Covid-19 delays Jim Rutledge’s distillery plans

Jim Rutledge’s plans to build the JW Rutledge Distillery in Kentucky have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic as the site struggles to raise enough capital to begin construction.

In 2016, former Four Roses master distiller Jim Rutledge announced plans to open his own distillery after eight months of retirement from the Four Roses Distillery.

However, raising capital to build the distillery has been a huge challenge for Rutledge as the pandemic further delayed plans.

Rutledge told The Spirits Business last month: “This year has been challenging. Covid‐19 has put everything at a standstill, and quite a few investors needed their money back. We’ve been approached by several other groups that are interested but made no commitments yet.”

In the interim, Rutledge has done some consulting work and developed new brands, including Cream of Kentucky Bourbon and High Plains Bourbon and rye whiskey. He has also been distilling several times a year at Castle and Key in Kentucky.

“It takes a year to two years to make a distillery,” Rutledge said. “We’re building brands as we go on. We don’t have to wait until we make a distillery. We’re closing on a group that’s raising money with us and working on a low-interest loan.

“Once we have other things in place then we will start the High Plains brand in the US, but we will also start laying down barrels that I have distilled. I’ll be distilling at another distillery for our brands.”

Rutledge has his sights set on three potential sites in Kentucky for the JW Rutledge Distillery, which will produce Bourbon and rye whiskey once the site gains the funding to begin construction.

Rutledge hopes to “maintain the integrity” of Bourbon and rye whiskey and build a modern and sustainable distillery “that looks more like a Californian winery”. It will be a “mid-sized” distillery with capacity for 35,000 barrels a year.

Bright future for American whiskey

In the current climate, Rutledge is confident that investment in the American whiskey category will continue. “It’s one industry that has survived the great recession, and it’s done well through Covid‐19,” he said.

“We will continue the growth of the past 10 or 15 years. We’re still at the point where we’re just catching up from where the Bourbon industry was in the late 1960s.

“The number of barrels ageing in 1968 reached the peak then it started dropping for about 20 years and levelled out. Back then about 10% of the barrels were targeted for export markets. Today it’s 40%. We’ve got a long, long way to go before we reach the peak and level out. I have no concerns about that. The future looks very bright for the industry.”

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Author: Nicola Carruthers

Timothy Kelly

Tim is the Founder & Master Distiller at Felene. He developed his passion for the spirits and hospitality business while growing-up and working in his family's restaurant and liquor store business. Tim’s passion for the epicurean lifestyle has found it’s latest manifestation in the Felene Distillery. Tim is a 5-time Gold Medal Award winning Distiller. He has won a Platinum medal at the Prestigious Los Angeles Spirits Awards and his signature vodka was named Best-in-Category by the American Distilling Institute. Mr. Kelly is also a prolific author and writer and his blog is filled with ideas, discoveries, observations and recommendations to help his readers enjoy life’s simple epicurean pleasures.

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