Bourbon: Aussie Style

Who says that the new can’t co-exist compatibly with the old?  Lawrenceburg Bourbon Company, a relative newcomer to the industry, is proof that it can. Open in its current location only since November of last year, it sits in the shadow of Wild Turkey, one of Kentucky’s most revered distilleries.

“We are literally three thousand feet away,” says Katie Keeley, co-owner with her husband Greg, of Lawrenceburg Bourbon Company.

As the first craft distillery to open in Anderson County, Lawrenceburg Bourbon began with a bang.  Their One Cask Bourbon (70% corn, 21% rye and 9% malted barley) earned an international gold medal from the prestigious American Distilling Institute in its first year. Scoring 94 out of 100, it was ranked as exceptional by judges who said it “leaves a golden glow and harmonizing finishing notes, achieving flow between nose and palate.”

The One Cask Bourbon is one of four products that visitors to the distillery can sample at daily tastings. They can also try the One Cask Rye; Breakfast Bourbon, which as Katie says, has less to do with accompanying ham and eggs than with accompanying golfers as they head off on a morning round, and Ten X Ten, which is 10-year-old rye whiskey made from 10 barrels blended together. The latter is the highly sought Alberta Rye, a 100 percent rye from Canada, which due to its steep price, was originally intended for sale to Russian oligarchs.  After the invasion of Ukraine, an embargo on American products being shipped to Russia put an end to any plans rich rye-loving Russians may have had.

So, just how did this precious cargo wind up in Lawrenceburg instead of the Russian Federation? As Katie explains, the cost was so prohibitive that not many were willing to risk it.  The Keeleys, being natural risk-takers, were. “Someone involved in selling it had heard of us and got in touch, and we just decided to go for it,” says Katie, adding that “we didn’t think the Russians deserved it.

“I like to tell people, “this whiskey is what freedom tastes like,” Katie adds with a wink.

When it comes to the actual distilling, Greg, who laughingly refers to himself not as a distiller, but as a “distiller-wannabe” says, “I want to produce bourbon and rye that doesn’t have a specific flavor profile. “We don’t tell people what they taste; they tell us,” he continues.

That novel approach may sound unconventional in the heart of bourbon country, but it perfectly expresses the free spirit of the Keeleys, who are as interesting as the spirits they distill. For starters, they are the first members of the military to own a Kentucky distillery.  Both Greg, a combat veteran, and Katie, a Navy reservist, served their countries before settling in Lawrenceburg to serve their community.

A native of Perth, Australia, Greg has the unusual distinction of having served in both the Royal Australian Navy and the United States Navy, with tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Pacific. He became the first officer of a foreign military in history to be directly commissioned as Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy.  Achieving this required a bill written by the late Arizona senator and decorated military veteran John McCain, and resulted in Greg receiving his commission in a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Building.

Katie, a LT. J.G. in the United States Navy Reserve, served as a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. State Department, with postings in Asia and Europe. It was only after Greg was seriously wounded in Afghanistan that Katie opted for a career change.  While continuing to care for her husband, she graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with an M.S. in Nursing. Now, when she isn’t tasting bourbon, she is a key member of the Cardiovascular Progressive Care/Telemetry team at University of Kentucky’s Chandler Hospital.

You may wonder how two members of the military who had spent the entirety of their almost 22 year-marriage traveling the globe to exotic destinations found themselves in Lawrenceburg…….. and making bourbon in Lawrenceburg at that.

According to Katie, the first part was easy. “When we found Kentucky – and Lawrenceburg in particular – we felt like we had found a home,” she says. And the second part?  Not so easy, she admits. “Greg started the bourbon company without me, and it’s only because the bourbon is so good that we’re still married,” she laughs.

As proof of just how good, their first release which they launched in downtown Lawrenceburg on Australia Day (January 26) in 2023 sold out in a day.They got off to a good start, but things only look to get better for the couple, whose distillery, in addition to being the first to be veteran-owned, is the first to open in Anderson County in 72 years. While they currently do all their distilling offsite, working with small Kentucky distilleries they want to support, they hope to change that this summer by bringing the distillery process onsite.

Meanwhile, they are enjoying their best life, alongside their two trusted employees – Betsy Ross, a six-year-old Red Doberman, who Greg calls “the world’s laziest Chief of Security,” and Raylan Givens, a four-year-old Australian sheepdog, who holds the title Chief of Morale. And just what are his qualifications? Katie is quick to respond, “just that every day is the best day of his life.”

You might say the same for his humans, who after decades of serving their respective countries, now want to do the same with their community any way they can –  whether it be in creating jobs or coming up with new projects such as what may possibly be the first bourbon book club on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

As to their bourbon, Katie has an apt description – “I like to say that it’s what the American dream tastes like,” she says.

Check out their upcoming “Pour for the Roses” Derby Party Weekend on our event calendar.