Rick Tapia admits he got really interested in bourbon only fairly recently. He’d been a vodka man.
“Growing up in the Northwest, you grew up drinking vodka, rum, maybe some Jack [Daniels] and Coke,” he said. “I don’t recall any bourbon. It wasn’t sexy at the time.”
But times change. Bourbon turned sexy after all. And Tapia, who was born in Peru and grew up near New York, now lives in Sandy Springs and has created his own brand of bourbon, the favorite whiskey of the American South. He hopes it will catch on as part of a new interest in small batch bourbons.
He named his whiskey J.R. Revelry. The “J.R.” represents his initials; his full name is Jesus Ricardo Tapia. The “Revelry” part of the name suggests celebration, he said. And the design on the label of his bottles – a black bowler – is a nod both to good times and his family’s roots in South America, where the round-topped hats still represent high fashion in some areas.
Tapia is quick to point out that his bourbon is 100 percent American-made. It says so right on the label, in Spanish. (“The Spanish on the label was for me, a personal thing,” he said. “I was saying, ‘Hey, I’m Latino.’”) His bourbon, which sells for $30 to $40 a bottle, is distilled in Indiana and bottled in Nashville, he said. Even the stoppers are made in the U.S., he said.
Tapia, who’s 44, comes by his interest in producing spirits through experience. He actually started out as an accountant (In college, “I knew I couldn’t do a fluffy degree,” he said.), but quickly moved to working as a promoter for various national and international liquor companies. He promoted vodka, tequila, even the occasional Scotch. He worked for various companies during his 18 years in the business.
About nine years ago, he and his wife planned to move from the Northeast to Miami for his job. But liquor companies buy and sell one another all the time, he said, and before his transfer was completed, his company was bought by another company and they found themselves headed to Georgia, instead. “My wife and I were a bit surprised,” he said.
In Georgia, he discovered bourbon. “When I moved here was when I learned about it and started drinking it on a regular basis,” he said.
When his company was sold again a couple of years ago, he and his family faced another corporate transfer, which would have required starting over in another town. So he decided to head off on his own, “to create my own brand,” he said.
He knew what he liked in the bourbons he drank himself, he said, so he “reverse blended” his own brand to get a smooth bourbon that would mix well in cocktails, he said.
And small batch bourbons now seem to be the hot commodity. “Things were changing. The whiskey thing was starting to happen,” he said. At the same time, in the world of selling whiskey, “the economics of creating a brand had completely changed. Craft brewing had evolved to craft distilling.”
Now Tapia takes bottles of J.R. Revelry to golf tournaments, office parties, happy hour tastings – wherever he can find a group of people willing to try a taste. He figures it’s the best way to go up against the big companies he used to work for. “Who knows? Maybe someday they’ll buy my company,” he joked.
His whiskey now is sold in six states, he said. But competition is tough. “There are new brands everywhere,” he said. “We say there’s the ‘browning of American politics’ and then ‘the browning of America…’” Maybe the time has come, he said, for tastes to turn to darker drinks.
“It fits,” he said. “It’s good for us. It’s good for America.”