A bout of homesickness and a reading of Fred Minnick’s Whiskey Women led Bourbon Women member Cara Osborne to create her own whiskey brand, Blaize & Brooks.

BW: What led you to the decision to start your own whiskey brand?

CO: In November of 2019, I read Fred Minnick’s Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey.  As a girl who grew up in Eastern Kentucky and became a midwife, then taught midwifery at the Frontier Nursing Service (now Frontier Nursing University) in Hyden, Kentucky, much of his discussion of the medicinal use of whiskey and how women were involved in its evolution and persistence through the centuries felt familiar to me. That book led me down a rabbit hole and I spent months reading and learning.

Then in the spring of 2020 as the pandemic set in I got homesick for the hills. I missed my family but it wasn’t just that, I missed the dirt and the trees and the creeks. I was teaching a class on entrepreneurship so I channeled my discontent into building a case study around a bourbon brand that could capture a little of the nostalgia that I was feeling.

Later in the summer, my husband and I ran off to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and got married in the desert. By the end of the trip, we decided we wanted to try to take what I’d been working on and see if we could make it real. We have five kids in our merged brood so essentially, we decided that as a celebration of our love, we would make booze—not babies—and Blaize (my middle name) & Brooks (his family name) was born.

I spent the fall and winter recruiting talented friends and professionals to help me figure out how it all works and on Derby Day of 2021, we opened the first bottles with our lifelong friends and family at Churchill Downs about nine months after our August wedding.

BW: Your bottle is labeled “Homesick Edition” – as an ex-pat Kentuckian, can you explain what Kentucky means to you and why you decided to immortalize that on a bourbon label?

CO: I think Kentuckians in the diaspora suffer from our separation from the motherland even when we chose it and love our adopted homes. I graduated from Transylvania University in 1999 and haven’t lived in the bluegrass since but as I’ve gotten older my overdeveloped attachment to Bluegrass music, racehorses, and bourbon makes me understand why other displaced peoples cling to tradition even more than those who stayed at home. I lived in Boston for 10 years and the way the Irish communities there celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as though their lives depend on it makes total sense to me. I always thought I would find my way home and it just hasn’t happened but creating this bourbon helped me connect to my roots in a way that I needed when I couldn’t physically go there and gives me a way to share a little bit of my Kentucky home with my far-flung friends and family who have never been.

BW: Tell me about the process of choosing a Bourbon for your brand.

CO: I knew I wanted something that was Kentucky-made. I wanted something with a little higher rye content. When we tracked these barrels down I consulted the professionals for sure – Ashley Barnes of The Spirits Group (who I think is an incredible talent) was our Master Blender. But just as important to the process were my mom, dad, husband, and brother who all helped me decide if our bourbon tasted like home.

BW: What advice do you have for women who want to start a whiskey brand like Blaize & Brooks of their own?

CO: I’m new to the bourbon business. I don’t feel qualified to give specific advice on whiskey, but I’ve started a few things now and my advice for women starting anything new is to understand why you want to do it, stick to that, and find people who know more than you do to help.

Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t or that you’re not enough or that you aren’t doing it right—if it’s right for you and the people closest to you, it’s right.

Work with other women when you can. We create opportunities for each other when we do and we understand each other in a way that requires little translation. When we lift each other up we negate the scarcity mentality that has kept us thinking that there is only room for one woman at the table and that we have to compete for the single seat.

Understand that there will be people who will try to discourage and criticize you but that is usually more about their fears and insecurities than it is about you and your project. Try not to take it personally even when it feels that way.

Invest in yourself and the things that matter to you. I have loved every minute of getting to know the spirits industry and business. This is my retirement plan. I know a 401(k) makes more sense to most people, but I want to invest in something I love. I love bourbon and everything it means to me, my family, and my beloved home state. Starting this brand is the best investment I’ve ever made.

BW: Tell me about your perfect whiskey weekend back home in Kentucky.

CO: Alongside starting the bourbon brand we started looking for a place in Louisville to make our “Old Kentucky Home” (for those of you from other places, “My Old Kentucky Home” is our state song and we sing it at all important events). We looked at condos downtown and houses in the burbs but nothing felt quite right. In July, on a leap of faith, we made an offer on a bed and breakfast in Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood that has since become our Old Kentucky Home and the spiritual home of Blaize & Brooks.

All that said, my perfect weekend is spent cooking with friends and family, eating on the porch, drinking bourbon by the fire, taking walks along the river and through the botanical garden down the street. Letting time slow down….

Photos Courtesy of Blaize & Brooks

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This