Andy Roddick and Peyton Manning’s bourbon now in Texas

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Like all good drinking stories, this one involves a traveling circus, a champion tennis player, and the capital of Texas.

Good. Maybe not all tales have these things, but they should.

Whiskey-connected drinkers may have heard of Sweetens Cove, the Tennessee brand of bourbon named after a golf course near Chattanooga and Nashville. He’s booze with renowned support for Peyton Manning, but he’s also the one with a deep connection to Austin. Other owners include the tennis hall-of-famer Andy Roddick, Tiff’s treats co-founder Leon Chen, Kendra scott CEO Tom Nolan, President of Silicon Labs Nav Sooch and real estate developer Mark Rivers – Austinites all. (Nashville musician Drew Holcomb is also on board.) And pioneering distiller Marianne Eaves mixed up the Company’s second version while living in a trailer in Buda and working in Austin proper.

This new version is launching in Texas, where the bottles are now on shelves (suggested retail price is $ 200) and in bars and restaurants. So, it’s a sip that’s about as Texan as it is Tennessian.

Again, like all good drinking stories – OK, but for real this time – it started with a series of shots.

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How Sweetens Cove was born

Rivers says he and Roddick were surfing the internet a few years ago, looking for a 9-hole golf course where they could chill out for a casual round or two. They stumbled upon the Sweetens Cove course in Tennessee, established in 2014. They made the trip.

Rivers says he had an “amazing unicorn design.” As he stepped outside, he remembers thinking, “Why don’t we try to do something together here to really protect and preserve this place?” Because it was an extraordinary place and in danger. I’ve said it a few times, if golf had had national parks it would have been one of the national parks.

Rivers, Roddick and the other owners purchased the course in 2019. It had neither working plumbing nor a clubhouse. “It was really ‘Field of Dreams’ and ‘Tin Cup’,” says Rivers.

Austin tennis champion Andy Roddick says entering the liquor industry wasn't a long-held dream, but Sweetens Cove was feeling good.

One thing the course had: vibes to spare. Rivers likens it to summer camp, and like any summer camp, traditions were the best part.

One of the rituals they discovered during the course was to “have a glass of whiskey before your first hit on your first tee,” Rivers says. He continues: “It was stacks of bottles in a shed, basically a tool shed, asphalt, in no order.” Bottles were often half emptied or more, and the spirits varied in quality and age. Clean a shot glass. Choose your poison.

“We were like, well, why not create our own bourbon, a bourbon that really celebrates the spirit of this place as much as the physicality of it? The spirit of friendship, of discovery, of treasure, ”says Rivers.

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“It wasn’t an obvious thought,” Roddick says of his entry into the beverage business. The retired athlete has made a name for himself on several occasions – formerly ranked No. 1 tennis player in the world, philanthropist for the Andy Roddick Foundation in Austin. , husband of actress / model Brooklyn Decker (who recently took part in a Zoom with the American statesman to sneak some bourbon out of her husband). “It wasn’t something that I sat down, you know, five years ago and I was like, ‘Gosh, I just need to get into the liquor business.’ ”

But the pieces gradually fell into place. They just needed, well, someone who could bring Sweetens Cove Bourbon to life. They found their quarterback in Marianne Eaves, the first woman from Kentucky to be named Master Distiller.

How Marianne Eaves Combines World Class Bourbon

Whiskey barrels may come from producers in Tennessee – Eaves calls it a “treasure hunt” – but the blender itself comes from everywhere. His partner, Kevin Venardos, runs the traveling circus Venardos.

“He had several dates in Texas, scheduled just as the pandemic started,” she said.

She first joined Sweetens Cove in 2019 after the owners contacted her via email, on the recommendation of a production facility they were working with. The brand’s sense of mystery and exclusivity intrigues him: “They didn’t want to be the next Jack Daniel’s. They really wanted to uplift Tennessee and do something special.

And the 100 barrels of 13-year-old whiskey they had to taste certainly didn’t hurt. His first Sweetens Cove blend was released last spring.

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Eaves and Venardos had their daughter, Andi, on March 13, 2020. They’ve traveled around the country a bit and Eaves is currently in Colorado, but she made the mix for the second version while hanging out in Hays County. .

“We decided this last Thanksgiving, after having a successful socially distant circus in October, that we were going to try a Thanksgiving show and be in Buda.” The circus shows didn’t go very well, Eaves says, but the venue, Buck’s Backyard, invited the young family to stay on the property for a while.

“Fortunately, this team is extremely flexible with me,” she says of her mobile lab. “Basically I asked them to send me samples to a local distillery.” She would pick up the spirits samples and try blends at home, or sometimes right at the distillery or in her coworking space at Vuka in Austin.

The latest version of Sweetens Cove is being rolled out in Texas.

While Eaves was in central Texas, she soaked up the culture, including judging at the Texas Whiskey Festival.

“I was hanging out in Texas, I made a point of myself through my travels in the circus to make friends,” she says. “I visited a few different distilleries, and they knew the project and what I was doing and talking about, about the blend and the differences in the profiles of Texas whiskey versus whiskey produced in Tennessee. ”

Eaves has established a relationship with Heather Greene of the Blanco Milam & Greene Distillery. The two hung out and talked about Greene’s mixing process. Eaves says those conversations likely influenced the way she proceeded with her mix for Sweetens Cove.

“It’s still the same very thoughtful process, and a little neurotic, I would say. Sometimes I’m obsessed with the flavors and nuances, and to the point that it probably drove Mark and the team crazy, ”she laughs.

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The new version of Sweetens Cove is a blend of three different ages of bourbon, the oldest being 16, Eaves says. During the process, she first reviewed the oldest items. If you’ve ever read the label on a bottle of bourbon, you know the colorful tasting notes that go into a blend. The 16-year-old was “exceptional,” Eaves says, with red wine quality and hints of cloves, baking spices and dark red berries. It had a “characteristic of ripe, almost antique oak,” she says. A 6 year old was “much richer and more viscous, with the dark and sweet notes, toffee, molasses, those deep spices, like leather and black pepper” and the toasted and charred flavor of the cask “was still more dominant ”.

Eaves thought the blend of these two whiskeys was wonderful, but it was heavy. She featured a 4 year old with hints of honey, citrus, apple peel and palm. “It also creates that longer finish, because it had that lovely warm, rich, clean, and soft finish.”

It’s a gourmet experience, she says.

Sweetens Cove bourbon was inspired by a whiskey shot tradition on its eponymous golf course.

Sweetens Cove, now in Texas

It bears repeating: Eaves, Roddick, and Rivers all say Sweetens Cove isn’t meant to be mass-market booze. It is a limited edition product. Roddick estimates that more than 13,000 bottles of the first blend were launched in Georgia and Tennessee last year. The team heard of retailers implementing one-bottle limits for customers.

“The demand has far exceeded the supply,” says Roddick, adding that “we kind of want to dip our toes in and make sure we know what we’re doing, make sure the processes are right.”

If the expansion into Texas is going well, “that changes the story a bit,” says Roddick. The conversation hasn’t really evolved into a nationwide rollout yet. “We want to make sure that Texas really appreciates what we bring, what we offer,” he says.

“This is only our third state, so we have 47,” said Rivers. “I think Andy is right. We’d rather walk and do things right than run and misstep.”

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Roddick is excited about the deployment on an admittedly selfish level. He’s delighted to walk into a familiar bar or restaurant and order his own brand of bourbon. He knows Texans love their whiskey, and they know their stuff. The bottle is meant to be shared, and for most of the brand’s existence the “experiential” part of having a drink has been absent due to the pandemic’s effect on bars and gatherings. As Austin begins to open up more, Roddick likes to imagine sipping a drink at a bar like Mean-Eyed Cat.

“It’s a lot different having someone from Georgia say, ‘Hey, we enjoyed your product,’” says Roddick, “but then ask your friends back home, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re coming. to receive the last bottle at Spec’s’? It is a reason for celebration. ”

The tennis star’s family first moved to Austin in 1986, and he admits the city has changed: “It was the best kept secret, and now it’s no one’s secret.” But he’s thrilled that Austin still has the kind of energy that can help birth a special product.

“There’s room for a lot of different ways of thinking, and that’s probably my favorite thing about Austin,” says Roddick. “And that might be the only constant. The buildings are getting taller, everything is getting taller, a little more traffic, but the motivation for thought and innovation has always been there. She just wears a hat. different now.

Eric Webb is the Austin360 entertainment editor for the American-Statesman. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter, @webbeditor.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Silicon Labs CEO Tyson Tuttle was part of the Sweetens Cove ownership team, according to information provided by the company. Tuttle is not a co-owner; Nav Sooch, president of Silicon Labs.



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