ASHLAND — A whiskey tasting lounge is on its way to Ashland.
This week Ashland City Council unanimously approved Bobby Williams’ request for a new liquor permit at his establishment along Cleveland Avenue, waiving its right to hold a public hearing on the matter.
Williams, of Ashland, hopes to open Bourbon Battalion by January, pending permits, licenses and the completion of renovations to the space, located beside tattoo parlor Mainstreet Studios.
The establishment will feature an assortment of whiskey, American-made and otherwise, to taste and learn about. It won’t be a distillery — Williams said it’s all about finding an individual’s palette.
“This is not a place where we have beer or wine,” he said. “It’s more toward the idea of having a place to truly understand how to taste, how to find the different tasting notes.”
Williams said Bourbon Battalion will have an area for people to have a “whiskey-tasting experience” and a lounge area to sit and drink. The lounge will also serve simple foods, soup and other beverages like soda and coffee.
The focus will be everything barrel-aged distilled liquor.
“Truly tasting whiskey is an experience,” he said, adding there will also be a dress code (think collared shirts, not suit and tie).
He hopes to hire up to five bartenders, whom he will teach to become knowledgeable of the different liquors to guide people in their whiskey-tasting journey.
The point of the establishment is not for patrons to get drunk, he said.
“I’m sure some might get a bit tipsy,” he said. “But it’s more about finding someone’s unique taste for bourbon and whiskey. Because there are some whiskies around $100 (a bottle), but someone might find they really like the taste of a $20 bottle.
"There’s so much that goes into when considering which bottles to buy.”
Williams said he has been tasting whiskey and bourbons seriously since 1998 and is a certified Kentucky Bourbon Trail steward. He belongs to various groups such as the Mid Ohio Bourbon Boys and is a one-fifth owner of Storytime Distillery in Charleston, South Carolina.
Changes to state law over the last 10 years or so have led to growth in Ohio's distillery industry, which now boasts around 65 establishments.
Tasting lounges like Bourbon Battalion, however, could be an off-shoot of the state's growing interest in whiskey.
"It's a massive, growing category," said Joe Bidinger, secretary of the Ohio Distiller's Guild. He said whiskey societies and clubs are popping up all over the state.
Bidinger, who is also the founder of Columbus' Echo Spirits Distilling Co. said Williams' tasting lounge sounds exciting.
"I don't know if I've ever heard of anything quite like that. It sounds like a very specific, curated experience," he said.
Attached to a distillery or not, whiskey bars are nevertheless becoming very popular in Ohio, Bidinger. He said Ohio ranks in the top 10 in the country for consuming the most whiskey.
The industry brought in $3.9 billion in economic activity and employed more than 47,000 people in the state in 2018, according to the Ohio Distiller's Guild.