From the man who kick-started its creation to the little girl who inspired its name, Penelope Bourbon’s story is one of relationships. Every step of Penelope Bourbon’s journey, from brand to bottle, speaks to the importance of collaboration in achieving not only a beautiful bourbon, but also a legacy of quality that outlasts changing times and trends, the company says.
Founded by Mike Paladini in June 2018, Penelope Bourbon is handcrafted from a blend of three bourbon mash bills with four grains aged in new American oak barrels. The Rumson, N.J.-based straight bourbon whiskey is crafted for palates of bourbon connoisseurs and novices alike, Paladini says.
“It’s meant to be an approachable bourbon,” he explains. “If you’re a whiskey drinker, it’s a perfect sessions bourbon. If you’re new to the category or just getting into it, it’s an amazing gateway bourbon.”
Despite having a universal-appeal bourbon, Paladini had no distributors lined up in early 2018 when he and his wife were hit with the inspiration for the label design.
“Peonies are my wife’s favorite flower, and they were in full-bloom when we created the label design,” Paladini explains. “We also found out we were expecting a baby girl, so everything became much more delicate to me as it was all unfolding. The peony represents that perfectly.”
On the heels of this inspiration was the birth of their daughter, Penelope: the brand’s namesake.
“My wife always loved the name Penelope, and I’ve always been an avid bourbon drinker. Penelope Bourbon had a ring to it,” Paladini says. “We wanted a simple, clean design, nothing overly intricate, which led to just the ‘P’ on the logo.”
With the brand solidified but no distributor, Paladini and his partner Daniel Polise set out armed with bourbon and sheer determination to spread the word about Penelope.
“We sold cases from our car, going store to store and restaurant to restaurant, and had a lot of success,” Paladini says. “We put out Penelope [Bourbon] at a reasonable price point and it worked.”
Driven by passion
But Paladini knew that creating a bourbon company and a brand would not be easy.
“To succeed, you have to live and breathe the business and make a few personal sacrifices along the way,” Paladini says. He also notes that the company you keep also is essential for success. Both his wife, Kerry, and co-founder, Polise, have been involved in “birthing the bourbon” since day one. “Kerry focuses on the brand’s creative design and mothering the ‘real Penelope,’ and Danny leverages his foodservice industry knowledge to spearhead operations, finances and supply chain,” Paladini says.
Together, their efforts gained Penelope Bourbon distribution with Fedway in New Jersey and Capitol-Husting in Wisconsin and hasn’t slowed down.
In fact, Penelope Bourbon recently announced a collaboration with Frankfort, Ky.-based Castle & Key, founded in 2014 on the site of Old Taylor Distillery, an 1887 European-inspired castle. Castle & Key will handle Penelope Bourbon’s bottling, working with them to refine their blending process.
“As it involves corn, wheat, rye and malt barley, blending is critical to our taste profile,” Paladini says. “Batch-over-batch, we needed a partner to help us achieve hands-on, real-time learning.”
The entrepreneurs learned early on that even the slightest hiccup during blending can have a significant impact on taste profile.
“We had to make adjustments and learn in real-time what our process needed in order create a consistent taste profile for each batch,” Paladini notes. “So, while there are large-scale contract bottling companies out there, we wanted a partnership we could be hands-on with and grow with.”
Although in its infancy, the relationship with Castle & Key is one for which both parties have high aspirations.
“Penelope Bourbon is an up-and-coming brand, and we look forward to their continued growth and success,” says Castle & Key’s Senior Manager of Operations Jessica Peterson. “We’re excited to see our two teams come together to keep this brand moving forward, and I’m sure the collaboration will afford both parties opportunities to learn, innovate and create incredible product.”
Along with its Penelope Bourbon (80 proof) and Barrel Strength (117.8 proof), Paladini highlights that another line extension will roll out next year: bourbon with a sherry-cask finish.
“We love rolling out line extensions while staying true to who we are,” Paladini enthuses. He adds that partnering with Castle & Key poises Penelope Bourbon for continued growth in 2020, with new distribution by Empire Merchants in New York planned for February.
“We truly are one big family and we run the business that way,” Paladini says. “We all bring different skill sets and ideas to the table and can be honest and transparent with each other. We’re also all bourbon-lovers. So, while it’s hard work, it’s fun work; we enjoy the industry and we love our product.” BI