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Q&A with Angel’s Envy’s Master Distiller Owen Martin

Sailun Tires

June 14 is national Bourbon Day, and this presents a fantastic opportunity to delve into the intricacies of bourbon production, the brand’s philosophy, and future innovations, with Angel’s Envy’s Master Distiller Owen Martin!

Can you tell us about your journey to becoming the Master Distiller at Angel’s Envy? What experiences have shaped your approach to distilling?

I joined Angel’s Envy in 2022 as the brand’s first Master Distiller since founder Lincoln Henderson passed in 2013. My passion and interest in whiskey really started when I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, to attend Heriot-Watt University, studying brewing. Once I was situated, my focus shifted pretty quickly to distillation science, and I even partnered with a Scotch distillery for my Master’s thesis on isolating nutrients from their distillation by-products. 

After graduating, I moved back to the U.S. to lead production at a craft whiskey distillery in the South. I relocated two years later to Denver, returning to single malt production where I drove R&D for a small-batch Colorado distilled whiskey – I was eventually named Head Distiller in 2019.

My vast experience in secondary finishing and experimentation allows me to bring a unique perspective to the best-in-class production team here at Angel’s Envy. It’s been incredible to collaborate and innovate with this leading distillery.

How would you describe your distilling philosophy, and how does it align with Angel’s Envy’s mission and values?

To me, creating whiskey at Angel’s Envy means examining an extremely heritage-rich category through unexpected lenses – we always want to be pushing boundaries and striving to uncover what’s next for American whiskey. 

My personal philosophy is to create whiskeys that are a well-rounded experience – the grain, oak, fermentation, and maturation flavors are all in balance – and then accentuated or contrasted through the use of complementary finishing casks. Being intentional about each variable in order to create an overall thoughtful product is my main goal with any given release.

Angel’s Envy is known for its unique finishing processes. Can you talk about the inspiration behind using port wine barrels and other finishing techniques?

Over his career, Lincoln Henderson spoke in depth with countless bartenders and bourbon fans, and many had expressed interest in the flavor possibilities finishing could bring to bourbon. During the inception of Angel’s Envy, being independent of larger distilleries meant that Lincoln could explore creative directions he’d always wanted to pursue, which is how Angel’s Envy got its award-winning port finish.  Lincoln believed that a port finish would perfectly pair with our spirit, and after finishing and tasting the first batch, he was certain that he’d made the right choice.

In my mind, if we’re innovating correctly, it should feel surprising yet natural. A good example of that was last year’s 2023 Cask Strength Rye release. Our primary special release had been a yearly bourbon at Cask Strength for the past 12 years, yet we’d never ventured outside of that. I decided that would be a fun way to cap my first year with Angels’ Envy – surprise our fans with a double release that balanced as familiar but new.

What trends do you see emerging in the bourbon industry, and how is Angel’s Envy preparing to address or capitalize on them?

I’d say consumers seem to be more and more focused on new and varied releases. This could range from the innovative use of a new finishing cask to more historical designations. Angel’s Envy was founded on the idea of progressing the bourbon industry, using finishing casks at the time more commonly found in Scotch and Irish whiskey production. With the mindset of taking nods to other industries or even the history within our own, we’ve positioned ourselves to create innovative new releases for the years to come.

Can you share any initiatives Angel’s Envy is taking towards sustainability and environmental responsibility in the distilling process?

Amongst a handful of sustainability initiatives we partake in, I’d have to say Toast the Trees is a stand-out. 

Launched in 2014 and celebrated each September in honor of U.S. National Bourbon Heritage Month, Toast the Trees is our initiative to demonstrate the importance of sustainability within the bourbon industry as well as raise awareness of the importance of forests and the increased need for a healthy and secure White Oak tree population. Since the program’s founding, Angel’s Envy, in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation, has planted nearly 300,000 trees. 

One thing I’ve personally worked on in the distillery is being more sustainable and intentional with our barrel use. By law, we can only use a brand-new charred oak barrel for the initial maturation of our bourbon and rye. After that, I wanted us to get a bit more creative. This past year, we’ve sent some of our freshly emptied barrels to other companies – beer, rum, even other whiskey – as “loaner” barrels, essentially. These other production sites will then fill their products into our barrels to age. Whenever they’re done and have packaged their contents, the barrels get returned to us, freshly infused with flavors and aromas from their second fill, which we then use to our advantage as finishing barrels for various projects.

Are there any new projects or products in the pipeline that you’re particularly excited about and can share some details on?

I will say that last year was more of a set-up year in terms of new projects. We were able to surprise people with the 2023 Cask Strength Rye release at the end of the year, and we are looking forward to continuing to do so! Stay tuned.

What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become a Master Distiller or to enter the bourbon industry?

Be patient but relentless. You can always try to find volunteer opportunities with a smaller distillery or work your way in through front-of-house opportunities. There are also more routes into the industry via education than ever before.

Even once you’re in the industry, I think a lot of folks find it tough to realize it’s not all glitz and glamor. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. Most of my time in the industry has been spent working nights or weekends, doing manual labor, and endlessly cleaning. That’s not to say there aren’t fantastic parts about working in the bourbon industry – you just need to make sure your passion is able to carry you through the parts that are more of a grind.

I do like that there’s no real set path to becoming a Master Distiller. Each company and person in that role seems to have charted their own path to that end. You can specialize in plant management or work your way through the quality department, for example. Each distiller brings their own perspective into the role, and that overlaid with the brand’s history is what makes the whole thing compelling to me.


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