Whiskey bar

Kentucky Whiskey Bar to feature “at least 1,200 items” whiskey list

Entrepreneurs generally start a business and then build up a clientele.

Brian Shemwell and Tom “Fish” Adams do it backwards.

This fall, the pair and their silent investors will open Barrel & Bond in Paducah, Ky., a small town in western Kentucky with a population of 30,000. On its shelves, there will be 1,200 to 1,600 unique American whiskey labels, ranging from unicorns and dusty to modern rarities and value-added products.

“There will be sort of everything, but only good things,” says Fish Adams. “We don’t go into business to sell a bunch of crap.”

Of course not, because their ready-to-drink clientele, the 475 members Bourbon Society of Paducah, has educated palaces. About half of PBS’s members are locals; the other half go to monthly meetings in surrounding counties in Kentucky, southern Illinois, and neighboring Tennessee.

“Drinking alone isn’t fun, so we got our friends involved,” Shemwell says. “We always thought there would be around 30 of us sharing our whiskey. We had no idea that the bourbon society would ever get so big. “

Adams and Shemwell met five years ago and formed PBS a year later. As membership grew, they started planning a serious whiskey-centric bar.

“The discussion began with, ‘What if the Paducah Bourbon Society had its own house?’ and the discussion turned to how we might get there, ”Adams says.

Currently, PBS is meeting at Freight House, a nationally recognized farm-to-table restaurant owned and operated by 2019 Top Chef finalist Sara Bradley. The restaurant serves a snack menu and has its solid cocktail bar. , which boasts around 200 bourbons. Attendance at some meetings fills all 175 seats in the freight house.

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“Find me a better market analysis than four years of a bourbon company that grew to the size of this one,” says Shemwell.

Brian Shemwell and Tom “Fish” Adams of Barrel & Bond (image via Steve Coomes / The Whiskey Wash)


Longtime whiskey collectors, Shemwell and Adams searched the shelves and storerooms of stores in every town they visited. In the beginning, it took little persuasion for retailers to “get rid of the shit that’s been lying around for too long,” Shemwell says. Some weren’t sure why men wanted long neglected pints and spider web bottles that others ignored.

Between them, “we’ve got thousands of bottles, that’s all we’ll say,” Adams says. “The real numbers could irritate our women too, so we’ll keep it a secret. Now we are taking stock of all of this.

Since Kentucky permits the sale of vintage consumer-owned whiskey to retail establishments, the bottles of Shemwell and Adams will be purchased by Barrel & Bond to supply its shelves.

“That’s what we bring to the business: bottles, knowledge and sweat equity,” says Shemwell. Their investors are funding Barrel & Bond’s construction in a historic 1890s building along the riverside of the reemerging downtown Paducah. “We haven’t even contacted the distributors yet to start getting the current versions.”

“But we already have a very good relationship with distributors,” adds Adams.

That’s because both are longtime private barrel-pickers who, according to Adams’ estimate, “have been on at least 200 selections.” Although frequently asked by many to lend their palates and opinions, neither are paid for the work.

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“It’s going to become something else that Barrel & Bond is known for: our choices,” Adams continues. The bar will have a flat-rate license for the sale of private picks and other bottles. “We have been doing this for a long time for others. Now it will be just for us.

The Barrel & Bond experience

On a trip for employers, Shemwell visited bars looking for ideas on what he wanted to implement at Barrel & Bond. Most of the time, he says, he and Adams want “a great bourbon bar that’s got to be for people who know bourbon, love it, and want to engage you in a conversation about it.” This is our goal. It should also be fun; we won’t be assholes about it. That’s why the Paducah Bourbon Society is so fun: we’re not assholes about it.

Adams says it’s also a matter of pride in Kentucky and its whiskeys.

“I want them to understand the craftsmanship, to appreciate a world famous product, the best of its kind, made in Kentucky,” he says. “I want people who’ve never experienced it to slow down, sip it, and notice all those really great bourbon flavors.”

Barrel & Bond has two large rooms: the bar and a separate event space. They say they expect a lot of bricks, wood, concrete and steel used in its construction to create an industrial look, but the walls, as expected, will be covered in bottles.

Shemwell said, “It will be a whiskey library with a rolling scale, quite similar to Jack Rose (dining room)Referring to the legendary Washington, DC spot. “The other side will be for private parties, events, rehearsal dinners and more. … Everything will be well lit. We’re too old for dark bars.

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A menu of small bites of foods that go well with whiskeys will be offered.

“Later on, we want to have a whiskey menu on a (mobile) tablet, and maybe (a database) that you could link to with your phone,” Shemwell says. “We want them to have all the information available: distillery, flavor profile, whether sweet or spicy… and that they can label these whiskeys and organize them by brand, era or price. We want people to leave knowing more about bourbon than when they first arrived. “

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