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SB meets… Owen Martin, Angel’s Envy

Owen Martin, the new master distiller of Bacardi-owned Kentucky distillery Angel’s Envy, on being forward‐thinking when it comes to cask finishes.

Owen Martin
Owen Martin joined Kentucky distillery Angel’s Envy in September 2022

What is your background in the industry?

I originally got in through beer. I was finishing an engineering degree in the States, and I decided that wasn’t going to be the path I wanted to go. I started looking abroad and found a programme in Edinburgh at Heriot‐Watt University, so I started a master’s degree in brewing and distilling. The first half or more was beer, and after that we really delved into whisky production. I did a thesis with a Scotch distillery, and I thought spirits was definitely the way to go. I moved back to the US; I had a job lined up in Bourbon.

What made you decide to move from Stranahan’s to Angel’s Envy?

Angel’s Envy had just finished an US$8 million expansion to the visitor centre. The best way I can put it is it’s almost a Willy Wonka experience because these doors open and you get to see the whole production facility opened up in front of you.

What’s in the pipeline for the year ahead?

We’ll do a cask strength every year. That’s been since the earliest days of Angel’s Envy. We’re using ruby Port barrels for that. Although we’re legally allowed to use our initial American oak barrels once, we do refill the Port-­finished barrels several times. There’s some other stuff in the pipeline that should be out in the near future.

One of my goals with Angel’s Envy is to do something that’s familiar to our audience but also take it in a different direction. So the release I’m trying to get out doesn’t necessarily fall under any of the categories we’ve done before.

My place is to hold the quality that Lincoln Henderson [the late master distiller of Angel’s Envy] created. I don’t want to change the original product as I respect the heritage of the brand and what he made. I plan to create limited edition products.

Would you use barrels from other distilleries?

Not that my last company didn’t have good barrels to work with, but Bacardi has a portfolio that’s pretty much unmatched. I’m trying to get some Patrón barrels. We’ve naturally always given our barrels to Scotland, to Puerto Rico. I was like, ‘now I’m going to start asking for barrels back’. But I don’t want the regular Aberfeldy batch; those are not the barrels I’m looking for. So I’m like ‘when’s your next special release? How many barrels is it? How old is it? What are the production details? And can I have those barrels?’

I’m patiently waiting for those releases to come out. Other than the rye, we haven’t done any spirit barrel finishing so I think that’s definitely a route we have to explore as the finished whiskey market gets more crowded. We have to be more forward thinking with cask finishing.

Would you look at making a single malt whiskey now that there are formal regulations?

Yes, I mean, nothing has been conveyed to me that anything is off the table. With my background, it makes a lot of sense. The first six months was about digging in and getting to know the production team and methods. They’ve given me a blank slate to work with, so I’m excited to get into different things there.

What’s the production capacity, and are you planning to expand?

We’re already looking at what the next expansion will look like. You have to be thinking about five to six years ahead of time. We’re at capacity in terms of the number of barrels we’re producing at the distillery. We’re looking at how we streamline our fermentation, and also looking at our production capacity. We have an idea of what the expansion is going to look like.

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