New Riff Distilling opened in the spring of 2014 in Newport, Kentucky, just on the other side of the river from Cincinnati. The distillery is owned by Ken Lewis, former owner of The Party Source, a very popular and huge northern Kentucky liquor store.
Like many new distilleries, to begin releasing product while their own young whiskey ages they have sourced from Midwest Grain Products (MGP) for their O.K.I. brand. The name O.K.I. signifies the whiskey history of greater Cincinnati that was once a hub of whiskey production. As the label states, O.K.I. is “distilled in Indiana, bottled in Kentucky, and enjoyed in Ohio.” O.K.I. is distributed in only Kentucky, Ohio, and a very limited quantity in Indiana.
O.K.I. has gained popularity in the bourbon community over the last few years because of its cask strength, often short barrel, single barrel selections. It is comparable to Smooth Ambler’s Old Scout barrel selections before it was discontinued. Just on a much smaller scale.
Over the last few months, I have heard rumblings in the bourbon community that O.K.I. was getting close to discontinuation. I reached out to Hannah Lowen, VP of Operations & General Manager at New Riff Distilling to help provide some clarity……..
Q: Is it true that New Riff Distillery is discontinuing O.K.I. in 2018?
Hannah: Yes, by the time our New Riff Bourbon and Rye hit the shelves later this year, O.K.I. will essentially go extinct.
Q: Why was that decision made?
Hannah: The decision was actually made far before a bottle even hit the shelf back in 2014. O.K.I. has always been designed as it’s own brand, built to help us make it through the long four years we would have to wait for our own distillate to come of age. We started with a finite amount of barrels and have allocated them through the years to make sure we made it until the end of 2018.
O.K.I. has been a huge success in our eyes, in the market, in building our reputation as a distillery focused on transparency, independence, and quality spirits at a fair price. But more so it has provided us with reams of whiskey experience years before we would be putting our flagship bourbons out into the world. Our early experience in aging, blending, single barrels, and barrel finishes are the kind of whiskey knowledge that will serve us well in the years to come.
Q: It seems over the last few months there has been a flood of O.K.I in the market. Is that perception correct? Was that part of the plan?
Hannah: We certainly saw a huge bump in O.K.I. sales in the fourth quarter of 2017. I wish I could say it was deliberate on our part, but it seems more like the word has “gotten out” in certain circles. I think folks who know good whiskey have caught on that there is fantastic high rye bourbon out there and available for a reasonable price.
Q: Approximately how many more barrels of O.K.I. does New Riff Distilling have left?
Hannah: I don’t have the exact number at this point, but close to 100.
Q: When do expect to bottle the last O.K.I.?
Hannah: We plan to have O.K.I. on the shelf until our New Riff Bourbon hit’s the shelf this fall. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
Q: There is a rumor that the last of the O.K.I. bottling will be 12 years old. Is that true? When will we see these bottles?
Hannah: Yes indeed. Our O.K.I. barrels will be turning 12 in a month or so, you should see the 12-year-old on the shelves before the Spring.
Q: Is all O.K.I. an MGP high rye mash bill or are here various mash bills?
Hannah: All of our barrels are from MGP and share the same mash bill.
Q: It appears many of the O.K.I. single barrels have had small bottle yields (aka “short barrels”) of under 100. That is pretty low for a 10-year-old bourbon. Do you know why there are so many short barrels? Storage? Cooperage?
Hannah: Since we did not age these barrels for the majority of their life, it’s hard to say. We all have our own theories, some involve whether or not these were stored in a particularly warm part of the MGP warehouses. The vast majority of these barrels are not “short fills.” but those seem to intrigue many of our Single Barrel Clients.
Q: Can you tell us more about New Riff Distilling’s own whiskey? What type whiskey? Proof? Age? When do you expect to release it?
Hannah: We will be releasing our Kentucky Straight Bourbon and Rye whiskey later this year, most likely in the fall. These whiskies will be at least four years old, aged in full size 53 gallon barrels and bottled without chill filtration. The exact proof hasn’t been decided but will be relatively high, close to 98, similarly to O.K.I. Our Bourbon is also a high rye bourbon, 65% corn, 30% Rye and 5% Malted Barley. Our Rye is a 100% Rye, 95% Rye and 5% Malted Rye.