Amber Carpet Movie Premiere: Kindred Spirits

A craft bourbon documentary from Steve Akley and Bo Cumberland premiered at the 2019 New Orleans Bourbon Festival

Josh Quinn of Boone County Distillery

Josh Quinn of Boone County Distillery

All photos courtesy Kindred Spirits.

The New Orleans Bourbon Festival is in its third year. The festival has grown quickly in a short time, and about half of the Kentucky bourbon industry travels to New Orleans for the events (or at least it seems that way). There are seminars, dinners, special events, grand tastings and I lead bourbon and cigar pairing seminars. This year there’s a new addition to the lineup—an “Amber Carpet” premiere of Kindred Spirits, a documentary showcasing several of Kentucky’s craft distilleries.

A phone call leads to friendship, and a movie

Steve Akley has been hosting whiskey related podcasts and more for three years as the Founder of the ABV Network, which has now grown to include dozens of contributors. A phone call one day from documentary filmmaker Bo Cumberland led to an instant friendship and sparked an idea to produce a documentary Akley had written that had been collecting dust. The idea was to talk to the craft producers in Kentucky, who the mainstream whiskey documentaries often didn’t cover.

“The idea of us doing everything ourselves—with me being the one bankrolling it—came from a moment in the film,” says Akley. “We were interviewing Ken Lewis of New Riff. He started working in a liquor store to help his father who had invested in a single store with his brother (Ken's uncle) and it was failing. Ken came in, took it over, and built it into an extremely successful chain of liquor stores. While it was making him a lot of money, keeping it on track to stay successful was killing him. it had gotten too big to manage, so he sold the chain and decided to invest his profits into a single store. The Party Source then achieves off-the-charts success and becomes the largest liquor store by square footage in the U.S. and perhaps the world. Ken could have easily continued to take the revenue from that since he had a great staff and it almost managed itself—or he could sell it and just walk away, a rich man who had achieved what most entrepreneurs set out to do: walk away with your business and not worry about money ever again. Instead, he turned the store over to his employees, made it an employee owned business. He took the cash he had and rolled it all into New Riff in a quest to become a respected bourbon brand. As he's telling us all of this, he states, ‘I don't have any money in the bank, I have it in barrels.’ I was in awe. I worked a corporate job my whole life prior to starting off on my own the last couple of years. Taking your whole future and rolling it into a dream because you believe in it? That's what we want to achieve with our movies and why we are funding this ourselves.”

“This film means a lot to me for two reasons,” says filmographer and editor Bo Cumberland. “First, it tells the story of those in the business who are working hard to not only create bourbon, but a legacy. We all know the stories of the big guys, but the craft distilleries are completely changing the game and their stories need to be told as well. The second reason this film means the world to me is because of the people I got to work with at the distilleries. The ABV Network has a saying that its content is ‘created for bourbon fans, by bourbon fans’ and that is a true statement. At the root of everything we do, is a passion for the bourbon industry.”

Steve Akley and Autumn Nethery look on as Joyce Nethery of Jeptha Creed is being interviewed for the film

Steve Akley and Autumn Nethery look on as Joyce Nethery of Jeptha Creed is being interviewed for the film

Bourbon in perfect harmony

Another chance meeting, this time at a whiskey festival, connected Akley with a Birmingham, Alabama music teacher and Composer, Susie Youngson. “For my part, I was incredibly inspired by the distilleries’ histories, and the music flowed from what was distinct about each one,” says Youngson. “Even though they all came to distilling from different paths, the stories behind the distilleries featured in Kindred Spirits embody the heart of the American dream. Some of them go back generations to immigrants who came to our country with only what they could carry and a knowledge of distilling from their lives before. Others found their entire family learning the craft together from the ground to the glass and infusing their passion for the process into their particular brand. Even those who are newer to the scene than pre-Prohibition, have something in common with those whose lineage traces back a century or more in distilling, and that is this: with determination, patience, and a lot of hard work they were able to weave their own heritages into a very American art called bourbon.”

“Working alongside Steve and Bo on this project has been an incredibly special experience,” she continues. “We share a love of all things bourbon and have become great friends throughout the process of creating the film. The most important thing to me about our work is that we truly wanted to take the most care we could to showcase the treasures that are found in these craft distilleries, simply because it is important to us as fans to get it right.”

The film is made for bourbon aficionados

The three are now equal partners on this film’s production company, Bourbon Sasquatch Films. “We believe the end result is we get to tell the story of Kentucky Craft Bourbon through the eyes of the fans,” says Akley. “We're not trying to be a mass market film that appeals to everyone... even people who don't know anything about bourbon. We wrote this for the fans so that's why you don't see a graphic on what bourbon is... it's at least 51% corn... that type of thing. We assume the people watching this film know that coming in.”

The film includes scenes and interviews from Corky and Carson Taylor of Kentucky Peerless, Joyce Nethery of Jeptha Creed, Royce Neeley of The Neeley Family Distillery, Dixon Dedman of Kentucky Owl, Josh Quinn of Boone County Distilling, Steve Beam of Limestone Branch, and New Riff Distilling.

An amber carpet premiere

Steve Beam of Limestone Branch

Steve Beam of Limestone Branch

As long as what seems like half of Kentucky is in town, why not have a special premiere event as part of the New Orleans Bourbon Festival? Several of the distillery founders were in attendance for the “Amber Carpet” premiere to watch the new film with festival attendees.

“As lovers of bourbon and true fans of the people in the bourbon industry, we are so proud to have the opportunity to host the premiere of Kindred Spirits as part of the 2019 New Orleans Bourbon Festival,” said New Orleans Bourbon Festival Co-Founder Barbara Hirsch.

“Kentucky is the epicenter for distilling, and I am honored to have my family's legal and illegal history presented next to the best craft distilleries in the world in Kindred Spirits, I'm confident Steve Akley and his team have done an amazing job with it,” said Royce Neeley of the Neeley Family Distillery ahead of the showing.

“Working with Steve and Bo was a true pleasure,” said Jeptha Creed Distillery Founder Joyce Nethery. “I feel honored to be included in the Kindred Spirits project and to be a part of the Kentucky bourbon culture!”

Even if you didn’t make it to the premiere you can still see the movie. It will be available on DVD in April, and you can find out more about that and watch the trailer on the Kindred Spirits homepage.