0

Cocktails on the Vegas Strip! Now Madre Mezcal offers a Gateway to a Better Taste

Cocktails on the Vegas Strip! Now Madre Mezcal offers a Gateway to a Better Taste

Today’s conversation is with Ryan Fleming from Madre Mezcal.  The LA nightlife veteran reveals his time working behind the bar in some of Southern California’s hottest spots, as well as the inspiration that got him to travel to Mexico, discovering Mezcal. 

The aroma, flavors, science and food pairings for Mezcal.

Love Tequila?  Discover the Gateway to better taste with Madre Mezcal's Ryan Fleming

Love Tequila?  Discover the Gateway to better taste with Madre Mezcal’s Ryan Fleming

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.  For the full, unedited conversation, visit our YouTube Channel.

 

“…I’ve been a big Mezcal lover before I ever sold it…”

Joe Winger:  Can you share the behind the scenes or how the brand itself was created? 

Ryan Fleming: I’ve been a big Mezcal lover before I ever even sold it or made a dollar doing that. So I got to actually meet Ron Cooper, who is the legend that started the Del Maguey label back in 2011.

I got to drink rabbit Pachuca with him and all these other amazing things. The reason I bring him up is he’s a kind of one of the people that we look up to, how to sustainably bring a brand and how to create culture that crosses boundaries in a sense. 

He has a beautiful book that I recommend anyone to read if you haven’t read Ron Cooper’s book.

But we share a similar story. One of our founding partners, Tony Farfalla and one of my good friends, Stefan Tony’s an artist and he was literally traveling through Oaxaca doing documentaries and embracing the art and culture. He happened to meet Jose Morales, which is the first family we ever worked with.

If you have original bottles of Madre [Mezcal] before the labels have changed, it used to say Jose’s name on the bottle. 

So Tony was bringing bottles back to Brooklyn in plastic water bottles and it snowballed. His friends in Brooklyn were like, this stuff’s great. Started out in plastic water bottles in 2014. I think it was 2016 when our first glass bottles actually came by and we became like of a more legit brand and company.  But it started with Tony and Stefan; and they brought on our CEO and COO, Chris and Davide.

Chris actually is one of the founding driving forces in the electronic scene in the 90s in Europe. Chris comes from a very artistic, music based background. Then he went on to work for some bigger alcohol brands in the vodka world. 

Davide, who is our COO, my direct boss, who I love, is Italian and his whole family built furniture and he got his big break by importing and bringing furniture over [to the United States]. He also works with a beautiful high end apparel line. 

“…everyone has a very unique artistic background, which really reflects the brand and the label…”

So everyone has a very unique artistic background, which really reflects the brand and the label. Just not wanting to make a quick buck and actually make something we can stand behind and believe in.

As the families now blossom into four, we use three: the Vasquez family, the Blas family and the Morales family are our three main producers for our red and black label, which most people are familiar with. 

We just brought in Moises and he’s actually from Santa Catarina Minas.  That’s a little town where all they really make is their production. It’s a town known for nothing but clay pot distillation. So if you actually use a copper pot in, in Manera and Santa Caterina Minas, you’re looked at as what are you doing? That’s not what we do here. 

He’s our last and newest producer and he may be the most cowboy of them all, and he’s my favorite.

When you get to Tlaxcala, you have to walk over like a little rope bridge over like a river and stuff into the hills of Minas to see his production, and he’s got his grandfather’s old still, and he’s got his mom’s little kitchen that he wants to reopen, and it’s like a restaurant. But if you and I were to look at it, it just looks like a backyard set of tables and chairs with a cooking center.

No, this is a restaurant for the village. It’s really beautiful down in Minas. I recommend everyone, if you get a chance to go down there, it felt like the jungles in Costa Rica, cause it’s up near the hills and it’s just so green and lush up there.

 

“…I’ve been working in the alcohol industry for almost 15 years …”

Joe Winger:  What got you down there? Was it for a vacation or for Mezcal?

Ryan Fleming: 

So I’ve been working in the alcohol industry for almost 15 years and I worked for the Houston Hospitality Group for over a decade, helping run programs and menus. I worked for a couple other restaurants, but I used to work for Stillhouse Whiskey, which many people remember the terrible flavored moonshine in a gas can.

Yeah I actually sold that. I did pretty well, there was always one flavor that someone loved. I had the mint chocolate chip and I would keep it in the freezer to take care of my sweet tooth when I didn’t have ice cream. So that’s how it started.

My buddy, Stefan, who’s one of the founding partners goes, “Hey, we got this Mezcal company.”  I was just basically consulting for free lunches. 

One day he goes, do you want to go to Oaxaca? And I went, absolutely. 

I familiar with going down to Mexico city, but I’d never been as far South as Oaxaca. So I jumped at the chance.

[Meanwhile] we all got an email from Stillhouse saying “Hey, I know things are being shaken up right now, but trust me, everything’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” 

That weekend, apparently the whole team got laid off, but I didn’t get the email untll I came home Monday. They’re saying, “Ryan, are you going to be okay? Do you need help finding work?”

So I went down to Oaxaca, met the families, broke bread with Jose Morales, got to meet his mother who blessed the roast and cooked us dinner.  They offered me a job.

That was started my journey about six years ago with Madre [Mezcal ]and I’ve been with him since.

Fleming motions to tattoos on his arms and hands.

Discovering Madre Mezcal

I have it tattooed on my hand right here. I have it tattooed on my palm right here. And I think I have another one on the inside of my leg too. We do tasting events and we’ll have pop up tattoo artists all the time.

 

Tequila vs Madre Mezcal

Joe Winger: 

You mentioned the tastings and the education.  Are there quick lessons that you teach the most often?

Ryan Fleming: 

Basic production, culture, financial, environmental and economic sustainability. 

I don’t think people understand that Oaxaca is the second poorest state in Mexico.  Everyone thinks the Mezcal boom must be bringing so many jobs, but it really only affects about 20 – 40,000 people that live in Oaxaca for the production, 

Mezcal is great because it does bring some financial sustainability to the families. Jose started off driving a taxi to pay his bills and now he’s making Mezcal in his family’s tradition.  His whole family, his cousin, his uncles, they all make Mezcal for a living now.

There’s so much culture behind it. Even the old argument of did the Spanish bring over copper stills and that started distillation or does it go back to the Aztecs and Mayans? Because they found distillate and pottery from 3000 years ago. It’s those little nuances.

People really like to talk about the environmental, but giving back to the people down there by not just buying product, but giving them some ownership, which Madre does do, so that everyone has a little bit of skin in the game.

So I think Sustainability, whether it’s environmental, economical, cultural, and production. Those are the things I really like to talk about.

Joe Winger:  What is the basic difference between mezcal and tequila? Or is it more complicated?

Ryan Fleming: 

You could say production techniques, additives, mass production are probably the three biggest differences. 

Tequila can only be made with one agave. It’s a blue weber.  Mezcal can be made with the other 47-ish varietals, and that number is always fluctuating, based on classification and family genius.

Production is the big one. Tequila is made in massive factories and made with either chemicals or steam for the most part. 

Whereas mezcal is actually made by hand, roasted in an earthen oven. The biggest thing that separates Tequila and Mezcal is the 1% additive rule.

Tequila can have up to 1% by volume additives, and they don’t have to tell you. That’s why certain large brands will say 100% Agave, but it’s full of additives, because it doesn’t take much  with modern chemistry. Just a couple drops of glycerin or vanilla extract to change the flavor and hide  all the nuances.

Mezcal can’t have any additives by law. 

Joe Winger: Can we walk through the roles and responsibilities between the families that produce Madre Mezcal?

Ryan Fleming: 

Yeah, the four families. Let’s start with Jose Morales. Him and his brother both make mezcal. Now they produce for us in the US exclusively. We encourage all of our families to continue making mezcal to trade. They use it for a local economy.

Every time I go down there, [their operation is growing].  When they started, they had three stills. Now there’s 12 up and running and they have solar power.  It’s just so crazy to see how much the transformation has happened. 

The original recipe, the blend of cuishe and espadine at 90 proof, that’s his family’s recipe. So we expanded that and we brought on Carlos Blas and the Vasquez family. Unfortunately, Natalio the father passed away a couple of years ago.

His daughters are now producing in the family’s tradition and we take whatever we can from them. 

But what we do, that’s a little bit different is, we started out when it was just Jose, he was making the blend himself. Now we have them make the espadine and the cuishe separately.

All three families are part of the process. Sometimes we just get cuiche from Jose. Sometimes Carlos makes all the espadine, but Carlos is like a master blender. 

We blend a cold style like Scotch does. Even though it’s not the most traditional way, all the distillation and process is as true as it can be.

But by blending post distillation allows us to keep consistency, which was a huge problem because every batch with your wild fermentation, your wild yeast and all these beautiful nuances, it’ll be inconsistent as you grow as a brand.  It was hard for us to keep consistency.

But by blending multiple terroirs and three different families’ production, we can keep a consistent product that tastes the same as well as expanding and bringing on more families to help instead of just going to a large factory house and not making what I would call “traditional Mezcal.”

Joe Winger: So focusing on your background, you mentioned that you’ve been a bartender in the LA nightlife.  Any memorable adventures or lessons you can share?

Ryan Fleming:

There are some stories I could tell that I probably don’t want to share publicly. But there are some amazing stories I can tell.

One of the oddest experiences I’ve ever had, I worked at Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, which is one of the most famous bars in the Hollywood nightlife in the past decade. 

Paul McCartney showed up at our door. 

But because our staff is younger and our door guys are a little bit younger, they thought it was an old weird British man that just showed up and they turned Paul McCartney away from the door.

‘Holy crap, is that Paul McCartney’?

He was like, do you know who I am? The guys [were like] ”We don’t care.” Like straight up, blowing Paul McCartney off. One of our managers came out and was like, ‘Holy crap, is that Paul McCartney’? And they’re like, wait, the guy from the Beatles?! 

My manager ran out, “Please come back,” and Paul had a great time at the bar. We got him a special little area to sit down. It was a packed Saturday.  It’s not a nightclub where we have gated off [areas]. Even if you reserve a table, people are inches away from you where you’re sitting at your table. 

Justin Bieber showed up one time and everyone went nuts.  He comes in, walks around, does a loop, comes out and goes, “I thought this was a hip hop club.” and just left.

It was a 1970s themed bar and we played nothing but 70s music. 

The dichotomy between the two different generations and to see them all melt into one location was one of the coolest things about working at that bar. 

 

Joe Winger:It’s so crowded because it’s so popular.  The Houston Brothers always do such a good job.

Ryan Fleming: 

Yeah.  The cocktails are still really good too. For as much volume as we used to do there, the biggest thing is how can I make a really beautiful cocktail that’s still cost effective and doesn’t take 12 steps. We got really good at batching stuff and figuring out how to infuse things.  Luckily our back of house was just the most amazing.  Mariano is the best barback I’ve ever had in my whole life. He’s still there. 

He is just a workhorse that got all the infusions. He would cook, he would infuse all of our products and he was just great. Even if we just did a jalapeno infusion on our tequila, if it got too spicy, he could break down the ratio and water it down with more products so that we could keep the spice level approachable.

Joe Winger:

What is the secret to high quantity yet high value cocktails? 

Ryan Fleming:

Batching is definitely the way to do it. Any of your alcohols that are shelf stable, you want to put all of those in the proper ratios in a bottle.

Instead of grabbing a modifier and your base spirit and another modifier, you’re grabbing one bottle with a special tape at the bottom, so you know which cocktail it goes to and then all your fresh stuff. 

You can’t batch the fresh stuff. It has to be separated because you put citrus in something and it goes bad in three days.  Now the whole batch is bad. So keeping your fresh stuff separated.

Joe Winger: Back to Madre Mezcal.  Obviously the bottles themselves are where all the power is.  So let’s talk about labels and taste profiles.

Ryan Fleming:

People love our labels. Our branding is top notch. It’s one of the first compliments we always get. “Oh my God, I love your branding.” 

Madre Mezcal Artesanal

Madre Mezcal Artesanal

Looked at Oaxacan culture and some other like medieval culture and combined the art from the two.

As far as the red label it’s the woman on the bull. It’s a really beautiful message of Mother Earth coming down and starting to share humanity and move across the world to plants and spread love.  That’s why she’s on the bull.  It’s the combination of animal, Mother Earth, and humans. 

Madre Mezcal Espandin

Madre Mezcal Espandin

The black label is a beautiful logo of a woman on the ground.  She’s planting and spreading the seed of life that gives us agave and flowers and fruit and vegetables and everything else.

Madre Mezcal Ancestral

Madre Mezcal Ancestral

The ancestral is this beautiful clay bottle with old clay vessels from Greece that carried wine with the fluid coming out and it’s supposed to celebrate the ancestral way of making mezcal and clay pots and clay distillation.

I always love telling the story of people who say mezcal is not supposed to be aged, which is a true-ish statement in my opinion. But back in the day, everything got transferred in barrels. So Mezcal would accidentally get aged in barrels because it would travel from town to town on horseback after the product was made.

So the idea that Mezcal was never aged is it wasn’t aged on purpose. 

Mezcal was accidentally aged in wood. The traditional way that people would age Mezcal is in glass and they would hide it underground. 

I always tell people, if you have a beautiful bottle of Mezcal, you should open it and take it out and put a wine cork in it, or at least crack the bottle and get some air because it really lets alcohol open up and aerate.

Mezcal benefits from a resting period. Pouring it in a nice open glass, like a snifter or a wine glass, letting it sit for about 5-10 minutes will really open it up.

Madre Mezcal tasting notes 

Madre is designed to be less smoky. I really hate the term smoky. I like the word roasted because what you’re tasting is like barbeque.

You’re tasting the roasting of the agave and the charcoaling and the burning of the outside agave which will affect the sugars, the caramelization.

Madre really was designed to be a more approachable mezcal. We call ourselves ”The gateway to the category.” 

We want to bring people from tequila over to Mezcal so you can explore what agave spirits also have to offer. 

It’s bright, clean, and smooth. I always compare it to a really nice, made tequila.

Our Espadine is actually a close cousin of [tequila’s] Blue Weber. It tastes really bright, clean and smooth.  But you’re going to get some of that minerality and smoke in the end. 

Like easy drinking with some earthy aromas. 

Joe Winger:  That night when I met you, what you handed me was my first taste of the night. I love that it was so pure and smooth.  It didn’t clog up my mouth for the rest of the night.

Ryan Fleming: 

I’m like you. I want to have 2-3 cocktails a night. Not just one and my palette’s done. 

Our Espadine to me is a 2-3 second palette.  It clears up and you get like a breath and it’s fading.  Our Ensemble goes on for 10- 12 seconds.  From sweet vanilla to chocolate to mineral and then to smoke.  Then the smoke fades and you get just a really beautiful, crisp.  It’s viscous. You can feel the oil in your mouth when you swirl it around and it makes the best Negroni.

Joe Winger:  Let’s talk about food pairings.

Ryan Fleming: 

I want to know if this caught you off guard, but it’s Italian food.

Very rich foods. These beautiful Mezcals are light and almost floral and fragrant, It cuts through the richness and creaminess of food.

That’s why mezcal and chocolate are consistently paired together, but that was just way too easy. There’s always mezcal chocolate pairings, but like a really nice Italian dish, something creamy and rich, like an Alfredo or a really well done piece of pizza, like a margarita or a white sauce pizza.

“…I want to know if this caught you off guard, but…”

We are working on doing some [pizza] pairings with some places in LA.   Do a different slice of pizza with three different cocktails of Madre and then have a tasting at the end.

Chocolate has a big part of Oaxaca too. You can’t not have some chocolate and mezcal at the end of the night. 

Espresso martinis are so hot again right now. Try making one with mezcal instead of vodka and just [see] how coffee helps open up the agave and the notes, and you’re going to get so much more going on in your cocktail.

If you pair a nice espresso martini with  beautiful, dark chocolate from Oaxaca.  That is your final cocktail at the end of the night, it won’t let you down.

Joe Winger:  You mentioned replacing Mezcal with vodka in a martini, are there any traditional or more common cocktails we should also try replacing Mezcal in?

Ryan Fleming: 

When I tell you this, it may blow your mind. Most gin cocktails are a little bit better with Mezcal.

There are certain times you need botanicals, but a lot of really good classic gin cocktails, if you sub them for Mezcal, are absolutely fantastic. 

Joe Winger:  I’m shocked because most gins have such unique aromatics.

Ryan Fleming: 

Which Mezcal has so many of those same unique terpenes going on that it changes the cocktail, but it works.

So instead of having botanicals, you have all these beautiful vegetal and mineral notes that just come from agaves. 

Joe Winger:  What are the biggest misconceptions in the world of Mezcal?

Ryan Fleming: 

A lot of people have a misconception, especially on the trade side, that we have grown exponentially. It’s been a lot of hard work. People think we have this massive team behind us.  There’s less than 20 of us on the whole team. That includes our team down in Oaxaca, who  watches over manufacturing and production for us down there. 

We don’t have an office.  We have a little tiny apartment in Venice for meetings.

A lot of people don’t understand the hard work that goes into creating a small brand. It’s just a lot of people working hard to create beautiful Mezcal, especially the families. 

People [unfairly comparing it to] tequila.  What do you mean, we can’t get more? Why is it so expensive? We have people going out hand collecting wild agaves and harvesting espadine.  All of that is hand cut, hand chopped.   I’ve hand cut agaves with the families.

None of this is industrialized or mechanized like tequila. 

Appreciate every drop of mezcal you have, because someone put a lot of love and labor into it.

Joe Winger:  Ryan, as we wrap up, let’s talk about where can learn more about Madre Mezcal? 

Ryan Fleming: 

We have a beautiful Instagram.  Madremezcal.com is our website. 

We also have this Instagram called mezcal. Learning and it’s a little short videos and little blurbs to talk about production, families, history, and culture. It is focused on Madre, but it’s not just Madre, it’s Mezcal as a whole.

If you want to know more about our families who produce, where it’s made, you can find all that information on madremezgal. com. 

Our bottles are in most of your nicer bottle shops, liquor stores. In California, we’re lucky enough to be in Trader Joe’s for the Espadine and Whole Foods has our Ensemble.

If you can’t find it,  go to madremezcal.com and we ship bottles to almost every state in the U S.

We’re in nine countries, too. Australia. All over Europe, Costa Rica.  We’re working on Japan and South Korea as well. So I’m just excited to see the culture of mezcal just expand beyond just America and see how excited because I, when I talk to people that are in London or, people in Australia, and they’re so excited about the idea of being able to get mezcal.

Joe Winger: What is the future for Madre?

Ryan Fleming: I can’t tell you about the big one.

But, [exciting things for] our Ancestral, which is pretty new and every batch of that’s going to be hand numbered and labeled.

We’re going to start doing small batch productions that will be very limited. Then the desert waters, which we have ready for summer. 

To learn more about MadreMezcal, visit MadreMezcal.com. Find them on Instagram at MadreMezcal

 

Advertisement

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Global Art lovers take notice as Jérôme Peschard Launches Art Exhibition at the Sofitel Saigon Plaza in Ho Chi Minh City

Jérôme Peschard Launches Art Exhibition at the Sofitel Saigon Plaza in Ho Chi Minh City

For the past 60 years, Sofitel Hotels & Resorts has epitomised the essence of French art de vivre across the globe. As 2024 heralds its Diamond Jubilee, commemorated with a series of exclusive events at Sofitel properties worldwide, Sofitel Saigon Plaza, the paragon of French hospitality in Ho Chi Minh City, proudly inaugurated an extraordinary celebration of art.

From Left- Betty Qiffe Pallard, Consul General Daniël Stork of the Netherlands to Vietnam, Nykky Do and Milena Padula- Spouse of Consul General of Italy to Vietnam / photos courtesy of Nick Middleton for the Sofitel Saigon Plaza.

photos courtesy of Nick Middleton for the Sofitel Saigon Plaza.

On the evening of June 21st, the Sofitel Saigon Plaza was the scene of a glittering event, marking the launch of a collaboration with the internationally renowned French Pop Artist, Jérôme Peschard.

French Pop Artist Jérôme Peschard Portrait / photo courtesy of Stephane Thierry

French Pop Artist Jérôme Peschard Portrait / photo courtesy of Stephane Thierry

The hotel’s lobby served as an elegant backdrop for an array of Peschard’s stunning oil paintings on recycled corrugated metal, showcasing his inspiration from French Indochina.

From Left- Tracie May, Milena Padula- Wife of Consul General of Italy to Vietnam, Sofitel Saigon Plaza Hotel Manager Alistair Minty, Lindsay Nutley, Consul General of Australia to Vietnam Sarah Hooper, Simon Pugh and Michael Hooper // photos courtesy of Nick Middleton for the Sofitel Saigon Plaza.

The event attracted an illustrious group of attendees, including Mrs. Sarah Hooper, Consul General of Australia to Vietnam; Mr. Daniël Stork, Consul General of the Netherlands to Vietnam; Mrs. Milena Padula, spouse of Italian Consul General Enrico Padula; and Mrs. Lê Hạnh, CEO of TVHub Vietnam. Distinguished guests also included Michelin Starred Chef/Owner Peter Cong Franklin of Ănăn Saigon, totalling one hundred and thirty of Ho Chi Minh’s leading tastemakers.

photos courtesy of Nick Middleton for the Sofitel Saigon Plaza.

Guests enjoyed a selection of exquisite canapés, fine wines, and champagne while admiring Peschard’s captivating works. Adding to the allure, music by DJ Edge Pamute filled the space, and trendsetters Tracie May and Nykky Domodelled custom-embroidered Áo Dài, the national costume of Vietnam, designed by Peschard and couturière Giao Basson. A pop-up retail store showcasing Peschard’s merchandise collection also opened to the public, featuring a curated selection of home decor, limited edition numbered and artist-signed lacquer replicas of paintings, and an array of gift items. Both the boutique and the art exhibit will grace the Sofitel Saigon Plaza throughout the summer, concluding in early September.

photos courtesy of Nick Middleton for the Sofitel Saigon Plaza.

This premier event highlighted the vibrant intersection of art, culture, and gastronomy, celebrating a unique fusion that will enchant visitors throughout the season, encapsulating Sofitel Hotel and Resort’s world of prestige and luxury.

photos courtesy of Nick Middleton for the Sofitel Saigon Plaza.

“I’m deeply grateful to Sofitel Saigon Plaza for granting me such a fantastic platform to showcase my art. Although I am French, my heart is Vietnamese, and I’m thrilled to share my homage to Vietnam with their guests and visitors during the 60th Anniversary celebration of Sofitel Hotels and Resorts.” – Jérôme Peschard

“Marking 60 years of exceptional hospitality, we take pride in being a part of a legacy that consistently sets the standard for excellence in Asia, providing a unique experience for all modern travellers to explore Ho Chi Minh City through a French-inspired perspective.” – Mario Mendis, GM, Sofitel Saigon Plaza

ABOUT SOFITEL SAIGON PLAZA:

Sofitel Saigon Plaza harmonises the sophistication of French art de vivre with the vibrancy of local Vietnamese culture, delivering a luxury hospitality experience enriched by genuine heartfelt service. Conveniently located in a tranquil enclave on Le Duan Boulevard, Sofitel Saigon Plaza places you in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City’s business, cultural, and shopping district. The hotel boasts 286 rooms and suites adorned with refined décor and deluxe amenities, a fitness centre featuring advanced exercise equipment, and an outdoor swimming pool with breathtaking city views. Sofitel Saigon Plaza also features five dining establishments serving local and French cuisine, seven polished meeting rooms, and an opulent ballroom equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, making it the ideal destination for business, leisure, meetings, and gatherings.

ABOUT JÉRÔME PESCHARD:

Dubbed the “Gauguin of Vietnam,” Jérôme Peschard is a self-taught artist whose work reflects a life richly lived and creatively charged. His art bridges the past with the present, blending East and West, while drawing profound inspiration from his adopted home of Vietnam. Characterised by the use of oil on rusted corrugated iron sheets salvaged from local construction sites, his pieces reflect the very essence of Saigon – its history, development, people, culture, and vibrant spirit. Peschard’s unique fusion of Western pop art with Asian influences, inspired by comic book legend Jack Kirby and modern art icons like Basquiat and Warhol, continues to evolve as he explores new themes in his storytelling. In the dynamic energy of Vietnam, Peschard not only found his place in the world, but also his distinctive artistic identity.

Vegas Loves Darius! 3-Time Grammy Winner Raises $715K for St. Jude at Annual Ryman Concert; Brings All-Time Total to $4.3M+

Darius Rucker Raises $715K for St. Jude at Annual Ryman Concert; Brings All-Time Total to $4.3M+

Nearly two decades after first visiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® where he was immediately inspired to pledge his support, CMA Humanitarian of the Year Darius Rucker continues to give back, surpassing the $4.3 million mark with this year’s 15th annual “Darius and Friends” benefit concert on Monday night, June 3, which was paired with a corresponding celebrity golf tournament yesterday, June 4.


FlavRReport.com on YouTube

FlavRReport.com on YouTube


This year’s event alone raised an all-time high of $715,000 for the cause.

Sold out well in advance despite the three-time GRAMMY winner’s famous friends not being revealed until they took the stage, the unofficial kickoff to CMA Fest praised by the Tennessean for offering “multiple servings of the country music industry’s past, present, and future for an essential cause” featured dozens of hit songs and beloved covers by Rucker as well as his surprise guests Ingrid Andress, Dan + Shay, Jamey Johnson, Chase Matthew and Shane Profitt.



Rucker was also joined by his Hootie & the Blowfish bandmate Mark Bryan fresh off opening weekend of the group’s Summer Camp with Trucks Tour.

After a live auction and donation round which added thousands to the fundraising tally, Rucker kicked off the main event with a trio of hits – “Have A Good Time” off new album Carolyn’s Boy, his 10th and most recent No. 1 hit “Beers and Sunshine” and chart-topping “For The First Time” – before introducing the first friend of the evening as rising star Chase Matthew took the stage to perform Gold-certified “Love You Again,” Platinum-certified “County Line” and a cover of his upcoming tourmate Jason Aldean’s chart topper, “She’s Country,” earning a the newcomer a standing ovation at the Mother Church.

GRAMMY Award-winning duo Dan + Shay also thrilled the packed house

GRAMMY Award-winning duo Dan + Shay also thrilled the packed house with their hits “Speechless” and “Tequila,” plus the title track to their latest album, “Bigger Houses,” while Billboard Rookie of the Month Shane Profitt wowed the Ryman audience with top 15 hit “How It Oughta Be” and “Better Off Fishin’.”

As is customary at the annual event, Rucker also returned to the stage between each guest set, treating fans to hits ranging from his Platinum-certified country breakout “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” and Double Platinum-certified No. 1 “Alright” to current single “Never Been Over,” with the multi-genre star branching out from his own catalog for rousing versions of  Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison,” Tim McGraw’s “I Like It, I Love It” and TLC’s “Waterfalls.”

Hootie & the Blowfish bandmate Mark Bryan also joined him for fan-favorites “Only Wanna Be With You” and “Hold My Hand,” offering a taste of what to expect on the road this summer.

Ingrid Andress made a rare live appearance

Ingrid Andress made a rare live appearance during a hiatus from touring to offer a well-received take on John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” plus her chart-topping hit “More Hearts Than Mine” and a solo version of her Sam Hunt duet, “Wishful Drinking,” while Jamey Johnson offered yet another standout moment with an evocative performance of his emotional hit “In Color” as well as “Give It Away,” the No. 1 hit he penned for George Strait, with Rucker then joining him for a stirring duet of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Closing out the memorable evening, the host of the night owned the stage one final time as the show ended according to tradition, with Rucker joined by the sold-out Ryman crowd for a “Wagon Wheel” singalong, the feel-good energy throughout the auditorium symbolic of the night as a whole.

This year’s milestone fundraising event adds yet another successful page to the decade-plus history of “Darius and Friends.” Prior guests have included Lauren Alaina, Jason Aldean, Brooks & Dunn, Brothers Osborne, Kane Brown, Luke Bryan, Luke Combs, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Jelly Roll, Charles Kelley of Lady A, Ashley McBryde, A.J. McLean of the Backstreet Boys, Megan Moroney, Brad Paisley, Kenny Rogers and Tommy Thayer of KISS, among many others.

The annual fundraising event, made possible with support from generous sponsors AMD, CDW and The Law Office of Jennifer McCoy, helps ensure families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food – so they can focus on helping their child live.

This year’s “Darius and Friends” event adds to an exciting season for the multi-time Diamond-certified superstar, who recently released a reimagined duet version of his Carolyn’s Boy album standout “Never Been Over” featuring Jennifer Nettles. On May 28 he released his first book, a memoir titled “Life’s Too Short” that explores the story of his life through the lens of the music that defined it, and tickets to the Hootie & the Blowfish Summer Camp with Trucks Tour are on sale now HERE.

For more information, visit DariusRucker.com and follow on social media @DariusRucker.

About Darius Rucker
Rucker first achieved multi-Platinum status in the music industry as lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the GRAMMY Award-winning band Hootie & the Blowfish, who have sold more than 25 million albums worldwide including their Double Diamond-certified (21x Platinum) debut Cracked Rear View, which remains among the top 10 best-selling studio albums of all time.

Since releasing his first Country album in 2008, Rucker has earned a whole new legion of fans with four No. 1 albums on the Billboard Country chart plus 10 No. 1 singles at Country radio and 11 Gold, Platinum or multi-Platinum certified hits. Rucker was inducted as a Grand Ole Opry member in 2012 and in 2014 he won his third career GRAMMY Award for Best Solo Country Performance with his Diamond-certified (11x Platinum) version of “Wagon Wheel,” one of the top five best-selling Country songs of all time.

His brand-new album Carolyn’s Boy is available everywhere now along with current single “Never Been Over,” recently re-released as a duet with Sugarland vocalist Jennifer Nettles. His first book, a memoir titled “Learn to Live” available everywhere now via Dey Street Books.

As a lifelong philanthropist, Rucker co-chaired the capital campaign that generated $150 million to help build the new MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital in his hometown of Charleston, S.C. and has raised over $4.3 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through his annual Darius & Friends benefit concert and golf tournament.

In addition, Rucker has advocated for over 200 charitable causes supporting public education and junior golf programs in South Carolina through the Hootie & the Blowfish Foundation and serves as a National Chair for the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tenn. Rucker is also an avid sports fan, with his Darius Rucker Collection by Fanatics line of NFL, MLB and NCAA apparel available at Fanatics.com, and he is part of the Music City Baseball investment group working to bring an MLB team to Tennessee in addition to serving as a partner at the MGC Sports & Entertainment agency.

About St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

Its purpose is clear: Finding cures. Saving children.

It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. When St. Jude opened in 1962, childhood cancer was largely considered incurable. Since then, St. Jude has helped push the overall survival rate from 20% to more than 80%, and it won’t stop until no child dies from cancer.

St. Jude shares the breakthroughs it makes to help doctors and researchers at local hospitals and cancer centers around the world improve the quality of treatment and care for even more children. Because of generous donors, families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food, so they can focus on helping their child live.

Visit St. Jude Inspire to discover powerful St. Jude stories of hope, strength, love and kindness. Support the St. Jude mission by donating at stjude.org, liking St. Jude on Facebook, following St. Jude on TwitterInstagram, LinkedIn and TikTok, and subscribing to its YouTube channel.

Bourbon-lover Ultimate Weekend Trip? Fredericksburg Virginia Bed & Breakfast with a Twist, Owen King from Ironclad Distillery shares Delicious Details

Love Tasting Bourbons? This Fredericksburg Virginia Bed & Breakfast Might Be Your Dream Visit, Owen King from Ironclad Distillery shares Delicious Details

Ironclad Inn is the first B & B & B – Bed & Breakfast & Bourbon Tasting Room.

Ironclad Inn is the first B & B & B – Bed & Breakfast & Bourbon Tasting Room

Ironclad Inn is the first B & B & B – Bed & Breakfast & Bourbon Tasting Room

Today’s conversation with Distiller Owen King from Ironclad Distillery has been edited for length and clarity.  For the full, un-edited conversation, visit our YouTube channel here.

 

Owen King, Ironclad Distillery

Owen King, Ironclad Distillery

Joe Winger: 

A lot of really cool things are happening right now. I want to jump into your tasting room, the distillery, we’ll get into bourbon tastings in a few minutes.

But first and foremost, what’s the most important thing with Ironclad right now for you?

Owen King: 

The most important thing about Ironclad for me right now is the same thing it’s always been, trying to make the best bourbon we can

The other thing is spreading the word about our bed and breakfast; and bourbon. It’s a bed and breakfast in Fredericksburg that when you’re there, you can drink bourbon.

Ironclad's famous Old Fashioned cocktail

Ironclad’s famous Old Fashioned cocktail

We make a lot of old fashions there and we always have all these leftover oranges. Now the perfect thing is in the morning you have fresh squeezed orange juice from our [leftover] old fashions.

It’s really working double duty now.

Besides that I just love the fact that we can now expand our distillery up to Fredericksburg. So we can have more people try our bourbon and enjoy our bourbon, which is the goal.

Joe Winger: 

Getting to know you before you jump into Ironclad, I want to use the word “were”, you were a football player and cooking changed your life.

Tell us more about your cooking. Was there a special dish that enhanced your life?

Owen King: 

I’m Italian. So obviously with the Italian genes, we share our love through food. Growing up I cooked a lot.

When I went to college [I cooked] for my teammates.  I’d make dinner for everyone. So when we decided to open the bourbon distillery, I figured, I know how to cook. I think I could probably figure out how to make bourbon. 

I know flavors. I know how things go well together. I think I have a pretty decent palette. 

So putting all those things together to make a great bourbon was the goal. 

Food is one of those things where you never stop improving. I feel the same about bourbon.


FlavRReport.com on YouTube

FlavRReport.com on YouTube


 

Joe Winger: 

Is there a favorite dish?

Owen King: 

Breaded chicken cutlets and spaghetti.

That is how it started. Then I was like “I really like cheese.”  Maybe I could put cheese in with the breadcrumbs and then do that. Then I started expanding.  Chicken Parm.  Making my own sauce.  Thinking I could add something here to make that better.

It’s the same way I look at bourbon.

Thinking, “I like what this person’s doing. Let me see what they’re doing. I can build off that to make it work on my own.”

Creating my own recipes, going from there, just continually tweaking little things here and there.

We’ll make a 5% difference, maybe a 10% difference.

Joe Winger: 

Ironclad Distillery is in Newport News, Virginia. The bed and breakfast Ironclad Inn is in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

For most people when we think of bourbon, we don’t always think of Virginia as the first choice. What would surprise us most about coming down to Virginia for a bourbon tasting and staying the night?

Ironclad Distillery

Ironclad Distillery

Owen King: 

If you’re coming down to Virginia, you have to remember Virginia is the birthplace of American spirits. The first place spirits were made in the new colonies, in the new world, was here in Virginia. 

The first corn liquor which would eventually become bourbon, was made in Virginia.

You can also talk about Elijah Craig, who was from Fairfax County, Virginia, before he moved out to Kentucky. 

On top of that, Kentucky wasn’t a state until 1793. Evan Williams was doing distillation in 1783, and at that point Kentucky was still Virginia. 

The birthplace of bourbon is right here in Virginia.

I’ve been to Kentucky a lot. They talk about the birthplace of bourbon being there in Kentucky.

Maybe the territory it’s in was Kentucky, but it was still Virginia at the time.

Whenever someone comes by, I can tell them the history of actual bourbon, where you’re gonna get the whole story, not just the fantasized story that you get in Kentucky.

Joe Winger: 

I’m incredibly glad you just shared that.

Let’s talk about The Ironclad Bed and Breakfast now. The bourbon tasting room, the event space.

Owen King: 

We wanted to spread our bourbon out around the state. We’ve always really liked Fredericksburg. It’s a beautiful town. It’s got a ton of history to it.

Nothing goes better with bourbon than a good story.

So we can always tell our history while drinking. So with our bed and breakfast, we looked at what the bigger guys were doing. A lot of them were starting to have these places where you could stay [the night] and get an experience to go along with it.

We really wanted to spread our Ironclad experience. 

We have a tasting room. It’s beautifully decorated by my sister. We’ve got a bottle shop where you can pick up pretty much every one of our bourbons that are available. We’ve got a bar so you can try it from our seasonal cocktail menus where we change it five times a year.

We have a winter, a fall, a spring, summer [menu].Then a holiday menu as well. 

No matter what time of year you’re there, you’re trying something that’s going to go well seasonally.  

Everyone likes seasonal drinks.  You don’t want to drink in the fall, what you’d drink in the summer.

We always have an old fashioned and it’s a damn good old fashioned. 

Then we also have an event space. We have weddings. We’ve had 50th birthday parties. 

Ironclad Inn wedding and special events

Ironclad Inn wedding and special events

We’ve had any event that you want to tie into with our bourbon or just if you want a beautiful event space in a building that was built in 1793 we have that as a great option. 

It’s a really cool spot that you can go and see and experience.

It’s something we want to share, our love for bourbon with everyone.

Whether you’re here in Newport News or in Fredericksburg, you’ll get a King family member there to tell you our story and tell you all about our bourbon and show you around.

Ironclad Bottled-in-Bond Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Ironclad Bottled-in-Bond Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Joe Winger: 

Outstanding.  Let’s get to the tasty part now.  You have several amazing bottles.  When someone comes to your tasting room this weekend, what should they be looking forward to? 

Owen King: 

We do a few bottle releases that are once a year for us. One of my favorites. 

A five year, three barrel blend of three 30 gallon barrels. Bottle of Bond.

The history alone is one of my favorite things to talk about.  In 1897 the federal government stepped in because there was people dying from drinking bad whiskey.

They stepped in to “certify” everything in there.

“If you bottle it at four years old and at 100 proof, we will claim that this is a bottle and bond bourbon certified” by the federal government that it is safe to drink.

That story alone is one of my favorites of bourbon lore. 

We just want to make sure that we do that every year that we can.

It’s absolutely one of my favorite bourbons. It’s our four grain mash bill. 70% corn 10% wheat, 10% rye, 10% malted barley. 

So with the corn and the wheat, it adds a nice sweetness to it. But then the rye is there to kind of balance that whole thing out.  Before it gets [to be] a very sweet bourbon, it balances out, a little baking spice, maybe even some clove, maybe a little black pepper.

It balances it out to be a nice, rounded bourbon.

Ironclad Sweeter Creations Maple Syrup Cask

Ironclad Sweeter Creations Maple Syrup Cask

Joe Winger:

Let’s move on to your Maple Syrup Cask

Owen King: 

Absolutely delicious. But this is a cast finish, not a flavored bourbon.  So we’re not adding maple syrup to it. People who drink it might think it’s going to be super sweet and not going to like it. Because they don’t like maple syrup.

This is my version of drinking maple syrup responsibly and not getting diabetes. 

After we empty our barrels, we give them to a maple syrup producer in upstate New York.  He’ll age his maple syrup using our bourbon barrels. 

By doing that through transference, there’s about a gallon of bourbon stuck in the staves of the wood. So when he puts a new liquid in there, that maple syrup is going to absorb into the wood and that bourbon is going to come back out.

Now his maple syrup is picking up that beautiful bourbon flavor and we are picking up all that maple syrup flavor into the wood. 

When he brings those barrels back down to us, we put our aged bourbon back in there and we let him finish in there for about three to six months. 

After we take the bourbon out, it’s now got this beautiful, mild sweetness, but it’s got that hint of maple syrup at the end.

I always say, I don’t want it to be maple syrup with a hint of bourbon. I want it to be bourbon with a hint of maple syrup, which I think it absolutely is.

Ironclad Missouri Toasted Oak Cask

Ironclad Missouri Toasted Oak Cask

Joe Winger: 

The maple syrup is so subtle, almost a tertiary flavor to it. 

Moving on to the Missouri Toasted Oak Cask.

Owen King: 

This is a double oak bourbon.  With double oaking, what you’re going to do is exactly how it sounds. 

You’re going to go from one new charred oak barrel. But instead of a second new charred oak barrel, we’re going to go to a lightly toasted barrel.

So my analogy for this is you’re sitting at a campfire and you’ve got a marshmallow. You’re roasting your marshmallow over the flame and it gets burnt. It catches on fire. So now you’ve got that roasted marshmallow where you’re still gonna eat it because it’s a roasted marshmallow.

So you eat it and it’s still sweet. But it’s got that sort of maybe a bitter acrid note just cause you burnt those sugars. You haven’t toasted them. 

Now you take another marshmallow.  You’re a little more patient this time.  You’re going to stick it down in the coals and you’ll slowly rotate it until you’ve got that perfectly golden brown marshmallow. 

When you taste it, it’s now twice as sweet because you just caramelize those sugars as opposed to burning them. 

It’s the same with a charred oak barrel to a toasted oak barrel.  With that charring of those oaks, you’re gonna you’re still gonna have that sweetness.  We’re amplifying that sweetness with the toasting of the oak. 

With this one you get those softer vanilla flavors like toasted marshmallow. You get a cookie dough flavor,  maybe it’s raw cookie dough without the chocolate chips.

Joe Winger: 

That’s amazing. mmIs there an extra bottle when I come down there, I’m in the tasting room, another good bottle we should ask for?

Owen King: 

Another one that we have right now that is a very limited run.   Very small release is our blueberry mead cask finish

We give our barrels to a meadery in Williamsburg, Virginia and they make this blueberry honey mead.  So now they have this bourbon barrel aged blueberry mead. And when they’re done with them, they give them back to us. 

You’re not necessarily overwhelmed with [a] heavy blueberry flavor but it opens up to this really nice fruitiness and then like a fermented honey flavor on the front end. 

It’s so unique, but it’s great neat on the rocks.

Joe Winger: 

If we come down for the weekend, we visit the distillery in Newport News. What’s a tour like? 

Owen King: 

If people aren’t the biggest bourbon drinker, I want you to walk away saying, “Okay, I found something that is made with bourbon that I like.”

We are a distillery that only makes bourbon. 

I want to make sure that everyone who comes here has something they can enjoy.  This isn’t an uppity bourbon bar.

I want someone to come and be able to say,  I’m not the biggest bourbon fan. What kind of cocktails do you have?” We always have a cocktail on every single menu that’s open for everyone. 

Everyone’s going to love it and whether you’re a big bourbon fan or not.  We just really want to be accommodating. We want to be a fun place for everyone to hang out. 

We want to tell our story, the history of the Ironclad ships.  Go through our distillery tour, we’ll show you that. If you want to know the history of Fredericksburg, or the history of What the bed and breakfast is we’ll tell you that.

Nothing pairs better with bourbon than a good story. And we really care about spreading that word.

Joe Winger: 

Whether it’s a romantic getaway, a weekend getaway, why choose your bed and breakfast instead of a hotel?

Owen King: 

While we’ve only had it a short time.  But we’ve been adding things here and there. You’re going to get a fresh orange juice in the morning, made with the oranges that we used for our old fashions [last night]. 

We have our barrel aged maple syrup for your pancakes.  So you’re going to have that maple syrup with a hint of bourbon. 

Ironclad Inn

Ironclad Inn

We really drive home that it’s a bed breakfast and bourbon experience. Get immersed in the bourbon culture.  That’s our goal.

Joe Winger: 

Any favorite bourbon and food pairings?

Owen King: 

Bourbon’s wonderful for food pairings.  

We’ve gone from pasta pairings to pizza pairings.  Anything that’s fatty is a perfect pairing.  Pork belly with a cherry reduction over top of it with one of our bourbons straight 

We have this bourbon cream, Buzz’s Bourbon Cream, where it’s made with our small batch bourbon that’s infused with coffee beans, cacao nibs, and vanilla beans. That one over vanilla ice cream is perfection. 

You’re adding a little booze, some coffee, a little bit of chocolate.

You take a bite and all of a sudden you had three scoops and it’s gone 30 seconds later.

Joe Winger: 

What’s the best way to learn more about Ironclad Distillery and Ironclad Inn?

Owen King: 

We have our website at ironcladdistillery.com. All of our social media Facebook and Instagram

About the Author
Joe Wehinger (nicknamed Joe Winger) has written for over 20 years about the business of lifestyle and entertainment. Joe is an entertainment producer, media entrepreneur, public speaker, and C-level consultant who owns businesses in entertainment, lifestyle, tourism and publishing. He is an award-winning filmmaker, published author, member of the Directors Guild of America, International Food Travel Wine Authors Association, WSET Level 2 Wine student, WSET Level 2 Cocktail student, member of the LA Wine Writers. Email to: Joe@FlavRReport.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *