[Forbes] New $200 Bourbon Leans Right

by Fred Minnick, Forbes

Move over celebrities, politicians are entering the bourbon game. 

Well, at least one is.

Longtime Kentucky State Senator Damon Thayer (Republican) has resurrected the brand “Kentucky Senator” that was once owned by Crigler & Crigler, the pre-Prohibition company best known for Woodland and Buffalo Springs Distillery, and later made by Double Springs Distillery. Kentucky Senator was popular, but it never reached the same level of prominence as the likes of Old Crow and Chicken Cock.

Thayer’s hoping to change that. 

He is looking to tell the story of past Kentucky senators with each release. On the back label of release one is Kentucky Democrat Alben Barkley, a US Senator from 1927-1949, 1955 and Vice President of the United States under President Harry S. Truman.

Along with his partner Andre Regard, Thayer’s acquired aged bourbon on the open market, and Alben Barkley is a 15-year-old Kentucky Bourbon with a mash bill of 78.5% corn, 13% rye and 8.5% barley. His bottling partner, Bluegrass Distillers, bottled some 1,320 bottles. It’s SRP is $199.

Product Review

I caught up with Thayer to learn how his first bourbon came to be and how it will impact his political career.

What made you want to start a bourbon?

I started enjoying bourbon about 10 years ago, after my divorce! Over time I’ve become a huge fan of it from not only a taste perspective(I like to drink it), but also from the tourism experience as one of Kentucky’s unique selling propositions/signature industries. I have visited every Bourbon Trail distillery and many on the Craft Tour. As a marketing guy, the idea of starting my own brand developed over time as a challenging pursuit to implement everything I’ve learned in my professional career. Once my lawyer Andre Regard suggested we become partners, we decided to start working on making the dream a reality. 

Why call it Kentucky Senator?

A colleague of mine showed me a label from the old Double Springs Distillery brand of the same name. Andre checked into the trademark and learned it was available, so we applied to the U.S. Patent Administration; our LLC, Kentucky Senator Spirits, now owns it. 

I’m a horse racing guy, too, so I always followed the progress of the Pinhook brand and like how each release is named for a racehorse owned by Bourbon Lane Stables, which has the same ownership as Pinhook. So I thought naming each release for a U.S. Senator from Kentucky was a unique idea blending Kentucky’s native spirit with its Senatorial history. With our first release named for Senator Alben Barkley, who was also Vice President under President Harry S Truman, the response has been great. It’s a very tasty bourbon with an interesting story. 

Can you discuss the ethical issues? If a bourbon bill hits the floor, do you have to recuse yourself?

One of the first steps I took was to seek approval from Kentucky’s Legislative Ethics Commission. It granted approval based on the usage of United States Senators, not state Senators, and I can still vote on alcohol bills in Frankfort that benefit the industry as a whole. Kentucky has a citizen legislature, and it’s the same as farmers voting on agriculture issues and teachers voting on education matters. 

You’re starting with a 15 year. How are you gonna keep that age up? I mean, 15 years! 

We are, for now, a NDP [non-distiller producer], so we are always sourcing aged bourbon for our next release. We were fortunate to launch with a 15 year bourbon, but know that we won’t always be able to find bourbon at that age. We will continue searching for good-tasting, aged bourbon, and pair it with a good story from one of over 50 Kentucky senators. 

For example, if we find a six year bourbon with a great taste profile, we could pair it with a one-term Senator as U.S. senators serve six-year terms. 

You’re on a few shortlists to take on Rand Paul. Any chances of that happening?

No. I’m flattered to have this suggested but I’ll be supporting Senator Paul in his 2022 re-election bid. Plus I have one of the best jobs in state government; I was just re-elected to another term and enjoy my work in Frankfort. 

Fred Minnick is a longtime whiskey critic and historian. Follow him on Instagram, YouTube and FredMinnick.com

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