I would imagine that even the most avid commentator on American Culture would be hard pushed to disprove a symbiotic link between its music and its whiskey. Whether it’s the honkey-tonk piano soundtrack, to the shot of whiskey being slid down the bar prior to a saloon brawl, or the wild whiskey-fuelled road parties of hard rocking bands touring the country in the 70’s. It seems that one entity has underpinned the other in our collective conscious, since the first white dog rolled off a still, and Edison first recorded sound.
Clearly, such antics are now merely nostalgia. And these rebellious acts of hedonism – although they are revered by some – are confined to the pages of history and legends of times past.
So, what’s the current situation with this old relationship? Are we to believe that in the “PC” age where you can be branded a “Snowflake” if you’ve ever eaten a salad leaf, there is no room for an appreciation of good music and good whisky?
You see, one thing is pretty much certain, whether it is music, whisky, art, beer, cooking, engineering, or the outcome of ANY creative exercise:
THE GOOD STUFF LASTS.
So, when news of Bob Dylan’s venture into Whiskey hit, back in 2018, both the music and whiskey communities were understandably intrigued. I think it’s fair to say that a one-off exercise in shameless self-promotion doesn’t appear to be Mr Dylan’s style. Even if it was, choosing to collaborate with Angel’s Envy Bourbon founder Marc Bushala and Master Blender Ryan Perry, is hardly the recipe for a short-term cash-in.
I was lucky enough to be able to grab Ryan for a quick chat last week, and here’s what he had to say –
Connas: Hi Ryan, and a warm welcome to you AND Heavens Door Whiskey to the UK!
Ryan: Thanks so much – we’re happy to be chatting with you.
C: Now, we’ve been hearing talk of Bob Dylan’s venture into whiskey since 2018, for the benefit of those of us in the UK who’ve been waiting patiently to get our hands on some. Can you give us an idea as to how you ended up collaborating on a whiskey with – arguably – the greatest songwriter of our times?
R: Marc (Bushala), a long time spirits entrepreneur, and myself, decided to come together to start our own whiskey brand, because we saw an opportunity to do things differently – dictated less by traditional category norms and governed instead by a relentless pursuit to create (what we think) is the best tasting whiskey. Over time, we had been building an inventory of unique aged barrel stocks from around North America. We were tipped off that Bob Dylan had submitted a trademark application for the term “Bootleg Whiskey,” as he’s a long-time whiskey aficionado, and reached out to Bob’s team to see if he’d be open to a discussion.
We eventually got to speak and the idea of a portfolio of small-batch whiskeys was born. The brand, of course, ended up being launched under the name Heaven’s Door Whiskey in 2018, but, late last year we released the inaugural Volume of our Bootleg Whiskey Series, featuring a 26 year aged whiskey finished in Japanese Mizunara oak barrels, so the story has come full circle.
C: As with any collaboration, there are inevitably huge decisions to be made with regards to recipe, processing and executing the final whiskey. What were the main goals in perfecting Heaven’s Door, and how did you go about fulfilling them?
R: As you might imagine, Bob is incredibly meticulous and detail-oriented, so I worked closely with him to ensure the taste profile of each whiskey was unique to Heaven’s Door and great, by our standards. Each of our whiskeys contains one of Bob’s designs and crafted iron gates on the bottle, which are beautiful pieces of art, so the whiskey inside had to match the superiority of what is being displayed on the bottle.
With a unique high-rye mashbill, our Bourbon is untraditional to its roots and does not go through
the Lincoln County process, allowing the natural spiciness of the rye to shine through.
With a unique blend of three different whiskeys, aged separately, before being blended together
in alligator char barrels, the flavor of our Double Barrel is strong (100 proof) yet smooth, with a hint
Our Rye is first aged in charred new American oak barrels, then finished in hand toasted French oak cigar barrels, harvested and dried in Vosges, France, giving the whiskey a much smoother and distinctive finish than most Ryes. As Heaven’s Door continues to gain momentum, our main goal is to continue blending art and craft while making whiskeys that we love.
C: The UK Market for American whisky is growing massively. What do you think is the main characteristic that will help Heaven’s Door outshine the others?
R: Heaven’s Door has garnered 35+ top awards in premier spirits competitions, including the 2019 London Spirits Competition, where Heaven’s Door Double Barrel Whiskey was named “Whisky of the Year,” “Spirit of the Year by Quality,” “Spirit of the Year by Value,” and “Best in Show.” While these awards are not something we strive to win, it has proven our approach to whiskey-making resonates with our enthusiasts, which is fulfilling.
We’ve received a tremendous amount of inquiries to expand overseas since launching not that long ago, and we’re thrilled we were able to finally catch up to our demand to make it happen, 55 years after Bob kicked off his first European tour. As we continue to evolve, we’ll continue experimenting with unique barrel finishes, seeking rare stocks and challenging ourselves to bring different spirits to the market.
C: What are your hopes for Heaven’s Door in the future? Is there a Distillery on the way? Are there plans for any exciting innovation? What can we expect?
R: We’re excited to report our Heaven’s Door Distillery and Center for the Arts is under construction and slated to open in 2021 in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, in honour of our co-creator, Bob Dylan’s connection to, and influence on, the city. It will feature a craft distillery, a whiskey library, a small restaurant and a large live performance venue, all part of a renovation project to the 160-year-old Elm Street Church. We’re also working on Volume 2 of the Bootleg Series, with a rare whiskey stock, which will be to market later this year, closer to the holiday season.
So, there you have it, Heavens Door Whiskey.
A genuine attempt to embrace the cultural significance of music and whiskey with a palpable focus on a lasting creative excellence?
As ever, that’s up to you lot, not me!
Those of you with a keen eye on twitter may have noticed that we’ve received some Heavens Door for reviewing. Keep those eyes peeled, they’ll be coming at you soon!
Thanks for popping in folks, and huge thanks to Ryan for taking time to talk to us!