For those who follow Breaking Bourbon more closely, you know we’re regular guests on a podcast hosted by Bourbon Pursuit Podcast for the ongoing Bourbon Community Roundtable (BCR) series. The guests are also typically the same, with regulars that include us, Kenny Coleman, Ryan Cecil, and Fred Minnick of Bourbon Pursuit Podcast, Brian Haara of Sipp’n Corn, Blake Riber of Bourbonr and Seelbach’s, and Kerry Bossak of Subourbia. The chatter is always invigorating and the theme is always the same - we talk about everything and anything happening in bourbon. Our thoughts, hopes, likes, dislikes, and more. It’s a therapy session for bourbon enthusiasts (who can watch and interact live) and it’s a ton of fun. In fact, what started as an online chat, turned into get togethers in Kentucky, group barrel picking, and most importantly new friendships.
Kenny and Ryan founded Bourbon Pursuit Podcast, and have always sought out interviews with people “making the industry happen,” as they eloquently describe their mission. They’ve been at it for a while, and recently laid down episode #179 to give you an idea of how much content they’ve developed so far.
So we decided to turn the tables and make the interviewers the interviewees for a change. But the topic of discussion isn’t their podcast. They have another project going on that we’re excited about - Pursuit Series. A spirits brand under their newly formed company, Pursuit Spirits, LLC, Ryan and Kenny have just issued their first release with two more hot on its heels. Cleverly calling each release an "Episode" (get it?), we’ve been getting to know their inaugural bourbon releases first hand, and wanted to take the opportunity to shed a little light on what their spirits brand is all about along with plans for the near future.
I’ll start with the big question, what inspired you to create the brand?
Ryan: We did the BCR Buffalo Trace pick and it sold out very quickly. I told Kenny we have to find a way to offer more single barrel picks to our audience. Kenny started hustling to find a partner that could give us access to picks and be able to sell online. We partnered with a liquor store and started a single barrel program exclusively for our Patreon supporters. We had successfully created our own bourbon club or society for the listeners of the show. We were just thrilled that we were able to offer single barrel picks and were totally content with that. Then we were contacted by a broker who listened to the show and they had actually helped start another brand that was reviewed on a BCR episode. Originally we thought that we would just do a few single barrel picks. But after meeting with the brokers and trying their products, all we could think about was starting our own private label and brand. Being in Kentucky, we knew a lot of people that could help us make that happen. I immediately contacted a local trademark company and a designer and we got to work on the name, label, and concept.
Kenny: To be honest, it really wasn’t our idea. We had conversations on how to grow Bourbon Pursuit multiple times but it was nothing to the extent of becoming a NDP [Non-Distiller Producer]. This all started when we mentioned a particular brand on a Bourbon Pursuit Roundtable episode. Two weeks later, my phone rings and I didn’t recognize the number so I decide to answer it. It’s a gentleman saying he’s a fan of the show and how he helped build that particular brand we discussed. He then goes on to say he’s barrel broker looking to find niche clients that wanted to do their own private labels. Ryan came over, I told him the same story, and we pretty much looked at each other and said “yep.”
Despite a separation of name and legal entity, Pursuit Spirits has strong ties to the Bourbon Pursuit Podcast. It might seem like an obvious question, but how do you see the two intertwining moving forward into the future?
Ryan: We are currently intertwining them by naming each barrel an episode and the show notes. Also the label plays off a podcast player. In the future we hope to bring actual episodes to life by offering juice from distilleries that we have had on the show. We already have a few lined up for future releases.
Kenny: “Loosely tied” was the intended theme. The intertwining really happens behind the scenes as we get to know industry folks and figure out ways to grow both brands. We didn’t want to take advantage of our platform by making listeners always hear about our whiskey. It’s further motivation to become a Bourbon Pursuit Patreon community member. Support the show and we will deliver unique experiences with access to member only privileges. At this time, our brand is boutique and isn’t geared towards serving a mass market. First access to purchase bottles is through the Patreon community before any become available for the public.
We talk about the bourbon community evolving on the Bourbon Community Roundtable - very much so now with the increasingly stronger ties on online community forums, bourbon groups, and new/different forms of media coverage. You decided to go the unconventional route and make your brand available 100% online only, which certainly fits within the description of an evolving spirits space. Considering you’re the first spirits company to go 100% online what are your hopes and fears going this route? Do you think others will follow?
Ryan: The unique thing about our brand was that we already had a customer base. We just had to figure out the best way to make this accessible to them. We knew the only way we would succeed would be doing online retail. I don’t think we would have been able to do this three or four years ago. Fortunately, we were able to partner with Seelbach’s, out of DC, which is able to ship to more states than we currently can in Kentucky. With more whiskey and brands being created everyday, our hope is that we can pave the way for more brands to follow suit. Making distribution easier across state lines is a win-win for brands and consumers. It helps smaller brands be more competitive against the already established brands who rule shelf space and distribution. I think it will also reduce the need for a secondary market by making more products accessible. With anything new, there is going to be resistance from the old and established. The people that are already successful in the traditional system will fight to keep things the way they are and try to make change more difficult. We have already ran into many challenges and we question what we are doing all the time. But we are prepared to take them on because our success depends on the success of online sales and distribution.
Kenny: It’s more fear than hope right now. It is not easy trying to take on a 100 year old industry while remaining legally compliant. We want to model other industries and find the most direct route from producer to consumer while servicing an online-first marketplace. Everyone is happy buying products off Amazon, why can’t we do the same thing with spirits? An online model negates finding distributors in every state (that also requires making deals with each one) and fighting for retail shelf space. There’s not many industries, like liquor, where arcane laws exist that inhibit this type of growth. We’ve hit our fair share of speed bumps but we’re able to take care of the majority of our Patreon community members. Our hope is that every state drops outdated liquor laws and opens up interstate commerce to keep prices competitive. Legalized online sales and shipping across state lines will change the game for everyone involved. The unfortunate circumstance is the money spent in lobbying power. Every industry has been disrupted by technology and it’s only a matter of time until liquor distribution sees the day.
Let’s talk about the branding and label. You hit many of the main details bourbon geeks want to see, and then there’s the tie back to the Bourbon Pursuit Podcast including the unique “Show Notes” on each bottle. You’ve also differentiated between “Pursuit Spirits” and “Pursuit Series.”
Ryan: We wanted the design to be bright, clean, playful, and modern. Most bourbon brands have dark colors and have a very old masculine feel to them. We feel we are the new bourbon drinker and wanted our brand to reflect that. We were fortunate to work with a designer who was able to create exactly what we wanted. Since single barrels are going to have a different flavor profiles from barrel to barrel, we came up with the idea to make each release an episode with its own show notes that describe our thoughts on this barrel. This was a tie back to the podcast. Each episode is a different number and color so that you could distinguish between each one when looking on someone’s shelf.
Kenny: Pursuit Spirits was more of a business decision at the time. We didn’t know if Pursuit Series would be the only label so we decided to create an overarching layer of Pursuit Spirits. The goal of Pursuit Series was to appeal to our audience of enthusiasts that want to see age statements and drink barrel proof whiskey. The “show notes”, episode number, and play button are more examples of loose branding where we can put our unique play on tasting notes and do something different than a traditional barrel number.
Do you think we’ll ever see a non-bourbon release? How about a non-whiskey?
Ryan: Yes. Pursuit Spirits or Series gives us the opportunity to offer a non-bourbon release. I hope to do a rum or brandy episode at some point.
Kenny: That’s the beauty of having a private label. We can take it anywhere. We are actively looking for opportunities to bring variety to the line. An episode could be a rye whiskey, a small batch blend, rum, brandy, etc. Exposing hidden gems of the spirits world under our private label brings mutual benefits by giving those distillers immediate access to our community. We continue to hold ourselves to a high standard while maintaining our integrity by never advocating for a whiskey we didn’t love.
Will the releases always be single barrel, barrel proof?
Ryan: Yes but never say never. We tasted some non bourbon products at very high proof that when watered down tasted very interesting. But for now we are sticking to what we know. Quality barrel proof bourbon and whiskey.
Kenny: Let's not kid ourselves, blending is hard. We believe we’re pretty good at picking single barrels at this point and know it’s only a matter of time until we sit down and try to do a blend. Our audience loves barrel proof, as do we, so I don’t see us hopping off the barrel proof train any time soon.
What’s your long term vision for the brand?
Ryan: Sometimes I have to pump the brakes on my vision. I can think pretty big at times. For now we would like to release 2-3 different episodes a month. I think we can partner with craft distillers or brands that are creating quality products and who want more exposure by offering a Pursuit Series episode of their product. We have very high standards so their product has to meet or exceed those to be offered as an episode. Eventually we may create a blend with a more consistent flavor profile. This would allow us to scale our brand and make it more available. The downside of single barrels is that most offerings are only 100-170 bottles which limits your availability to consumers.
Kenny: The current plan is to release two barrels per month with no inventory remaining before the month ends. Growing this to four or six barrels per month would be a great stretch goal. We want to establish more partnerships that give brands unique exposure while providing variety to the label. At the same time, forge a new path that’s cohesive with our national reach and the online shopping experience.
Do you ever envision trying to open up your own distillery?
Ryan: If Breaking Bourbon will cosign for us. This whole experience has made me realize that there is so much quality product out there for us to choose from that there is no need to distill our own. We have talked about having a contract distiller creating a mash bill for us. but that’s not happening anytime soon
Kenny: Not a chance. The rapid growth rate of the industry will allow continued opportunity for cherry picking barrels for years to come. We aren’t distillers and don’t have a dream of becoming one.
I have to ask about that logo, C+C Music Factory hasn’t knocked on your door yet have they? Any chance we’ll see “Gonna Make You Sweat” show notes at some point?
Ryan: Haha yes. Kenny came up with that. We have yet to receive any cease and desist letters. It could have been a name of the first three episodes. We picked those in July in a warehouse when it was 95 degrees out. We were sweating our asses off.
Kenny: I like duets. Perhaps we can team up and do a “Things that make you go hmmm” release.
When should we plan on coming to Kentucky for the Bourbon Community Roundtable barrel pick edition?
Ryan: We would love to do an episode with the BCR and are willing anytime. We just can’t let Kerry name it.
Kenny: Name the date. We look forward to building a very unique single barrel program as we continue to grow. The Roundtable invitation is always open.
Pursuit Series Episode 001 Background & Tasting Notes
Episode 001 is a Straight Bourbon distilled in Tennessee. Aged for 11 years and bottled at 118 proof (barrel proof), it comes from a single barrel yielding a total of 172 bottles. According to Kenny, “This was one of the first three barrel samples we ever received. If it wasn’t for this, the whole adventure may have never started. It had perfect balance and soared above the other samples.” Ryan also noted, “It is perfectly balanced, showcasing everything we love about bourbon.”
As for flavor profile, balance is something I noticed right away as well. A warming spice is consistent throughout, starting with the aroma. There’s some vanilla sweetness as well, but the potency remains tame. The spice carries into the sip, bringing some heat along with it. Vanilla, caramel, and burnt oak peek out from behind it. A touch of raisin is also present. On the finish the spice starts to fade, allowing more of the sweeter flavors to pull through. Vanilla, caramel, a hint of raisin, and a light and savory leather-tobacco note come into play. It’s quite balanced overall, and in a sense classic bourbon flavors I’m accustomed to delivered in a rather robust sip.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Samples of Episodes 001, 002, and 003 were provided at no cost courtesy of Pursuit Spirits. We thank them for the samples and for allowing us to review them with no strings attached.