Building Successful Spirits Brands With David Mandell of Kentucky Owl

by Drew Hendricks
Last updated Aug 29, 2022

Legends Behind the Craft Podcast

Last Updated on August 29, 2022 by rise25

David Mandell
Building Successful Spirits Brands With David Mandell of Kentucky Owl 11

David Mandell is the President of Kentucky Owl, the Co-founder of The Bardstown Bourbon Company, and the creator of the first premium caffeinated vodka. He has spent the last two decades in the spirits industry and is known as an innovative and transformational leader.

Before entering the beverage space, David was an attorney at Blank Rome. He’s also the former Chief of Staff of the Federal Aviation Administration and was Counsel to the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • From an attorney to a spirits expert – David Mandell shares his story
  • How to launch a spirits brand according to David
  • David’s advice for entrepreneurs who want to kick off their spirits brand
  • The importance of creating an emotional connection with your people
  • Where David sees the whiskey industry going
  • How e-commerce within the spirits industry has expanded since COVID began
  • Why you shouldn’t miss the upcoming Kentucky Bourbon Festival

In this episode with David Mandell

Some entrepreneurs want to enter the beverage alcohol business because they think it’s a “cool” or “sexy” business. On the contrary, it is actually an extremely competitive and tough industry to be in. So how do you enter the spirits industry and launch a successful brand?

Building an emotional connection with your target market is essential. Creating an experience instead of simply offering your product is how you will stand out among thousands of existing brands. This experience will foster a connection that drives consumers to embrace your product, tell other people about it, and buy it again.

In today’s episode of Legends Behind the Craft, Drew Thomas Hendricks welcomes David Mandell, President of Kentucky Owl, to talk about building successful brands in the spirits industry. David shares how he was able to create unique experiences for consumers throughout the years and how these experiences resulted in strong emotional connections and brand loyalty.

.Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Barrels Ahead.

Barrels Ahead is a wine and craft marketing agency that propels organic growth by using a powerful combination of content development, Search Engine Optimization, and paid search.

At Barrels Ahead, we know that your business is unique. That’s why we work with you to create a one-of-a-kind marketing strategy that highlights your authenticity, tells your story, and makes your business stand out from your competitors.

Our team at Barrels Ahead helps you leverage your knowledge so you can enjoy the results and revenue your business deserves.

So, what are you waiting for? Unlock your results today!

To learn more, visit or email us at to schedule a strategy call.

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:03  

Welcome to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where we feature top leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry with your host Drew Hendricks. Now let’s get started with the show

Drew Thomas Hendricks  0:19  

Drew Thomas Hendricks here and you’re on the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry. Past guests of Legends Behind the Craft include Alejandro Russo from Candela. Paul Mabray from pics, and Ryan Thompson from 10th Mountain whiskey. If you haven’t listened to these yet, be sure to check them out and subscribe. Today’s episode is sponsored by Barrels Ahead. Barrels Ahead will work with you to implement a one of a kind marketing strategy. When the highlights your authenticity, tells your story and connects you with your ideal customers. In short, we help wineries and craft beverages producers unlock their story to unleash their revenue. Go to today to learn more. I am super excited to talk with today’s guest, David Mandell. David has spent the last two decades in the spirits industry is the co founder of Bardstown Bourbon Company, the creator of the first coffee, caffeinated vodka, and most recently as president of Kentucky Owl Bourbon. He’s an attorney by background, former chief of staff of the Federal Aviation Administration, and was counsel to the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Welcome to the show, David.

David Mandell  1:27  

Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure. Thank you so much for being on today. I got I got to just jump right in and ask how started off in LA, what up in spirits? How did that happen? Oh, my gosh. I mean, it’s so as you were reading that I was thinking it’s like, you know, a trip down, trip down memory lane. And it’s been, it’s been a wonderful one. It’s been a great journey. And it’s also been one that, you know, I have been, you know, extremely, extremely lucky for having been given the opportunity by so many wonderful people. You know, I always believe you never get anywhere in life without help. And so anybody that tells you otherwise. You know, there are a lot of people along the way that gave me an opportunity, especially in the very young age. And so, you know, I, you know, I grew up in Philadelphia, I went to school out of Washington University, I came back and went to law school, because of course, what does anybody do that goes to school and has a history major and an English minor, right? You go to law school, and of course, at the time, what was the impetus behind that was watching the OJ Simpson trial. So remember, what are you going to do now? So go to law school, okay. Well, it but it was a wonderful training. And I after law school, I was at a large firm in Philadelphia, a wonderful firm, blank room. I ended up doing work on the election law fraud side of things. I was on the bush recount on the the one of the attorneys for George W. Bush in Florida. As a young attorney, it was really a wonderful, it’s a great experience, regardless of what side anybody’s on politically. But I came back from that. And I was offered a position in the White House, working for the administration. That’s how I ended up with as counsel the Trent counsel to the chairman and National Transportation Safety Board and Chief of Staff of FAA for Marion Blakey, who was just absolute wonderful woman. And so how do you go from that and alcohol while I was on trip, and we were out it really funny. We were meeting with Elon Musk at the time, who had had the Falcon nine rocket in a hangar in West Hollywood, and that evening, because FAA regulates suborbital flight. And that that evening, I was out with Dan Lin to his college roommate, and we’re drinking Red Bull and vodka at the bar at the Mondriaan at, you know, this is 2001. And so what are we doing? Why can’t we just make alcohol that doesn’t make you tired? Not a bad idea. So that’s where it started. And you know, it was a remarkable journey from there.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  3:57  

Started with caffeinated vodka.

David Mandell  3:59  

It started with caffeinated vodka, and it’s one of those things where, you know, he quit his job. I quit mine, we moved to and it’s not quitting is really not the right word. I you know, I went to Marion, who’s a dear friend and dear friend. Now when I got this idea, we put it all together. We were working on it nights and weekends. And she said to me, you know, I was in my, you know, my late 20s. And she said, you have to do it. And you got to do it. And we did. And we moved to a two bedroom apartment, Lower East Side in New York, myself and a woman named Gorman Garnett, Black, who is also another dear friend and your business partner. And we started this company out of, you know, as startup a startup gets and we’ve learned the beverage marketing brand building business on the street. And we built that company to 45. States, five international markets about 28 employees, and we sold it in 2009.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  4:52  

Wow, that’s amazing. What was that vodka called?

David Mandell  4:55  

It’s called P.I.N.K. Vodka. It’s the first caffeinated alcohol and unfortunately It is no longer around. I’d love to tell you it was a great success story. But it wasn’t. It was a remarkable learning experience. It was the end. You know, it was one of those things where, you know, we sold the company in 2008. Right after the, you know, financial crash, as you know, all of the fun money that went into fueling something like that, even though it’s doing remarkably well. You know, to be able to keep raising money and building the brand. So we decided to sell it and then a year after we sold it, Four Loko came in and, and then the FDA came in and, you know, and caffeine and alcohol was no longer favorably looked upon. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks  5:43  

yeah, when he first started with zero, some challenges getting that approved or just, well,

David Mandell  5:48  

it’s actually allowed and it’s still allowed to this day, I mean, the tobacco, the TTB, it’s Tobacco Tax and Trade board regulates the regulates caffeine, alcohol, 200 parts per million. It’s very clear standard, but not to belabor that whole story. But when the FDA got involved in the issue, it really kind of it went from being a issue of regulatory approval to one have kind of, you know, public pressure on companies putting caffeine and alcohol.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  6:19  

As far as like launching and launching a spirits brand, that’s one of the most difficult things to do. And we spend a lot of time talking about it on the show. How did you do it?

David Mandell  6:30  

Well, I’ll tell you something. And it’s something I’m glad you guys talk about it a lot, I talk about it a lot, I talked to a lot of people that are that look to getting into the business, because everybody thinks that, you know, the beverage alcohol business is a, you know, for lack of a better word is a sexy business. It’s not it’s very hard business is extremely competitive. And people don’t really understand or many people getting into the business understand the challenges of building a brand, particularly as an independent company, building a brand, not only in one small market, but then doing it in multiple markets. And you know, developing what really ultimately it takes is, you know, you think about it, and I use this analogy, often, you know, to have somebody try something new, what’s the opportunity to do that you walk into a liquor store, there 1000 brands, you know, on the wall, you go into a bar, you know, rarely do you walk in, look at the backboard, you know, tell me about that product, you know, your order what you know, when you order something that you become very familiar with. And that is a really, it’s an emotional connection, you have to take something, you’re drinking one thing, you got to get drink another but not only do you have to get them to drink it, you have to get them to embrace it, to love it, then to tell other people about it and to buy it again. And it’s an emotional connection. And then you’re asking them to put it in their body. So it’s a very, very hard thing to do. And I’ll tell you, we, you know, we we really learned that challenge at P.I.N.K.. And then we took everything that we knew, not only in the in the space, we took it and then we built Bardstown Bourbon Company, which was and is a tremendous success. So one was like one of those great learning opportunities in business. We took everything that we had not only learned from, you know, from beverage alcohol, but certainly the I took everything I learned in law in being in running an organization helping run an organization like the FAA, regulatory challenges all of those issues, crisis management at the National Transportation Safety Board, and we put it into building Bardstown.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  8:35  

Yeah, I am super excited to talk about this Bardstown especially that tremendous facility. And that is a destination experience. But before I leave P.I.N.K., I wanted that learning example for someone an entrepreneur that wants to start their kickoff their spirits brand, what advice would you give

David Mandell  8:52  

them, go slow, go very steady now and protect yourself. And so the biggest mistake, we made it P.I.N.K. Vodka was trying to go too big too fast, right, and you see that you do see that often in the industry. And so go slow, you know, stay in, you know, one market for, you know, for a much longer time. Now, again, the advice that I’m giving obviously depends on, you know, the company and the reach. And, you know, there’s always an x for every one of these, there’s always an example of something that, you know, grows at a much greater rate, but you can usually pick out the reasons why that is the anomaly. Right? But, you know, it’s, you know, don’t let the exception you know, drive the rule here. But when you look at great brands, Tito’s it’s the number one brand in the country. You know, they didn’t leave Texas for five years, you know, they’ve been at it for over 20 patrolling to 25 years Grey Goose Grey Goose took, you know, 15 years plus and I had large distribution behind them and significant investment and so, you know, there’s it for me, you know, the advice that I give a lot of people that when they get into this is, you know, go slow, really go much deeper rather than wider. Because you can control, you can control much more of your destiny in a single market. And and you also learn to you really learn about your brand. And that learning process, you’re going to evolve, it’s going to change dramatically as you begin to build a brand.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  10:25  

And that’s excellent advice. I, I hear similar variations of that often, but it’s understand your market and going into one location that you understand. And also, the other common theme that I hear is that if you build it, chances are they’re not going to come, you’ve got to actually go out there and get the spirit in people’s hands, which requires a lot of boots on the ground, you

David Mandell  10:45  

really do. And again, it’s about, about creating that emotional connection, I really believe that it’s really about, you have to be able to create some sort of bond between a person and the spirit. And again, that goes from the bartender, to the distributor salesperson to the person ultimately buying it. What is it that excites somebody about this product that only now is going to make them wanted again? Why? Because it’s one thing to like, get something for free? I think people get mixed up with you. People are doing tastings and they’re trying it and you say, Oh, they love my product. Yeah, right? Because we gave it to you for free. Now you’re gonna is it gonna make enough of an impact that you’re going to then go seek it out? Purchase it, and then the ultimate is? tell other people about it. And so, you know, what we found, you know, and I’ll segue a bit into Bardstown is one of those important things that we did at Bardstown was create that destination, where we, we were able to create not only an authentic experience or an home, around the product, but you’re able to bring people in, you’re able to hold them there, you’re able to give them this incredible experience. And then guess what that translates into the emotional connection, and they leave and they say, I love everything about this, I love the product, I’m going to tell people about it. And that goes for customers. It goes for bartenders, it goes for distributors, reps, you know having that place where you can immerse people. And then the challenge becomes how do you take that culture and that experience that you’ve created there and bring it out to the market. And as you build the brand, when you’re

Drew Thomas Hendricks  12:30  

envisioning Bardstown and for the people that aren’t familiar with it, give it give us a brief overview of what this because tremendous facility, tremendous collection of availability there, give it give us a Panasonic vision of it.

David Mandell  12:45  

Sure. So Bardstown bourbon company is currently is, you know, the most, I would say the most sophisticated distillery, whiskey distillery in the country. And it is an immersive experience, not only in producing its own products, doing custom production for others. But then restaurant bar visitors experience so it is, you know, it we like to say, you know, it was the celebration of the craft of making whiskey, no made up stories, no hidden legends thoroughly about transparency, and bringing the customer really close to the production and that concept that we developed. No, we came out to Bardstown and I came out to Bardstown in 2013. And my business partner, Peter Lofton. And I, and then Dan Lin and Garnett Black, who two of the other early founders, we hired Steve Nalli, who is you know, the master distiller of Bardstown. But we started one concept, we saw where whiskey was going. And as we began to develop the facility, we purchased the land this, we began to see this vision for doing custom whiskey production. For others, it was a part of the business, that in the industry that if you had contract production, but what was missing there, and when I say contract production is you have a brand, you don’t own the facility behind the production, but you would go to a Jim Beam or a heaven hill or Barton and either buy product or have them produce it for you. But the challenge with that was you couldn’t say where it came from, you really weren’t getting great customer experience service, because they’re filling they’re producing for you when they had spare time. So as the market began to change, all of those companies had to keep that capacity for themselves. So we said wait a second, why can’t we create a program to do great custom production for for brands that are that are being you know, no longer able to do this production anywhere else? Well, we’ll give them great customer service, and we’ll be able to produce anything that they want to produce. And so it was great idea. We sold out the capacity and distillery before we even you know, before we even finished building it, but then we had to figure out how to do it. That was That was great.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  15:00  

That’s amazing. Now, how did you go about soliciting these other brands? Well, I’m into production facility.

David Mandell  15:06  

So you know, that’s what I did. That was a big piece of what I did when we were starting. So not only managing the construction and development of distillery, but we went out and we had the relationships, and we met with them and said, Here’s what we’re doing, you know, and brought them in as we were building the facility. And, and they there was such a need for it. And so we were able to get we sold out the capacity. And then Then came the challenge of, okay, now, it’s one thing having the idea. Now we have to actually, you know, we have to be able to execute, and that’s where, you know, like everything, everything in the business was an evolutionary process. And so we hired an exceptional team of distillery operators. We originally hired Tom Croom, who ran distillery operations at Jim Beam, who helped stand up this operation distillery, began doing custom production and then brought on John Hargrove, who was one of the greatest distillers in the industry, he was the superstar Barton to take us from where we were to where Bardstown is you see it now in terms of technolon Using technology efficiency, and the expansion of the distillery and so we developed the first class distillery operations team that had the ability to do custom production. And that means multiple, multiple different types of mash bills, and the wait cycle, just complex manufacturing. So and then you’re looking at your your ISO certifications, and your food safety certifications, and all the complexities that come along with producing for international customers for large customers, you know, for public, corporate, you know, public companies are there, there is a lot that is involved. And so each piece was evolutionary. And as we then got production really underway, and settled, we were able to turn our attention to building our own brand, developing the restaurant, developing the visitors experience. And that is kind of where we bring together that whole idea of, you know, the restaurant was one of the greatest things, we built the board size, we immerse the visitors in a great experience. And then that translated into learning about the products, going on the tours, drinking in a great environment, having a wonderful dinner, in this place where you would never expect to see it in a very modern facility. Yeah.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  17:43  

Tremendous facility, as far as the productions. And literally, this comes from me being a little bit more on the wine side. And on the LinkedIn, you talk about how it’s a Napa Valley destination pre styled after that, where it’s like a full immersive experience. Previously, what was the touring experience, like at a Kentucky distillery?

David Mandell  18:05  

Well, it was, you know, it’s really, it’s very interesting, because I like to believe that we at Bardstown really took the the distillery experience to the next level. And you now see that since we built that facility, you know, there’s tremendous advancements across the board, it’s really raised the bar for everybody else. So makers put in a restaurant, they’re now putting in a hotel gym being put in a full time restaurant, will it put in a full time Restaurant and Bar experience? But, you know, so that whole Napa Valley style experience is actually interesting. We use that analogy, but it’s actually better Napa in many ways. And if you’ve been out to Napa Valley, you you know, that, you know, it is a protected, you know, agricultural area, and you’re not allowed to have a restaurant. And

Drew Thomas Hendricks  18:54  

you might use like a Washington, like a wallet wallet type experience, because they do have the more restaurant experience. Yeah,

David Mandell  19:01  

you have a couple of places that have more like a little deli, where they were grandfathered in, but you go to the wineries, you don’t have a huge restaurant, they’re not allowed to. And so we actually took it to the next level. And so you really do have now in many of the distilleries, and you see that this is where the trend is going. People want the food experience, they want the beverage experience, they want the whole hospitality experience, because it all wraps up ultimately, into the product because that’s how you enjoy these products. You know, so it’s, you know, it’s very important and you know, and to circle back it is extremely important in developing that consumer connection to the brand, because when they leave there, they now if you’ve done it, right, they are now fans of that brand in a way that you could, it would be very hard to do that in a bar or in a liquor store. in another city for example, very strange, you know opportunity

Drew Thomas Hendricks  20:05  

from what you learned in Bardstown and you’ve moved now you’re doing the Kentucky Owl Real Estate. How? What it What have you changed and what have you kept moving into this venture?

David Mandell  20:19  

It’s interesting because everything is a wonderful learning experience. And so for Bardstown, you know, there were, you know, we sold the company. Now it’s been about two months. And so my former business partner rest is sold Peter Lofton was founder with myself and and, and my other two business partners. And so I stepped down as CEO of Bardstown in 2019 and I joined Kentucky Owl in October of last year to help them build their distillery experience right here in downtown Bardstown. So, Kentucky is owned by the Stoli group. It was it’s produced currently the the liquid is produced at Bardstown. It was one of the one of our first customers because a great connection there and a really deep personal one that I had myself with them. And they asked me to come help them in October of last year. And so it’s really a beaut, absolutely beautiful, beautiful facility that’s being designed that we’re designing here says right in the middle of downtown Bardstown 420 acres, an old quarry that is now filled with water. And it is probably one of the most spectacular environments in the United States, it may be in the world, where there will be a distillery built so imagine this peninsula surrounded by five different lakes now in the center of the bourbon capital the world and nobody knew that this even existed.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  21:50  

Wow, that’s pretty incredible. So you’ll, you’ll move all the dismissal distilling over to the Kentucky owl.

David Mandell  21:57  

Well, so Bardstown is a great producer for you know, the brand. So you know, we’ll have our own production there. But we also we produce with Bardstown they’re a great, you know, they’re a great producer for us, and we’re a good customer, of the company. And so, you know, when we look at the quarry and the experience we’re developing, you asked me kind of what are we taking over? You know, there are many similarities in terms of this connection to the natural environment, to transparency, our architects are shirvan architects out of out of Japan, and shirvan has been called the accidental environmentalist. And so he was one of the most renowned art architects in the world, but he believes in biophilic design. And that is a concept where the materials that you are surrounded by affect your in your mood, and your you know, your everything about, you know, your performance, all of those things, you’re affected by the materials. And so the distillery has been built from heavy timber, mass timber, that absolutely beautiful, beautiful, beautiful structure set again, in the middle of this peninsula surrounded by, you know, millions of gallons of limestone water that will be used to in the processing, you know, of the facility and the cooling and the production. And so there’s gonna be a great connection to sustainability. But this incredible environment, which is beautiful, it’s absolutely slipped,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  23:27  

what stage of production is it in, or construction is in right now. So

David Mandell  23:30  

it’s in the design still in the design phase? Okay, we are, we are in the process right now of designing the distillery a beautiful visitors, we’ll be calling the interim visitor center that the public’s gonna be able to come to, while the distillery is being is under construction. So you can see the site, the site, you can have tastings, you can begin to interact with the brand, you can tour we’re looking at boat tours of the site during construction. So towards the end of this year, we begin to really ramp up in site development, beginning to put in the infrastructure for the site, as we are designing the distillery, beginning building the inter visitors center, and then you have the next phase or warehouses and then ultimately, larger distillery and you know, other aspects to the property as you know, as it develops, no permanent Visitor Center restaurant, all of those components.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  24:29  

That sounds that sounds like a fantastic venture over the multi multi phases. It’s all goes according to plan. When do you expect to have the full vision online?

David Mandell  24:39  

Well, that’s a really good question. Because, you know, the full vision you could, you know, you could take this out 20 years, you could continue to keep developing and building here. It’s that gorgeous. What we’ve done is we’ve sliced this up into different phases. And so phase one is really from now over the next four to five years of the development of the park and then have been You know, it goes from there. So you know, in this first phase again, we build the entire Visitor Center, we build the pyramid distilleries, and we build the first warehouses, you know, on the site.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  25:12  

And that kind of leads to the kind of a good segue to where we see the spirits industry going and moving forward, because you’re, you’re looking out 1520 years already, is what I’m getting. It’s based on the customer experience, elevating it and drawing a closer emotional connection to the brand. Is that where you see the spirits industry going? As far as

David Mandell  25:35  

you know, let me Well, let’s talk about it in terms of let’s talk about whiskey. And we’ll kind of focus on there and particularly American whiskey, you know, because I mean, like, I think generally speaking, the answer is, yes, but obviously, you can, you can break the spirits industry up in many, many different segments. But in terms of whiskey, you’re certainly seeing that in Kentucky, you’re seeing tremendous investment in distillery experience experiences in the visitors experience in growth of the distilleries. So just you know, just in in Kentucky, we’re looking at basically about three and a half billion that’s already committed over the next five years in investment in growth. So when you look at you know, Heaven hill just announced, you know, $135 million distillery in Bardstown, you got Brown Forman doubling says AraC, gret, you know, growing, Jim Beam, just put in the new distillery, Bardstown Bourbon Company is expanding, and it goes on and on and on. And so what, what is everybody looking at, they’re looking at the growth of the industry, both domestically and internationally. And so when you begin to look at bourbon and American whiskey internationally, you know, Bourbon American whiskey in the US has about 4.7 billion in sales last year, you have American whiskey is under a billion internationally. So it is massive potential for growth. And so if there’s just even small movements, from drinking, from Scotch, to, to American whiskey to bourbon, internationally, and markets like India, China, South America, even you know, even in Europe, Africa, there isn’t even close to enough whiskey resting here in the state of Kentucky to meet the demand. So I think that’s where you see the industry headed,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  27:22  

bigger growth category towards that international market.

David Mandell  27:26  

And premiumization internationally, a bourbon, where it lags behind. And so it is really reached that, you know, premiumization is drive is driving growth in the American whiskey category, you know, those, you know, the higher the price, you know, higher pricing of the products, not 50 and over, you know, price point and you get into the, you know, you know, 80 and 100. And over, you have very good growth in those in those price points. And that ultra premium categories, and that’s where you see the potential really a lot of that potential to internationally.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  27:59  

Oh, yeah. And on the domestic side, and a little bit of my naivety towards Kentucky. I’m a West Coast guy. But I’m really familiar with a lot of the macro does a lot of the micro whiskey distilleries here, which I’m a big fan of I member of a few. What’s the Micro Distillery situation looking like and amidst all these, like larger, full scale projects, like what you’re doing,

David Mandell  28:22  

you’re still seeing good, you’re really robust strength in the craft, you know, in the craft market. And, you know, it’s interesting, because, you know, COVID of the craft market actually did, I think a lot better than, you know, people were predicting it was going to be able to do you know, through COVID i You certainly had distilleries that were hurt, you know, when you know tasting rooms were closed, but then you also had real expansion of you know, and you had you know, a lot of markets where there was a lot of creativity in terms of being able to do take away you know, take away cocktails direct to consumer shipping growing, just you know, real expansion of e-commerce with with spirits that you did not see pre CO pre COVID It was the you know, the acceptance now buying alcohol online and through you know, and through different portals and you know, in different marketplaces, whether it’s, you know, marketing engines, whether it’s reserve bar, you know, whether it’s local last mile distillery, like go puff and drizzly lat, you know, Matt, last mile delivery, sorry. So you’re seeing this real expansion of the whole e-commerce site, and it’s very exciting. It provides different opportunities for people getting into the industry and current, you know, current, you know, businesses to reach consumer in different ways.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  29:45  

Yeah, like, Yeah, we had Josh Jacobs on the show a little while back, he’s at Speakeasy, which is helping the micro distilleries distributed produce and they

David Mandell  29:53  

do a really, really good job.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  29:57  

And but in Bardstown itself with the You’ve got the large Bardstown distillery, you’ve got Kentucky all coming on with another distillery is is there micro distilleries in Bardstown as well?

David Mandell  30:10  

Well, it’s interesting you know Bardstown is the bourbon capital of the world. We’ve got, you know, 12 to 15 distilleries, you know, in a very small radius around here, everything from Jim Beam for roses, you know, with Maker’s Mark Bardstown and then, you know, will it preservation still a real on the smaller side? We have Martin here. I mean, so we have logs still that is just coming, you know, coming online from a distilling standpoint. So you do have smaller distilleries, you know, that are that are thriving gear, along with the big guys.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  30:49  

And that would be like the rising tide raises all ships. Exactly. You’re all getting turning this destination, which leads us over to this bourbon festival that you’re in charge of. Tell me about that?

David Mandell  31:00  

Well, I’ll tell you, it’s really been wonderful. I’m the chairman of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. And it’s my third year as chairman, but the festival is going into its 31st year. And we have a whole new format that we launched over the last couple of years in, again, elevating the experience. So you know, this year, I would tell you get online, get tickets, you know this, that and you know, and come out. It’s September 16, through the 18th. You can go to and get your tickets, but it’s three days, one ticket price, $125. That includes all your sampling. We’ve got over 40 Different distilleries, so outside beautiful environment, being able to go and have great food, they have a drinking try all of you try lots of different products. And the distilleries this year we got you know a great law passed here where they’re allowed to sell bottles at the festival. So the Hilary’s selling specialty bottles that you can’t get anywhere else. We’ve got a great partnership with Justin’s house of bourbon, with the exclusive single barrel picks for the bourbon festival that sell over the course of those three days here. So if you are a lover of bourbon, you want to interact with the product in the most beautiful setting in the world where you have all the distilleries, you’ve got the master distillers here, you’ve got single barrel picks, we’ve got a charity, you know, whiskey auction, we’ve got great food. And the beauty of this ticket the idea of the three day $125 Is that, you know, whether you come one day, whether you come two days or they come three days, you’re getting great value come in, you come out you go on your distillery tours, you stop back in you go to an educational event, but you’ve got all your sampling included. And it is a you know, a great price. And it really is designed to help us meet our mission, which is to promote Kentucky bourbon. And Bardstown is the bourbon capital world. And we are a a nonprofit charity that is designed to do exactly that.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  32:59  

Sounds fantastic. How many people do you expect to come this year?

David Mandell  33:02  

Well, that’s a good question. We’re going to be, you know, in the 1000s. And so, you know, we have we have more tickets we sold out last year, all of our VIP experiences very quickly. We’ve done the same thing this year. But we’re really trying to develop an environment there that is not overcrowded, that really has the right number of folks, you know, so that you’re not waiting in line, you’re really able to interact, talk, learn, try the products. And that’s where, you know, that’s what we’re focused on.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  33:36  

Again, all about that experience and kind of elevating it just really,

David Mandell  33:42  

I taste Get your tickets now. So it is in September, but it will be sold out.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  33:48  

So you mentioned is this the first year that you’re able to buy bottles on site?

David Mandell  33:52  

Yes, first year, you’re able to buy bottles from the distilleries. So last year was the first year we did the single barrel picks with Justin’s house of bourbon. And that is really kind of a specialty we still we are doing that that is a they’re a great partner. For us and being exclusively offer those single barrel picks for the you know, for the festival from each of the distilleries, but then the distilleries themselves can also sell bottles at their, at their experiences in the festival, you know, and so whole wide variety of opportunities to get interesting things to get bottles signed, having the master distillers on hand. I mean, it’s it’s really a beautiful, beautiful experience

Drew Thomas Hendricks  34:39  

makes so much sense. I can never understand it, but it’s a wine festival or spirits festival. It never combined anything. Maybe a t

David Mandell  34:46  

shirt but right right and so

Drew Thomas Hendricks  34:49  

tasting. Everybody’s excited and they have to go home and find it.

David Mandell  34:53  

Exactly. And so now it is at the festival and it’s great for, you know, for the ticket holders. It’s great for the distilleries. It’s great for Kentucky. And again, this country, it is the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. And it is focused solely on Kentucky bourbon.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  35:10  

As far as Kentucky bourbon and you’re advocating conducting bourbon? How have you positioned that to like your neighbor in Tennessee, or just a general American whiskey?

David Mandell  35:21  

Well, you know, there’s plenty of room for everybody, you know, and that’s the beauty of the market. And so, you know, for this festival, you know, we’re, we’re based in the bourbon capital of the world. And you know, and our focus really is on again, our mission is to promote Kentucky bourbon and Bardstown and suburban capital A world. And so that’s our focus. And, you know, in the past, we didn’t have as clear of a mission. And so we wanted, as we kind of re looked at the festival, and we made changes to improve the festival, we wanted to start with, let’s have a great, let’s a very clear mission, then let’s make sure we hire we’ve had a great president and COO and Randy Prosser, who runs the festival ran the Wisconsin State Fair, he ran, built the Gettysburg craft beer festival. So we’ve got an entrepreneurial team, it’s working very closely with our distillery partners in developing this experience, and I’ll tell you, like any good business, we’re evolving, you know, we’re 31 years like we’re now the second year into a 31 year old festival, you know, and as we’re, you know, we’re we, you know, we’re we’re continuing to evolve, well, we continue to change each year based on consumer feedback, and they’re gonna keep getting better.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  36:33  

And definitely listen to the customers, and what are they asking for? What’s the biggest

David Mandell  36:37  

number one thing this year was we want all our sampling included in the ticket price. And so that was the biggest change we made from last year to this year, also improving, you know, improving the experience of, of, you know, how you check in now, last year, you know, it was challenging we the first. So in the last three years since I’ve been chairman, the first year, we read it, we redid the festival, and we had COVID had to cancel it. The second year, we just barely got the festival off. But you know, at the same time, we were faced with, you know, last minute changes, proof of vaccination, all of these things that if you remember, dial back a year ago, it was amazing, we got the festival off. And so we had it, it was great. But you know, like any good thing you have to continually evolve. So we’ve looked at everything from doing fewer things better, to making sure that we’re creating the right experiences to that, you know, having that ticket that allows you to sample everything, you know, where you’re not having to buy wristbands and tear pieces off and going back and buying, you know, we expect, you know, our visitors to drink responsibly, you know, and we certainly ensure that our distilleries that serve do the same. So you this, this is a festival where people are enjoying. They’re not it’s not about overconsumption, but it’s this is about ease in being able to interact.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  38:04  

That’s excellent advice. For anyone wanting to do a festival or any regional kind of experience, I can’t emphasize how much I don’t like getting that taste and carbery. Of I’ve got like a whole thing that I got to carry around and get signed off, it makes it it makes it so much more complicated. It’s

David Mandell  38:20  

so much more complicated. And again, at the end of the day, does it really matter what it what’s the problem we’re trying to solve? And that’s what we looked at, we said, you know, let’s have all our sampling included, we’re going to be you have to be responsible anyway, we’re going to be responsible, you know, and our, you know, and the people that attend this event, the event is not it is one where it’s in that kind of environment. And it is we not only promote and encourage responsible, you know, consumption at every point. But that, but you know, the bourbon enthusiast a connoisseur, that enjoys these products doesn’t consume that way to begin with.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  39:01  

Yeah. They’ve got their dinners they’re looking for that night, they don’t want to, they’re gonna taste it out.

David Mandell  39:07  

That’s right. And that’s what it’s all about. And so we have all of those protections in place, we would have it anyway, whether you have a card, whether you have tabs, whether you don’t so the fact of the matter is, you know, let’s make it easy for the consumer to really have a great experience. And that was the driving force between for this for this change in this new ticket.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  39:31  

I love it that I mean, this, this entire podcast has had a really just consistent common theme. I love it. It’s all about elevating that customer experience, so they can get that deeper emotional, emotional connection.

David Mandell  39:43  

And I think that’s what it’s really about. And you know, and frankly, when you look across multiple industries, you see that you know, all over the place people want to know, you know about their product they want to know particularly for things that you eat and drink. They want to know where it came from. You know what it’s made from Tell me the story about a wanting to be authentic, it helps drive that connection. You know? Is there a cause behind it? Is there a you know, there’s lots of different elements to it. But that’s certainly what you know people are interested in. And so the more

Drew Thomas Hendricks  40:15  

fully can like flesh out each one of those elements, the deeper bond people develop with the product,

David Mandell  40:21  

couldn’t agree more.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  40:24  

So as we’re kind of wrapping down towards the end of this episode, I always like to ask, who I respect most, if you want to give a shout outs to people in the industry?

David Mandell  40:32  

Well, I’ll tell you, there’s so many people that I could you know, that I could name in the industry. And I’ll tell you one, that certainly stands out there many. But you know, we could spend all day doing that, but I’ll tell you one, that is not only been a tremendous mentor to me, but is you know, to this day, somebody that I talk to on a regular basis is Bill Samuels from Maker’s Mark and he was one of the first people that I met when I came to Bardstown in 2013. He is somebody that is not only incredibly, incredibly passionate and brilliant, when it comes to everything from marketing to, you know, experiences, and even storytelling and the art of it and really appreciating and developing those connections with people. But he is passionate about Bardstown. He’s passionate about this community, passionate about supporting and growing it, you know, both economically and I’m not talking about just bourbon, I’m talking about what bourbon does for the community. And so he’s somebody that is really truly been a mentor to me, and somebody that I enjoy working with on many different things.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  41:43  

That’s very, very good. Very good. So where can people find out more about Kentucky? Alan, you?

David Mandell  41:51  

Well, listen, I you know, no one needs to find anything out about me, but I can. I mean, it’s, you know, it’s not about me, but at the end of the day, you know? Yeah, you can find out about Kentucky Owl, you know, kind of follow us, follow us on Instagram, follow us on Facebook, you know, go to the website, also again, for the for the bourbon for the bourbon festival. Get your tickets now. But you know, there’s and that’s You know, please, you know, check us out.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  42:25  

Good night. Well, David, thank you so much for joining us today.

David Mandell  42:29  

My pleasure. Thank you for having me. It’s, it’s it’s always a pleasure. And it’s It’s great talking about bourbon talking about business and, and all the things that are great about it.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  42:39  

Absolutely. Thank you so much.

David Mandell  42:42  

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Outro  42:49  

Thanks for listening to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.