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Interview, Part 2: Bardstown Bourbon Company

August 27, 2020

In the second part of our interview with Bardstown Bourbon Co. vice president of brand sales and marketing Herb Heneman, we discuss topics including the custom distilling model, the partnership with Constellation Brands, and the company’s commitment to tourism and hospitality in Bourbon country.

SND: Bardstown has sometimes been likened to MGP, though I’m not sure you’d agree. What are the key differences between your company and MGP?

Heneman: Imagine buying a suit. You can go to Nordstrom, get a great one off the rack, and wear it that night. But you’ll be choosing from a limited selection, and you’ll be able to tailor it only so much. Our business model is like going to a custom tailor on Savile Row: The sky’s the limit as far as customization. You may not have your suit right away, but you’ll be choosing the lapel width, buttons, the style of silk lining—everything. It will be 100% unique to you. As a custom distiller, we create brands from the ground up.

SND: Bardstown Bourbon Co. opened its doors in the fall of 2016. What’s the mix today between Bardstown-produced spirit and sourced liquid? Are some products made only with Bardstown spirit?

Heneman: We’ve had a couple clients commercialize product that was made here. In our Fusion series, we use 60% own make and 40% sourced product. Of that 60% own make, 18% is 3-year-old wheated mash-bill Bourbon and 42% is 3-year-old high rye Bourbon. The sourced portion is 13-year-old Kentucky straight Bourbon. Fusion will continue to evolve until we release our own six-year Bourbons and ryes in the coming years. Transparency is one of our core values, and we give consumers the full information about our blends on the side label of each release.

SND: What’s the role of your minority stakeholder Constellation Brands within Bardstown?

Heneman: Constellation Brands Venture Group made a small equity investment in BBC (in 2016) and they’re a valuable partner in providing strategic support on insights and data, distributor connections, collaboration with venture partners like The Prisoner Wine Company, and back-of-house capabilities. But we remain independent, as evidenced by our diverse distributor footprint, which doesn’t always align with theirs. We chart our own course.

SND: Bardstown has been a true pioneer in Bourbon tourism, with its move to create a Napa Valley-style destination in Kentucky at its distillery visitor center. Covid-19 obviously had an impact. How does the picture look today?

Heneman: While we temporarily halted tours, tastings and service at the Kitchen & Bar, we quickly developed ways to continue engaging consumers. Tens of thousands of samples went out in kits to accompany virtual tastings. Our sales team grew e-commerce outlets immensely. We doubled down on social and digital advertising, and also created an online contest to crown the World’s Top Whiskey Taster in place of live events. Most recently, we completed a 360-degree virtual tour where visitors can self-navigate a distillery journey. We reopened tours, tastings and our full-service Kitchen & Bar in July, with the recommended health and safety guidelines in place. It’s been great to see people back here experiencing the magic of the place in person. It’s our aspiration that as the nation’s most modern, transparent and collaborative distillery, we’ll continue to positively disrupt the Bourbon category.

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