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Where to start with MGP bourbons?


TBoner
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Evening, all.

 

I've been a member here for a while, but I haven't participated much over the last 10-12 years. Once upon a time, I was a dusty bottle junkie before bowing out of the bourbon hobby (but not out of bourbon drinking...I doubt more than a couple of days have gone by without some WT 101 and OGD BiB open in our house). I am a lover of bourbons and ryes of many stripes, though, and I've dipped my toes back into the hobbyist pool of late. I've mostly stuck with my standbys the last decade or so, ignoring hype trains and not even bothering to sample NDP whiskeys for the most part. Heck, I even missed out on Pikesville Rye until recently.

 

And now here I sit wondering about MGP bourbons. My tastes run toward earthy and spicy notes, but I'm not against some big brown sugar, maple, or buttercream. Outside of WT and OGD labels, my most-consumed bourbons over the last decade are Old Forester 100, Knob Creek, EW BiB, and Old Ezra 7/101 (sure I haven't seen one in three years, but I had a bottle open constantly when it was available). It seems to me that the MGP bourbons are high-rye recipes, and I ought to enjoy them. But I'm not sure where to start. I can get some Smoke Wagon bottlings, the standard Remus bottling, SAOS, Contradiction, and probably a few others that I don't even realize are MGP. I don't even know which MGP whiskeys are in which bottlings (they have two different rye-recipe bourbon mashbills, right?).

 

So, I'm not going to spend a lot of cash first go-round. I am generally a mid-to-low-shelf guy, not big on super-aged bourbons, and not looking to tater my way all over the city. Fewer than half of the bottles I have on hand cost $40+, but that's not a cap, just an indicator of the price point I'm sort of dancing around. What would y'all recommend as a starting point?

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TB,

 

Sadly, like many other things, the MGP heyday seems to have come and gone.  The great bourbons and ryes from folks like Smooth Ambler came and went.  A lot of what is out there is a little young to my palate.  But there is plenty of stock coming to age.  I don't drink much NDP unless it is from a blender like Magnus (props to Nancy!).  Smoke Wagon and Smooth Ambler do seem to be putting out good stuff but again, a little young.  I would avoid the Contradiction entirely.  The Remus bottlings are very good but a little pricey.  

 

That's my 2 or 3 cents anyway. 

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What a great question.  I find myself wondering this too.

Earlier this year there was a story.  January 26, 2021 MGP agrees to buy Luxco for $475 million.

Maybe Luxco can help with brand development, and warehousing barrels.

 

Probably the most consistent and reasonably priced products made by MGP are the Dickel, and Bulleit versions of their 95% rye.

For their Bourbon, the $50+ bottles of Smooth Ambler are a bit of a reach.

The really young stuff bottled under many names hasn't spent enough time in the barrel to develop much taste = easy pass.

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46 minutes ago, BigRich said:

TB,

 

Sadly, like many other things, the MGP heyday seems to have come and gone.  The great bourbons and ryes from folks like Smooth Ambler came and went.  A lot of what is out there is a little young to my palate.  But there is plenty of stock coming to age.  I don't drink much NDP unless it is from a blender like Magnus (props to Nancy!).  Smoke Wagon and Smooth Ambler do seem to be putting out good stuff but again, a little young.  I would avoid the Contradiction entirely.  The Remus bottlings are very good but a little pricey.  

 

That's my 2 or 3 cents anyway. 

+1 this comment.

 

Murray Hill Club would be my first suggestion, however it is out of your stated price range.

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SAOS is currently on sale here in Pennsy for $29.95,  and at that price has become an enjoyable daily drinker for me.   SAOS is MGP's higher-rye bourbon mashbill,  which is the same that Smoke Wagon uses for their Small Batch.

 

I think either of those are the best way to introduce yourself to MGP's best (IMO) mashbill at about 5-6 years of age.   

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MGP has a bunch of different bourbon mash bills, but their two primary ones are 21% and 36% rye (basically variants of the Four Roses mash bills from their shared Seagrams history).

 

Their own brand (George Remus) has a couple good options: cask strength private selections which are typically in the 5 to 6 year range (not sure on mash bills for these) and their annual Remus Repeal Reserve, which is a 100 proof blend of the two primary recipes in the 10-13 year range. Admittedly, both of these are above your desired price point. The George Remus SmB is at 94 proof and the bottle I had was fine, but you could probably do better for less from one of the other majors.

 

As for bottlers, Smooth Ambler is doing picks of their Old Scout SiB, which is MGP distillate aged at SA in West Virginia. These are 5 years old (a few got up to 6 on accident I believe) and cask strength. I think they are good for what they are and look forward to them getting more age on them. Be wary of higher age ones with an orange rectangle that say Single Barrel Select (or something close to that) as those are Dickel distillate.

 

I'd agree with the above statement that the days of the great well-aged MGP single barrels are mostly gone, but the George Remus and Old Scout picks are good bourbons and are both somewhere in the $50-65 range. For batched MGP, I'm not sure what the best thing going is, but Smoke Wagon gets lots of love (I'm not all that experienced with their products).

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As others have said, MGP whiskey can be a crap shoot these days due to the combination of higher prices and lower ages in general. 

If available in your market, Nashville Barrel Co is putting out some of the best MGP rye and bourbon right now.

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Thanks everybody for the feedback. I can get SAOS (not a store pick, just the standard bottling) or the standard Remus bottling for $35, so maybe I will pick up a bottle eventually. OTOH, I have a few whiskeys that I consider pretty terrific sippers below that price point: EC, KC, the new EW 1783, WTRR, etc., to say nothing of my go-to favorites. If it were really doing something different flavor-wise, maybe I'd chase it more. Sounds like I missed the boat on some good stuff, but NDP whiskey has never been my favorite thing. Even if I get a great bottle, I can't guarantee I'll be able to replace it, so I almost never bother. I do like Bulleit and Dickel ryes, and maybe in a few years there will be a $25 bottle of standard MGP distillate or a $40 bottle with some age or proof that pushes me to buy.

 

 

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While many NDPs still source from MGP, several distillery startups that used to source from MGP are now bottling their own product or mixing the two.  Smooth Ambler is an example.  The older stocks are all but sold out except for a few one-off releases like Old Bones.   A few additional MGP sourced brands to consider include Backbone Uncut (not Prime), Redemption and Spring Mill.  MGP rye options at reasonable price points are more plentiful and more certain in drinkability.  I find some similarities between MGP and New Riff.  I highly recommend New Riff.  Their small batch, 100 proof, runs around $30-40, as does their single barrel, which is bottled at barrel strength, usually 105-115 proof.

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MGP bourbon, whether well-aged and expensive or 5-6 years and less so,  is a real favorite of mine,  right up there with WT and OF.   You should give tje SAOS a go to see if you like the profile.   

 

The well-aged,  cask strength stuff is about $70 or so.     A great example,   I think, is Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve.   About 10 bucks more than OF 1920.    

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PaulO recommended Dickel rye, excellent choice to sample that mash.  I just picked up a new high proof bulleitt single barrel anxius to try.

 

BigRich noted Remus can be pricey, I concur.  I love Remus Repeal V but at its price I might get a second, definitely not a third.  But with that said, you might want to consider this one if exploring MGP because it is a fine MGP example and something they consider premium.

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I find the Remus Repeal V to be well done but duller than dirt— an intentionally benign committee decision to please the masses. I’ve been teaspooning mine with some Dickel 15yo (52.3% ABV) to dial in some character. 

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Another fairly good MGP that is often overlooked used to be the Hirsch 8 year.

It is out of production now I think, but still found on shelves if you look hard enough.

It was $40-50, but you got the age statement.

 

 

0325C199-AD78-4639-ADA3-48C2598EFD72.jpeg

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21 hours ago, 0895 said:

Another fairly good MGP that is often overlooked used to be the Hirsch 8 year.

It is out of production now I think, but still found on shelves if you look hard enough.

It was $40-50, but you got the age statement.

 

 

0325C199-AD78-4639-ADA3-48C2598EFD72.jpeg

This bottle's apparent  replacement,  Hirsch Horizon with the Laddie-blue label,  is a blend of MGP's high and low-rye bourbon mashbills,  around 5 years old,  and is a worthy substitute for George Remus,  MGP's own blend that is similarly constructed.   I haven't replaced my bottle,  but it sure didn't last long.

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On 11/30/2021 at 6:49 AM, Marekv8 said:

I find the Remus Repeal V to be well done but duller than dirt— an intentionally benign committee decision to please the masses. I’ve been teaspooning mine with some Dickel 15yo (52.3% ABV) to dial in some character. 

I havent run across Repeal V yet,  but the earlier editions were delicious.  I have one bunkered bottle of Repeal III,  which awaits a special occasion.

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The twirling plethora of MGP bourbons from a multitude of hit and run brands each claiming they have the nuts, while personally finding nearly  all mediocre, has always had me taking the advice of Joshua… 🥱

 

 

Edited by smokinjoe
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Well, I'm curious by nature, so I bought a $35 of SAOS, batch 76. It's fine but overpriced. I do like the profile, with touches of hard candy and a Cracker Jack note in the finish, but it is too young IMO and needs some roundness. I want more mouthfeel, a bigger flavor impact, and some lingering to the Cracker Jack notes. I might be tempted down the road to try something with more age and/or proof, but given what else I could get for the same money (e.g. a handle of OF 100 when it goes on sale at a particular local store), I'm not thrilled. That said, I'll finish the bottle. 

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On 11/30/2021 at 2:03 PM, 0895 said:

Another fairly good MGP that is often overlooked used to be the Hirsch 8 year.

It is out of production now I think, but still found on shelves if you look hard enough.

It was $40-50, but you got the age statement.

 

 

0325C199-AD78-4639-ADA3-48C2598EFD72.jpeg


Yes, that was a true sleeper— I think my bottles only have the age statement on the back label, which really disguised the truth on shelf. 

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I feel like MGP is the new tater brand.  The same people who make fun of others for liking Blantons will stand in line for hours, fall all over themselves, to try and grab a three year old club pick of some generic MGP brand (in other words, basically the same bourbon sitting in dozens of other bottles on the shelf already. )  The irony is amusing to me, but I also appear to be the only one noticing this so maybe it's me...

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I think what gets lost in this discussion is, whether the really good “MGP” bourbon and rye that we were seeing 5 to 6 years ago will ever be repeated?  MGP bought the distillery in 2011. The whiskey people fell in love with wasn’t made by them. Is it possible they adjusted that Seagrams/Jim Rutledge/Four Roses formula that resulted in some stellar 8 to 12 year bourbon and rye?  I’ve had some really great 4 year MGP rye in recent years. I can’t say the same for MGP bourbon. Maybe it’ll get better in time, or maybe it was lightning in a bottle.

Edited by OldScoutGuy
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2 hours ago, OldScoutGuy said:

I think what gets lost in this discussion is, whether the really good “MGP” bourbon and rye that we were seeing 5 to 6 years ago will ever be repeated?  MGP bought the distillery in 2011. The whiskey people fell in love with wasn’t made by them. Is it possible they adjusted that Seagrams/Jim Rutledge/Four Roses formula that resulted in some stellar 8 to 12 year bourbon and rye?  I’ve had some really great 4 year MGP rye in recent years. I can’t say the same for MGP bourbon. Maybe it’ll get better in time, or maybe it was lightning in a bottle.

I have wondered the same thing. There was a great run of MGP bourbon, especially from your name sake brand, but over the last few years the higher end MGP bottlings (NDPs) I have had were mediocre (and not good value at the inflated prices). I wonder if the MGP warehouses are great for aging. My understanding is that the SAOS single barrels spent a significant amount of time aging in West Virginia. While the production of the white dog that goes in the barrel is obviously very important, the aging is just as if not more important. Does MGP have aging warehouses that routinely turn out great bourbon? I'm not so sure. My understanding is that MGP was primarily making whiskey for Seagrams blends, but I'd love to hear about MGP straight bourbons from the 80s or 90s. Were such things released and were they mediocre? Good? Great?

 

Another factor you hint at, has there been a brain drain from MGP? While the business side was run into the ground, Seagrams supposedly had great quality control and based on the distillers, like Jim Rutledge, that they turned out, I'd say good training for those on the production side. As the MGP name grew, a number of former top MGP employees have gone to work for other distilleries/brands. Are the people that are left up to the same standard as those who produced that great run of bourbon? Are the corporate influences different than they were under Seagrams? I don't know the answers to these questions, but they could explain differences between past and present MGP bourbon.

 

With all of that said, I hold out hope that the MGP distillate aging at Smooth Ambler will once again reach the greatness of previous years. But like it or not, that greatness will cost a much prettier penny than it did last time.

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I've had a couple of SAOS 5yr SiB store picks from K&L that were very good to excellent, IMO.  But, for whatever reason, they didn't sell well and K&L wound up selling them off at 25% discount.  Of course I bought a few more at that price.  I think they have a couple of barrels left which I would recommend if you have access to their inventory (they don't ship out of Calif.). 

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It is to be expected that MGP bourbon marketed by a NDP is going to be more expensive than a comparable bourbon sold directly by a legacy distilled.   SAOS at $35 is similar in age and quality to, say, Jim Beam Black at $25.   I have no issue paying that premium to get MGP's superb (IMO) high-rye mashbill.  

 

As for currently available higher proof, longer aged MGP high-rye,  I go for Belle Meade Reserve (on sale this month in Pennsy for $65)

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13 hours ago, smokinjoe said:

The twirling plethora of MGP bourbons from a multitude of hit and run brands each claiming they have the nuts, while personally finding nearly  all mediocre, has always had me taking the advice of Joshua… 🥱

 

 

Call me a hater but this has been my mentality toward MGP and craft since Day 1.  Too much good bourbon/scotch/rum etc to waste money on a gamble of something that could be good produced by a brand that lies saying it's their distillate.

 

As Sweet Brown once said...

 

image.png.b40a52f407a14ccdf69df4e60a4c61a7.png

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44 minutes ago, PhantomLamb said:

Call me a hater but this has been my mentality toward MGP and craft since Day 1.  Too much good bourbon/scotch/rum etc to waste money on a gamble of something that could be good produced by a brand that lies saying it's their distillate.

 

As Sweet Brown once said...

 

image.png.b40a52f407a14ccdf69df4e60a4c61a7.png

I don't see MGP bourbon as a "gamble";  it takes just a bit of knowledge/research to identify those NDPs that are up front about what they are selling.   There is some excellent MGP bourbon out there,  as good as anything in the market.  

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