Interview with Josh Hollifield
Visitor Center Manager at Barton Distillery
Home of 1792 Bourbon – Bardstown Kentucky
ASM: How long have you been working as the 1792 Visitor Center Manager at Barton Distillery?
JH: I’ve been with Sazerac as the Visitor Center Manager at Barton for 4 years.
ASM: What led to your choosing this career path?
JH: I grew up in Kentucky so I like to think Bourbon is in my blood. Truthfully, I found myself in the food and beverage industry after college; managing hotel operations and several independent restaurants in the Louisville, KY area. At my previous job I ended up managing the single barrel program for a casino and hotel. Through all of my previous jobs, my passion for Kentucky’s native spirit (Bourbon) continued to grow and I ended up following that passion the Bardstown (Bourbon Capital of the World) and the Barton 1792 Distillery.
ASM: What is your favorite aspect of your job, and why?
JH: I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they find a bourbon that they didn’t know they’d love. Whether it’s someone new to bourbon on one of our basic free tours or a bourbon connoisseur tasting bourbon straight out of the barrel for the during a barrel selection, the look as the same. It makes me proud of what the people that work at Barton over the years have accomplished.
ASM: How was Barton Distillery able to continuously operate since 1879? Was the distillery always at the current location in Bardstown?
JH: We have a rich history starting back to the original Willett & Franke distillery that sat on the property. Tom Moore and his brother-in-law, Ben Mattingly, bought into the distillery from Mr. Willett who was their father-in-law. After years producing Mattingly & Moore, Tom Moore wanted to set-up a distillery of his own and bought property in the same valley of the Mattingly & Moore Distillery, operating off a natural spring on the opposing hillside. The Tom Moore distillery operated in this fashion up until Prohibition. Unfortunately, we were not one of the hand-full of distilleries in Kentucky that were able to remain open for medicinal purposes so we contracted with some of those lucky few to sell the spirits we still had in stock.
Once Prohibition was repealed we started making whiskey again under the ownership of Con Moore, Tom Moore’s son. It was not long after that, some business men from Chicago, Lester Abelson and Oscar Getz bought the distillery as a means to have continuous supply of Kentucky Bourbon for their wholesale business, Barton Brands. The origin of the Barton name is still unknown as Oscar Getz always claimed that he picked the name out of a hat. Over the years the distillery has grown to over 196 acres and houses over half-a-million barrels. Barton has changed ownership as spirits companies have combined and evolved through time.
It was in 2009 that Sazerac purchased the distillery from Constellation Spirits as a bottling facility and satellite aging facility for their other distillation sites. In that purchase, Sazerac also acquired the entire Barton portfolio as well as three other bottling and distribution plants which more than doubled the company overnight. Having the foresight to somewhat anticipate the growing bourbon market, Sazerac realized the need for another distillery and began distilling at Barton again. Thus, outside of Prohibition, Barton 1792 Distillery (formerly Tom Moore) has been distilling since 1879.
ASM: What do you think is the most fascinating historical brand/distillery fact?
JH: Being a Kentucky boy, I love that our signature brand, 1792, is named after the year that KY became an independent Commonwealth. We were the 15th state to join the nation and this year marks the 225th anniversary of Kentucky’s independence from Virginia.
ASM: Who is your favorite historic contributor to the bourbon world, and why?
JH: My bourbon pallet and preferences are constantly evolving. Right now I have really been getting more and more into single barrels. I’m now up to about 10 different Single Barrel Select 1792s in y collection. I have to give the credit for the single barrel concept to Elmer T. Lee from Buffalo Trace. He was the first distiller to give the public a chance to compare how each separate barrel of bourbon has its own characteristics. Blanton’s, the first Single Barrel bourbon to hit the market, was his creation.
ASM: What is the last bourbon you drank at home?
JH: Sadly, we lost a giant in the bourbon industry this week, Parker Beam. Long time distiller at Heaven Hill, Parker saw them through Bourbon’s dark ages and helped usher them into the bourbon renaissance we see today. In tribute to him, I just finished a pour of the Parker’s Heritage Collection from a few years back. It was ten year old bourbon finished in Grand Champagne Cognac barrels.
ASM: What is your favorite 1792 expression, and why?
JH: My favorite 1792 Expression so far is Full Proof. Even at 125 proof you don’t get a burn. You just get a concentrated version of the Small Batch 1792. Also, it is aged slightly longer and at the very top of our warehouses. This allows the migration of the bourbon to go deeper into the wood and pick up more flavor. Combine this with the fact that is the only expression in the 1792 line up to be non-chill filtered, you are getting as close to straight out of the barrels as we have put on the market.
ASM: Besides 1792 what are some of your favorite bourbons?
JH: Staying in the company, Eagle Rare, Blanton’s and Elmer T Lee are always on my shelf. Weller 12, the unicorn of affordable wheaters, is always a good one. I have enjoyed what Four Roses has put out. Rare Breed is my favorite that Jimmy and Eddie Russell do at Wild Turkey. There have been some nice Knob Creek barrels coming out of Jim Beam.
Recently I’ve been getting into some of the ryes and interesting whisky blends from High West. Brendan Coyle, their master distiller, kindly gave me a bottle of Midwinter Night’s Dram a couple months ago when he stopped by for a visit and it has been amazing. I try to keep my collection pretty diverse as my tastes change from day to day and it’s hard to narrow down a favorite. My wife thinks I have a problem when I bring home another bottle but 90% of my bottles are open because I buy them to drink.
ASM: What is your favorite bourbon book?
JH: With all the cocktail pairings and contests that we are around, I’ve been enjoying cocktail books lately. Death & Co, Modern Classic Cocktails is one that has peaked my interests and I can’t seem to stop rereading recipes and techniques.
ASM: Do you cook with bourbon? If so what is your favorite thing to make with bourbon?
JH: I love cooking with bourbon. I cook a leg of lamb that I marinate in bourbon and rosemary and serve with a bourbon mint sauce. I also love making Bananas Foster with bourbon (it goes great over waffles).
ASM: What is your favorite bourbon & food pairing?
JH: In Kentucky we’ll serve just about anything with bourbon. My favorite is a nice cheese board or charcuterie board with a flight of good pours so I can play around with the flavor comparisons.
ASM: What food do you think pairs best with 1792 Small Batch?
JH: 1792 is a different kind of bourbon. It’s not quite as sweet as most bourbons on the initial sip and it carries some heavy black pepper notes so it pairs well with wild game like venison, cured meats or something like lamb. However, if you give 1792 some time to open up or enjoy it with an ice cube, there are delicate sweet notes and fruity elements that appear so it also pairs well with a rich dessert like bread pudding.
ASM: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
JH: Don’t ever let anyone tell you that there is a right or wrong way to enjoy bourbon. Drink it the way you like it!
ASM thanks Josh for his time, incredible knowledge, and genuine love for everything Bourbon! Cheers to you Josh!