TINCUP, Colorado’s New Jersey/Indiana/Kentucky American Whiskey?

Update: TINCUP is officially MGPI 

Take a quick look at the home pages of these Colorado distillery websites:

peakspirits.com
peakspirits.com
feisty.wpengine.com
feisty.wpengine.com

Now, take a look at the TINCUP website:

The first three are actual Colorado distilleries, loaded with high resolution pictures of custom stills, mash tuns, barrel rooms and links to tour info, addresses and contact information. Woody Creek and Peak Spirits are so new that their whiskey isn’t even for sale yet. This has not stopped them from showing off their fully functional distilleries.

The TINCUP website is a computer generated picture of a scenic Rocky Mountain overlook, a picture of the bottle, and no mention of a distillery, anywhere. The site has not one link, no contact information, no photos, and no explanation of where it came from. It does, however, mention where it is sold. Theoretically, this brand new whiskey brand was able to put out enough drinkable whiskey in its pilot run to fulfill orders for the nation’s seven largest market states. That is more distribution than any other distillery in the state.

The site also mentions that this is a project of Jess Graber, co-founder and Master Distiller at Stranahan’s. This lends a heaping dose of legitimacy to TINCUP, because Graber, Jake Norris, and George Stranahan carry Todd Helton like legend around these parts. The story of Stranahan’s is as real as it gets, and anyone that drinks whiskey in Colorado knows that these men were the spark plug that ignited the current Colorado whiskey revolution.

While some people may assume TINCUP is Jess Graber’s second act in the Stranahan’s story, it is far more like Lincoln Henderson’s retirement from Brown-Forman when he began sourcing barrels for Angel’s Envy.

We know Proximo owns the TINCUP brand. Proximo is a New Jersey marketing firm that owns brands like Jose Cuervo, 1800, and Kraken Rum as well as Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey as of 2011. If you look at the TTB, you see that Proximo registered TINCUP to the Stranahan’s Denver distillery on Kalamath Street.

If you ask a Colorado liquor store, any Colorado Liquor store, they will tell you verbatim, that TINCUP is a “Stranahan’s product”. While you cannot contact TINCUP since there is no functioning TINCUP email or phone number, you can contact Stranahan’s. After one email, I received a quick response that Stranahan’s does not distill TINCUP, only bottles it for them. Afterall, the only real claim to Denver or Colorado other than the 18 Colorado references on the bottle is that TINCUP is “Bottled in Denver,” not distilled.

The most obvious red flag that Stranahan’s (or any other Colorado distillery) does not distill TINCUP is that in order to produce that much whiskey, a distillery the size of Stranahan’s would have to completely shut down production of their own whiskey for a very long period in order to produce enough whiskey to satisfy the needs of seven large market states. Since Stranahan’s is the largest single producer of whiskey in the state, it is safe to say that no distillery in the state could produce what TINCUP put out in 2013 without their own product disappearing from the shelf.

By far the most telling characteristic about the source of TINCUP is the mashbill. TINCUP claims a 64% corn, 32% rye, and 4% malted barley mashbill. To say what most of us are thinking, MGPI is the obvious source of the TINCUP bourbon. Every mash bill has DNA style tracers in it, and the 4% barley links TINCUP to MGPI, just as the 95% rye linked many ryes to LDI a few years ago.

When I first raised the suggestion that TINCUP was MGPI, a few people emailed me pointing out that MGPI lists their mash bills, and the TINCUP 32% rye, 4% barley mash bill was not one of them.

Look at these two MGPI mash bills:

MB#1: MGPI “36% rye ” mashbill is 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley.

MB#2: MGPI’ “21% rye” mashbill is 75% corn, 21% corn, and 4% malted barley.

If you take a MB#1 in 3 parts, and MB#2 in one part, the result is a 64% corn, 32% rye, 4% barley mash bill, identical to the TINCUP mash bill. This makes TINCUP’s mash bill a MGPI mash bill, whether they confirm it or not.

When I see a 95% rye whiskey, I think LDI. I don’t care what story of pre-prohibition ties, Al Capone lineage, or old Kentucky namesake I read in a press release. That 95% rye means LDI (now MGPI), and that 4% barley in the TINCUP mash bill is equally as telling, albeit not definitive. The fact that Proximo has not responded to my emails, the phone calls have gone months without an answer, and that their website is void of any real information is very telling indeed.

Another red flag is that a 750ml bottle of TINCUP sells for under $25. Ask any new distillery how feasible that price point is for a first run release? That is probably less than a 50% margin for take home revenue if the wholesale it for a generous $20 before paying taxes, overhead, marketing, loans, and distribution. What is more realistic is that TINCUP is so cheap because they are benefiting from the $2.50 per 750ml price structure that MGPI allows a non-distiller producer of this size.

I have no real problem with non-distiller producers, but I do take issue when the marketing is blatantly deceitful. TINCUP is marketed in to direct competition with real, honest Colorado distillers that do not have conglomerate spirit companies backing them, and whose livelihoods depend on Colorado patronage. You are told to believe that Stranahan’s “makes it”, in the hopes that you believe that Stranahan’s distills it. Look beyond the smoke, ignore the mirrors, TINCUP is not made in Colorado.

33 responses to “TINCUP, Colorado’s New Jersey/Indiana/Kentucky American Whiskey?

    • I was told again yesterday by a liquor store employee that it was distilled by Stranahan’s. The week before, I was told it was a new distillery in Colorado. You could get a four pack of BC Coffee Stout for the price of TINCUP, and you would be better off for it.

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      • I’m pretty disappointed that Stranahan’s has anything at all to do with Tincup, even if it’s just bottling it. It’s like a diffusion line diluting the brand of the main line. Guess that it was bound to happen since they got bought up by Proximo.

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      • Odds are it was a directive from Proximo. I wish they would just make their own bourbon, but that is what happens when big money makes decisions. Why make your own, real Colorado bourbon when you can source it for a quarter of the price and just write “Colorado” all over the bottle? I just hope smaller Colorado brands don’t suffer from this crap.

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  1. I almost bought a bottle of Tin Cup here in Longmont last week, thinking that it might be a “budget” offering from Stranahans – until I closely read the label & saw “bottled in Denver using Rocky Moutain water,” which made me suspicious. Nothing about distilling or where it was aged. So, I went home & did some Googling and came to the same conclusion you did. If anything, the sparse info on Tin Cup website & the Proximo connection confirmed my suspicions.

    What appears to be blatantly misleading marketing by Proxima is nothing short of fraud, if they really are doing most of the work back East. They could at least age it at altitude here. If there is a working plan to start distilling & aging the same recipe in Colorado, As soon as they can get it up and running, they should be upfront about it & I might even give it a try. But under these circumstances, no way!

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  2. Funny you fail to mention Peach Street which is a truly 100% produced Colorado bourbon, when Breck is still far from doing the same and Peach has been doing it for years.

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    • I used Breck as an example of how an NDPs can source in the meantime while their own product gets up and running, but I see your point. PeachStreet completely skipped my mind, probably because I don’t much care for it.

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  3. The sales line we got at the store where I work is that it’s 64% corn and 4% barley distilled at Stranahan’s and 32% rye from Indiana. It was kinda hinted that they didn’t want to put the Stranahan’s name on it because of the price discrepancy. Interesting to hear otherwise. Wait ’til that Stranahan’s BA tequila starts showing up…

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    • I have heard the same thing. I was told there is a new distillery a block north of Stranahan’s by Liquor Mart on Colfax. I was told that it is distilled out of Stranahan’s by Total Bev and Argo. When I asked Stranahan’s, they were all too eager to point out they had nothing to do with the distillation. I wonder if it is the reps that are telling lies, or if employees are making assumptions?

      I am waiting for one of these wineries that Stranys uses for the Snowflake to age a red in their whiskey barrels. That would be a Stranys BA product I would be interested in.

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  4. Appreciate the detailed report! Tin Cup just showed up here in Houston in past month. If you want to be a NDP, own it and cut out all the deception.

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    • My thoughts exactly. I have no problem with NDPs like Bulleit and Jefferson’s. You know they are NDPs, and they don’t try and tell you otherwise. TINCUP is simply taking advantage of our red hot whiskey market that has been created by real Colorado distillers who cannot compete with that price.

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  5. Pingback: Tincup American Whiskey Goes For The High Rye Line « The Whiskey Wash·

    • Right. I saw that and thought that was a good step, the major problem is that the press release was two months after the bottles came out. A lot of people were told that it was something it wasn’t and there was no response or information. I am glad to see that information is starting to come out about it. It could be something pretty cool.

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  6. I recently attended a TINCUP event here in San Francisco and Jess Graber talked to us all about his new product. This American whiskey is distilled and aged where the grain is cultivated, in Indiana I believe he said. It is a blend of 4 and 5 year whiskies aged in new American white oak barrels with a combination of #2 and #4 char. After aging and blending this whiskey is sent to CO where it is brought to bottling proof w pure Colorado rocky water.

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    • Thanks Ty. It is nice to see information coming to the surface now. I am going to try and get something on the record from them or Jess Graber when he comes here in a few days. I am not positive what Jess is saying out and about is a position Proximo is willing to take publicly, but we will see.

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  7. Actually, some liquor store owners do their homework. We’ve told people from the beginning that this is not a Colorado product and it’s owned by Proximo. It’s bottled at Stranahan’s and cut with Colorado water, but that’s where the connection ends.

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  8. This just showed up in Tucson. Now I’m a lover of legit Stranahan’s, in fact drank it twice daily earlier this month during a week in Clark, CO. That said, I think Tin Cup is damn good.

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    • The bourbon is good enough, I just don’t like how they positioned themselves in a marketing sense. Too many people think it is made at Stranahan’s, too many people tell people it is made at Stranahan’s.

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      • Point taken. Meantime I shall seek out Stranahan’s here in Tucson. BTW, the Stranahans own the ranch in Routt County where I first sampled their product.

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  9. Pingback: Tincup – American Whisky (42%) | How to Drink Whisky·

  10. I think you are overthinking this. I don’t think it matters where it is made. What matters is what is in the bottle.Stop taking your self so seriously and drink.

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  11. I have worked in Liquor retail for many years and realize why these companies try to pull this stuff on the consumer. Lock, Stock & Barrel is a great example of this. However Jess Garber has allowed his name to be attached to this product and I am sure he is laughing all the way to bank while you sweat the integrity of the project. I do not intend to offend you in any way.

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    • No offense taken. I appreciate the dialogue. I have found that Coloradans are fiercely loyal to local brands (beer/whiskey/hummus/everything) and that is why it is smart marketing. I wrote this post because more than a few people bought this after being told it was made here, and then told me I was wrong when I disputed the origin. It is actually a very enjoyable whiskey, but by being misleading, they get put on the”Colorado Whiskey” shelf next to true Colorado distillers.

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  12. I agree. it is the same way here in the Tennessee/Kentucky region. In my store we have always separated our Tennessee and Kentucky whiskies. Now we also have an American craft section separated by state it is produced in which includes un-aged whiskies and the greatest scam perpetrated on the whiskey consumer in last few years ,”Moonshine”. As I am sure you know, there is a bourbon shortage and as a bourbon lover I am grateful for any quality aged Whiskey/Bourbon I can get ,which is why I was so rushed to defend Tin Cup. My Proximo rep told me that the reason the word bourbon did on appear on the label was not to confuse the customer , yet assured me it met the requirements necessary to called a straight bourbon whiskey. It does make you think.

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    • Yeah, the “moonshine” I had when I lived in KY and GA was paint thinner with a piece of apple and a stick of cinnamon in it. Makes George T. Stagg look like Smirnoff Ice. An unaged cereal grain distillate cut to 80 proof and thrown in a mason jar is a marketing dream come true, but certainly not moonshine. I don’t care if people sell unaged or sourced whiskey, but we have four extremely high quality whiskey producers here that have risked financial ruin to produce whiskey for us, so I feel defensive of them when a multimillion dollar conglomerate writes one check, and (intelligently) markets themselves onto the same local shelf. Most people won’t care, but after a dozen emails over the holidays, I wanted to make it clear where it came from.

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  13. Josh,

    I am back from my my vacation in Colorado Springs where I tried a bottle of Tincup. I have a few thoughts.

    First, I like it. We can debate the marketing merits of Proximo or any other NDP all day long but I am sure most any whiskey enthusiast will agree that MGPI can make some damn good whiskey.

    Next, you speculate on the mashbill as it pertains to what whiskies from Indiana are in the bottle. I wonder if, much like High West’s Bourye or son of Bourye that it’s a bourbon/rye blend. That would definitely punch up the rye kick of the whiskey. The thing that makes me think this is that the word “bourbon” appears nowhere on the label. It’s just called a whiskey.

    Finally, the one thing they are doing right with Tincup is the price. So many other NDP’s bottling MGPI products are pricing them at $40 to $50 or more. At $27, this was much more palatable to me. After trying it, I bought a second bottle for the bunker as I’m sure I won’t see it on my hometown liquor store shelves anytime soon.

    Thanks Josh. Keep up the good work in Colorado.

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