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Bernie Lubbers, 'The Whiskey Professor'

Bernie Lubbers, widely known as 'The Whiskey Professor', talks to The Drinks Report about his role as brand ambassador at Heaven Hill Brands and winning an Icons of Whiskey America 2016 title

Bernie Lubbers Heaven Hill Brands

When did you decide you wanted to work in the whiskey industry?

The industry kind of decided that I needed to be a part of it really. I was a stand-up comedian and musician and I had been a part of several events where many of the distilleries would be executing tastings and I got to know a few of them. One contacted me and asked me to interview for a position to do events and promotions around Kentucky, and I was hired for that position. That was in 2005, and American whiskey was not the hot category it is today; and being a comedian and a Kentucky native bourbon drinker (with my parents who drank bourbon) I wrote my own bourbon tastings and presentations. When the small batch and single barrel bourbons started to pop, I was right there in the middle of it, and they invited me to come on to the brand team and be an ambassador. 


Tell us about how you got to where you are today with Heaven Hill Brands

I’ve just started my third year here at Heaven Hill, and it’s been a great experience. Because we are family owned and operated, it works much different than other companies. It was quite a challenge to wrap my head around so many different types of American whiskeys and expressions and how to present them. But working with a brand team that really understands what I need in the field, and being able to work with a sales force that knows exactly where these different expressions fit, made it really special, and with the support of the family and that I’m given free reign to write my own presentations that support the marketing; as a result we’ve come up with some very innovative ways to conduct tastings.


What does your role as American Whiskey Brand Ambassador at Heaven Hill entail?

To put it simply, I am the face of  our American whiskeys brands here at Heaven Hill. That means whatever is associated with those brands, I work with our sales force and we connect with the folks that are the end users of our product from bartenders, servers, chefs, to the consumer that drinks the product at home, or out at a cocktail lounge, and our distributor partners who handle not only our brands, but other companies, and how to know where ours play and work alongside all the other brands and whiskeys that are out there. 

What brands do you represent from Heaven Hill’s portfolio?

I represent the entire line of American Whiskey here at Heaven Hill:
Evan Williams – our flagship brand, and it’s extensions Evan Williams 1783 Small Batch and Evan Williams Single Barrel. Then our great Elijah Craig line of Small Batch at 94 proof and Barrel Proof; and our Single Barrel 18 and 23 year old expressions.

Pikesville Rye, Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey, Larceny Bourbon. Our Bottled In Bond Collection which is Mellow Corn BIB (Corn Whiskey), Evan Williams BIB Bourbon, Rittenhouse BIB Rye, and Henry McKenna Single Barrel BIB Bourbon.

I also get to talk about some of the coolest and historic regional brands like Heaven Hill, J.W. Dant, Old Fitzgerald and others. How lucky am I to be able to present these awesome whiskeys?!


You are widely known as ‘The Whiskey Professor’ – how did the name come about? 

Well when I started doing this, we figured I wasn’t a distiller, and being a former stand up and entertainer, I really wanted to be able to conduct whiskey tastings and presentations in a very informative and in depth way, but also have fun, and make it as entertaining as I could. Most of all, I’m teaching so Whiskey Professor seemed like it described my role quite nicely.


You are also known for being a musician and comedian, does this take up most of your spare time?

What’s spare time? I wish I had more time to do some stand up and comedy, but music has been taking up the lion’s share of my spare time for a few years now. I’ve been learning bluegrass picking with my buddy Hickory Vaught and I get to jam with him on his gigs when I’m back home. It’s a blast and something I’ve always wanted to do.  


You were recently named American Whiskey Brand Ambassador of the year in Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky Awards 2016 – what do you think makes you stand out from other brand ambassadors in the industry?

There are so many great ambassadors out there that I see and work beside, and I admire what they do and how they do it. I do what most ambassadors do, I just put my whole heart and soul in to this lifestyle, and yes it is a lifestyle… you don’t ever clock out from this. I incorporate music and comedy in my presentations, but first and foremost knowledge and information about the category and our brands. I know the brands and where they fit, and I continue to learn about my category and the craft of whiskey. Learning from the greats like Parker Beam, and Jimmy Russell and others inspire me, and I always take the time to pick their brains and other distillers since they are so open and willing to share their knowledge and passion. 


What plans do you have for the future of the brands you represent?

I have been working on a presentation for the past couple years with my bluegrass music buddy Hickory that we have done at Camp Runamok and Tales of the Cocktail, but we are going to be bringing that to more markets and bring the history of whiskey in Kentucky alive through live bluegrass music. The history of Bourbon and American whiskey and bluegrass music mingles together so nicely when paired with a tasting, and I look forward to be able to present that to folks around the country, and around the world. 


As an ambassador, what importance do you place on educating both the trade and consumer on history, production, legislation etc?

As an ambassador, you have to educate on many subjects. We have such fans of the whiskeys, and they are so curious, you have to be ready to explain the most general questions and inquiries, to the most in depth, and minute. As ambassadors we must also train our internal sales force and distributor partners. I do think that it is key to have presentations geared to helping them place and move through product, and that’s a whole other presentation, so you have to be able to speak on many levels.


What can we look forward to from Heaven Hill in 2016?

Well of course each September our Parkers Heritage comes out with another unique expression, so watch out for that. I can’t tell you a whole lot, but I can tell you this, you will see a new Bottled In Bond product hit the market that will surprise the hell out of you.

23 November 2015