People

Kentucky's finest

After our Icons of Whisky America lunch we decided not to waste the opportunity of having some of the finest bourbon makers in one place.
By Rob Allanson
PANEL
Greg Davis – Barton Brands
Larry Kass – Heaven Hill
Nick Nelson –Woodford Reserve
Fred Noe – Jim Beam
Dave Pickerell – Maker’s Mark
Jim Rutledge – Four Roses
Julian Van Winkle – Old Rip Van Winkle
Preston Van Winkle – Old Rip Van Winkle How the industry is shaping up?JIM
For the first time across the industry people’s inventories are filling up, and the future is looking good for growth.NICK
We are all seeing record growth rates with new consumers coming to our products all the time. There is a raised awareness about bourbon among drinkers, especially through the cocktail scene and the premium bourbons.FRED
The ultra premium bourbons are getting people to look at the category again. There are certainly exciting times ahead.GREG
Despite a recession people are wanting to drink premium products.LARRY
The American whiskey category has finally gotten it right since the mid 1990s and we have generally succeeded in educating and energising a new audience of younger legal age drinkers who actively seek out and pay for super-premium expressions, discuss their passions on dedicated websites and on-line forums, and enthusiastically attend events, tastings, and visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.All signs that the current market and future domestic and international expansion are at all-time highs.Does the industry feel constrained by the laws dictating the production of bourbon?PRESTON
The laws only limit how we make it but not how people are experiencing it. Just look at the ultra premium cocktail scene in London using top quality bourbon.DAVE
Each city is developing its own way of dealing with bourbon and developing its own niche expression.The breadth of experience we have tells us that changing things sometimes is like throwing darts at a board.LARRY
I believe the strict regulations regarding the production and aging of bourbon are a both a levelling mechanism and give us a differentiating proposition versus other world whiskeys.All bourbons must be produced the same way…this also happens to be basically the same way it has been produced since the mid 19th century, so this is the time-tested best way to do it.NICK
Looking at Woodford’s Master Collection, changing mash bills, finishes and other experimental bourbons have opened the door for all of us.We have only just scratched the surface.Is Scotch better?FRED
You cannot compare the two. It’s not that one is better than the other, its all about the passion.NICK
The complexity of how and what we all do to produce the spirit should mean that they two are complementary not against each other.JULIAN
Taking the flavour of the oak and the grain used to make up the different whiskies sure can be different. But they are similar in so many ways, and at the end of the day they are good products.LARRY
I have too many friends and enemies to wade into these waters…as we say here in Kentucky, “Horses for courses”.Personal tastes and preferences are best handled when presented with a wide range of product choices.Where is the industry going to be in ten years?DAVE
We will be carrying on the growth, and the major growth area will be in the high end stuff. This is not going to go away and is not a flash in the pan trend.The movement towards drinking less but better is getting bigger, and the drivers towards this are not dropping out of sight. It’s a rosy picture.PRESTON
Education is still the key, people still think Jack is a bourbon or rye means Canadian. Education can only benefit everyone.JULIAN
We have to start with the bartenders, who in turn can educate the staff and that gets the message out to drinkers.LARRY
I think in ten years production will have caught up with demand, and you will see growth among existing brands and much more premiumisation and upscale, limited bottlings.