Conor O’Driscoll is beginning to make a name for himself. After spending part of his career at Brown Forman and Angel’s Envy, he was recruited to fulfill the role left behind by Denny Potter. Conor is now the seventh Master Distiller in Heaven Hill’s 84-year history. We spend some time getting to know Conor’s past, what the recruitment process is like to find a master distiller, what his role is going to be with the operation side of things, and how at the end of the day he just doesn’t want to screw anything up.
- This week’s Above the Char with Fred Minnick talks about dry January.
- Where are you from?
- How did you end up in Terre Haute, Indiana?
- How did you get into bourbon?
- Tell us about your time at Woodford.
- What was difficult to learn about the distilling process?
- Talk about working at Angel’s Envy.
- Is distilling rum the same process as bourbon?
- Are distillers in charge of blending?
- How did you end up at Heaven Hill?
- Did you have to give up anything to move into this role?
- Are you looking for ways to improve the legacy brands?
- Was there a learning curve coming to Heaven Hill?
- Who determines the increase in production?
- Were you involved in forecasting at your other roles?
- How did you learn the Heaven Hill portfolio?
- Do you have a favorite brand?
- What was it like to sign your first bottle?
Perfect timing. Luck of the Irish again, right?
Yeah. I get to say that one every day.
What’s up everybody? It is Episode 231 of bourbon pursuit. I’m one of your host Kenny and we’ve got just a little bit of news to go through. Four roses, like every other distillery out there is trying to figure out what do you do with old barrels and there are all kinds of breweries across the nation just want to gobble them up. And four roses is collaborating with Brooklyn Brewery for a new limited release beer called Black Ops. Now I’ve seen it before, but this one’s a little bit different because this vintage of Brooklyn Black Ops was aged for four months in four rows of small batch barrels that were then selected by master distiller Brent Elliott and re fermented with champagne yeast. This Russian Imperial stout comes at 12.4 ABV. raises a fluffy dark brown head combines big chocolate and coffee notes with a rich underpinning of vanilla like oak. Brooklyn Black Ops will be available in limited quantities wherever Brooklyn Brewery is available. A new development is happening in downtown local with a new website that offers an interactive map. a whole list of attractions featuring downtown distilleries like old forester angels envy Victor’s plus a whole gallery of pictures. It’s called the bourbon district. There are flagpoles and Information Science going up around downtown around the city that gives information history and directions to all the bourbon related happenings in downtown Louisville. You can check it out online at bourbon ism.com that’s like tourism, but bourbon ism.com Ryan and myself we traveled down to Lynchburg, Tennessee this week to go and pick our first ever single barrel of jack daniels. We’ve heard so much about these single barrels being stag killers that we just had to go out and try it. ourselves, we’re really looking forward to bringing this barrel selection along with many others to our Patreon community in 2020. And right now our goal is set at 20 barrel selected for the Patreon community in the next calendar year. With the holidays approaching, it’s a good time to think about how fortunate we are that we get to enjoy this great hobby of bourbon. With the help of the bourbon pursuit Patreon community and the fellows on the round table. We’ve kicked off our first ever Christmas charity raffle, go to bourbon pursuit.com slash Christmas to see all the packages that we have lined up. There’s bottles of pursuit series, Episode 17, which was our collaboration with willet distillery of Maker’s Mark 46 private selection that we did a Russell’s reserve from rare bird one to one a victors barrel strength right Elijah Craig barrel proof the old label, Traverse City collaboration from bourbon or as well as breaking bourbon and even more bottles. There’s also apparel glassware tasting sheets, a complete signed copies Of all the books that have come from Fred MiniK, as well as a signed copy from sip and corner, Brian Harris as well. Every dollar raised is going to the USO in pets for vets. Both of these organizations do incredible things for our veterans and their families. Every entry gives you a chance to win any of the prize packages that we have. And of course you must be 21 year old or older to enter entries are accepted until midnight of December 22 2019. So please go visit bourbon pursuit.com slash Christmas to get in on the action and help out veterans in this holiday season. Now for today’s podcast, Conor Driscoll he’s beginning to make a name for himself in this bourbon world. After spending his career at Brown Forman and angels envy, he was recruited to fulfill the role left behind by Denny Potter. Connor is now the seventh master distiller in heaven hills 84 year history. We spend some time getting to know Conors past, what the recruitment looks like. Even like that whole process. Even Find a new master distiller and what his role is going to be with the operation side of things and how the end of the day, he just doesn’t want to screw anything up. Alright, let’s kick off the podcast. Here’s Joe from barrel craft spirits, and then you’ve got Fred minich with above the char.
I’m Joe Beatrice,
founder of barrell craft spirits, we enjoy finding and identifying barrels that contain distinctive traits and characteristics. We then bottle them a cash rank to retain their authentic qualities for the whiskey enthusiastic next time. Ask your bartender for barrell bourbon.
I’m Fred MiniK. And this is above the char I as a journalist, I get pitched a lot of stories and over the past 15 years, you know in covering the booze business in one shape or another, I have received about every pitch you can possibly imagine from celebrities, to new nightclubs, you know to the fads like white club and every kind of Vodka flavor you can imagine, and yada and on and on and on and on. One of the latest trends in the booze industry is is one of the more fascinating trends that I have ever seen. And that is dry January and this entire belief that the alcohol industry needs to start preaching and talking about not drinking. And what’s interesting about this is that you would say, you could take a step back and say, Well, if you encourage people to not consume alcohol, wouldn’t that hurt the industry, but the counter to that is take a look at what happens when you drink too much. People die, people die of liver poisoning. There’s certain types of cancers that are linked to drinking too much alcohol. There’s all kinds of problems that can be linked to over consumption. And by overconsumption I’m talking five to seven drinks a day. You know, getting drunk. Every day, binge drinking to the point of where you have to get your stomach pumped on a regular basis. I mean, these are real issues that people face and to counter that the alcohol industry has been promoting mocktails and dry January. Now, I’m torn, because I’m a firm believer in drinking moderation. And I’m a firm believer in just being responsible. And it’s something in our there’s something in our country’s DNA that we don’t allow ourselves to really have a conversation about what is responsibility, even the brand’s they’re all saying yada, yada, yada, drink responsibly, don’t drink and drive all this but what is drinking responsibly? Well, they’ll say, well, it’s having two drinks, but but again, what is it? Is it you know, drinking, not drinking when you’re emotionally, you know, inspired or connected to something? Is it not drinking on anniversary? Is it just having one drink? And, you know, maybe you just got married or you’re celebrating something? Can you have five drinks, then? I mean, no one really talks about what drinking responsibly is. They just have their taglines. And now this whole effort about, you know, mocktails and dry January, it makes me question if we truly know what we’re trying to do in this business when it comes to encouraging moderation, because if you ask me, getting people to not drink during January has the opposite effect. That’s teaching abstinence. That’s not moderation. And that’s this week’s above the char Hey, if you have an idea for above the char hit me up on Twitter or Instagram at Fred MiniK and check out my new YouTube series on YouTube. Just search my name Fred MiniK. Until next week, cheers
Welcome back to that episode of bourbon pursuit the official podcast of bourbon, Kinney and Ryan here and this is the this is the first time I think Ryan might have been to this office in this conference room, because no
you haven’t. You’ve been here. I’ve been here Barney lovers. We were We were not in this conference room. Yeah, I remember when this read
Yeah. Cuz I was like we had we had Larry on last time. And, you know, so we’re at the the, I don’t call it the marketing offices. It’s the business offices of heaven hill that are located here in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s catty corner to the Maker’s Mark offices, so they’re always spying on each other to kind of figure out what’s happening over there and stuff like that. I guess
bar sounds just not good enough for him.
I don’t know. I mean, I totally get it. There’s way more lunch spots and place to take people. Yeah,
there’s more than maybes. But you know, the other thing is, you know, I also feel bad for a lot of the people that that do have to work in these multiple locations because you are, you’re driving a lot back and forth to whether it’s distillery whether it’s the offices because, you know, we’re not going to Bardstown. We all happen to be here and global. So it It made sense to come here but I know that you know our guest today he’s got to go. He’s got to go to the Bernheim distillery. He’s got to come here. He’s got to go to the Heritage Center. He’s He’s all he’s making the trifecta of all the places he has to hit up. I guess we’ll find out if that’s one of the perks you know, your mileage, your mileage gas reimbursement,
or company car when your masters dollars. Absolutely. Yeah.
So with that, let’s go ahead and introduce our guests. today. We have Connor O’Driscoll. Connor is the newest minted master distiller at heaven Hill. He is also the fifth master distiller that’s been crowned at heaven Hill. So congratulations.
Thank you very much. I think I’m seventh seventh. Is that what it was? Okay, then the era era
fifth and superior than the heaven Hill.
See what happens? We get Wikipedia information. Yeah, they’re right
in Google food just wasn’t on my side this morning. Yep. So Connor, welcome to the show. It’s great to be here. honored to be here. Yeah, I mean, we’ve we’ve met before we talked and and
yeah, we did is we didn’t wanna Whiskey and dine with getting Daya
What was that? Was it was that raw?
Yeah it was what was it a long time it was that was my debutante get to get to know Connor Connor night is what it was so yep.
And and you know estimate impression and vice
vice versa yes yeah
and I could understand like it’s got to be difficult coming into a situation like this and and seeing a product portfolio that’s the breath in front of you and saying like okay, now I’ve got to be
the face of this Yeah, don’t screw it up. I mean, that literally was the the guiding mantra the the first one still is don’t screw it up. But you mentioned the portfolio. You know, the other place I’ve worked or you know, great whiskeys, but it was like one whiskey maybe two or three. And now you come to heaven Hill, and there’s a lot and honestly I’m I’m still learning the portfolio. But what a fun facet of the job to learn the portfolio.
Yeah, well, not only bourbon you have like in I’m not sure if you know that all the different brands are
wearing well. We’re making I’m on the I’m still learning the whiskey anything so yeah, we got our five mash bills that go into multiple different skews. And you know everything from the mellah, corn, corn whiskey all the way up to heaven hell 27 with all the fantastic products in between there. Sure.
So before we get sorry, not the products that we want to kind of get know more about you because I can’t pin it down exactly what region from Texas are you from?
Very, very far eastern Texas. So Far East across the Atlantic, I grew up in Dublin and Ireland. So the joke is they put an Irishman charged with whiskey. Am I living the dream or I live in the stereotype to be determined. So yeah, I grew up in Dublin, went to school there, got my degree in chemical engineering there and actually started my career with Pfizer pharmaceuticals, in Cork on the south coast of Ireland.
I’ve been with them for forgetting quite a year and they asked me to go to Terre Haute, Indiana. I have a
word for john deere. Yeah.
They had a actually was kind of cool. You know, for a guy straight out of college the we were using a genetically engineered and our genetic genetically engineered bacteria to make the enzyme to make cheese. And it started was a fermentation based process. So you know again for a kid straight out of college This was bleeding edge technology. And it’s amazing that you’re like this was exciting like
these were excited on time product
was exciting. The process is exciting. Yeah. And it was
it was supposed to be a six month assignment four months and they asked me to stay and six years later I quit. So it wasn’t so awful that I couldn’t stay there for six years now the people I worked with the fantastic still friends with some of them. You know, the, the, I guess the real thing that kept me there was I reconnected with some friends from Louisville. I started coming down here on the weekends and probably had enough Been for that the the lore of Terre Haute would not have been strong enough to keep me there but you know gotten older level very well got to know the road from Taro to local really really well. And you know like i said i for six years and Taro and I quit
and spent that summer riding my motorcycle across the country. Oh, it’s interesting. Yeah, still still have it’s a 93 CEO Harley guy and I haven’t heard they said 93 superlight
spent seven weeks that summer writing 11,098 miles. As I was heading back towards Indiana, I realized it was gonna be very close to 11,000 miles. I said if I don’t make 11,000 miles I’m riding around the block. I do make 11,000
ended up being 11,000. That’s like me with my Fitbit every day. I’m like, all right. Yeah.
Yeah, it’s kind of same thing. But I was in Mexico, Canada and 23 states in between. Wow, the week so it’s pretty cool. It’s quite an epic road trip. It was epic. It was really cool.
So So kind of talk a little bit more about the road. Trippler were it was there any like other sites that you’re like amazed to see, I know for me personally, people always thought about going and seeing like the Grand Canyon. And for me, I remember going to see in the Grand Canyon and you look, you get there and you’re like, Alright, let’s get out of here like we’ve seen it.
Well, so the the genesis of the trip was 1996 was the 75th anniversary of Route 66. So Harley organized is rolling rally, they call it start in Milwaukee for hardware parties are built, came into Chicago picked up route 66 and then followed it west to Santa Monica. There’s not much left to route 66 but they had a historian with us who every evening would talk about, you know what we’d seen today what we’re going to see tomorrow and it was 400 and some bikes did it and and I was one of them and it was thousands you could join anywhere along the way. So remember riding into like touken Karina Mexico, and just as far as you could see in front as far as you could see it behind double line of Harley’s. So that was Very cool, but you know, got to see, you know, all kinds of the US and especially you mentioned the Grand Canyon. I mean, I’ve been to the Grand Canyon three times twice on my Harley and one the first time was was on this ride. And yeah, it’s it’s pretty stunning to see it.
What did you learn about the US on that trip that like that, you know, before I get to our country, you know, you probably have preconceived notions about
it and like, I know, I’d been in the, in the, in the states for six years and have taken multiple road trips, you know, West and wherever, but to see it from the back of a Harley and to see it for that long. You know, I wrote every inch of highway one Pacific Coast Highway, you know, from the Mexican border, the Canadian border. I wrote over independence pass road across the desert in Texas, you know, there’s one stretch of highway there were, you know, it’s 100 miles between gas stations. And Mike’s got him out of 30 moderating yeah yeah. So I just I mean the vastness the variety you know to go from you know sea level to 14,000 feet that’s not four to 12,000 feet anything’s past go from the Pacific Northwest Texas desert yeah just stunning
was a little bit different than than Ireland to because at least in Ireland if you do that kind of driving least you see castles
across the US like, not really Oh Harris castle is a Hearst Castle just holiday.
So kind of talk about what’s that that next evolution of your journey? How did you get into I mean, you were doing the cheese thing you stopped.
What I wasn’t, I was a pre chorus. I was doing the the enzyme thing the enzyme is I know it sounds really bad. I’m like, I’m gonna do that cheese thing. Yeah, we were we were. We were in the cheese supply chain. But yeah. You know, the process I worked on in Ireland was fermentation based. This one in Terre Haute was fermentation. And after I Well, after the motorcycle trip, I ended up in Colorado, skied all winter, and then got my career going again. And it’s an awesome severance package. I had to save smart I know Sarah respects bed safe, smart. And I learned to live cheeping. And so when I got my career go and again, I said, well, I’ve tried this production thing, I’ll try engineering. And I put the design and things and did that for another six years and that was that was less fulfilling. Let’s say it was very deal. bertina is that a word? It is
already me. I will take the take the new terminology, what it was, you know, sit in a cubicle, that type of thing.
By this point, I was married and I’d always said that, you know, I was going to stay in the US as long as it was fun. And yet once it was no longer fun, I leave but of course, you know, you’re still here. It’s still here. It’s still fun transcontinental motor motorcycle trip. Pretty fun winter skiing. Pretty fun, you know, I’ve still fun
20 years later
21 years later So, you know, I said it quit being fun, I would go back to Dublin and try and get a job making Guinness because that would be fun. And once I realized that wasn’t leaving, and like I said it was getting tired of this, the engineering end of things. So I gotta go What’s next? You know, where where should I? Where should I take my career and like I said, the biggest thing was in the back of my mind was that it’s not the closest thing but you know, kind of along that arc, this bourbon thing seems kind of cool. So that was in 2002 when I really started thinking about it but you know long before any boom long before you know any any even hint of the boom you know, Woodford had been in existence for what six years at that point. That’s That’s how long ago it was. So I started knocking on doors and it literally Two years before Geico Leo reading or who had run, what’s now the brand form of his salary he retired and ever read ratcheted up one and opened position. And I was lucky enough to get hired into that. And the previous person hired into that. That job was my boss who had been hired 26 years prior to that. That’s how slow the industry was that but brown Forman hired me and it was like whew, dream job. And I spent five years in Shively, you know, learning how to learn how to run into Syria how to make whiskey and in 2008, nine runner up then they sent me out to Woodford and again Woodford was tiny then but the boom was probably that’s, you know, it was probably starting that our had started and was starting to pick up some momentum.
Yeah, that’s when you kind of start seeing a lot of the uptick and rise of people just visiting, distilleries and stuff like that. Not so much the the craze we see today of bye Just flying off the shelf, but definitely a more of an interest from the average consumer. And probably nearing the time to when a lot of distilleries are thinking like, Oh, we probably need a visitor center.
So when for did have a visitor center, which is kind of cool, but you mentioned the uptick and visitors that literally was the first thing we saw. You know, Hank, at that point, the visitor center had been designed for maybe 30,000 visitors a year and the bourbon trail came on right around then and really kick things up and you know, there weren’t that many visitor centers and Woodford had the newest nicest one. And you know, so to that wasn’t quite the ground for the Woodford but it was pretty close to it. So to be there at that point in in the industry’s growth and in Woodford growth was just well, perfect timing. Look at the Irish again right.
Yeah. album to get to say that one had bed every day.
So the I said from 2009 till What was it say? Two years ago 17 was at Woodford did. Most of that was, you know, running the distillery Did you know Did a lot of cool things were worked with a lot of cool people learned a ton. Kind of was part of it was you know, it’s just it was gratifying, Exciting, thrilling to be part of the growth of that brand. Like said when I went out there, it was tiny. By the time I left, we were shipping over a million cases a year. And you know, it had become what it is now. Or,
you know, yeah, you still had a hand and a lot of the product that’s still coming out today, anything like
that. When I left there are people who said, you know, are you going to do it all the person you’ve told them what fruit you have? And I was like, what a drink it
and it’s good for at least seven years. Yeah, I have confidence. It’ll be good for a long time. It’s still a good team out there. So
yes, what to say speaking of the team, I mean, talk about a relationship or time with Chris Morris or anything like that, because I know that you you probably had some sort of interaction with him and we
worked very closely together and what a cool guy to work with. I mean His his knowledge of the industry and, you know, he he was clearly the tip of the spear in the in the in the growth of Woodford and in the guidance of its growth you know the Masters collections you know I was lucky enough to have a hand on those and you know make several of those but they are all his brain children and you know to work closely with him and the rest of the team as well. And you know the you know, Elizabeth Nicole who’s now the system master sitter, she worked with me for a while Woodford and that was that was a lot of fun. She’s She’s cool. Yeah.
A little tight knit family. You guys yeah, Christmas cards. I go back.
We just exchanged bottles. Yeah. So I’m curious when you get into you know, distilling, like you said you you know you came from the end zone fermentation like, Is there like that when you show up as like art? Here’s the training manual. And let’s
go No, no, no, their age or there really isn’t. And especially back then because you know, when you haven’t hired someone for 26 years, there’s no onboarding manual, y’all know new guy manual. So it was you know, kind of seat of the pants stuff, you know, I followed my Glen Glaser was my boss learned a ton from him followed him around every day, like a lost puppy, you know, work with the operator is kind of sadness them quite another, those are the guys who turned the vows and, you know, run the show, so, you know, sit with them and learn from them and just kind of be a sponge, soak it up.
So it was a kind of like station. So like, this month, I’m going to be focusing on how to turn these valves next
month. It’s guys, it’s, it’s, it’s all inclusive, it’s kind of in depth. And I remember, you know, by time I joined bra form, you know, I worked in production for six, seven years, I’ve done design engineering, you know, across multiple different interest industries for another six years. So, you know, hired in and, you know, Glenn said it’s gonna take good two years to really understand this process. And I was like, has
And literally two years to the day, I was like, I think
I’m starting to get this. Yeah. But it’s just you know, it’s, you know, you think about making whiskey you know, you get granny mellet mash it from Anna distill it put in the barrel, five easy steps, but you get a distillery and everything’s scheduled on top of itself. And there’s you got to do this first, but you got to wait for that. And then you got to worry about byproducts and is your East up to speed and blah, blah, blah, blah. So getting the integration of all those parts and the timing of all those parts and just getting everything to work in concert and understanding all the multiple nuances of flash. That’s where the, those are the details and that’s what the devil is.
So it’s like Malcolm Gladwell, his role of 10,000 hours. So you gotta do yeah, is
when I read that book, a lot of it. A lot of it rang true. Yeah, for sure.
I don’t I’m not familiar with the book.
Oh, it’s just had that to be an expert. Really, they’ve, if you have 10,000 hours, like that’s where your achievement mastery in any subject, but so, well, that’s good to know. So if you do 40 hours a week, there’s, you know, 2000 working hours in a year. So if you’re just doing the bare minimum, you know, take you five years. Yes. So, I’m sure you’re working more in that accelerated.
So we got a while until we figure out this podcast. Yeah,
we’re only like 500 hours.
Well, I mean, that’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a good way to kind of see how you grew up in and you learn the industry from the inside with inside of brown Forman because a lot of people we take tours and you go through and they really dumb it down. And exactly as you said, they take the five steps and like this is the process. However, there’s so many intricacies with inside of that process that that you that you had just talked about, you know, during your time there what was what was one of those intricacies that you said like, Okay, this is this is going to take more time to figure out Like this is where this is where the variables tend to change a lot, that sort of thing.
So the, the easiest example of that is, you know, the optimizing the easting mashing fermentation at Woodford, you know, when I got there. They were running for mentors that we were making whiskey, everything was trotting along just fine. And like we talked earlier, this is kind of as the boom was starting up, and I was looking at ways to increase productivity and the and the distillery so one of the easiest ways to increase productivity is to put more grain in the fermenters and still doing everything exactly the same way. There’s just more grain in there, therefore, there’s more food for the east, therefore, they can make more alcohol therefore, you can fill more barrels. So talking with my colleague, Kevin Smith, down at jack daniels, who for every five minutes that I could talk about Eastern he could talk for five hours and and just he’s a fascinating guy and just Fanta knowledge, but remember having a casual conversation with him about you know, increasing The beer gallonage and the amount of grain in the fermenters. And he says, Well, before you do that, thanks very polite about before you die, you’re going to have to fix your easting was like nothing wrong or easting that’s embarrassing. I spent a lot of my early curriculum. And as I, you know, we, we set it from enter and hours later at bubbles and then days later, we get whiskey out of it. And, you know, he very politely disabuse me of that. And that was step one in a two year process to get from where it was a very crude way of managing East that was actually doing more to hamper the East than it was to optimize it. But I said two years into it, and the fermenter productivity was up for you know, 25% the whiskey quality was off the charts the rates of ferment for metric content. We’ve had zero, you’d walk in the distillery and just smell how good it was. And from a initial notion of, let’s put some more grain on the from Enter to two years later, again, I think we’re finally turning the corner here. Yeah. And then of course, there were, there was some short term gains that are immediate gains, like, All right, we’re on the right path, but to really, you know, get it from a system that might have been that’s got 85% efficient to 90% efficient and 95% efficient, the 98% efficient, you know, to really start tweaking into details there.
Yeah, so East I mean, I guess you probably have a good idea what it’s going to do based on experience, but it’s a living thing. So are there times that you’re just like, what the hell is going on? Like I did everything right. And it’s just like, on the ship.
If you do everything right, it won’t. So if it goes to shit, then something’s gone wrong. Okay. Yeah, is the bottom line. You know, the the easiest way to think about it, I mean, the East makes all the alcohol and a good chunk of the flavor. So if you treat the strike, she’ll treat you right back. And best quote on that. I was doing a camp run amok group at Watford and I had to give a 15 minute masterclass and easting mashing fermentation three times a day, one of the groups the young lady on it after I gave my East HBS as she said, so Randhir East is queen. I was like, Yes, that’s exactly it. That’s a perfect way to put it. So again, you treat the stride and she’ll treat you right. Right back. And, you know, that’s, that’s, that’s kind of the goal.
So let’s move to the next stage in your journey here. So brown Forman, your time there was done in 2017. And you had a little bit of stint at angel’s envy as well. You did talk about that.
Yeah. So I was kind of plugging along doing my do my thing at Woodford and you know, by this stage, I was running the warehousing and processing so another chunk of the industry learning something new. We were building the new warehouses Woodford So, you know, kind of overseeing that and understanding how to operate these giant warehouses. But once we got that system down, it kind of became road and I was like, all right, you know what else? What else is out there? You know, I’ve had 14 really fantastic years at Brown Forman. You know, is there anything within brown form? Is there anything without and right as I was thinking these things a former brown former former Woodford colleague who’s now an age as me, she called me and said, Hey, we may have a position Are you interested? So I went down there on a Saturday morning, various repetitiously and kind of looked around and they heard they were, you know, less than a year out of startup and the brand new facility but in an older building, you’ve been to them?
Yeah, yes. Going to say ran into a lot of issues getting that thing up and running, and they got through them all.
But just everything about it kind of resonated with me. You’re like yes,
I don’t want to drive for sales since I was a
significant part of it because by this point, we had warehouses in midway so my commute was from level two midway check in with the gang there then come back to sales and generally spend the rest of my day ever sales but occasionally we bump between the two of them and then come home so getting close to three hours a day in the car wow yeah audio book time
have to say I was like I know people in like LA and they do all those commutes every day in San Francisco I’m like, how do you sit in the car for an hour one way every single day like
I mean, I was doing highway speed so it was it was relatively benign and for most of that time I was driving to Woodford to make whiskey you know it’s not that bad. Yeah. But the you know, the the first several months that I was at angel’s envy and I would drive home in 10 minutes, I’d literally sit in the garage and I What do I do?
How did I get
What Did you take a walk to listen to? That podcast
way that are better? It’s like I better go to the bar home or go to the bar real quick is my wife’s can make me do a lot Georgia
dinner ready so
that was that was a big one there but you know love being part of a party. It’s interesting that the three companies I’ve worked for in this industry are all different facets of family owned. But
was angels me family and when you started I was like I’m a car dealer car. I got, of course the Hendersons to
ride. But it’s you know, it was it was fully owned by Bacardi. Gotcha. And Bacardi bring a ton to the table. I mean, they’ve been there, truly a global company. I mean, we reported up through Geneva, accounts payable were in Costa Rica and sap support was in the Philippines and stuff like that. So, you know, some timezone juggling, but that global perspective was was pretty cool. And just the cultural diversity within the I was at a meeting in Puerto Rico and I was the closest thing to a Yankee in the room and that way any yo You don’t get that very often. Yeah. And those like, they’re all speaking English for me, because I’m the only one here who doesn’t speak Spanish. Yeah, that’s kind of embarrassing. But anyway, that was, you know, lots of lots of positive things. Yeah. And again, just a different way of running running the same industry. But Bacardi have a lot of cool things they do, you know, worked with a lot of really smart, hardworking, fun people there. And of course, you know, see an angel, you know, I think the, when I came in, they were just coming out of that startup mode. And, you know, I was tasked with kind of taken out of that wild west, just run headlong at the prop problem till you fix it. All right, let’s slow down. Let’s think about it. Let’s get a process in place. Let’s think about where we want to go and how we’re going to get there. And just start, you know, like slapping a process on stuff.
This is an amateur question, but a is distilling around the same process as Barban, but just different ingredients. Different agree it’s basically the same. You ferment molasses Sure, Ryan. But then of course it’s it’s a shorter faster you don’t have to mail anything you don’t have to necessarily mash anything.
And then the aguar DNA
the letter that I guardia day, what is that? It’s funny
to say it’s it’s the the new make sense. Gotcha. And then you know it’s aged in general use barrels for shorter period and of course it’s the heat of the Caribbean versus, you know, the seasonal cycles here. Sure. But I know it’s I kind of left before I really could deep deep dive into that process. But you heard the word Bacardi and you’re like,
I got a question, but
let me throw a curveball over the other. I mean, the fermentation and distillation are
very, very slowly never talked around distilling.
I’ve never been around the city. I saw it on TV.
But no the gang There are there. The Joe Gomez the master Blender down there is just he is one of those icons of the industry. The nicest guy you’ll ever meet will talk all day long about it and just he, he wants to be your friend. You want to be his friend. And to spend time with people that can was cool. But then, like the biggest difference, I guess, is the aging.
Gotcha. So you talked about how he’s the master Blender did do distillers here are they in charge of blending as well.
With the careers of master distiller spanning almost 50 years, as well as Kentucky bourbon Hall of Famer and having over 100 million people taste his products. Steve nalli is a legend of bourbon who for years made Maker’s Mark with expertise and precision. His latest project is with Bardstown bourbon company, a state of the art distillery in the heart of the bourbon capital the world. They’re known for the popular fusion series, however, they’re adding something new in 2020 with a release named the prisoner. It starts as a nine year old tennis bourbon that is in finished in the prisoner wine companies French oak barrels for 18 months. The good news is, you don’t have to wait till next year to try it. Steve and the team at Bardstown bourbon company have teamed up with rack house whiskey club rack house whiskey club is a whiskey the Month Club on a mission to uncover the best flavors and stories that craft distilleries across the US have to offer their December box which will ship in time for Christmas features a full size bottle of Bardstown suffusion series, and a 200 milliliter bottle of the prisoner. There’s also some cool merchant side. And as always, with this membership, shipping is free. Get your hands on some early release Bardstown bourbon by signing up at rackhouse whiskey club.com. Use code pursuit for $25 off your first box. 291 Colorado whiskey aims to create a one of a kind, bold and beautiful Colorado whiskey, rugged, refined, rebellious owner and founding distiller Michael Myers built the original still from copper photo gravure plates, which you use to create enduring photographic scenes. From what landscapes to the Chrysler Building. On September 11 2011 10 years after 911 changed his life and the lives of so many others. He pulled the first whiskey off that’s still building a future in whiskey off his passion for photography. What defines 291 Colorado whiskey is it spirit passion permeates every sip, find a bottle near you at 291 Colorado whiskey calm, right like you stole it, drink it like you own it. Live fast and drink responsibly.
So you talked about how he’s the master Blender did do distillers here are they in charge of blending as well or generally speaking, so that’s you know, it’s interesting. You know, in Rome, it’s all about the blending.
And that’s why the the focus is on master blenders and you know, if you look at the history of Bacardi, the Bacardi founding members have generally come up through that. That that that supply chain, I guess what do you want to call it? Through that right? beams, you know, yeah, exactly. I mean, so the the people running the business know the business.
But then on our side of it and the bourbon
you know, blended bourbon is kind of it’s still got that post prohibition nasty connotation. So we’re not set we don’t focus so much on the on the blending side of things. Although, you know, there that is that is, you know, one stave to our barrel as it were.
Absolutely. So, I think we’re going to see a common theme here because I think this is a, probably an inhibitor to a lot of people that that work in your type of scenario in this type of industry. It’s hard to maybe make upward progression, because there’s people within these roles that are there for
10 2030 and there’s only a handful of them.
That or you’re in a situation where is it as a family legacy? You Got the nose, you’ve got the Russell’s odds are they’re not going to let some outsider come in. Cecil come in. And so you have this sort of like this cap on upward mobility. And so you had your your time at angel’s envy. So kind of talk about how this process came to be of interviewing at heaven Hill and making some connections and kind of making your way into this role.
So I known Alan through the industry on lattes or co I known him for several years, just through the industry, like I said, and you know, I was I was happy at angel’s envy. I was planning on going nowhere. I was not planning on going anywhere, whatever. And then the news broke that Danny had left and I mean, I was stunned as everybody else but I never I didn’t even think like hot there’s an opportunity for me. was like, wow, Danny left. So many Alright, so you were all your agent
maybe I should. But actually, it wasn’t long after that. That was Danny reached out to me. And because again, I’d known Danny as long as I’ve been in this business. And he said, he’d been asked to find some suitable candidates and you know, thought me and I was like, wow, I’m so flattered. You know, I hadn’t even thought about that. But
I thought about it. I was like, You know what, I’ve got a really good job here. I just made a big move and 18 months ago. I’m gonna stay here. And we chatted some more. Thanks very much. That was really flattering. And it’s kind of one of the things as soon as I hung up, I was like,
Damn, it probably wasn’t the right
answer. And then went home told my wife about it and she goes, Yeah, that wasn’t the right answer. So
I forget if Alan call me next or if Danny call me back or what it was, but either way we got back in touch again. I was like, yeah, let’s let’s see. Let’s talk. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. What were the hesitations? The fact that I just made a big move and I liked what I was doing that changes me. I liked being part of a party.
Yeah, it’s it’s always tough to be put in a situation like that you feel like you’re going to burn a bridge by coming in. It’s like
coaching in basketball. You know, somebody had a mid major, they’re happy. They’re doing well. And then you’re like, but the big leagues you’re feeling Exactly.
And it’s funny. You said the big leagues. You know, that was kind of the the catchphrase we will but I bought it down by my office at angel’s envy overlooked slugger field. So as I’m thinking through this, it’s like I’m, I’m pitching AAA and doing fine pitching AAA and the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees just called I just said no to the New York Yankees Don’t say no to the New York Yankees. Yeah. So luckily, the New York Yankees were upset that I had said no the first time and you know, we talked back to the forwards and the more
you played hard to get Wherever you go, you go by
the throat whatever cliches you want that the more I thought about it, just the more it made sense. So this is a you know, the the legacy of heaven Hill the career progression, the whole thing just kind of came together at that point I was like this is this is a once in a career opportunity. If I turn this down, I’ll never get this again. And you know if this if I’m truly going to take my career to where I think it should go, this is the opportunity and so far so good.
It’s kind of like it’s kinda like you’re also in a position like you’re a Supreme Court Judge like you’ve been placed in a position where like, unless you really screw up like you’re pretty like there’s unless this this whole thing like tanks and there’s a nuclear like breakout like you’re going to be pretty well set when it Are you having a good there was a nuclear war. We got bigger things to worry
Yeah. I’m sure yeast will survive right now it’s it’s it’s not quite I haven’t kind of docked the ship and I’m done you know there’s there’s a lot of work to be done a lot of cool work to be done and I’m not gonna I haven’t reached a point where I can you know glide into retirement or even I want to rest on my laurels or anything I don’t know just sit on the shoulders of those who came before me there’s there’s a lot left to be done.
What are some of the like sacrifices or I guess parts of the job that you know you’re I guess when you’re working at Brown for and you’re kind of behind the scenes you’re not having to deal with a lot of stuff
that hard was
showing up with these idiots taking up an hour Monday
samples right now yeah,
I guess talk about that. Like, you know, cuz when you’re you like you said when you go to the big leagues, you’re giving up a lot. What what are some of those things?
much giving up i think but you know there.
I think in any career as you as you Move up the food chain you’ve gotta gotta learn to delegate and either hope that you’ve got a good team behind you are engineered a good team in this case, I don’t have to hope I do have a great team. I mean, this is Tara has been running for a long time before I got here making award winning whiskey for a long time. So my job is to kind of slide in pick up the reins and keep that going and on that upward arc.
Yeah, there was a time period between you and and Danny so seems like York it was still running I mean, that doesn’t stop Yeah,
and nothing good stop and as I say the you know, the supervisors that are there on every shift the the team members on on the shift the maintenance guys the the whole crew, I mean, you know, we’re we’re lucky enough to have, you know, a painter and a janitor, they’re young, they work hard to keep the place look and clean and the air is as important to the operation. him probably more important than I am. But yeah, you know, it’s it’s they’re, they’re a good team. They work hard they care and I was I was, you know, when Alan took me in to show me around the salary on a Saturday morning everything was done Saturday mornings, very surreptitious. You know, it could pick up I mean, the crew members who were there that day, we’re happy to see him. And, you know, they, they clearly were into what they were doing about me. I went, we run seven days a week, and they they work seven days a week. And they were happy to do that. You know, like I said, so they’re, they care, they’re passionate. They want to make continue to make award winning whiskeys.
Yeah. When you when you have said, distiller like heaven Hill, he said, it’s such a legacy, great brands, incredible products. And like you’re like, All right, here’s my baby. And they’ve been doing it so great. But do you look for ways to like, improve the process or look for ways like to put your own fingerprint on it, or at least two years before it changes
to do the 10,000 hours Again, hopefully it doesn’t reset zero. Now Hey guys, like I said it’s pick up the reins and keep things going. There’s always opportunities for improvement. You know, go back to what I was talking about Woodford I mean Woodford is making good whiskey before I came along. And I had the opportunity to, you know, start optimizing.
You know, where the Bernheim distillery now is obviously, further ahead than where Woodford was in those days. But there are still opportunities to, you know, just to continuously improve. And speaking of opportunities, talk about what was that that learning opportunity and learning curve of coming in because Ryan and I, we’ve we’ve been to the Bernheim distillery, we’ve we’ve toured it and we know like the massive scale of what it’s what happens there. And so kind of talk about was that sort of like a bow. This is this is pretty big, because I know it’s it. It basically makes angels me look like a dwarf at that point. Compare that to word for that.
Yeah. So it’s actually Talk about that.
So I mean, the the scale of the Burnham disorder is stunning. I mean, we have 17 fermenters that are 124,000 gallons each. We fill four of those a day. And obviously we empty four of those today. So that’s the bones of a million gallons of liquid. We’re pumping around every day. We’re mashing over 16,000 bushels a day, which is over 900,000 pounds of grain a day. That’s about 20 ish loads of grain to unload every day. No, no others like 650 thousand barrel warehouses eggs. Yeah, we have 58. Whereas with over 1.6 million barrels, you know, at the Burnham side, we have 480,000 barrels, and we’re building a new 50,000 55,000 Bioware has about every six months. You know, we’re we’re laying down 1300 barrels a day, and we’re probably dumping we I know we’re dumping less than that. We’re probably dumping the order 1000 maybe a little more than that per day so we’re continuing to grow our inventory who determines that the numbers I guess of how like how to increase who determines to increase or decrease numbers very finely calibrated crystal ball so it’s a it’s a dark art you know as you see the sales are this today they look to be that six months 12 months whatever from now we have this much an inventory of things continue this way we should have that much. So we look at we look at that big picture probably, you know, indeed now we’re looking at continuously but in detail for twice a year and make adjustments as necessary.
Was this this role your first time of actually looking at forecasting Did you do that previously in other roles, um, I would, I was involved another role that the other sites as well.
Brown Forman, have a have a guy called bill Dietrich and he runs the model and And he would bring out the serie production plan, but I worked fairly closely with him and you know, it changes MV was you know, we were so small, so new, there was no existing data to build on. So I built this very complex spreadsheet that was, you know, I ended up calling it the Wonder file. Okay, they kind of got that nickname but, so yeah, I’ve been involved but it’s it’s, you make guesses. You make projections. You know, you hope you got it.
Right. And it’s not just a general longer. Yeah.
Yeah, hopefully you don’t have to age a little less. Right? We plan for x, but you know what, it was actually 1.5 x so like, Oh shit, what are we doing now?
So to also talk about coming into heaven Hill, and we talked about the, you know, the breadth of portfolio of just the Bourbons and whiskies that are in front of it. And I’m sure that as as the master distiller like that as your that is your front, front line of things. That you, you talk about and you’re the face for. So where is there like, like a week long boot camp where somebody sat you down and said, All right, so we’re going to go through everything you’ve got to remember every little nuance and the history of them. Like how did that process go? It was a little bit of that. So I spent a fair bit of time with the brand teams and they gave me the PowerPoint decks and the swag and whatever else been
In here, the real learning though, gotta get 10 in a row.
We mentioned Bernie lovers are here. Yeah, you know, I’ve traveled a fair bit together already. And, you know, go to the whiskey fest and stuff. And, you know, we’ve gone and done, you know, trainings at restaurants and bars, and, you know, learning it from him and seeing some of his his presentations. That’s that’s probably where I did most of the learning.
Oh, he is Yeah, he’s the whiskey professor. Any
fun to learn.
He already does. Yeah.
Well, he was up he was playing stump the chump with us.
I know he made us look like gentle Yeah, no, he
is asking us questions we were like we weren’t paying attention
he’s he’s really good at what he does and but of course tasting the portfolio matter way to learn it. Yeah. Anyway, the the funniest one is Pikeville rye. My neighborhood liquor store on Frankfort Avenue. I’d walk by and see Pikeville rye and I read it as Pikeville Ryan I was like who’s making rye whiskey and Pikeville Kentucky and then a month later on the master distiller for that brand and I go
know that and I tasted that I was like holy crap This is good. Yeah, and I known Rittenhouse for a long time I love written as but pikesville kind of takes it that takes the next level the next level.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean it is so you talked about Pikeville is like is there any other like bourbon line that you kind of look at as like yeah, this is this is gonna be like my staple like this mean you gotta kind of give everyone their level. Like is there one that is there a favorite child out of the group? Well, I mean, the main And she left older children.
So you know you think about we got five Nashville’s, you know I think we’re the only ones making those five Nashville so the five American whiskey styles and they go into all the different brands so when we make the our bread and butter is hh reg or rye bourbon and that goes into Evan Williams, Greg Hunter mccanna whatever it might be. So learning that progression, you know, Evan Williams is you know, it’s a 2.7 million case brand is the second largest selling barber in the world. And it’s a you know, if you look at it, if you compare it to the competition, you know, it’s age longer, it’s higher proof. I think it tastes better. You know, and I that kind of to see how that, you know, ages out and becomes either mccanna are Elijah Craig and how good they are and either on the rocks or I’ve had some fantastic cocktails lately with our portfolio. It’s It’s It’s It’s been a fun journey but even like the I hadn’t had much weeded bourbon in recent decades. When I started when I started drinking bourbon by the first one of the very first ones I had was old fits. So find out the way on offense and then we’ve got larceny and you know been so used to ride a Suburbans and to realize that you know, these leaders are actually they’re pretty good on in their own right they’re just not just like a light whiskey they are a really good you know, subset or you know, that different side of the same coin type of thing. And so to and of course the the old fits the the specializations that we bring out that are, you know, 1213 years old are just spectacular. Yeah,
and that’s what I think is probably, you know, everybody always always get there’s, there’s so many brands inside heaven. Hell, we’ve been in a label room before. I mean, there’s there’s hundreds if not, maybe they’re
they’re literally dead.
So I mean, it’s, it’s it’s mind blowing but then you know the as you’d mentioned there’s an old Fitz relates there’s the heaven Hill 27 year releases and people go crazy for the William
and the partners but you’re in a unique position because you get to try and sample and taste all these at barrel proof and you get to choose which ones that coming from so I
get to be part of the
Yeah, so it’s it’s that’s always a fun experience because like I said, you get to do like the real unicorn part of it right you know, you don’t get might not get to see the empty or the the final packaging of it but you get to see the process from really like where it started up until that point to now it’s really good like we were doing a barrel selection for hotels liquors yesterday and to you know, we were tasting some the 12 year old at 151 proof now,
you gotta change the barrel pics two barrel proof pan. We gotta do. Yeah, it kills me. Let’s see, we’ll start there. And every time I go to a lot of the correct there’s three right like it’s always the hardest barrel pick because there’s three like yeah, stoners from dedes Phil or whatever. You know, and you’re like, gosh, I don’t want to water this down. But you know,
I understand you, you, you, you take it to 94 proof and you’re comparing apples to apples, right? You know that it’s not just like the proof for the color, right? So you’re kind of changing your mind. It’s like, all right, I know that. I’m comparing the same thing, the same thing for the same thing. So you’re getting, you’re getting honest whiskey.
Yep. And so one of the last things I kind of want to wrap it up with is kind of a fun question. Because I want to understand like what your thought process was when this first happened, so you’re going to be in front of a lot of people and I’m sure you’ve you’ve gone and you’ve made your rounds at the whiskey fest. And there’s always it’s a it’s a responsibility of a master distiller or brand ambassador, whoever’s the face of the brand to sign the bottles.
so kind of talk about what it was to like, sign your first bottle and go, okay, I’ve been here for like two weeks. So yeah, like what was that? Like?
So? It was it’s kind of mind blowing to be honest with you.
Whiskey fest Chicago, I think it was, you know, we have that partnership with Goose Island. So me and Bernie and Mike Smith from Goose Island were doing a presentation on basically barrel aging and better that and afterwards somebody came up and asked me to sign their their ticket or their program or something. And you know, my first reaction was like, seriously, by the cross, I was in my head. But you know, you play the role and that’s this person has spent their hard earned money to come and listen to me yap about whiskey. So like, thank you so much. I’m honored to sign it, but it’s it’s pretty cool.
You know, our Evan Williams
HERO program where we recognize veterans, you know, we were down with Chris cruise at cruise customs flags last weekend, he asked me to sign a bottle and he’s put a ton of pictures of it on Instagram. And I’m like, anyway, you’re the coolest guy. Stop making me look, I just I just scrolled on the bottle, you know, but so it’s It’s honestly it’s gratifying. But at the same time it’s it’s a little shocking that right? This year Really?
Yeah. Because I remember it was, it was at the heaven Hill select stock 18 year release, and I’d saw you there. Yeah. And people were aligning, aligning to get your signature. And it was it was just kind of dawned on me. I was just like, he wasn’t here 18 years ago, but it’s so funny that like people, they gravitate towards you and they want that as sort of like a recognition of it. Yeah.
And that’s that’s the role and it’s you know, and I kind of enjoy playing it Yeah, it’s pretty fun but like the your celebrity 10 years ago, the What do you call it the two weeks after I start Henry McKenna wins best whiskey in the world. And you know, all these people are interviewing me and say watch it liked him. I was like, I had nothing to do with whiskey. But it’s very cool that I’m writer and of course, the original mechanic was Irish and I’m Irish, so maybe, maybe maybe smiling down and look at the Irish there. It is.
always come back to it. Absolutely.
It’s a great way to kind of wrap that up there. So Connor, I want to say thank you so much for coming on the show today. It was a pleasure like I said just to get to know you i think i think it’s it’s an opportunity for people to really see the the real personal side of you. You know, we just talked before we start recording we all live in like the same neighborhood. Yeah, we all we all drink the same whiskey now too. So it’s, it’s always fun. And let’s
go to Red Rock and have a cocktail. Yeah.
Seriously, once again, thank you for coming on and doing this and you know, Ryan, I think this is a great opportunity for us to a get to know Connor and understand really his background and you know what, he brings the table here? heaven. Hell, too.
Yeah, it’s a cool story. I mean, like, from Dublin to Bardstown. You know, who would have thought? Who would have thunk But no, I mean, it I’m, I’m heaven Hill is like, in my heart, because I’m from Bardstown. My fam ton of family members work there and like just that for me and Todd with the I know, it’s in good hands. And, you know, that’s, that’s it reassuring and so I’m glad that they chose you and you decide to call him back and appreciate you taking the time to spend with us. And yeah, if anyone has show suggestions, comments, feedback, we love hearing from our listeners. So just let us know and we’ll see you next time. Awesome. Thanks, guys.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai