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SB meets… Eric Nelsen, Bucking Bull Bourbon

New whiskey brand Bucking Bull Bourbon has teamed up with 1883 actor Eric Nelsen as it launches in Texas, US. The Spirits Business hopped onto Zoom to learn more about Nelsen’s move into the American whiskey trade.

Eric Nelsen Bucking Bull Bourbon
Actor Eric Nelsen has partnered with Bucking Bull Bourbon as brand ambassador

Phil Neason and Sarah Pfaff co-founded Bucking Bull Bourbon, and recruited Nelsen as brand ambassador following a celebrity horse-cutting event.

The Bourbon brand has been available in bars and restaurants in Texas since 1 April. It is bottled at 50% ABV.

Neason said: “We are lucky and proud to have Eric Nelsen and his team as our partner. Eric represents the face of the younger Bourbon-buying crowd that is seeking to be part of something fun, something special, something they can celebrate.

“Eric will be a big part of our success in ‘making whiskey fun again’. We’re very bullish.”

Nelsen, best known for his role in the Yellowstone prequel 1883, spoke to The Spirits Business about his move into the Bourbon industry.

When did you first become interested in the Bourbon industry?

I’ve always been a fan of whiskey and Bourbon. My family’s from northern Minnesota in the US, a very, very cold place called Duluth – it’s almost Canada, basically. So up there, especially in the winter months, Bourbon is basically like a blanket, it keeps you warm throughout the negative -20F weather. The first whisky I ever had was probably a Canadian whisky.

So my palate for whiskey basically evolved from a young age. I never realised that it was an industry I wanted to be in on the business side of things. I didn’t even think that was a possibility to be honest. And when I spent some time in Louisville, Kentucky, which is the Bourbon capital of the US, and I had been to a number of the distilleries out there, my favourite being Woodford Reserve, I just fell in love with the different types of whiskey, seeing how vast flavours can be among different Bourbons.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have this amazing fan base and network after working on an American TV show called 1883, which was a spin-off to the number-one show on cable here, called Yellowstone. I picked up a lot of fans in the Western genre, and typically in Western culture, Bourbon and whiskey are the drinks of choice. So I knew I wanted to capitalise on the fan base that I was given. Then I met Phil [Neason] and Sarah [Pfaff], who are the founders of Bucking Bull Bourbon, at a celebrity horse-cutting competition in Texas where they pulled a bunch of lead actors from Yellowstone and my show, which was 1883. We competed in front of around 5,000 people – and I ended up winning, which was unexpected but so much fun.

But Phil and Sarah had put their Bourbon in each of the celebrity gift bags that we received at the end of the night. And I got talking to them and they were explaining about their Bourbon, the idea behind it, and how they’re really looking to influence the young new Bourbon generation. And they were like, ‘you’d be perfect for our campaign, we’d love to talk more about how we could get involved together’. So it was kind of the right place, right time, and the right Bourbon, it’s amazing.

Tell us more about Bucking Bull Bourbon and how does it compare to other Bourbons?

It’s a 100 proof [50% ABV] Bourbon, so it packs a big punch, but it’s also very smooth. It’s just so good – and that’s why I wanted to get involved right away. I really believe this is a Bourbon that can be enjoyed by the veteran Bourbon drinker, but I’m also really excited for the new, inexperienced Bourbon drinkers to try this, and grow old with the company, which is also new on the scene. So we’re grabbing the bull by the horns and going full force right now, no pun intended.

Which markets are you targeting with Bucking Bull Bourbon?

We’ve locked in amazing deals with restaurants and bars all over the state of Texas, which we’re really excited about. That’s our major footprint right now, in and around Texas, the Dallas-Fort Worth area specifically, and branching out from there. I live in Forth Worth, and it seemed like the most logical place to start. There’s a big Bourbon culture down here, a big horse culture, the home of the PBR (Professional Bull Riding) is here in Fort Worth, we’re Bucking Bull Bourbon – it all pairs together perfectly for the culture here.

Our whole marketing campaign right now is tailored to the thrill seekers, the adventure seekers, that young, ambitious drinker, who’s probably into extreme sports – this is a thrill-seeker’s Bourbon. Our Bourbon does pack a punch, which is what we love and what we think is a fun part of our brand.

Do you see any parallels between the creativity involved in acting, and the creativity needed to craft quality spirits?

They parallel in many areas, one of the big things is when you get a new brand, whether it’s Bourbon, or any new product, there’s a period of time where we need to educate the world on not only why do we exist, but why do you need this product. And having come from an acting background, knowing how to talk to people, not being shy in front of crowds, or putting my face out there, that helps a lot because I’m walking into these restaurants, bars and clubs myself, I’m opening up about who I am, and hoping they trust how great our product is as much as I do.

It’s very similar to acting. We’re only promised the job we currently have; we have no idea what shows are coming next. Will this network hire me, am I going to make another TV show – you never know once your show ends. You’re back to the drawing board. It’s similar in the spirits world; you have to continuously build these relationships, you’ve got to harvest your Bourbon, and you’ve got to evolve as the markets evolve. That’s very similar to my [acting] business, so I feel like that’s an asset.

We’ve seen a number of celebrities move into spirits in recent years. Did you seek any advice from any famous faces?

I have not talked to any actors who have done this journey, actually. I’ve talked to business owners who have ventured into the spirits world from another industry. But I can tell you I have watched a million interviews from all these actors. I’ve watched a million interviews from all these musicians that talk about how they got it to be successful.

Dwayne Johnson, The Rock, is a great example, he’s got Teremana Tequila, which has been incredibly successful. George Clooney has also had incredible success and isn’t shy to talk about the process; they’re not shy to talk about what they had to do to build these companies to where they are. And a lot of that information is online, which is really unique and cool, and it’s great to be able to learn from them in that way.

After Texas, where would you like to take Bucking Bull Bourbon?

I mean, the sky’s the limit. We’ve love to be everywhere. London, specifically, has an incredible market for spirits. We don’t see our focus just on Texas for the long run by any means. We definitely want to start there, swing, hit a couple of home runs, and then see where the ball flies. It’s all open at this point.

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