Glassroom: The Q&A blog series with whisky distillers

Heavenhill Distillery: Bernie Lubbers

21 Jul, 2020

I got to work and travel with Parker Beam, who was our distiller for 56 years. Being able to pick his brain, and have him as a mentor can not be measured.

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?

I entered the industry Jan of 2005 doing events and promotions in the state of Kentucky for Jim Beam. 18 months later I was recruited by the brand team in charge of the Small Batch Collection as one of the first non-Beam family members to act as Ambassador for the Small Batch Bourbons, since Fred Noe’s picture was added to the Jim Beam label, and he was going on a world-wide promotional tour, and they wanted Knob Creek and the other small batch bourbons to be promoted alongside.

I was then hired away to Heaven Hill Distillery in September of 2012 and have been the Whiskey Ambassador here since then representing Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Larceny, and all the other whiskeys Heaven Hill Distillery produces.

Can you tell us about your distillery,
and what makes it unique?

First of all, and arguably most important, is that Heaven Hill Distillery is 100% family owned and family operated by the Shapira family who started the distillery in 1935.

After that, I believe that it is Heaven Hill’s House Style that sets us a part.  Since Heaven Hill owns more barrels of whiskeys six years and older, across our portfolio, Heaven Hill whiskeys are typically aged longer, and bottled at a higher ABV than our competitors.

Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?

Since our whiskeys are highly regulated by the U.S. government standards, that can be hard to pin point, but I believe that the secrets we have is just the knowledge that our past distillers like Earl Beam and Parker Beam handed down, and worked with our sensory panel to create some of the most award winning small batch and single barrel whiskeys in the world.

Whiskey has been phenomenally successful
in the United States and around the planet,
why do you think this is compared to other spirits?

Bourbon and American Whiskey was over looked for so long due to several events and consumer preferences, but the quality was always there, even during whiskeys decline.

When different Whiskey tastings like Whiskey Fest, Whiskey Live!, Whiskeys Of the World, and others sprung up, folks were so interested in Scotch Malts, and over time, those same folks started to include American whiskeys as one of their regular drams. 

Then with the rise of Social Media, more and more Whiskey and Bourbon Society’s sprung up, and that along with many more building blocks has led to this success, but the quality was always there.

In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?

I believe that what surprises me the most is that in an industry that is SO tightly regulated, just how much creativity and innovation takes place each and every year.

What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?

Bourbon Tourism
International Market expansion
Home Delivery
Internet Commerce

Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?

What could be more interesting than working directly with the giants that helped shape the industry.  I got to work and travel with Parker Beam, who was our distiller for 56 years.  Being able to pick his brain, and have him as a mentor can not be measured. 

Then along with that, our owner and President; Max Shapira, is a true icon in the industry from the business side, and being able to watch him work, and having access to him is truly amazing.

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

Bourbon Tourism. Seeing hundreds of thousands of bourbon enthusiasts from all over the world traveling to and visiting all of our visitors centers on the Bourbon Trail is very exciting.

What do you see as being the future of whiskey in the short term?

As I write this, we are in the middle of the COVID19 Pandemic, so seeing how the industry navigates this challenging.

In the short term, watching how we get Bourbon Tourism back up and functioning again will be one of the biggest challenges.

Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?

I do believe the Glencairn Glass has been SO embraced by the industry, AND the consumer, that people ask for it by name, or just use the name Glencairn Glass as they do “Xerox copy”.

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