Local bourbon company uses Mississippi River and barges to age spirits

COLUMBUS, Ky. — Few things are as synonymous with the Commonwealth of Kentucky as bluegrass, race horses, and bourbon, and O.H. Ingram River Aged Whiskey is challenging the norms on how the spirit is refined.

Most people assume bourbon is only made in Kentucky, which is almost true, but not quite.

The origins of the beverage are debated even today, but according to Rabbit Hole Distillery’s timeline of the history of bourbon, it appears to be settled that it was an invention of the 1780s.

Today, nearly 250 years since its origin, bourbon is a $9 billion industry with more than 23,000 jobs, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

O.H. Ingram is a relatively new bourbon company, selling it’s first bottle in September 2020, with early production runs of the spirit dating back to 2017.

Now in 2024, the company offers four bottled beverages that are part of their “fleet,” including their Flagship and standard straight Kentucky bourbon, as well as a 96 proof straight whiskey and a 98 proof straight rye whiskey.

What makes their bourbon different is its aging process, which happens 100% on a barge in the Mississippi River.

Other companies do age bourbon on boats — most notably Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea — but Jefferson’s aging process is started on land and finished in the ocean, whereas Ingram’s is aged on the water for as long as seven years.

Scott Beyer is the master blender for Ingram River Aged Whiskey, and has the job of tasting from the more than 6,000 barrels of whiskey stored on the barges.

It all started at a bourbon tasting group with the company’s founder, Hank Ingram III, a fourth generation member of the Ingram family, which has operated Ingram Marine Group since 1946 and has operated on the Mississippi since the late 1850s.

He was getting a lesson on the history of bourbon when he got an idea from the past.

“The guy running the tasting was going over the history of bourbon and how they used to take this distillate and put it into barrels, send it down the Mississippi on flat boats, and it would end up in New Orleans,” Beyer said. “He thought, ‘You know, we have the resources to test this out and see if we could still do it today.’ And we tried it and guess what? It works so we just kept on doing it.”

According to Beyer, having the bourbon on the river gives their spirit a flavor profile that is unique to its aging process.

Aging the spirit on the river has several benefits, according to Beyer, including a relatively stable humidity.

What is not stable is the temperature — something Beyer said is good for the process.

“We have huge diurnal shifts, which are your day and night time temperatures,” Beyer said, referencing the nearly 95 degrees the barge was at 10 a.m. during his interview. “Tonight, once the sun goes down, the river is going to pull all this heat out and its probably going to drop 40-50 degrees.”

Beyer said in hotter temperatures the wood expands and contracts as it cools, which is part of what creates the unique flavor profile of their whiskey. It also accelerates the aging process.

“Any aged spirit comes from the wood — that flavor profile comes from the wood itself,” Beyer said. “If you can find a way to make your barrels work harder, you’re going to get more character and depth out of your whiskey.”

The other thing that creates a unique flavor profile is the motion of the Mississippi River.

The motion of the river keeps the whiskey inside constantly moving, which adds to and enhances the flavor profile of the bourbon inside.

Ingram is a premium spirit and can be purchased in several states, including Kentucky.

To see where you can taste or buy a bottle, visit the company’s website at IngramWhiskey.com.