spirits explained

Chris Yarbrough, Chief Marketing Officer of Brough Brothers

Miranda Hodge, ReserveBar Staff Writer
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Brough Brothers Bourbon is more than bourbon: it’s a spirit steeped in tradition and family values. For brothers Chris, Bryson, and Victor Yarbrough, the creation of their bourbon was rooted in the gifts that each of them brought to the table – everything from chemistry to distribution to marketing comes directly from the talents and family legacy of the brothers. Chris Yarbrough, the Chief Marketing Officer of Brough Brothers, joined us to share more about their work and what the future holds for this incredible brand.

How did you get started with Brough Brothers?

Simply, my brothers owned a company, and they wanted me to use my experience and skills to benefit the family business. As the Chief Marketing Officer, my job has been focused on making sure people know about our bourbon and developing the brand’s popularity. I have an interesting job; I'm actually in the middle of introducing a whole new demographic to bourbon in general.

How did you three decide to become the first African American distillery in Kentucky?

Brough Brothers belongs to its parent company, which is Victory Global, founded by Victor Yarbrough. Victory Global started out as an import and export distribution company between the US and the UK, focusing on hard-to-find products such as fine ciders, fine spirits, fine whiskies, and moonshine. So, after learning the business of distribution, Victor thought it'd be a great time for us to vertically integrate and manufacture our own product and place our product in those distribution channels. In order to manufacture our own product or brand, we had to build a distillery. So the question became where to open the distillery. Understanding the international appeal and booming growth of Bourbon and being from Kentucky, it became obvious that we needed to build it in our hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

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From experience and years of building relationships in the spirits industry, we knew there were no current African American manufacturers in Kentucky; and with additional research, we found there had never been an African American-owned distillery in Kentucky. So our journey began to build Kentucky’s first Black-owned distillery with the goal to leave a generational legacy. We were granted our Federal DSP in 2018 and took a few years to build the distillery, and finally started distilling in 2020. It will take a few years for the bourbon we distill and barrel to come to market. While we can’t wait for people to taste the bourbon that Bryson Yarbrough, Kentucky’s first African American Master Distiller, has distilled, In the meantime, we’ve sourced a phenomenal bourbon that is in stores and at Reservebar now.

What can we expect to come next for your brand?

What is coming next for the Brough Brothers is that we're going to be introducing an Overproof Rum in May of 2022, distilled and bottled by Brough Brothers Distillery. We are continuing state expansion of our Brough Brothers available at Reservebar. There is also one more product launching later in the year, that's going to be a surprise for the people. So, 2022 will be an exciting year for Brough Brothers.

What was it like starting this business with your brothers?

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Starting a business with your siblings can be challenging. You each bring to the table different personalities, experiences and own set of ideas. Each brother has earned their respect in the respective lanes, so as a partner in this process, we can’t just really brush off anyone's ideas, suggestions, or solutions.

But what I can say is Victor Yarbrough, the oldest, there's such an amount of great respect with his decision-making. He's been making decisions of a high magnitude for a long time. So the respect that Bryson and I have for his decision-making is bar none. And the trust that you have between your brothers is, I think that's really the key that pushes us. We all know that we're here for each other; we're not going to let each other down. We're here to encourage each other; we're here to give each other confidence. And we're here to be that shoulder to lean on.

For someone new to bourbon, where would you suggest they start?

I would definitely tell them to start with Brough Brothers. That's my first suggestion. I believe that the makeup of our bourbon is perfect for someone who's being introduced to bourbon. It’s definitely a wonderful introduction into bourbon at a great price point.

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I always tell people that everyone's taste buds are different. Everyone picks up on different dynamics and nuances in flavor. With Brough Brothers, you will get that vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. People can also pick up on the apple, and the pear notes suddenly. I'm actually surprised by this, but it’s so exciting when people do pick up on the pear and apple notes. If you find the time to visit us, you’ll discover that we're doing the tastings in our tour process. A lot of people can taste the notes, and I can only taste maybe a few — I can typically pick up on the cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg.

Brough Brothers makes a tremendous cocktail that we call “Bourbonade.” This simple way to enjoy our bourbon is just two ounces of lemonade and one ounce of Brough Brothers Bourbon. I also like to enjoy it with mango and pineapple juice. Of course, you can adjust your ratios to fit your cocktail preference. But pineapple, mango and lemonade are my go-to's for Brough Brothers. We just wanted to use a couple of ingredients to be able to just make it easier for you to be able to make a cocktail while you're at a barbecue, at a family reunion, or anything of the sort. We want this bourbon to be enjoyed around family and loved ones.

What was it like for you to start the first African American-owned distillery in Kentucky?

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Being from Louisville, Kentucky, I think that our pursuits are going to be welcomed. And to a certain extent, we have already seen the effects of us being an African American distillery. The city and state have been very supportive; even still, there are challenges to overcome. We’re busy and staying focused on becoming a household name. We want to be your Jack Daniel’s, your Buffalo Trace, or your Heaven Hill. So, that's our goal. I don't know if we will be alive to see it or not. But this is a plan that has been written out for 200 years by Victor Yarbrough. That's our goal — to be a household name. A world-renowned international brand, many would be surprised to discover that the product was first sold in the UK. The States were actually one of the countries to follow that initial release.

Did launching your bourbon in 2020 create new opportunities or challenges for you?

During COVID in 2020, I would say that those events actually helped propel us forward in unexpected ways. As far as expanding in some states on time, COVID may have hindered that just a little. But for the most part, it propelled the brand because people stayed at home, and our partnership ReserveBar started. ReserveBar allowed us to sell our bourbon to our supporters in other states. I believe when we first came out in 2020, we were in three states: Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida. With the Florida connection and ReserveBar, we were able to ship out to 13 to 14 states and reach our supporters. It was exciting to be able to take advantage of that. It made 2020 become more of a blessing than a curse.

Are there any closing thoughts before you go?

When people understand who we are, I hope they recognize Brough Brothers as the manifestation of generations of our ancestors. We come from a great lineage, including our parents, who were incredible people. My mother is still alive; our father's deceased, but he was an entrepreneur. He was one of your first black coffee shop owners here in Louisville. He had a restaurant that was thriving. My grandmother, she was an entrepreneur; she did well. My mother: she's very educated; she always just gave us all the confidence and encouragement for us to be able to go out in the world and believe that we could honestly do anything. So there's never a doubt in our heads that we can’t achieve what we set out to do; the sky's the limit, and there's nothing we can’t accomplish.