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Kiefer Sutherland: ‘Red Bank is top whisky in Canada’

Red Bank Whisky is the number-one-selling Canadian whisky priced at more than CA$45 (US$33) in Canada, co-founder Kiefer Sutherland revealed. SB met the actor and musician this week in London to learn more about his whisky venture.

Red Bank Kiefer Sutherland
Kiefer Sutherland signing bottles at The Whisky Exchange in London this week

“We’ve been in Canada for over a year and we’re the number-one-selling Canadian whisky over CA$45 [in Canada],” Sutherland told The Spirits Business during an interview at The Gibson in London. “The UK is our second stop and then it’ll be Europe and the US, and then hopefully Asia and Africa.”

The actor is arguably best-known for playing Jack Bauer on Fox TV series 24, and launched Red Bank Whisky in 2023. He co-founded the brand with Gary Briggs, Shawn Hiscott and Rob Steele in 2022.

In May this year, the quartet made their first international leap with Red Bank Whisky to the UK, where Sutherland was born. Distributed by Mangrove Global, it is the first stop on an international rollout, as Sutherland explained.

Future variants of Red Bank Whisky are also certain, the award-winning actor confirmed. While details and recipes are still being finalised, future limited edition releases should be expected. But consumers holding out for a flavoured whisky from the brand will be sorely disappointed.

“We’re never going to make an apple version. It’s always going to be Red Bank Whisky,” Sutherland said.

“There will be a batch called ‘Sailor’s Reserve’, again to stay with the nautical theme. It might have a different alcohol content, a different recipe, maybe aged for longer – I can’t speak much of that yet because we’re not at that stage. But there will absolutely be more.”

Keep reading below to learn more about Sutherland’s journey into whisky, from his first experience of drinking whisky in a bar to the initial idea of Red Bank.

Red Bank Whisky
Red Bank Whisky sits at 40% ABV

Take us back – can you recall the first time you fell in love with whisky?

The first time I ever had a whisky I was about 15, and I was doing a play at the time. The nearest actor to me in age was about 32 and wanted nothing to do with me, and the other actors were even older. So, after a few months, I got quite lonely and sad. And one night, I was taking my make-up off and thought I was going to cry, and he said: “OK, that’s it, you’re coming to the bar with me.” I don’t think I’ve ever changed so fast in my life.

We went to the bar and he ordered his drink. The bartender looked at me and I said, “I’ll have a Coke.” And he said, “You’re not going to have a Coke. You’re at the bar, you’re going to have a drink.” I looked up and I saw a bottle of J&B, which was what my mum and dad used to drink. So I shot it down, and two or three later I was like: oh my God, I get it. This stuff’s great. It’s probably why I associate having a drink with friends because in that moment, despite all the things that had been happening, I wasn’t alone.

How did you become involved with Red Bank Whisky?

There was no meeting, no ‘let’s start a beverage company’. It was really organic. My involvement was really just the desire to be involved in something that three of my friends were involved in. Gary Briggs [music executive and producer] and I have been friends for some 30-odd years. He’s been friends with Rob Steele [entrepreneur] for some 20 years, and they often go fishing together.

For a long time, they talked about doing some kind of liquid. They called me up and they were talking about Tequila, and would I be interested. I said: “Well, I’d love to do this with you guys, but I’m just not very interested in Tequila. What I am interested in is creating a product that would represent Canada, and how fond I am of this country.” So, in that way, Canadian whisky made sense and they said: “Yes, absolutely.”

Rob gets stuff done. He knew Shawn [Hiscott, ex-Diageo] who is our other partner and has spent decades in the business. He found the distiller, Michel Marcil, who is extraordinary. I don’t know the vernacular for what makes great whisky, I don’t articulate very clearly what I love about whisky, and why I love this one versus that one. Except, apparently, I do because Michel and I had a conversation for about 45 minutes, and he said: “OK, I’ll get to work.”

Kiefer Sutherland Red Bank whisky
Actor and musician Kiefer Sutherland at The Gibson in London

We did a blind tasting in Nashville, as I was doing a show there. We tasted six different whiskies, and six out of seven of us all very strongly said: ‘this one’ [Red Bank]. I was absolutely floored by Michel’s ability to produce a whisky that I couldn’t have liked more. As we got to know each other better, he would explain the choices he made.

For instance, I could never understand why Canadian whisky always has a flavour profile that goes to the south of the United States, when that’s not Canadian; we’re part of the British dominion and, if anything, it should go back up towards Scotland. There are two components that have to be present to make Canadian whisky: the rye profile and the wheat profile. In most Canadian whisky, like Crown Royal and Canadian Club, they have a higher rye profile and that’s what takes it to that sour mash, Bourbon whiskey world. So we inverted it. We have a high wheat profile and a very low rye profile, and that’s what almost redirects us back towards Scotland.

It’s amazing to be a part of something where you’re learning an incredible amount, but also this fantastic merger between art and chemistry. And they live together, right? It’s not just all science, there’s a balance of both. Michel has been doing this for 40 years and I think he nailed it. And that’s when everything really changed for me in that we have a product I feel we can all be incredibly proud of. I’m very proud of having something that can represent Canada and we can share that around the world.

What would you say is Red Bank Whisky’s USP?

In the context of Canadian whiskies, I think it’s an anomaly. It’s really taken its flavour profile and is running in the opposite direction of what a traditional Canadian whisky is, and therefore warrants being tried. But, at the end of the day, the value of this whisky is its smoothness and its character; its flexibility to be sipped straight; its playability to be used in cocktails, and still hold its profile. In that regard, I think it opens itself up to a lot of people who maybe don’t drink whisky, so we’re very excited about that. It’s always going to be about the taste and finish, and I think we’ve got that in the bag.

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