A Conversation With Bardstown Bourbon Co. Master Distiller Steve Nally
Let’s talk about Fusion first. This includes two bourbons from BBC. A wheated and a high rye bourbon. Are these the only mash bills you're currently producing (excluding contract distilling)?
We are producing multiple mash bills for ourselves . . . everything from various wheated and rye bourbon recipes to 100% rye whiskeys and malted whiskey. You will see a lot coming from Bardstown Bourbon Company.
We also produce more than 40 different mash bills for some of the best brands in the world including, s including Jefferson’s, High West, Belle Meade, Hirsch, and many others. We do this through our one-of-a-kind Collaborative Distilling Program which provides complete, custom whiskey production. We’ve totally changed the traditional model, and we give our partners the ability to control every aspect of the process – from the grains, yeast, barrels, all the way to the pressures throughout the system.
When you started putting Fusion #1 together what's the thought process?
Our goal was to create an exceptional blend that introduced some of our own, younger, estate made bourbon along with an older Kentucky Straight Bourbon that we acquired. We were looking to showcase the mature flavors of the aged products and compliment them with the spicy, fruity, peppery flavors notes of a younger product.
We set out to achieve this by having our expert distilling, beverage and culinary teams work together to develop an exceptionally smooth, yet complex pour at a price point that is approachable for most consumers. In addition, we wanted the product and the process to be completely transparent, which is why we put all the information about the blend on the label.
Do you start with the BBC barrels and work out from there?
We actually started with both BBC barrels and aged product that we owned to get an idea of what may or may not go together. Our expert team blind-tasted more than 50 blends to arrive at a final product.
What role does the 11-year play in the blend?
The older bourbon gives the product a deep, rich mature flavor. The synthesis between young and aged bourbon creates a one-of-a-kind blend. The lively fruit and spice of the two-year-old Kentucky bourbon counter the leather, roasted nuts and rich caramel of aged Kentucky bourbon.
Is there a lot of tinkering that goes on with different blends?
Yes there is. For our Fusion Series #1, we went through 52 different blends. We also took blends off the shelf to see how ours rated. We also had several people the co. be involved people from (food, beverage, manage and distillery about 12 to 15 people and rated the samples 1 to 5, 1 being the worst 5 being the best so that we had different views of how this product could be used.
How long does the blend sit in stainless steel before bottling? Are you proofing down gradually or all at once? Does that process matter?
The product did not sit in stainless long at all. Just enough time to blend it for bottling.
For the Discovery series, what is the thought process behind this blend? Are you trying to highlight certain barrels or flavor profiles?
Our goal with the Discovery Series is simply to create the best blend of Kentucky Straight Bourbon that we could possible make. The team blind-tasted more than 30 blends of some of the finest Kentucky bourbons that we own stocks of to arrive at a final expression with a complex nose, rich palate and balanced, lasting finish. Discovery has great notes of deep tobacco and leather from the 11 and 13-year-old bourbons, baking spices from the 10-year-old bourbon, and bright fruit from the 5-year-old bourbon.
As I’ve mentioned before, With Discovery Series #1, I believe we produced a blend that rivals any product on the market. The final result is truly greater than the sum of its parts. We’ve taken four great Kentucky bourbons and crafted them into one spectacular bottle.
Is it harder to work in your own distillate (with Fusion) or to start with a blank slate?
No, it is not necessarily harder to work in our product it just takes time and patience.
The mash bills are all relatively close. Is it mainly the age and barrel location that create different flavor profiles?
There are a lot of parts of the process that can make a difference in the final product from the ingredients, to the system temperatures and pressure during production, to the barrels and location in the warehouse. Anyone of these can impact the flavor profile of the product that you have in the end.
Which blend is more fun to create?
They were both so much fun to make! Honestly, our new approach to bourbon making and blending is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my career. Having three expert teams (distilling, beverage and culinary), with different palates and areas of expertise, has allowed us to create exceptional and innovative products.
What are some things about blending people don't understand? I think a lot of people think of it as just dumping a bunch of barrels together and it will taste good. The art of blending is greatly misunderstood.
You are correct. It is so much more than just throwing together a few barrels together. The art of blending has existed in the Scotch market for decades, and it is finally coming to bourbon in a way that is truly exciting and innovative. We are proud to be helping lead the way!