February 20, 2014



American whiskey is having something of a double-shot Saturday night. Sales are booming. Prospects are hot.

And Templeton Rye Spirits very much has a stool at the long and growing bar, says a New York Times editor who authored a cover story on the flourishing whiskey business for the most recent issue of Fortune magazine - "Drink Up! The Story of How American Whiskey Got So Damn Hot."

After reading the thoroughly researched piece I called its author, Clay Risen, a 37-year-old New Yorker whose knowledge of whiskey comes as something of a birthright. He's from Nashville, Tenn.

What started as a hobby for Risen jumped to top billing in one of the nation's leading financial magazines.

"Up to certain age I just assumed it was all fire water," Risen said in the phone interview with The Daily Times Herald.

But he developed discerning nose for whiskey as the boutique or craft scene exploded. And Risen turned his considerable writing and reporting talents to this bourbon boom.

The results for Risen: the Fortune cover and a book, "American Whiskey, Bourbon, and Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Favorite Spirit."

Risen, an assistant editor for the Opinion/Editorial pages of The New York Times, told me Wednesday evening he is well-acquainted with Templeton Rye - the legal version. Risen said he recommends it to people all the time.

"I do think it's a great whiskey," Risen said. "It's really flavorful."

In the Fortune piece, Risen points out that domestic whiskey sales have soared 40 percent in the past five years. Growth, Risen reports, is especially strong in Templeton Rye's wheelhouse, high-end or premium whiskeys.

"This is probably the best time to be in bourbon since Prohibition," Tim DeLong, an official with Jack Daniel's and Woodford Reserve's parent company Brown-Forman, told Risen.

Smaller craft distilleries like Templeton Rye are popping up all over the nation to meet a growing demand for what old Carroll County bootleggers called "the good stuff."

"Templeton has actually been the model for a lot of other people," Risen told me. "Scores of distilleries" have followed Templeton's process, he said.

Risen said Templeton Rye's marketing team is following a "grand tradition" in connecting the whiskey to the colorful Prohibition era, to mobsters and gentleman farmer-distillers and cat-and-mouse stories involving federal agents and crafty bootleggers.

"Myth-building and storytelling and self-aggrandizement are part of the game of whiskey-making," Risen said.

As Risen sees it, Templeton Rye has two potential futures. The company can continue to grow, riding the whiskey wave, and expanding into new markets as an independent distiller. Or it could be an attractive acquisition for a larger company with a spirits portfolio.

"I would hazard to guess they're a pretty good purchase for someone looking to move into that space," Risen said.

But that's more big-picture finance. Risen is also part of the "whiskey-geek" culture.

That considered, what are some whiskeys, beyond Makers and Beam and Jack, that consumers with an affection for Templeton should try? Who are the peers in the market for Templeton?

Risen suggests sampling Evanston, Ill.-produced FEW Spirits rye or KOVAL in Chicago or WhistlePig rye from Vermont.

"The guys behind Templeton Rye were very smart to see the rye whiskey" thirst building in consumers, Risen said.