Hugging the banks of the Ohio River, Lawrenceburg, Ind., is a quaint town with just over 5,000 residents. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it. But if you fancy yourself a fan of whiskey, it’s high time you become acquainted.
For nearly 200 years, this small corner of the country has served as the World Capital of Rye. When the golden liquid first rolled off stills in 1809, the grain used in its production was milled by a single blind horse. Today the process is a tad more modern — and efficient: A majority of America’s supply of the aged spirit comes from right here in Lawrenceburg.
No brand celebrates that liquid legacy quite like Rossville Union. The master-crafted straight rye whiskey was revived last year. Its name and recipe — even the embossed, flask-molded design of its bottle — all harken back to Lawrenceburg’s founding distillery, which was officially established in 1847.
Back then, founder George Ross was among the first to recognize the region’s distinct advantages. Yes, it enjoyed a prime trade location along the river and it was positioned near the heart of an expanding network of national commerce. But its greatest asset was hidden below ground.
Rossville Distillery sat atop a massive aquifer, providing unimpeded access to limestone-filtered water. Pumped from the earth at exactly 56 degrees Fahrenheit, naturally stripped of the sulfur and iron components that adversely affect taste, it was the key ingredient to a singularly exceptional whiskey. It resulted in a bold, spicy flavor profile that no other region could replicate.
This invaluable resource is still very much intact 170 years later. The production methods of 2019 are fundamentally the same as they were then. The only difference is, MGP, the country’s foremost producer of rye, now sits on the shoulders of nearly two centuries’ worth of whiskey-making wisdom based in one of the oldest, pre-Prohibition distilleries in the country. There’s a good chance that some of your favorite entries into the category were distilled here. And there’s absolutely no doubt that without this famed facility, the Great Rye Whiskey Boom of the 21st century would have never happened.
Because rye was our national spirit long before bourbon, the Masters of Rye at MGP are custodians of a craft as American as apple pie. Whiskey produced at MGP could be sculpted into an endless array of final products. But the team of master blenders and distillers imbues it with the enduring characteristics of Rossville. The art of the blend is essential.
To demonstrate, one of MGP’s Master Blenders, David Whitmer, stopped by the VinePair offices on a sunny afternoon in summer 2019. He led prominent tastemakers and whiskey influencers through a hands-on workshop to understand how whiskey components are fused into a vibrant, bespoke whole. “At Rossville, our motto is ‘one plus one equals three,’” he told the group. “It represents our belief that whiskey is better blended.” Why rye? “Rye provides a bolder, spicier taste than corn or wheat,” Whitmer explains, “and at Rossville, we love rye.”
Rossville’s Master Crafted Straight Rye Whiskey culls from a diverse range of 159 barrels. The 94-proof release was years in the making, bottled after an exhaustive organoleptic review of the MGP rack houses. Ultimately, the team landed on a flavor profile reminiscent of dried cherries. The sturdy, semi-sweet backbone means it will shine in classic rye cocktails like Manhattans, Boulevardiers, and Sazeracs. Whitmer explained he likes 94-proof because “its spicy kick won’t get diluted when served on the rocks or in a cocktail.” You never run that risk here.
Sipped on its own, you’re treated to a balanced, full-bodied testament to the remarkable skill set at work in Lawrenceburg. The grain’s trademark spice is assertive on the nose and in the initial sip, yet it eventually surrenders to a smooth finish. The roundness is achieved by mingling five- to seven-year-old expressions. At $40, it offers elegance seldom seen in bottles at twice the price.
For those who desire even more spice, Rossville’s Barrel Proof is an unapologetic declaration of full rye spices and aromas. You might even detect a faint note of dill, indicative of the liquid’s high rye mash bill and the quality of the grain itself. Whitmer estimates that only one in five drinkers discern this herbal subtlety. The $70 blend draws from 83 separate casks, hand-selected for bold taste and complex spice notes. At 112.6 proof, it opens up with barely a splash of water, unveiling waves of vanilla and caramel-inspired complexities.
This fall, the Rossville revival enters its second year with the Barrel Select campaign. Retail customers are making the pilgrimage to America’s original “Whiskey City” to taste, select, and arrange master-crafted blends. The selected liquid comes bottled with personalized labels, individually numbered.
“Rossville Union Barrel Select combines two of our greatest strengths: first, our longstanding history of making great ryes in historic Lawrenceburg, and second, our exceptional blending expertise,” says Andrew Mansinne, Vice President of Brands at MGP. “We’re thrilled that this new program coincides with the first anniversary of Rossville Union and caps a year that has exceeded our expectations.”
To say Lawrenceburg has played an outsized role in the history of American whiskey is something of an understatement. For over 200 years, this hardworking section of southeastern Indiana has truly cultivated the country’s masters of rye. As steadfast and true as the barrel-aged spirit it made famous, this town unquestionably put rye on the map. Rossville Union is here to make sure you never forget.
This article is sponsored by MGP – Rossville Union.