People

Future proof?

The world may be going somewhere in a handbag,but the bourbon industry seems to be pretty buoyant at the moment.
By Rob Allanson
All the signs in Kentucky are pointing to the ripe moment for a bourbon boom across the USA and with any luck across the globe.When you look close enough, as with Scotch, there are some definite trends that are leading this welcome resurgence of America’s spirit.Recently Whisky Magazine sat down with some of the key figures in the bourbon industry, including producers, visitor centre managers, marketing and ambassadors, to discuss how they see things going.One major trend is how bartenders are treating bourbon.Preston Van Winkle picks up the thread: “Most people start with a bourbon and coke, mainly because when you are young that’s what you drink and don’t know any better.It’s different in London where you have style bars that are using fresh fruit and herbs to complement the bourbon.” David Mays, one of Beam Global’s Whiskey Professors (a trio of ambassadors) adds: “In the US we are seeing this London trend reflected in bars on the coasts with the high style cocktails. Also they are coming back to the traditional cocktails, stripping down the drinks.” In terms of the threat from vodka the answer from the group was an emphatic “yes” that bourbon had the kudos and credentials to hold up against the clear contender.Preston again: “I have talked to some bartenders and any of them that are worth their salt are bored with vodka. Bourbon gives very pronounced flavours presenting a challenge to them as they have to build on the flavours.” Whiskey Professor Bernie Lubbers says: “We (Beam) used to have Absolut, but with bourbon there is a story, a history and this is something you don’t get with vodka. It’s all about heritage.” Harry Shapira, from Heaven Hill Distilleries, points out that behind this trend companies are trying to innovate at the same time. He says: “We are experimenting with all sorts, trying to stumble upon new ideas and drinks. But at the same time we have to treat the current brands with respect.” Allayed with this is the importance placed on visitors’ centres. Harry continues: “They are now an integral part of business. It is a way of getting face to face with the consumer and helps foster brand loyalty.” David Mays again; “It creates a visceral connection for people with the brand. It allows people to say that they met the guys that make their favourite brand.” Lynne Grant, visitor centre manager for Heaven Hill, continues: “When I first came to the US I was blown away by the visitor centres, they are all different. In Scotland you could get bored after a while. Distillers are still thinking about ways of making the visiting experience more memorable, impressive and innovative.” Preston adds: “We have a seven park Graceland out here. People can visit all the distilleries in a weekend and have a different experience at each of them.” One thing that does come across when you get the industry in a room is how much respect and camaraderie there is.Jim Rutledge from Four Roses comments: “You never see people like Bud, Miller or Coors doing this sort of thing. We are promoting the industry even if you are not a fan of someone’s bourbon. I have been in the industry now for 42 years and it’s not a job it’s a pleasure.”