“Illinois Corn Processing LCC” is the name of a new joint venture between MGP Ingredients, Inc. and SEACOR Energy Inc. Operations began last February at the former’s Pekin distillery.
A little history is necessary. American Distilling Company dated back to 1892. It survived Prohibition by producing industrial alcohol. Production of alcoholic beverages resumed in 1933. Four decades later, declining demand for hard liquors forced American Distilling to downsize its operations. In 1979, the company ceased distilling liquor and placed its assets up for sale. Gas shortages during the decade prompted the Federal government to promote “gasohol” and Atchison, Kansas-based Midwest Solvents Co. took advantage of tax breaks. Purchasing American Distilling Co. would enable it to increase production. The transaction took place in early 1980.
Midwest Solvents began making ethanol at its new Pekin facility in the summer of 1980 - about 30 million gallons annually. A wheat gluten plant opened in 1982, receiving bulk wheat flour from a Pillsbury flour mill in Atchison, Kansas and other suppliers. Midwest Solvents, which changed its name to Midwest Grain Products in 1985, purchased the Atchison plant in 1987. A 1993-1994 expansion project nearly tripled production capacity at both the distillery and wheat gluten plant. A new alcohol loadout for railcars was built and a connection with the Chicago & Illinois Midland Railway enabled ethanol loads to be shuttled to a new barge terminal owned by that railroad. In early 1993, the Peoria & Pekin Union Railway took over switching service from Conrail.
Midwest Grain Products of Illinois once did some contract bottling, reportedly producing light whiskey. That portion of the business seemed to have ended by the early 2000s.
In October 2002, Midwest Grain Products changed its name to MGP Ingredients. Unfortunately, the company had too much capacity for its protein and starch products, and closed the Pekin wheat gluten facility in November 2008. Overcapacity in the ethanol industry also forced it to exit the ethanol business and close the Pekin distillery in February 2009.
Illinois Corn Processing, LLC, or “ICP,” produces beverage, industrial and fuel-grade alcohol. The last type is marketed and sold by SEACOR Energy. MGP Ingredients purchases the rest to supply its customers. Prior to the 2009 shutdown, the Pekin distillery famously supplied beverage alcohol for San Francisco, California-based Skyy Vodka (blue tinted bottle). Actual bulk alcohol shipments were routed via Union Pacific to Frank-Lin Distillers in San Jose, California for mixing and packaging. Whether this market has returned for the Pekin plant is unknown at this time.
Presently, the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad provides switching service to the plant. Inbound corn is delivered by truck. The only rail business that has been confirmed is outbound bulk alcohol shipments. No outbound DDGS has been noted, and given the lack of covered hopper cars (visible anyway), one wonders how this by-product is being handled.
- David P. Jordan