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It’s been almost a year since the bourbon world was thunderstruck by the news of MGP Ingredients’ acquisition of Penelope Bourbon. Penelope is a brand launched only five years prior by co-founders Michael Paladini and Daniel Polise, with products ranging from a four grain bourbon to numerous unique barrel finishes. Most surprisingly, this acquisition came with a twist: the Penelope brand sourced all of its products from MGP, the company that acquired them through Luxco, one of its subsidiaries. This unique scenario has created a wave of excitement among Penelope Bourbon fans, as Paladini and Polise have done a tremendous job finding the pulse of the bourbon community and creating products consumers want as a result. This begged the question, what’s next?

Picture the previous arrangement. MGP Ingredients is a massive whiskey producer, and Penelope Bourbon is a customer, one of many. In order to fuel their pipeline of products, Penelope has to acquire barrels from MGP. There is some negotiation of course, but it’s still an arm’s length relationship. Now picture the current situation, Penelope and MGP Ingredients are one and the same. As Paladini told me, “collaborating has become a big aspect of our day-to-day. We’re all aligned on goals, with everyone rowing in the same direction.” Penelope does a lot of blending at the helm of Polise, and previously they had to blend around the limited stock they had access to. The access to whiskey stocks is entirely different now, with “planning completely accelerated compared to what it looked like,” according to Paladini.

Perhaps most importantly, this merging of the two companies has allowed Penelope Bourbon the ability to zero in their day-to-day focus on innovation.

Penelope has four core products, Four Grain Bourbon (80 Proof), Barrel Strength Four Grain Bourbon, Architect, and Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon. Their Cooper Series includes Rio, Rosé Cask Finish, Valencia, and Tokaji Cask Finish, which have been experimental and sporadic in terms of release schedules so far. Limited releases have included Private Select, Toasted Rye, and private barrels like our “Breaking the Seel” series. And finally, their Founder’s Reserve, which so far has included high-aged American Light Whiskey.

In their relatively short time producing whiskey, Paladini and Polise have certainly spanned a wide range of releases. But the best may still be yet to come as there is a lot on the horizon.

First, they’re working on a much-needed additional core bourbon that will target 90-95 proof and a sub-$50 price point. This ongoing anticipated readily-available release is intended to find the middle-ground between their 80 proof Four Grain Bourbon and Barrel Strength Four Grain Bourbon products.

Tokaji fans will be happy to know the next Tokaji Cask Finish will be released later this month, and it will clock in at 8 years old versus the first batch’s 6 years.

To many people’s delight, the second batch of Rio is also in the works and is slated to be released in March. It will be the same finishing style as the first release including using the same finishing barrels, and Polise is blending to match the initial batch’s flavor profile. It will be a much larger release than the first, with about 30,000 bottles expected.

Fitting into a larger, more fluid plan, Rio will be one of four annual releases, slotting into the first quarter of 2024 in what is planned to be a limited edition quarterly release schedule. Rosé Cask Finish is expected to be released in the second quarter, Valencia in the third quarter, and Havana is slated for the fourth quarter.

The recurrent releases are ones to get excited about for sure, but it will undoubtedly be the new kid on the block, Havana, that creates the most buzz. The whiskey is currently in development, which Polise has been teasing out on social media, with an expected 1-2 months of experimentation remaining to fully dial in the concept. But Paladini did confirm it will be a bourbon base and will pay tribute to Cuba, its namesake’s country of origin. It will almost certainly include a Cuban rum finish, but may include a secondary finish as well. It is expected to land somewhere in the 100-110 proof range.

Finally, the duo has also teased out the Estate Collection, an annual four bottle release with a “if Willett married BTAC” bottle design. It’s in the very early stages of development, but is expected to include Founder’s Reserve, Omega, Private Select, and Single Barrel variants. Founder’s Reserve could pretty much be anything aged at least 10 years (though the next release will not be Light whiskey), Omega is expected to be a high-end French oak release (12-15 month finishing time), Private Select is expected to come in at least 9 years old, and Single Barrel will be specially selected barrels. Like Havana, the Estate Collection releases are expected to land somewhere in the 100-110 proof range. They also might be released sporadically, but could eventually be combined into one single collection-style release. Most importantly, Paladini assured me they won’t be $1,000 per bottle.

Written By: Nick Beiter

February 2, 2024
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