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Targeting Bourbon’s Younger Set, Kentucky’s Blue Run Is Off To A Fast Start

June 16, 2022

Amid a host of competition in the Bourbon category, Georgetown, Kentucky-based startup Blue Run Spirits is rising rapidly from a small base. The company, which launched in October 2020, has enlisted former Four Roses master distiller Jim Rutledge as its liquid advisor, and counts Nike and Facebook veterans among its cofounders. CEO Mike Montgomery, formerly campaign finance director for California governor Gavin Newsom, tells SND that Blue Run sees its mission as catering “to the growing base of younger Bourbon drinkers that haven’t really been spoken to,” including women, people of color, and others interested in a more modern incarnation of whiskey.

Blue Run has taken a two-pronged approach, striking multi-state distribution deals with both RNDC and Breakthru in the general market while cultivating direct relationships with its most engaged consumers through a series of limited editions. Its two core products, both retailing around $100 a bottle, are Blue Run “Reflection I” Kentucky Straight Bourbon, with the current batch contract distilled by Rutledge at Castle & Key, and Kentucky Straight High Rye Bourbon. Altogether, the company has 10,000 barrels under its control, with more being added to its stocks monthly. In addition to Castle & Key, Bardstown Bourbon Co. has also become an important supply partner.

Currently present in 19 states and Canada, Blue Run is now entering big markets like Florida, Texas, and California. “We’re in this new phase where it is time for us to expand not only in the states we’re entering, but in the states we’re already in, we want to go a lot deeper,” says Montgomery. This year volume is expected to rise to 50,000 six-pack cases, quintupling over its 2021 total, with sales projected at around $15 million. Next year, Montgomery sees potential to rise to 85,000 to 100,000 cases. “We’ve done plenty of forecasting and we have enough supply to at least get us through the next five years of astronomical growth,” he says.

Limited time offers (LTO), starting at $150 and up, are also a key part of the mix for Blue Run. Recent LTO offerings have included a 14-Year-Old Small Batch Bourbon, as well as 12 Days of Single Barrel High Rye Bourbon this past December. “We’ll have products that follow the regular quarterly release trajectory, and then we sprinkle in LTOs throughout the year that keep people excited. It’s applying what we’ve learned through being a part of the sneaker world,” says Montgomery. Nike’s influence also extends to the brand’s bottle, which was designed by Devon McKinney, a cofounder of Blue Run as well as designer of Nike’s Air Force One line.

As Blue Run continues to expand in the national market, Montgomery says the company’s data shows that its limited editions are drawing in a diverse audience spread widely across geographies and ages, and attracting drinkers from Cognac and other spirits categories. “The beauty of our our barrel inventory is that we have that capacity to keep pulling these tricks out of our sleeves,” he says.—Daniel Marsteller

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