Wondering where to start your B-Line journey? Located in Newport, Kentucky, New Riff Distilling sits just across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio, making it a perfect beginning to your NKY bourbon experience.
The independently-owned distillery was established in 2014 by entrepreneur Ken Lewis, alongside co-founder Jay Erisman, with a mission to one day be among the world’s great small distilleries.
And New Riff is certainly being recognized. At the fall 2022 John Barleycorn Awards–-an international spirits competition–-New Riff received nearly a dozen merits, including six outstanding “Double Gold” awards, meaning the products earned top marks from all judges. Double Gold-awarded products include New Riff’s Balboa Rye, Kentucky Wild Gin Bourbon Barreled, Kentucky Straight Malted Rye Whiskey, Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey and Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey.
New Riff prides itself in bottling its products using the standards of the 1897 Bottled in Bond Act, a law that required distilleries to follow rules to ensure a pure whiskey product.
Erisman says New Riff is staying in Northern Kentucky for the long haul.
“We are owned by Ken Lewis and his family members. And we have no outside investment. No venture capital, not partners, no bean counters,” Erisman says. “There’s nobody standing between us and making great whiskey for, we hope, generations to come.”
A New Riff on an Old Tradition
New Riff’s modern building is hard to miss. It’s one of the first structures to greet drivers exiting I-471 onto Fairfield Avenue where Newport meets Bellevue, Kentucky. Erisman says they’re proud and cognizant of their urban location.
In fact, Erisman says if you take a look at their bottles, you will notice their slogan: “A New Riff on an Old Tradition.” That tradition? Making Kentucky sour mash whiskey, bottled in bond without chill filtration.
That sentiment is at the heart of everything New Riff touches, reflected even in their distillery’s design. Erisman says they wanted something bold, modern and urban that was unlike classic barn-style distillery buildings.
“That absolutely went into the design and our architectural firm, I think, absolutely knocked it out of the park,” Erisman says. “They came up with a brilliant design that is completely modern but also organic and warm. When you get to know the building, it’s not just steel and glass. There’s a lot of organic components in there tying it to the land and the soil.”
It also neighbors Lewis’s first step into the spirits business: The Party Source, America’s largest keg beer store.
Lewis opened the one-stop alcohol shop in the 1980s and eventually sold it back to his employees to narrow his sights on New Riff, bringing Erisman–who worked at The Party Source as the fine spirits manager–along for the ride. The rest is history.
What to Expect During Your New Riff Tour
See New Riff up close by booking a tour and get closer to finishing The B-Line while you’re at it. Along with a calendar of events, New Riff offers four main experiences.
What can visitors expect? Erisman puts it best.
“[The tours offer] a first-class experience with excellent tour guides and innovative drinks at our bar,” he says. “And you can expect to find special whiskies that are harder to find elsewhere. That’s the case, too. They can find people who know bourbon and love it and love talking and teaching about it.”
Experiences include the Bonded Tour, Barrel Proof Tour, Grain to Glass and Blend. Costs range from $20-$90. Each tour gives bourbon and whiskey lovers a look at New Riff’s process, from grain to barrel, and the chance to sip on samples of their products. Depending on the tour choice, visitors may experience anything from exploring the distillery’s nooks and crannies to taking in the barrel warehouse’s angels’ share (the perfumes of whiskey lost to evaporation during the aging process). Blend even gives visitors the chance to put a personal spin on their own bottle of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey using the distilling team’s tried-and-true practices.
New Riff: A Rye-Centric Kentucky Distillery
As one of the most Northern spots here on The B-Line, Erisman says there’s no obvious Ohio influence when it comes to New Riff products. However, he nods to Cincinnati as one of America’s great historic whiskey towns.
Erisman also says Cincinnati, and parts of Ohio, had a reputation for rye; he specifically nods to New Carlisle, Ohio’s family-owned, historic Indian Creek Distillery, whose rye whiskey-making roots go back to the 1800s. This history has informed their approach to crafting products as a Kentucky distillery that primarily uses rye.
“We are a rye-centric Kentucky distillery, probably one of the only rye-centric Kentucky distilleries,” Erisman says, adding that their bourbon recipe consists of 30 percent rye.
Whether you’re planning a long weekend, day trip or vacation, we’ve got plenty of other stops to keep you occupied during your stay. Our other B-Line distilleries are Boone County Distilling Company, The Old Pogue Distillery, Neeley Family Distillery and Second Sights Spirits, all of which are, like New Riff, also on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour®.
Start planning your trip to visit us by downloading your free B-Line passport and guide, a mish-mash of distilleries, bourbon bars, and bourbon-infused restaurants aiming to help bourbon lovers find their next sipping point in Northern Kentucky.