Andrew Buchanan, a marketing professional, had the not-so-crazy idea that there should be a Bourbon distillery in Bourbon County, Kentucky. After a few bumps in the road (names! and more names!), Hartfield & Company was born in Bourbon County (Paris, KY to be exact). Today, the distillery makes a variety of spirits and uses some unique processes along the way.
Bourbon & Barns recently caught up with Andrew to discuss the first Bourbon distillery in Bourbon County since Prohibition and what they are up to today. You can learn more about Hartfield & Company at www.hartfieldandcompany.com.
Bourbon & Barns: When you started the distillery, you jumped in with both feet. What were you doing before you started the distillery? What made you want to start the distillery?
Andrew Buchanan: My wife and I were running our advertising firm. It was just the two of us, which was great. We had built it to service smaller companies and cover all the needs they had from social media to websites, outdoor to television, which is unbelievably valuable now. At some point through the summer of 2013, we realized that nobody was making Bourbon in Bourbon County and thought we had to.
BB: The distillery got off to an interesting start when an issue arose with the distillery's name. You had planned to use the name "Bourbon County Distillery," but unfortunately, you weren't able to use it. What happened?
AB: When we went to Planning and Zoning in the beginning of 2014, we handed out packets with the proposed name. Just two days later, someone registered that name with the state of Kentucky, which is the one step you can't get around. The federal government will let you fight it out in trademark court if you name your company the same as someone else's. The state of Kentucky is different. They wouldn't allow us to even go with something close. That is where the name "The Gentleman Distillery" was born.
BB: Where does the name Hartfield & Company come from?
AB: Hartfield is an old family name on my father's side. The Hartfields came from Germany, settled into Pennsylvania and Ohio just like a lot of Germans at the time. A. Leopold Hartfield and his family made it down to what is now called Green County, KY. (What an awesome name, A. Leopold). They established a distillery in the late 1800's which burned down about 20-25 years later - certainly common for that time period.
BB: On September 18, 2014, you sold the first (legally) distilled bourbon in Bourbon County, Kentucky since Prohibition. Although you planned to begin selling at 5 p.m., I understand people were lining up at 1:30 p.m. and the line reached as many as 160 people. Can you describe what that day meant for you and the distillery?
AB: To see that many people come out and support us almost brought me to tears. We had been through so much with the first name change, then the second. Starting any small business is hard work and a distillery is no exception - all the planning and work that went into getting to that day. Then 160 people line up for our first release. By 4:00, we knew that people were going to be leaving without bottles. One guy was offering people $100 a bottle outside the distillery because he was too far down the list. We were selling them inside for $35. We were doing a two-bottle minimum. A guy from Columbus drove down, 4 hours away, with his daughter so he could take home 4. My hand was cramping by the end from signing so many bottles.
Just to have that outpouring of support was incredible. We pride ourselves on being supporters of our local economy and that day it supported us.
BB: According to your website, that first Bourbon was sold under the Gentleman label and you were later forced to change that name, which was a second naming issue in a very short time! What happened? At that point, did you feel like you were just snake bitten when it came to names?
AB: Basically. first one was unfortunate, but a sad part of doing business. Second one was really the same. Just an unfortunate part of being in business. Absolutely, it was tough to live through, but in the end we landed on a name that has history from my family, has character and feels like we have been around for a while.
BB: How big is the distillery today?
AB: We have two employees and produce as much as we can, which changes quite frequently. We are constantly tweaking things getting a touch more yield or adding new equipment. We just moved from 2,000 square feet to 24,000 square feet with a great new tasting room and craft cocktail bar in the back. All run by the two of us.
BB: What products do you offer? Where are they available?
AB: We are distributing in Kentucky, Georgia and Ontario. If you are in the Navy, we are shipping bourbon there as well. We have just signed on with Southern Glazer, which is the nation's largest distributor. That means more states will be coming online as we build over the next year or two. We have Bourbon Whiskey, White Whiskey, American Whiskey, Rum, Aged Rum, Aged Rum with European Oak and an Apple Pie Rum. New products that will be coming out soon are a Barrel Aged Sazerac, Single Malt and a Wheated Bourbon.
BB: Let's talk for a moment about your process, which is a little different. You use a higher-than-normal amount of barley (19%) in your mash bill. How does that impact the process?
AB: It brings in the notes that are traditionally associated with a non-peated scotch - like leather, tobacco and smoke. Our process is much more like a pre-prohibition style or even a scotch-style distillation. Everything is geared toward retention of flavor from the grain. Our White Whiskey is the same mash bill as our Bourbon and is really some of the smoothest and most flavorful out on the market - which is really the proof of the distillation technique. If you are tasting white whiskey or white dog from other distilleries, many of them are harsh and tough to drink. Ours, even though it is a white spirit, has a nice smooth finish with flavors like smoke from the barley, grassiness from the rye and the sweetness from the corn.
BB: You also use a lower barrel-entry proof than most bourbon. How does that impact the process?
AB: It was really more of a decision based on our barrel selection. One of the knocks on small barrels is an over-oaked flavor without really any smoothness normally associated with larger barrels. We actually pulled our entry proof from 120-122 down to 117-118 in order to work with our barrels better and not pull an almost astringent note out, which gave us the ability to age for a bit longer.
BB: How long do you age your spirits?
AB: We use 5.8 gallon barrels from Minnesota. These have 2.5 times the surface area per gallon that a big 53 gallon barrel has. It's really just a ratio game at that point. Every gallon has more interaction with the char and more extracts out the wood. Our Bourbon Whiskey is typically in barrel somewhere around 4.5 months. American Whiskey and Rum is about 3-4 months.
BB: The distillery includes a bar called Prichard & Bail that offers a variety of drinks, including pre-Prohibition style cocktails. It sounds like a unique experience. Did you always know you wanted to include a bar in the distillery? Has it been successful? Where does the name come from?
AB: Prichard and Bail is the company that built the building where we are located in 1911. They were a farm and seed company. The concept was really just to have our own products behind the bar. We started realizing how much craft whiskey and other products were completely absent from the scene here in Paris and moved the concept further to include things like Copper & Kings or FEW or Bluegrass Distillers - things where we either know the people behind the brand or have followed their progress.
This is a really unique place. We do wine and beer, but mainly focus on craft cocktails. We really hadn't planned on a bar since the law didn't allow it. That all changed last year and really has given us a platform to talk about spirits in a much deeper way than most bartenders.
BB: How has Bourbon County and the City of Paris, Kentucky embraced Hartfield & Co.?
AB: The idea behind the distillery was really to re-establish this idea of Bourbon from Bourbon County. Everyone here gets that. Even if some people aren't really into hard liquor, they understand the importance of that.
BB: What can visitors expect on a tour?
AB: To see and hear about something that is quite different. From our theories on distillation to our building, we offer something that is easily distinguishable from other distilleries. We hear it frequently that our products are so distinct that in a lineup, they stand out. And it's in a good way!
BB: What's next for Hartfield & Co.? Do you have plans for any additional products?
AB: We always have ideas that we talk about. We are whiskey nerds, so we are always tasting new things and letting our minds wander to new ideas. Take our Wheated Bourbon as an example. Eighty percent corn, 20% malted wheat. Different profile for a Wheated Bourbon, but still has the core sweetness that most people recognize. That's the result of freeing your mind and letting it move from idea to idea and conversation to conversation.