Sitting in a whiskey-stained basement of the Indiana University hockey house in Bloomington, Indiana, Michael Reed and his teammates enjoyed ‘$2 Tuesday,’ the usual pre-game ritual.
Earlier that same day, Reed had driven to a buddy’s farm to shoot clays with his grandfather’s 12-gauge with some of his friends. Reed put one of those spent shells in his jeans pocket, and later he held a shot from one kind of barrel in his left hand, and a shot from another kind of barrel in his right.
“I came up with the idea for my whiskey this one night while I had a shotgun shell in my pocket from earlier that day and the idea just popped up in my head and I sketched it out real quick right there,” Reed said.
It was here, in this whiskey-stained basement that Reed’s dark liquor project was born. Reed put pen to napkin and sketched the first image of the next iconic brand of bourbon whiskey – a shotgun shell wrapped with a rattlesnake.
“When I was in indiana going to school everyone drank whiskey. It was the standard drink everywhere we went,” Reed said. “I kind of got conditioned into drinking that just culturally over there. I drank bourbon. When I was in Canada playing hockey we drank rye whiskey so whiskey was my alcoholic beverage.”
Over the past ten years, bourbon has seen a rapid rise in popularity and supply is struggling to match the demand. Whiskey is no longer for aging men telling stories of their youth, it’s for anyone who enjoys a dark liquor. With demand increasing, the market is making way for younger bourbons.
Twenty-five year-old CEO officially started selling American Barrels Bourbon Whiskey in August 2014, and now, just over two years later, the young American whiskey can be found in hundreds of retailers throughout the United States.
Reed worked on his brand for two years in Indiana before moving back to Florida in 2013 and transferring to FGCU to study pre-law and play hockey.
“Being at FGCU was a struggle in some aspects,” Reed said. “When I transferred from Indiana to FGCU I ended up switching my major to pre-law. I was doing that and play a lot of hockey and when you play hockey how we played hockey, you’re married to the sport. But the business was my main priority. It was stressful.”
American Barrels started selling its fine bourbon whiskey in August of 2014, and has seen a steady rise in demand ever since.
Guy Clarke, a Southwest Florida local and a drinker of American Barrels, specifically enjoys the smoothness of the local whiskey.
“The things I like about Mike’s bourbon is that his is ultrasonically filtered, it makes it smoother and it’s virtually hangover free,” Clarke said. “Other alcohol is just distilled. This has a very nice and smooth flavor to it. When you drink the other guy’s, your face puckers up and you feel the warmth. With American Barrels you still get that but because it’s been filtered you don’t get that burn or bite at the end of it.”
Clarke runs BaconFest, an annual festival in Southwest Florida, and know’s Reed through his involvement with local events.
“Even though his drink is really big, it’s cool that he’s so involved locally. He’s been involved with BaconFest for three years now and is one of our biggest sponsors,” Clarke said. “There will be free American Barrels bourbon in the VIP tent and there will be bacon bourbon Manhattans for sale throughout the entire festival.”
For Reed, the drink may be in high demand but what’s important is the homage it pays to the American spirit.
“My intention was to create something that Americans could relate to on a nationalistic level, as well as to produce a quality beverage,” said Reed. “We’ve done that by combining a true American spirit like bourbon, with a very deliberately designed bottle.”
The bottle itself alludes to two types of barrels that Americans hold dear – gun barrels and whiskey barrels.
American Barrels is headquartered in Fort Myers, Florida, and is produced in Charleston, South Carolina.
“In designing the recipe, I worked with a distillery in Charleston that’s great; they do a great job in the refining process,” Reed said. “I worked with them and crafted a recipe to what I liked in a whiskey. I have drank a lot of different whiskey and I knew what I didn’t like and I knew what people didn’t like. I worked backwards from that.”
“We probably tried, I don’t even know how many variations of the recipe we picked. The one that we have has a very high rye content for a bourbon which really wasn’t common for bourbons. Now some do because rye has come back in popularity, but at the time it wasn’t usual. It was definitely a process, it was a lot of fun and we got to drink a lot.”
Once Reed selected just the right recipe, his project became a reality.
“It was batch 1112 we ended up picking, which is also my birthday, November 12,” Reed said.
American Barrels is growing throughout the southeastern United States at a rate Reed never imagined. The brand is now sold in hundreds of locations from New York to Tennessee, including every Total Wine & Spirits in the state of Florida.
The whiskey is described as having a lingering caramel sweetness and light oaky finish.
“American Barrels is unique in that its symbolism resonates with so many different demographics,” said Reed. “We have found that we are able to cross age divides where a lot of other whiskey brands can’t.”
The company has seen most growth in the past six months, and even opened their own bar at the BB&T Center, home of the Florida Panthers, on October 16, coinciding with the dawn of a new National Hockey League season.
“We are excited for some things coming up,” Reed said. “We are planning in the first quarter of next year to move into a couple more states. A lot of people, when they see the bottle, get excited because they know what it is. Even if they don’t know what it is, they get excited because it’s different and they think it’s cool.”
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