Sometimes in life you just get lucky.
A gap in my schedule, a speculative email and within 6 hours I was all tied up to visit the Bardstown Bourbon Company (BBCo).
BBCo is probably the largest newest supplier of bourbon that you’ve never heard of. I had the huge pleasure of sitting down with David Mandell, CEO, John Hargrove, Director of Distillery Ops and Steve Nally, Master Distiller and Bourbon Hall of Famer, for a few hours to understand what, and how, BBCo are doing. It is a real privilege to hear the guys speak with such passion about the extraordinary project that is on the go here and how they are shaping their future plans.
The facility itself is hugely impressive and already of good scale. If you wanted to film a Bond movie (or maybe even Kingsman?) the site itself would be well suited- a fanstasic open atrium leads you past the moss wall and up into the production offices. Behind this there is serious production capacity with the mash cooker feeding 16 fermenters and space in the rack houses for well over 200,000 barrels. In a comfortable meeting area we discussed BBC from it’s inception, to its current state and its exciting and impressive future.
The distillery itself has only been operating for 18 months or so and in that time has seen rapid growth. David explains:
“We have always had a bit of an evolving business plan. When we set out we saw things as being smaller and growth to be slower but we have secured orders and the confidence of our customers, through our collaborative distilling program, and that has allowed us to move on at a pace we hadn’t really planned for. We had sold our original 1.5m gallon proof of capacity before we had even begun distilling 18 months ago (around 2.8m LPA for us in Europe). This doubled to where we can make around 3m gallon proof today but we will have doubled this to around 6.5/7m gallon proof by the summer. (around 12m LPA)”
That by anyone’s standards is a stunning rate of growth.
If you add on top plans to further put in place a restaurant, some educational facilities, whisky libraries and bar areas this place is going great guns.
So what allows a distillery in the heartland of bourbon country, surrounded by some of the most famous brands in the world, to get off to such a flying start. The answer lies in its collaborative distilling program- don’t, whatever you do, refer to this as contract distilling. As the guys are at such pains to point out, it is far more than that- there is no take it or leave it philosophy in place here. There is a hugely detailed and flexible approach to how a client wants to work and how BBCo can help them to achieve the product to an exacting specification.
John Hargrove explained in broad terms what they can do for clients:
“We have a hugely flexible facility here and we monitor the process closely. We can offer clients a huge array of choices and we are committed to working with them to get them the product they want. We can provide data in real time on production control points and look to cover parameters including: grind profile, cooking recipe, enzymes, non-enzymes, malt quantities, strike temperatures, fermentation temperature and profiles, set and control temps, still base and top temperature, high wines, low wines cut points, barrels- levels of char and toast and for 16 of 17 clients we can warehouse for them as well.”
When you walk around the facility you cannot fail to be impressed. The level of control, cleanliness and attention to detail is highly evident. John and Steve were keen not only to show off this first class distillery but also demonstrate how the future had very much been born in mind at the design stage. Alongside the first still there is now a second 50ft high Vendome column still in place. During my visit the second still was yet to be put in place so all I could see was the opening that this new still would go into.
I asked Steve what brought a 40 year veteran of the industry to this project and why he wanted to come to BBCo.
“Firstly I get to handle over 20 different mash bills- in larger branded places there may be three or four but this gives me real variety. Secondly it’s the challenge of working with customers to deliver what they want and working alongside them to achieve that. Finally doing new things is fun and exciting, the work we’re undertaking in the next couple of months to extend the facility is really a great thing to be part of and to work with these guys to make that happen, that is even better.”
I was interested to know about the faith in the market to put up a facility of this size and whether the team saw any risk in doing that- David responded by saying:
“While it’s true we came in here with more modest plans what gives us a lot of faith is the response we’ve had in working with our clients. It’s also true to say that we have turned away quite a bit of work as we have commitments to others already in place. These commitments have meant we have been able to invest, grow our capacity and deepen out relationships.”
Steve also interjected:
“It’s also worth remembering that there isn’t the stock levels of bourbon that we have seen in the past. This gives us an opportunity to work with others and also have a look at what we might create ourselves.”
There is already product available from BBCo. In partnership with Cooper and Kings they have launched Collabor&tion. 10 year old straight bourbon was specifically selected and has then been finished in C&K American brandy barrels or in Muscat Mistelle Barrels for 18 months. Again it’s indicative of both the creative nature and the collaborative process that BBCo adhere to that play a huge role in making these products. This is on top of several other products they are providing with other brand owners.
So with a doubling of capacity, new restaurants and bar area, work ongoing on the education side and visitor experience as well as looking at the possibilities in their own product range it’s fair to say that while you may not have heard too much about the Bardstown Bourbon Company yet- it isn’t going to stay that way for long.