associate with much cheaper booze. Hopefully they'll improve.

                  1. re: antimony

                    Yah, I have found that quite a few of the new artisan brands are really more about novelty than anything else. And the price/quality ratio can be nuts.

            2. re: sku

              Holy mother of research efforts! Thank you so much. Having compiled some lists (of much smaller scope), I can see the hours and hours of time this took. It is so good that I added it to my very select list of important additional resources for brands and recommendations.

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                1. re: EvergreenDan

                  Sku has forgotten more about whiskey then I'll ever know.
                  Thanks sku

                  1. re: EvergreenDan

                    Firstly, awesome job, sku. I had been intending on compiling my own hierarchy of holding cos./distributors/distilleries/groups and your list was a great head-start. I've spent the past two days trying to expand that list beyond just whiskeys and it's certainly been a chore.

                    Dan: Would you have any interest in creating a section on Kindred for something like that? I've got one great (in the 'comprehensively unwieldy' sense of the word, not the arrogant self-satisfied one) Word document right now but I feel this sort of information is better suited to a tree/hyperlink format. I also think that a communal approach to consolidating all of this info would be much more effective. This is really nifty stuff and I don't want to selfishly hoard all this research for myself.

                    1. re: alphanumeric

                      Yes, I would.

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                    1. re: sku

                      We actually have a legit one in GA, now, also. I haven't ponied up to try their stuff yet:


                      There's also the GA Distilling Co, but they appear to just be doing an unaged corn whiskey and vodka.

                      1. re: sku

                        Thanks so much for all your effort! That is exactly the information my friends and I have been looking for! Off to the twitters!

                      2. These guys distill their own bourbon in MA. It's not the best I've ever had (a bit thin and slightly harsh), but I enjoy supporting the local guys.


                        2 Replies
                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                          Being from MA, I really wanted to love this one but I came to the same conclusion as you - thin and one note of corn, corn, corn. Like Sku said above, this one is an example of a bourbon that could use a lot more time in the barrel.

                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                            I've tasted their rum and it was just plain bad.

                          2. If you are in CA then I don't know if these are available to you. DH is a bourbon drinker and the 2 small-batch local ones he enjoys (here in nyc) are Hudson Valley Baby Bourbon (by Tuthilltown Spirits) and the hand-crafted bourbon by Kings County Distillery.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: LNG212

                              FYI, Hudson was bought by Grant, so somewhat less indepependent now. I believe I saw their stuff in a couple places in CA (Cask in SF, definitely).