Q&A with Nick Smith – Head Distiller at Bardstown Bourbon Company

ASM: Why did you decide to work in the bourbon industry?

Nick: Being born and raised in Bardstown, bourbon capital of the world, it was an easy decision. Bourbon helps drive the community of Bardstown, I wanted to be part of that drive.

ASM: Describe your first experience working at a distillery.

Nick: I started my career as a Distillery Relief Operator at Jim Beam Brands. In this position I had to learn all aspects of the entire Distillery Process (Mashing, Distillation, Granary, Water Treatment, Dry House, and Boiler) and I would work swing shift (1st, 2nd, and 3rd shift all in one week) covering each operators off days.

My first day, I trained on how to make the jug yeast. Known for the “secret ingredient” at most distilleries, this was a neat first day experience.

ASM: When was the moment you realized you wanted to become a distiller?

Nick: Once I started at Bardstown Bourbon Company. I loved my work at Jim Beam, but it’s family legacy would stop me from getting the job I was seeking. At BBC, I was able to start writing mash recipe procedures and run different product, that sparked my interest on being a true distiller.

ASM: How long have you been working at Bardstown Bourbon Company, and how did you become head distiller?

Nick: I was one of the original hires for BBC, so I’ve been here since day one. Distilling began in September of 2016.

I started at BBC as the off-shift Distillery Supervisor. With my operations knowledge, work ethic, long hours, and an amazing team, I was able to grow with the company. Once we went to 24/7 operations, I was promoted to Distillery Senior Supervisor. After our most recent 2018 expansion was completed, I was promoted to Distillery Manager. Since BBC opened, I was doing many of the “Distiller Jobs” and the company wanted to get my name out to the public to groom me into taking the next step. I earned the Head Distiller title late 2019 and work more with Steve Nally our Master Distiller, Marketing, and the public each day to learn that side of the business.    

ASM: Bardstown Bourbon Company opened in 2016. Any interesting experiences at BBC you would like to share about the distillery?

Nick: This list could go on for days, every day in distilling is an interesting experience. One experience is where we are today, after just over 3 years of production, from when BBC opened in 2016. We got a new distillery running to full capacity in less than two weeks! After 8 months we doubled in size from 1.5 MM to 3 MM opg’s (original proof gallons), taking operations to 24/7. In 2018, less than two years from opening, we expanded once again, taking the distillery from 3 MM to almost 7 MM opg’s. This speaks highly of the team we have here, none of this would be possible, or would have went nearly as smooth, if not for the team we have created.

Some of the product we have created here is the most interesting to me. We have run 40+ mash bills! That is unheard of throughout this industry. Some of the most interesting would be American Single Malt, Black Popcorn, Malted Rye, 100 % Rye, Bloody Butcher Corn, and our Origin Wheat that I can’t wait until it comes out.

ASM: What is your favorite bourbon at Bardstown Bourbon Company? Why?

Nick: Fusion. This might make me slightly biased, but it has product that I created in it.

ASM: What is your favorite aspect of being head distiller?

Nick: Creating new recipes and getting to see it from start to finish.

ASM: Who has been most instrumental in your path to bourbon?

Nick. Tom Crume. He was the Distillery Manager at Jim Beam Clermont for nearly 30 years, retired, and started working as Distillery Manager at BBC when we first started production. Tom took me under his wing when I started at Jim Beam and brought me with him to BBC. I credit him for teaching me the art of making bourbon.

ASM: Distillers are my rock stars…who is your legendary rock star(s)?

Nick: Outside of the Distillery world, I would have to say Peyton Manning. I’m a big sports fan and he was always my favorite player. The way he prepared in order to dissect defenses was unbelievable. I try to prepare the same way when we are producing a new product, you must be ready for the unexpected.

ASM: What bourbon (besides BBC Fusion, Discovery, or Collaboration) are you drinking at home currently?

Nick: The bottle I currently have been sipping on is Four Roses Single Barrels. I was always a fan of Jim Beam Black Double Aged, but my stockpile is running low. This was a true 8 YO that I enjoyed, now it is Extra Aged, still good but not quite like the old Double Aged.  

ASM: Describe your favorite bourbon, and what you look for when choosing one?

Nick: Smoothness. I like more sweetness than spice/pepper. I’m a bigger fan of wheat than rye. I like to pick up vanilla and caramel notes, not as much oak (I don’t like drinking wood). I prefer a low-mid range proof versus a higher 120 proof range. Everyone has a different taste profile, you just have to find what works well for you.

ASM: What is your favorite bourbon book?

Nick: A delicate gem that I borrowed from our COO John Hargrove. Fundamentals of Distillery Practices that was published in 1943. It was published by Joseph E. Seagram & Sons Inc. and is a handbook on the manufacturing of ethyl alcohol.

 ASM: What is your favorite food pairing with bourbon?

Nick: A good bourbon enhances any food. I prefer having a variety of small appetizers with a flight of bourbons so I can pair different things. I am honestly much more of an operations guy than I am a food pairing with bourbon guy.

ASM: Do you cook with bourbon? If so, what is your favorite dish to prepare?

Nick: I have never cooked with bourbon. I rarely cook at all unless it involves a grill. My wife does the cooking, I clean up the dirty dishes.      

ASM: What is your favorite food pairing with BBC Fusion? Why do they pair well together?

At first drink, it carries more pepper and spicy notes that pair well with meats or wild game. As it opens up, you get more of the sweet and fruity notes that could go well with some desserts. My favorite being the bread pudding that is served in our Bottle & Bond Restaurant.

ASM: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Nick: There are many good bourbons on the market, and we celebrate them all here at BBC. Don’t be afraid of taking a break from the big historical distilleries and branching out to try something new and upcoming.