Husband and wife team Sean and Tia Edwards plan to offer a fresh take on bourbon. These Kentucky natives (Sean, an entrepreneur from Lexington, and Tia, a medical equipment sales rep from Louisville) are the proud owners of Fresh Bourbon Distilling Company. In fact, they’re the first African-Americans to own a bourbon company in the state and even with the rich history of bourbon in Kentucky, the Edwards are a collective powerhouse planning to change the game.
Where It All Began
The Edwards love two things in life: traveling together and drinking bourbon. They’ve done both at the same time in places including Tennessee, New York and Ireland. They always find themselves in a bar sipping bourbon and chatting up the bartender asking, “What’s your favorite bourbon?” Surprisingly, the answer was never the same. “Ten different people, ten different answers. That doesn’t make sense,” Sean explains.
“So, that was kind of like our a-ha moment.” They did a little digging and discovered bourbon is a $9 billion industry. “We ought to look into this and see what’s going on,” says Sean. “We were like, people need a fresh experience. People need [to know] where to start.”
Sean continues, “We're positioning ourselves as a starting place for your bourbon experience. For the person that doesn't know anything or they're trying to figure it out, we say start fresh and finish wherever you like.” And a fresh start is was for Sean and Tia. Little did they know they were about to make history.
The First To Do It
The Edwards were unaware of the historical side of their new endeavor. They were already all in when they discovered there wasn’t a Black person on record of owning a bourbon company, a distillery or currently making bourbon in the state of Kentucky. “We got into it after we already determined that we were going into the business,” Sean shares. “We went into it not knowing about the historical side.”
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They introduced Fresh Bourbon to the community earlier this year in February. “We had a nice event. We had almost a couple hundred people come out to support us that we were really excited about. A couple of weeks later, the state of Kentucky Senate proclaimed us as the first African Americans to produce bourbon in the state of Kentucky since slavery,” shares Tia.
“We actually got to go to state and they gave us the proclamation on the floor and we got a round of applause. The support has been overwhelmingly amazing.” Sean adds, “And to be honest with you, we didn't get any resistance. There are very few things in this country that have not been done since slavery, especially something as big as bourbon.”
It was this realization that led to the awareness of what was to come.
Making Bourbon in Time of COVID-19
The Edwards’ made their bourbon business announcement in February, but before this, they were in full fundraising mode, securing about $10 million in donations. Then, what seems like out of nowhere, the coronavirus hit and demobilized the world. No one could have ever predicted the severity of this global pandemic. “They [the investors] couldn't do it,” Sean says. “They were either in the entertainment industry or the restaurant industry and they basically got devastated by COVID-19.”
Sean and Tia spent their summer working on their revised business plan. “We talked to our distributor and they recommended we do the pre-sell just to kind of see what the pre-sell does,” Sean says. They’re holding a pre-sell campaign for the rest of 2020 with plans to have the product available by the beginning of 2021. Sean continues, “We're looking at the beginning of the first quarter of next year to look at a groundbreaking opportunity for the distillery. Hopefully, we'll have fundraising wrapped up during that time and then we'll start the building process in 2022.”
The Edwards’ plan to build a 34,000-square-foot distillery in Lexington that will offer tours, bourbon tastings, a lounge and an entertainment venue. “The tour is going to be like nothing else out there,” Tia shares. “It's definitely going to be an experience. We've put a lot of thought into it and research into it, so it will be amazing.”
I’m looking forward to spending the day in this full-service distillery, but will it live up to the hype of the bourbon itself?
Fresh is Different
Kentucky is known for three things: horses, bourbon and Kentucky Fried Chicken. So how do you make your mark with a fresh bourbon in a land with a grand history of bourbons?
“98% of the world's bourbon comes from Kentucky,” Sean explains. “It's mainly because of the water. We have a lot of limestone. So the water is automatically limestone filtered in the ground spring water. That's why we have horses; their bones are stronger because they eat the grass from the limestone water. That's why most of the thoroughbreds come from Kentucky.”
The ground is limestone-rich because of the Appalachian Mountains. As I continued to interview this dynamic duo, I learned of another secret ingredient: honey malt. Sean says, “Bourbon has to be 51% corn. The other grains can be different. We use honey malt and it is very unique. 20% of ours is honey malt. It adds a very good flavor. Smooth is not a flavor to us, but it's a feeling. It [honey malt] adds a very good feeling to the whole drinking of our bourbon.”
Here’s another technique that will make Fresh Bourbon the best bourbon according to the Edwards. “We take the product out of the barrel when it is ready,” says Sean. “We don't go by age statements and all that. We have a very good product and the flavor profile is what we're trying to reach.” This just goes to show you that it is not just about the recipe; it’s also the love and patience that makes something great.
The Future of Fresh
“People like bourbon,” says Tia. She enjoys it as a cocktail while Sean takes his on the rocks. Bourbon can be enjoyed in various ways by people in all walks of life. “The whole idea is to create a fresh experience for your bourbon journey,” says Sean.
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He continues, “If you want something premium that you can sip on every week or consistently that will give you a good, neat experience and a fantastic cocktail. That's who we are. That's us.”
The Edwards are in the process of giving the world Fresh Bourbon with hopes of introducing Fresh Gin and other spirits under the company in the future. They’re incredibly passionate about what they’re creating. Fresh Bourbon represents who they are and it’s a reflection of what’s to come from the industry’s newest power couple.