Native Kentuckians Sean and Tia Edwards weren’t looking to make history. They just wanted to make a good bourbon.
When the couple filed articles of incorporation for their Fresh Bourbon Distilling Co. enterprise in 2017, they laid the foundations to build the first African American-owned distillery in Kentucky. They say the Master Distiller they’re working with is also the first African American to work in such a role in Kentucky since the end of slavery.
The idea to launch the distillery emerged during whiskey tours as part of the Edwards’ extensive travels.
“When you’re in another state or country and you say you’re from Kentucky, people ask about one of three things—KFC, horses or bourbon,” Sean says. “We took a deep dive into the bourbon industry because we wanted to learn more about it, and it got us thinking about opening our own distillery. We didn’t go into it to be the first African Americans making bourbon in Kentucky. We just wanted to be authentic and create a flavor profile we really liked.”
Tia was looking for a bourbon that would work well in an Old Fashioned. “Sean drinks it neat, but I like being able to taste the bourbon in a cocktail,” she explains. “I don’t want it to be overwhelmed by syrups and other flavorings.”
To make a bourbon that’s approachable for both seasoned experts and uninitiated tasters, the Edwards set out to create a spirit that drinks well either straight up or mixed. Fresh is a 95-proof sipper with a mashbill of corn (60%), honey malt (20%), malted wheat (10%) and malted rye (10%).
“We enlisted guidance from industry professionals like Tim Knittel of Distilled Living and Andrew Buchanan of Hartfield & Co. Distillery to make sure our recipe and process would achieve our flavor profile goal,” Sean says. “Ultimately, we chose Hartfield & Co. as our distillery partner because we felt confident they could work with us and our Master Distiller to ensure that our unique recipe would be produced accurately from grain to bottle.”
Sweet but not too sweet, the signature Fresh Bourbon ($42 for a 750 ml. bottle) carries a heady nose of corn and fruit with initial tasting notes of vanilla, brown sugar and smoky oak, easing into a chocolaty toffee finish.
The Edwards announced the Fresh Spirits brand in February 2020; COVID-19, of course, threw a wrench into their production schedule, fundraising efforts, and construction on a new tasting room/production facility/music venue in Lexington. In the meantime, a Fresh Bourbon pre-sale campaign is currently underway. For $150, customers can pre-order a first-batch bottle in a commemorative box with a t-shirt, a rocks glass, and a copy of the Kentucky State Senate Resolution acknowledging Fresh Bourbon as the first black-owned distillery in the Commonwealth. Sean and Tia are aiming to deliver the presale purchases, and be in stores, by first quarter 2021.
“Fresh isn’t a statement about aging; it’s a reference to the approach we’re taking,” Sean says. “We want our voice to add something new to the traditional Kentucky bourbon industry.”