While at Bourbon and Beyond, I met up with Kaveh Zamanian, the man behind Rabbit Hole spirits and distillery, and asked him a few questions about how it all got started.
Are you from Chicago?
I grew up in California and went to school at Northwestern in Chicago and lived there for 18 years. That’s where I met my wife, who is from Kentucky, in Louisville and we moved here about 10 years ago.
What did you do before you got into the bourbon industry?
I was a clinical psychologist and a psychoanalyst with a combination of clinical and academic work, so professor/doctor.
What pulled you into bourbon distilling?
A few things. I felt there was a lot of monotony in what was being offered and thought it was an opportunity to put my own stamp on it and make something unique, so all the recipes are very different. I think the other thing is I’m a big fan of American spirits, and I feel like bourbon has taken a backseat to Scotch for a long time. So, we wanted to create something to help put bourbon center stage.
How did you go about gathering such an interesting team of people?
Through a combination of efforts. For example, my Chief Marketing Officer Michael Motamedi was on MasterChef Canada, and his culinary experience coupled with his sense of aesthetics appealed to me. He’s also the right age. He’s 31 years old, so he has his finger on the pulse of the younger generation. All those things together made him a real fit for me and Rabbit Hole.
One of my missions is to see if we can pair food and whiskey, not too different from the way the wine guys did it. Basically, it’s a way of enhancing and showing the versatility of bourbon and American whiskey, so help people get a little bit more educated about what whiskey is and can be paired all different kinds of way and it’s not limited.
I look for people who are able to be disciplined, but don’t need a lot of structure, so they can play around and spread their wings and be creative.
I think that’s on a lot of people’s minds right now.
Right, 100%. I’ll give you an example. The Rye Whiskey that we have is very unique in the sense that it has a lot of floral and citrus notes. It’s a lighter Rye Whiskey even though it’s 95% Rye. So, if I were going to do a four course meal, it’s a really nice entree to start things up — maybe with the salad. If I’m having beef or some kind of meat, our four grain bourbon is fantastic. It’s really robust and has some earthy flavors, because we have some unique mulch in there. If I’m going to dessert, our bourbon finished in sherry casks is a really nice touch. It enhances any kind of sweet notes and flavors you have. The London Dry Gin is also a nice entry point. It’s very light and breezy. It doesn’t have that juniper forward taste you usually have, because the rye barrels just cut that juniper down and add a lot of sweet citrus notes to it.
Before you moved in this direction, were you already a foodie?
I was definitely a foodie and basically from high school on through college and graduate school, I was involved in the restaurant and bar business. Even during my internships, I was in the hospitality world, so my heart is really there and after 20 years of practice, I felt like it was time to get back into it.
The distillery is now giving tours. Is there anything you want to add about the Rabbit Hole experience?
We want to make sure all the smoke and mirrors are taken away so you know who the people are behind the products. One of the reasons I got into the industry is of all the diversions. You’ve got a lot of the same whiskeys with different bottles and labels. So, for us, from the very beginning, we wanted to design a building that is set up in a way where you get to see the process and learn about it but you get to discover the collective effort that goes into it.