A Glimpse Inside Rabbit Hole Distillery

Rabbit Hole main image
This Louisville distillery owes its start to the advice given by a friend at a Pink Floyd concert.

Growing up in California, Kaveh Zamanian dreamed of becoming a winemaker and owning a winery. But, coming from a family of physicians (both his father and grandfather are doctors), he was encouraged to take a different career path. So, he got his Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and he became a certified psychoanalyst. He also became a scotch drinker.

Eventually, he moved to Chicago, where he worked in both academia and psychology; he also met his wife, Heather Bass. After having their three children, Henri, Lilia and Isabella, the couple decided to move back to Heather's hometown of Louisville to raise their family. Living in America's bourbon capital ignited a fierce love of bourbon inside Zamanian. He dove headfirst into the world of bourbon, becoming friends with some of the spirit's biggest names and producers. Slowly but surely, his former wine-colored dreams began taking on a distinctly bourbon-tinted hue. Zamanian started thinking about his patients; about how, in many cases, mental health issues could be traced back to unrequited dreams.

“Take depression, for example, it (comes from) essentially people not able to tap into themselves, to the human potential they have,” Zamanian explains.

Zamanian Rabbit Hole

Then, one night, Zamanian and a friend went to a Pink Floyd concert, and his friend (after smoking and imbibing) asked him why the hell he wasn’t pursuing his real dream. After all, Zamanian was visiting distillery after distillery, learning all about the art of making bourbon and researching the history - why shouldn't he follow his passion?

Those words were enough to spur Zamanian to finally go through with his dream. In the process of pursuing it, his wife told him that he was “taking them down the rabbit hole,” and thus Rabbit Hole Distillery was christened.

“What did Alice represent? Why did she follow a crazy rabbit down the hole?” Zamanian questions. “I wanted to take that adventure.”

Rabbit Hole bourbon

Zamanian didn’t haphazardly start his distilling company: he managed to raise $40 million – a lot of it grassroots in Kentucky – from regular people. He made his first batch of bourbon and other whiskeys from his own recipes in 2012. When he released his whiskeys in 2016, they won several awards, including winning best straight bourbon in show, double gold at the New York World Wine and Spirits competition.

His straight bourbon is the only one made with barley as secondary flavoring grain, and it is made with 70 percent corn, 10 percent malted wheat, 10 percent honey malted barley and 10 percent malted barley. He and his team also distill Kentucky straight rye, Kentucky straight bourbon finished in PX sherry casks, and an imported London Dry gin that’s finished in Kentucky rye barrels. The whiskeys are made mostly with local ingredients, though Zamanian admits that the best rye comes from Canada.

Right now, the bourbon is distributed in Kentucky, Illinois, Tennesee, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Georgia and Nebraska, To keep up with demand, the company is allowing the distribution to grow organically. “It makes sense to grow from the inside out,” Zamanian says.

Rabbit Hole Still

The 55,000-square-foot distillery itself boasts a high design, with a charcoal exoskeleton and 50 to 60 feet tall glass walls. The building, located in the NuLu neighborhood of Louisville, will have views of the city’s downtown. The interior space boasts a balcony in an event space that juts out over the distilling space, and the interior will resemble a cathedral. “It’s going to be a tasting cathedral,” Zamanian says. “For me, part of what’s exciting is to create a space and to see it come to life.”

The new distillery (designed by Frank Gehry-protégé, Doug Pearson, who is an award-winning architect) is partnering with Proprietors LLC (the owners of Death & Co. in New York City) to operate the ground level bar and restaurant in the distillery.

“Part of therapy is creating a space where people feel comfortable,” Zamanian adds. “I couldn’t have done this without being a psychotherapist (first) myself.”

As a side note, Zamanian says that concert he saw with his friend was great.

Jeanette Hurt is the author of Drink Like a Woman and is an award-winning writer focused on spirits, food and travel.

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