Watershed Distillery CEO Greg Lehman talks bourbon with debut of expanded lineup

Columbus Business First

Photo by DAN EATON: Watershed’s Bottled-in-Bond bourbon.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–Watershed Distillery welcomed the first customers into its new restaurant in 2017.

As those patrons ate and drank, Watershed was making bourbon just beyond the glass garage doors separating the restaurant from the distillery.

That bourbon is now ready to drink.

Founder and CEO Greg Lehman called it time-traveling, and those are the tales he and his staff hope to share as they roll out a pair of new bourbon products – a bottled-in-bond bourbon and a new blended bourbon.

Watershed hosted a distillery tour and tasting with media members Thursday and Lehman often punctuated his talk with tidbits about where the bourbon was at varying stages in the company’s history. It’s that sort of storytelling the brand hopes to share with customers.

The first new bourbon is the bottled-in-bond.

“There’s something special about bottled-in-bond,” he said.

The industry designation applies to bourbon that meets a handful of specific requirements – it must be at least four years old, it must be 100 proof, and the barrels used all must be made in the same season (either January through June or July through August).

Lehman said Watershed always wanted a bourbon with an age statement – an official assurance that no bourbon younger than the stated age was in the bottle – but building up to that point has been tough due to the constant need of balancing immediate sales with aging stock.

“If you asked us in 2010, we would’ve said we’d have it by 2016,” Lehman admitted.

Fellow Columbus distillery Middle West Spirits shared a similar struggle with Columbus Business First. How much to put out, how much to hold back?

Watershed has a better hold on that balance today. Lehman said when they realized they had to stock to pull it off, they also realized they had the ability to do bottled-in-bond bourbon. It was just a matter of bringing up the proof. The first batch comes from 10 barrels.

The blended bourbon is something Lehman admitted they wouldn’t have considered in 2010, but added in retrospect, he would have done it earlier than a decade into the business.

The new bourbon blend is a mix of its standard bourbon, its apple brandy-finished bourbon and bourbon sourced from outside the distillery. That apple brandy-finished bourbon is six years old.

“That’s before the restaurant even existed,” Lehman said.

Both bourbons are available in 750-milliliter bottles in seven states, including Ohio. The suggested retail price of the Watershed Bottled-in-Bond is $49.99. The Watershed Distillery Bourbon is $39.99.

The relaunched bourbon collection comes as Watershed has also brought in a new head distiller, Aaron Harris, who is making bourbon innovation one of his imperatives. He arrives in Columbus from Bardstown, Kentucky, where he most recently served as distillery supervisor for Lux Row Distillers. He also was in that same role at Barton 1892 Distillery.

For more business headlines, go to ColumbusBusinessFirst.com.

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