THE BOUR­BON BOOM …

And its Florida con­nec­tions

RSWLiving - - Departments - BY GINA BIRCH

If you’ve looked at the lat­est craft cock­tail of­fer­ings in al­most any bar, you’ve more than likely no­ticed an in­crease in the use of whiskey, specif­i­cally bour­bon. The United States is in the midst of a so-called bour­bon re­nais­sance. In 1964 Congress de­clared bour­bon to be America’s na­tive spirit. Its pro­duc­tion has in­creased more than 170 per­cent since 1999, ac­cord­ing to the Ken­tucky Dis­tillers As­so­ci­a­tion, driven largely by pre­mium small-batch and sin­gle-bar­rel brands.

While Ken­tucky is the world cap­i­tal when it comes to bour­bon pro­duc­tion, there are two in­trigu­ing new brands that have their roots in South Florida.

Amer­i­can Bar­rels is the brain­child of FGCU stu­dent Michael Reed. Reed grew up in Fort My­ers but left af­ter his fresh­man year at Canterbury School to play hockey (and fin­ish high school) in New Eng­land. Upon grad­u­a­tion, his hockey ca­reer took him to Canada where he was in­tro­duced to whiskey. The drink­ing age was 19, and Reed re­mem­bers, “I or­dered what ev­ery­one else or­dered be­cause I was young and didn’t know what to drink— whiskey sours. It was rye whiskey in Canada.”

By the time he went to col­lege at In­di­ana Univer­sity, he was also of le­gal age to drink in the United States. Dis­cov­er­ing that whiskey was big in In­di­ana too, Reed says the dif­fer­ence was that it was bour­bon, not rye; bour­bon is made pri­mar­ily with corn, which pro­vides a sweeter fla­vor.

The col­lege stu­dent laments, “The prob­lem was all of the whiskey we wanted to drink, we couldn’t af­ford on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. The whiskey we could af­ford all tasted like gaso­line.”

So he did what any en­tre­pre­neur­ial stu­dent in busi­ness school would do: He came up with a con­cept for his own brand. The name Amer­i­can Bar­rels is a trib­ute to both whiskey and gun bar­rels, Reed ex­plains. “They are clas­sic, iconic ideals of be­ing Amer­i­can. That gritty but grace­ful na­ture that America has, I wanted to cap­ture that in pack­ag­ing and name.”

The base of the Amer­i­can Bar­rels bot­tle re­sem­bles a shot­gun shell, an em­bossed rat­tlesnake wraps around the glass, with a mil­i­tary-style dog tag hang­ing from its neck.

Reed found a dis­tiller in North Carolina who was able to marry his de­sired taste with his de­sired price. The col­lege stu­dent says, “When I was craft­ing the recipe, I drew a lot from what I learned in Canada and In­di­ana. I got to drink a lot of ryes and bour­bons and sort of syn­the­sized the two.”

Made from 60 per­cent corn, 36 per­cent rye and 4 per­cent malted bar­ley, it smells like but­ter­scotch and wood; grain for­ward. High in al­co­hol, it has a long, warm fin­ish with a bit of cit­rus and oak.

Reed says it’s some­thing both his par­ents and team­mates can en­joy. “The beau­ti­ful thing is, that slow burn makes it is so drink­able, and the price of $29.99 is at­tain­able for some­one like me who is in col­lege.”

He sold his first bot­tle to the Fort My­ers–based Cigar Bar a lit­tle more than a year ago and has steadily ex­panded, all while play­ing athletics and pur­su­ing his de­gree.

In­di­ana is not only a hub for bour­bon drinkers; it’s a good place to dis­till the spirit, ac­cord­ing to Lenny Roberts, founder of Spirit of America Bour­bon. His fa­ther, Mike Roberts, is le­gendary when it comes to de­vel­op­ing brands in the world of spir­its, and his son isn’t too far be­hind, work­ing with pop­u­lar names like Tito’s Vodka.

Based in Co­ral Springs, Florida, the el­der Roberts had a copy­right for the name Spirit of America, and when he died in 2012 his sons be­gan look­ing for a way to give the name life while hon­or­ing their dad. Lenny says they picked bour­bon for many rea­sons, but mainly be­cause “it’s the hottest cat­e­gory in the in­dus­try right now.”

He dis­tills in In­di­ana, where the cli­mate is sim­i­lar to Ken­tucky, and wheat is grown year round. Wheat ma­tures quicker dur­ing the dis­till­ing process, mak­ing this bour­bon taste older than it is.

Spirit of America is 51 per­cent corn, 45 per­cent wheat and 4 per­cent malted bar­ley. Lenny calls it “100 per­cent Amer­i­can from grain to glass,” mean­ing ev­ery com­po­nent of the pack­ag­ing is also made state­side.

He de­scribes the blend as “a unique mash with an ex­cel­lent taste pro­file; no rye, it’s a sweeter, smoother bour­bon.” At 86 proof, it smells of vanilla and spice. Go­ing down the hatch you’ll find it smooth, with cin­na­mon and a to­bacco fin­ish.

Spirit of America was re­leased last fall in Florida, and the com­pany do­nates $1 of ev­ery bot­tle ($40) sold to Hope for the War­riors, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion aid­ing wounded ser­vice mem­bers and fam­i­lies.

While these two Florida-con­nected bour­bons are dis­tinc­tively dif­fer­ent in taste, both taste older than their age, are af­ford­able, easy to spot on the shelf and ex­em­plify a na­tional pride that is the foun­da­tion of bour­bon.

FGCU stu­dent Michael Reed founded Amer­i­can Bar­rels to pro­duce a whiskey that not only had the taste he de­sired, but also was af­ford­able.

Spirit of America Bour­bon is dis­tilled in In­di­ana but has its

roots in Florida where the brand has strong fam­ily ties.

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