In the whiskey realm, NDP, or "Non-Distiller Producer," serves as both a straightforward descriptor and, at times, a backhanded compliment. While some purists insist on exclusively consuming distiller-made spirits, the continued popularity of NDP brands like Barrell Craft Spirits, Penelope Bourbon, and O.K.I. challenges this notion.
In essence, an NDP is any producer that purchases whiskey from another distiller and sells it under their own brand name. The history of NDPs runs parallel to the advent of commercial spirits production and has always been intertwined. In Scotch and Irish whiskey, the practice is common and grounded in an appreciation for the art of blending and cask selection.
American NDPs exploded during the bourbon boom of the last decade, with many producers being cagey about the origin of their whiskey. Its true that some brands prioritize marketing and packaging over quality. However, brands like Old Carter and Dark Arts have risen to the challenge, elevating the craft of blending and finishing to an art form, adding layers of complexity and nuance to the final product.
An intriguing case study is Pappy Van Winkle, one of the most coveted bourbons in the world. Since 2002, all Van Winkle products have been distilled and bottled at Buffalo Trace Distillery, which also produces Blanton's Single Barrel bourbon and E.H. Taylor, Jr. One could argue that Pappy's an NDP. However, the brand maintains major control over the production and maturation of its products. At the very least, it's a grey area.
Some NDPs, like Michter’s and Willett, have successfully transitioned from sourcing to distilling. This shift reflects a desire for autonomy and mastery over every aspect of their products. Their initial popularity as NDPs didn't hinder their success, and consumers have continued to support them as they increasingly rely on their own distillate.
Established in 2013, Barrell Craft Spirits intentionally defines itself as an NDP. Departing from traditional distillery norms, the company sources exceptional casks from established producers, emphasizing the art of blending as a core element of their identity. Their dedication to their small batch releases has earned them industry recognition and a dedicated fanbase for their Barrel Dovetail, Seagrass bourbon, and Dovetail bourbon.
Indiana’s MGP Ingredients is a significant player in the world of NDPs, providing whiskey for many brands. Their whiskey is ubiquitous and high-quality distillate has allowed numerous brands to pull back the curtain and reveal their whiskey's Hoosier origins. The term "MGP" has itself become a selling point and badge of quality, with Backbone Bourbon, Old Soul, and Smooth Ambler being notable brands that trade on the usage of MGP whiskey in their final product.
NDPs remain integral to American whiskey production, offering diversity in the marketplace and opportunity for spirits entrepreneurs. Blue Run Spirits was bought by Molson-Coors for an undisclosed amount after only three years in operation. However, the current turmoil in the economic landscape has made profitability more elusive for NDPs. There's also concern that consumers have hit a tipping point for new whiskey brands. This has prompted speculation about which, and how many, NDPs will navigate and endure. As the industry evolves and more whiskey comes online from the major distillers, the survivability of NDPs will be a major storyline for the liquor industry in 2024.