Exclusive interview: Heaven Hill builds Bourbon heritage one drink at a time

Global sales of American premium and super-premium whiskies are set to grow by nearly five per cent in the next four years, out-distancing other national whiskies, says the latest Vinexpo/IWSR data. We asked Justin Ames, Director International Sales and Marketing at Heaven Hill, how Bourbon fares.


Q: What do you see as the major challenges to growing Bourbon sales outside the USA?

A: Education and consumer awareness continue to be opportunities. Heaven Hill Distillery has been family owned and operated since we were founded in 1935 by the Shapira brothers. Through this legacy we’re able to preserve our heritage and pursue the kind of quality that keeps storied brands alive.

Q: What marketing strategies are in place?

A: Education is the key element as the more the trade and consumers know about American Whiskey, the more that we stand out against the broader Whisky category. Heaven Hill Distillery’s portfolio of American Whiskey is great entry into the category as we have representation across all styles, as well as a heritage for people to truly understand the pedigree of Bourbons. The trade like to share our story and our Whiskies, which builds consumer awareness and education one drink at a time.

Q: What are your top three non-US target markets

A: Canada is experiencing the halo effect of the popularity of American Whiskey in the US. Japan has always had an affinity for Bourbon. The UK is the most promising when it comes to consumer appreciation and understanding of true Bourbons.

Q: What are your most promising non-US markets?

A: The UK has adopted the cocktail renaissance which drives our success. We see consumers moving beyond Whiskey and Coke, which opens the door for not only our Evan Williams Black, but products like Rittenhouse Kentucky Straight Rye Whisky Bottled-in-Bond, which is found on almost every back bar. Germany is on the heels of the UK in looking to the traditional pre-prohibition cocktail, where Elijah Craig Small Batch is an important player. Interestingly, our largest non-US markets differ from our target markets.

Q:How much investment has been put behind your Bourbon portfolio in the last three years?

A: We are constantly investing in production, having just dedicated an expansion which makes our Bernheim Distillery the largest single-site Bourbon distillery inthe world. We currently have 55 warehouses housing 1.3 million barrels of aging whiskey, with one to two new warehouses built per year. In the last three years, we have invested heavily in human resources to continue to build our international team. We have added Commercial Directors for Western and Eastern Europe, as well as a European Brand Educator, and are looking to expand that across Latin American and Asia.

Q: Can you give an example of an educational programme for one of your Bourbon brands?

A: One of the most important tools to success is something we call the Evolution of Bourbon which is presented with the help of our Whiskey Ambassadors. As one of the only major producers of all types of American Whiskey, we can talk about the history of the US in tandem with the history of Bourbon. We start with unaged corn whiskey in the 1700s, move to ageing in the 1800s, taste Rye and Wheat Whiskey as examples of early American Whiskey, and then move on to our Bourbons. We can then discuss the 1980s and 90s through today with the advent of small batch and vintage specific single barrels. The audience grasps the importance of American Whiskey in our history and tastes the grains, as well as learning about barrel aging, barrel selection, and the importance of alcohol content.

 Company Profile:Founded in Kentucky by the Shapira family in 1935, Heaven Hill Distillery continues its legacy as one of the foremost American Whiskey producers. Heaven Hill has cultivated the traditions and history of America’s Native Spirit with its fierce independence, passionate family ownership, dedication to quality, and thoughtful innovation. Today, Heaven Hill Distillery maintains over 1.3 million barrels aging in 55 warehouses throughout Nelson and Jefferson Counties. It is home to an award-winning collection of American Whiskeys including Elijah Craig Bourbon, Larceny Bourbon, Evan Williams Bourbon, Pikesville Rye Whiskey, Rittenhouse Rye Whisky and Parker’s Heritage Collection. Heaven Hill Distillery currently holds the title of 2017 Whisky Advocate Whisky of the Year, and previously held the titles of 2016 Whisky Magazine Distillery of the Year, 2016 Whisky Advocate American Whiskey of the Year and 2016 Rye Whiskey of the Year from “Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.” For more information, please visit www.heavenhilldistillery.com.