Why on earth would anyone want to buy an ENTIRE barrel of bourbon? How expensive is that? Are you a bunch of alcoholics? All questions I have been asked. The answers are a bit more complex than one would think but also pretty simple.
First of, I didn’t buy an entire barrel for me and me alone. Will I keep some of the bottles for myself, of course I am. This barrel purchase is a way to celebrate our group, represent our group, bring people with a common interest together and a way to share experiences and memories for a long time to come.
Is it expensive? Well, yes and no. Collectively it’s a large sum of money upfront but when you have individual people sharing the cost, it breaks down to about what you would pay MSRP per bottle anyway with the biggest exception being that these are the only bottles from this barrel in existence. You cannot buy them in stores and once they are gone, they are gone.
Are we a bunch of alcoholics? LOL. I debated even entertaining this one as I do every time someone ask me this. I hardly think that 1 2 oz. pour at the end of some days (not every day) qualifies one as an alcoholic. I also think that the ability to go days and even weeks without a drink speaks for itself. So moving on… We enjoy good bourbon and decided to do something as a group that was just for us. It’s more about bringing people together and having this in common. Believe me when I say this would not fit in the budget for most alcoholics. There are much cheaper routes to go if that were the case. Excuse me while I fix myself a drink…oh wait.
So why New Riff? There are a number of reasons for this if I am being honest. First and foremost, I was introduced to their product from a member of our cigar group (Thanks Erick B) and I really liked their product. I did some research and found out their story, which is very cool, and I reached out to them. Through months of back and forth, their rep (Aly) was extremely helpful and always took the time to answer questions and help us navigate all of the things we needed to get done. She was/is absolutely terrific to work with. Living in NC and having alcohol run through the ABC stores created a challenge so we had to find a way to make this work. I presented a problem and New Riff gave us a solution that worked. It was legal, it was simple, and it was easy. So for the most part, this was another leading factor for the decision. My wife and I made a trip to meet Aly and tour the facility back in July and the experience just confirmed that we were making the right choice. I was able to try more of their product and get to know more about the company and the people that work there. New Riff is everything that is right about “small” business and a start up company just knocking it out of the park. You can feel when you walk in the place that everyone wants to be there and they have a great sense of pride in the work they do. “Well they should, they are making bourbon.” Making and enjoying it are completely different things and while I am sure there are perks to the job, the work and science, trail and error that goes into making their product is still work.
If you are a member of our FaceBook group then you probably read the post I made about the story behind the bottle and the name we chose for it. Our first barrel is named “The Gonz” for a member, admin and really good personal friend of mine that really got me into bourbon and is battling this terrible disease that starts with C. (Disclaimer: F*CK CANCER). You can read more about it in the group. I really don’t want to add all of that here in the blog. Long story short is that this started out as just a group pick that we would do with a group of 10 members that was scheduled for 2020 and things happened to expedite this date, Stolen Throne Cigars joined the mix to help us move things up (those guys are amazing) and thus “The Gonz” came to be. He had no idea why, and all was revealed at the pick, which was awesome to be part of. This story has humbled me, opened my eyes to the fact that there are still some absolutely generous and honorable people in the world and I am honored to have them in our group and consider them friends. Some of them I have yet to meet in person. When people ask why an entire barrel? This is why. This is exactly why and exactly what this community is about.
So fast forward to Sept 6th, 2019. We arrive in Newport, Ky and we are greeted by our single barrel Ambassador Alina A. and we gather in the lobby where we are greeted by a sign that welcomes us to our pick. We started our day with an in depth tour or the entire process from the story of how they came to be all the way through production. Alina did a fantastic job with the tour. When we finished there, we took the short drive over to the West campus for the pick. Our tour continued as we went through the history or the West campus building (I won’t spoil any of it in case you want to visit) and through the process of the barrels, storing, dumping and bottling process.
Once that was done, it was time to get down to what we went there to do. Drink bourbon! We walked into the open area where 24 amazing barrels patiently waited to see if it was there time to shine. We were given clip boards with tasting notes of each barrel and we were asked to pick our individual top 5 that we were interested in. After 10 minutes or so, we went down the list and narrowed those 24 down to 5 that received the most votes. Once that was done, those 5 were opened and we were able to “thief” liquid from each one and they were placed in unmarked bottles and taken into the tasting room. Once everyone had an opportunity to thieve, we were taken into a beautiful room and were seated at a large conference room table with 5 glasses in front of us, a tasting book, pen, water, pretzels, etc.
We were given instructions, given samples of all 5 barrels we picked and were left alone to sample, debate and narrow our choices. Going in I think every one of us had some concern and reservation about this part of the process. We discussed this afterwards and agreed that we all had the same concerns. You are trying to get 8 individual people, all with different taste buds to agree on the same thing. Luckily for us, this part was much easier than we could have imagined. Right out the gate as we nosed each glass, one glass really stood alone from the others. As we started to taste each one, 2 were pretty much eliminated quickly, and then there were 3.
In the end 6 of us all agreed that glass number 5, the one that stood apart from the rest in color and on the nose, also stood alone in flavor and the other 2 had it as their second. Glass number 5, barrel #15-4835 was selected as the very first CigarHawk/Stolen Throne group pick.
I cannot put into words properly just how amazing this process was. 5 of the guys I had never met before and I couldn’t have hand picked a better group of strangers to do this with. New Riff really made our experience one that we will never forget. To top that off, of course, being able to have “The Gonz” himself be there to be part of it was the main reason it happened when it did so that just pushed an already amazing experience over the top.
This will forever remain as one of my most favorite days and memories. All because 2 groups that had never met before, who were united through the love of cigars and bourbon decided to spend a bunch of money on an entire barrel of bourbon. If I could replicate the experience, the emotion, the brotherhood, the enjoyment, and sell it for what that barrel cost, it would be a steal and I would become a billionaire overnight.
I cannot wait for our trip back to pick up the bottles and the empty barrel and see the response and feedback we get from the selection we made. Some probably won’t like it and that’s always the risk right? We are talking taste buds and flavors. What we all agreed on and decided on may be something those that pitched in to be part of will not like. For those people, I can only offer this. It is all subjective, we cannot please everyone and a group of 8 people collectively made this choice so I feel we had a pretty good range of palates making the decision. If nothing else, know that you are part of history and a part of a great group that pulled together for a great cause and made a bucket list trip happen for a great person.
We intend to do these picks at least once a year so we will open up spots for people that want to attend one and be part of a pick with us. We will have to navigate the rules of NC as each distillery does things a bit different and it isn’t always this easy to make happen. Personally I have every intention of working with New Riff and building that relationship for a long time to come. As there products age, they bring more and more product to the market, I can definitely see us being able to do enough with them to keep us all very happy.
I hope you enjoyed this article. I know I didn’t do the experience justice but I tried. Enjoy the photos. If you aren’t part of our FB group, make sure to apply (FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS). Failure to answer the questions will result in you being denied.
Until next time #LongAshesFullGlasses.