A drink with… John Rempe, Lux Row Distillers
John Rempe, the head distiller and master blender at Kentucky’s Lux Row Distillers, on living in a working distillery and his focus on innovation.
How did you get into the whiskey industry?
It’s been a little over 20 years since I started working in the soft drinks industry after I graduated, doing quality control and research and development. I got a call from a recruiter about Luxco to work for them in the quality-control lab. I got into R&D and started creating drinks, cocktails, RTDs and liqueurs. I [then] started working with our distilling partners. When we built the distillery, which opened in January 2018, I moved down there and watched it being built. Now I live right on the distillery property in Bardstown.
How has American whiskey changed since you’ve worked in the industry?
There have been massive changes. When I started, whiskey was not really that big. In the past 10 years or so whiskey, and Bourbon in particular, has grown enormously. We expanded the distillery and we’re working overtime – we can’t make enough. The demand is incredible, really driven by shows like Mad Men that show the old-time cocktails and the romance around that. So for millennials who like stuff with a story behind it, vodka didn’t really do that for them. But with whiskey, you’ve got all the problems of the 1900s, Prohibition, and a backstory that people can identify with. It gives them something to research and learn about.
What sets your American whiskey brands apart from the competition?
It’s a true family-run business. We still have that one person who owns the company and he still follows through with those family values, all the way down to our brands and into the love, and attention to detail. It’s pure pride about all our brands.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Waking up and living at the distillery; smelling the mash cooking first thing in the morning. Also watching people come in and trying our products, and interacting with them to discuss Bourbon. I get to talk to consumers almost every day.
How did the idea for Blood Oath come about?
Six or seven years ago, we said ‘let’s create a brand’. Blood Oath was the first brand that our company created from nothing; we had done a lot of acquisitions. We wanted to create an experience for connoisseurs. For Blood Oath, I do different barrel finishes every year, which are released in a limited number. It’s been really well received, and reviews have given it high marks. Each year it sells out before we even finish bottling it.
Which has been your favourite Blood Oath batch to work on?
The most fun to work on was Pact No. 3, which uses Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. I had to travel to Napa Valley to make sure everything was going well. That was great; I love California. As long as there’s still that demand for Blood Oath, we’ll keep going. I won’t repeat anything, and that’s going to be the challenge.
Have you been affected by barrel and/or stock shortages?
We were actually pretty fortunate that our owner, years ago, for no reason other than having a gut feeling, kept on making whiskey – even before the whiskey boom. So we kept filling as many barrels as we could. Now, further down the line, we have a lot of whiskey. But the demand is growing so great we find ourselves a little short, but not to the same extent as other companies. We are looking to the future and all the analyst projections are not showing a slowdown for a long time. We are looking at what we need to do to expand; our distillery was built with expansion in mind.
What innovation are you working on with Rebel Yell?
The French Barrel was the first real innovation that we have done with Rebel Yell. We have got a French oak Bordeaux barrel version that was only launched in the UK market, not even for the US. Going forward with that I am looking at different char levels and different barrel entry proofs.