Established in 2014, New Riff Distilling in Newport, KY is one of a growing group of new, small distilleries in Kentucky. Thanks to a breakout performance with five Double Golds at the recent San Francisco World Spirits Competition, New Riff has received rave reviews and is ready to show the world that this small distillery deserves everyone’s attention. Bourbon and Barns recently caught up with New Riff Head Distiller Brian Sprance to learn more about the success of the Northern Kentucky distillery.
Bourbon & Barns: Brian, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. First, can you tell us a little about yourself and how New Riff Distilling got its start?
Brian Sprance: I was a brewer for 15 years before transitioning into the world of distilling. I spent 10 years with The BarrelHouse Brewing Co. in Cincinnati and another 5 years at Samuel Adams. New Riff opened in May 2014 and barreled our first distillate in late June and eventually released our flagship Bottled in Bond Bourbon in August 2018.
B&B: Kentucky is clearly the heartbeat of the bourbon industry. What exactly is the history of bourbon in the area (Newport/Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky) where New Riff is located?
BS: Greater Cincinnati has a tremendous whiskey history. At the turn of the 20th century it was the greatest whiskey mart in the nation! Many of the distilleries in Central Kentucky were in fact owned by Cincinnati-based whiskey merchants, but there were also some excellent distilleries in our region, including Clifton Springs Distilling in Cincinnati and Old 76 in Wilder, Ky., about 100 yards south of Newport.
B&B: Can you give us an idea about the size of New Riff, such as the size of the facility, the number of bottles you produce and the number barrels you have aging?
BS: New Riff operates a 24" beer still with six 5300 gallon fermenters. We typically fill ~40 barrels/day and have ~13,000 barrels in storage. We have an annual production capacity of ~8000 barrels with 90% of our production dedicated to Bourbon (60%) and Rye (30%). Our specialty whiskey projects comprise the other 10%.
B&B: What can you tell us about New Riff’s spirits?
BS: Right now, we have 5 core products: Bottled in Bond Bourbon, Bottled in Bond Rye, Single Barrel Bourbon, Kentucky Wild Gin & Barrel Aged Kentucky Wild Gin. For all of our whiskey production, we subscribe to the "Kentucky Regimen" which New Riff defines as the use of sour mashing, open fermentation, distillation on an all copper beer still and doubler and aging in 53 gallon barrels only. Our gins are all made on our 500 gallon copper pot still and the aged version is matured in a mix of New Riff Bourbon & Rye barrels.
B&B: Why is it important that your whiskeys are bottled without chill filtration?
BS: We are trying to retain all the flavors we created in fermentation, distillation and aging. We work very hard to create big, flavorful whiskies and feel that filtering fatty acids, esters and proteins would remove desirable flavors as well as affecting mouthfeel.
B&B: New Riff was highly recognized at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition and won high praise from renowned bourbon expert Fred Minnick. What did that mean to you and the distillery?
BS: To say we were surprised would be putting it lightly! We always imagined how excited we would be if we eventually won a double gold, but to submit our 5 products and receive 5 double golds was beyond our wildest expectations. Our goal is to one day be considered one of the great small distilleries of the world. We don't know if we'll ever get there, but this sure does feel like a major step in the right direction.
B&B: What’s the future of New Riff? Should we expect more growth and expansion? Are there any new products we should watch for?
BS: Our next release will be Single Barrel, barrel proof 4 year old 100% Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey. As the years progressed, we continued to not only ramp our production up, but created countless new whiskies that are currently aging. Moving forward, we are aiming to release new products in the spring and fall of each year with more info available closer to the release dates.
B&B: Please add anything else you’d like to add.
BS: Shout out to everyone at New Riff!