New Riff Distillery

Photography by Julie Kramer

Newport, Kentucky

What are the odds that a distillery, in need of a freshwater source to realize its first foray into bourbon, would discover a natural aquifer running beneath the busiest intersection in one of Northern Kentucky’s most thriving communities?

Jay Erisman doesn’t claim to be a magician, but his bourbon-making team at Newport’s New Riff Distillery has achieved a bit of wizardry. After consulting with groundwater specialists and studying U.S. geological surveys dating back to the 1960s, an engineer confirmed the private source flowing just beneath an available parcel of land adjacent to The Party Source—one of the largest and most popular packaged liquor depots in the country.

“We were very fortunate,” Erisman says. “The water is 58 degrees every day of the year, with four times the mineral content of other local water.”

That quality of the water is important. So is the corn, non-GMO ears plucked from Greensburg, IN. Then there’s the rye, which New Riff buys from what Erisman calls the “single finest supply in the entire bourbon industry.” Rye is especially important to the flavor, since New Riff’s bourbon calls for 30%—not the highest concentration in the industry, Erisman points out, but “pretty darn high,” considering that anything above 20% qualifies as high-rye bourbon.

Inspired by the region’s bourbon-making tradition, all of New Riff’s bourbons are aged and bottled in bond per legal regulations established by the 1897 Bottled-in-Bond Act. It all adds up to big-bodied fullness, butterscotch-vanilla aromas, and a savory rye kapow! that stands up to Old Fashioneds and Manhattan recipes.

New Riff began making its inaugural batch of bourbon when the distillery opened in 2014, and the bottled spirit aged for five years before this fall’s first release. Patient fans got a sneak peek at an August tasting party, and bottles recently began hitting retail shelves

New Riff Distillery
24 Distillery Way
Newport, KY
Tue–Sat 11am–7pm; Sun 11am–4pm
Find it at: liquor stores in Ohio and Northern Kentucky

Hannah is a graduate of NKU's political science program and a freelance creative who writes extensively about development in Greater Cincinnati. She doesn't like to fly, but she loves to travel. Her favorite books are A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Love in the Time of Cholera.