Angel's Envy

The whiskey that enticed a distilling legend out of retirement

April 7, 2020
By Melissa Parker

Cult Kentucky bourbon whiskey Angel’s Envy is now available for sale in the United Kingdom and Australia; the first markets outside the United States.

Founder Wes Henderson (below) sat down with Drinks Trade pre-shutdown to talk about the bourbon brand he founded nine years ago with his distilling legend father, Lincoln Henderson, in the basement of his house in Kentucky.

Wes Henderson

“Looking back, distilling was nothing that I ever expected to be doing. I grew up in the business, and I thought what my Dad was doing was cool. He was the master distiller at Brown Forman for almost 40 years. I never got too close to the business until much later in life. I got a lot of experience in running other companies and doing other things.

“Dad retired from Brown Forman and I had an idea that it might be fun to do a bourbon brand as a family. It was suggested to me by a friend of mine who asked me why I had never done anything with Dad. I didn’t have a good answer, and so the wheels started turning. I asked him to come along for the journey, and he agreed. We launched in 2011, and since then, things have been a blur.

“The challenge I had with Dad was I wanted him engaged and excited. At the beginning, we weren’t quite sure what we wanted to do. We talked about a number of things, and we definitely wanted to be different. We knew he would be excited about coming back into the bourbon world because he had such an amazing reputation. He created so many amazing products. If he was going to come out of retirement, it needed to be something special.

“We kept coming back to secondary barrel finishes. It had been done for years with Scotch and at Brown Forman did it with Glenmorangie. No one had done it with bourbon. That was our jump point. When we started doing the finishing and saw the reception, it became a centre point. We became a brand known for being creative and innovative and super-premium with secondary barrel finishes.

“It is always neat to be the first one who does things. It had been tried a couple of times before, but it wasn’t the right timing and timing is everything. You can have the best product in the world, the best people in the world, the best everything, but if it is not the right time it may not be successful. It was the right time. People were starting to be a lot more bourbon curious than they had been back in 2009 – 10. It was early in the bourbon up-swing, but we just nailed it. Right time and right place.

“Dad was a guiding presence. If you listen to the interviews with my Dad before he passed away, he talks a lot about the reason he did this was to work with us. He had created some of the top products in the world but he wanted to work with me and his grandsons. For the last six years of his life, that was what he was able to do.

“The name is based on the angel’s share. We lose 3-5% a year to evaporation so we say we are sharing that with the angels. What’s left they are envious of. They get theirs and we get ours. Also, you have to give to get. You have to give up that angel’s share to get really good bourbon.

“I tell people to drink it any way you like it. It is nice to try it in its native form initially which would be neat and then explore cocktails after that. Because we are so bartender centric, it is fun to watch the bartenders work with it and create things themselves. My favourite cocktail in the world is the traditional Kentucky Mint Julep because it represents Kentucky and the Kentucky Derby. I typically drink my bourbon neat, but one of my favourite ways to drink it is in a bourbon sour. It’s not complicated, it’s not terribly sexy, but when it is done well, it is phenomenal.

“The reception in Australia to Angel’s Envy has been overwhelming, especially in the bartending community. The history of the brand is rooted in bartenders and the on-trade. We are very close and active in the bartending community. Not just from a transactional perspective, but very personal and very deep connections. The minute we got here, we saw those connections. People already knew about Angel’s Envy and were asking for Angel’s Envy. I have been at a few bars in town where I have seen the bottle already on the shelf. People have bought it from the states and put it on the shelves. I am always excited when I see that.

“We are so happy to be here. It is just starting to sink in that the little company I started in the basement of my house is now a global brand. It is really a credit to the fantastic people I am surrounded with in the US and our two incredible whiskey guardians in Australia; they are such a talent. It is a great feeling.”

Angel’s Envy is now available in Australia and distributed by Bacardi Limited.

Brands across Bacardi’s portfolio have united to help produce more than 267,000 gallons (1.1 million liters) of hand sanitisers around the world during COVID-19. Angels’ Envy is supplying nearly 1000 gallons (3800 litres) of alcohol to create approximately 16,000 8-ounce (250 ml) bottles of free hand sanitisers for first responders and healthcare professionals.

This article appears in Drinks Trade Autumn. Click here to read the digital edition.

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