As you walk down into the newly renovated family entertainment area of Kerri-lyn and Jason Holland's home, you’ll be welcomed by a beautiful full bar area with a dark moody feel. In fact, you might expect Jon Hamm's whisky-drinking Mad Men character, Don Draper, to walk in any minute and mix himself a stiff old fashioned and light a cigar.
The black bartop is framed in with comfy bar stools where the Holland’s are sure to spend hours entertaining friends and clients.The back of the bar is mirrored with sleek glass shelves filled with some of Jason Holland’s favourite sippers.
As a former NHL hockey player and one of Edmonton’s top real estate agents, many know of Jason’s passions for real estate and hockey - but less known is his love of bourbon.
“Right now I have over 40 different bourbons in my collection. Some brand names you’ll recognize like Woodford, Michter’s, New Riff, Still Austin and Blantons, others are rare and one in particular is one of a kind,” says Holland.
That rare bottle of Bourbon comes directly from Jason’s most recent bourbon adventure. This year he and 4 other friends decided to wade into the ever growing single-barrel whiskey industry. If you’ve not yet heard of single-barrel whiskey programs – this is one of the fastest growing segments of North America’s billion dollar craft distillery industry.
For bourbon whiskey connoisseurs finding rare and top-notch whiskeys is a challenging and expensive process. Brown spirits have become so trendy that many top whiskies are hard for retailers to source, even harder to keep on shelves and come at a huge price point. But this is where single-barrel programs come in. For people who are looking for something they’ve never tasted before, a single-barrel can offer that uniqueness. Every barrel produces a different flavour profile - depending on how the barrel was made or even stored. If you want a truly rare flavour profile, you can now buy a barrel yourself and have a truly one of a kind experience. One barrel can produce 120 - 150 bottles of something magical and truly unique.
That was something Jason and his friends wanted to try! So they worked in partnership with Edmonton’s Whiskey Drop on 149th street, to purchase a single-barrel from Boulder, Colorado’s, Boulder Spirits, and bring it to Canada.
Whiskey Drop was founded by a group of independent whisky experts, including Graham Usher, the former owner of Unwined. It offers over thirty years experience in the whisky and scotch business as retailers and educators. It specializes in whisky from all over the world and offers its own Whisky Club and subscription services.
The way single barrel programs work, individuals usually visit a distillery and sample many different whiskeys right out of the barrel at cask strength. But when COVID hit, the ability to sample whisky right in the distiller’s rickhouse became too challenging, so distillers started shipping samples. Due to U.S liquor regulations, distillers can only sell to distributors, distributors can only sell to retailers or liquor stores and retailers can then sell to drinkers.
While it may sound complicated for an individual to buy a cask, the demand for rare single-barrel purchases by individuals has had distillers, distributors and retailers come together to streamline the process.
Looking to kick-start their single-barrel purchase, Boulder Spirits shipped Jason and his group of bourbon aficionados 6 samples to try. The group chose their favourite. Whisky Drop, in Edmonton put in the order through Boulder’s Alberta distributor in November and in February their 120 bottles from their cask arrived, all stamped with their own label. The partnership with liquor retailers makes getting a rare bottle of whiskey far more manageable in both volume and price.
Whiskey Drop, if they like the single-barrel selection, purchases 60 of the bottles for their exclusive Whisky Club customers, and Jason and each of his partners got 30 bottles to enjoy and share.
Ryan Negley, with Boulder Spirits in Colorado says, “Store picks and single barrels for private clients have become such a big share of our overall sales within the last couple of years. We definitely had to write in sales programming geared towards that! The retailers that were ‘in the know’ early on really were driving the early barrel sales. Once the whiskey community caught up to how special some of these individual casks can be, it’s been a barrage of phone calls since. There’s a lot of pride in these selections, so buyers are eager to sell something they have a thumbprint on.”
Holland couldn’t agree more. He’s very much enjoyed the process and would 100 percent do it again, and the bourbon is nothing short of exceptional.
“At cask strength this bourbon is 63 percent proof, so it may not be the one you reach for on a regular Tuesday night,” jokes Holland, “but with a little ice, you can dilute its strength with the water and really enjoy it. It makes a really nice client gift, and I’ve already been able to gift a bottle of our bourbon and have a celebration glass over the sale of a home with a client,” says Holland.
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