A conversation with Vice President of Next Generation Beverages for Molson Coors, David Coors
By Janice Carter Levitch Humphrey
Photos provided by Molson Coors
The VOICE of WHISKEY is being launched in this issue with the Vice President of Next Generation Beverages for Molson Coors, David Coors. The son of Pete Coors and great-great-grandson of Adolph Coors, who founded the Adolph Coors Company in Golden, Colorado, in 1873. In 2015 the Coors Company merged with Molson of Canada and is known today as the Molson Coors Beverage Company. You may ask why we are featuring a beer company in a feature about whiskey. Well, it just so happens that the Molson Coors Beverage Company has released its first full-strength spirit, a blended American whiskey made with Coors malt and Rocky Mountain water called Five Trail. In partnership with the Bardstown Bourbon Co., it was distilled in Bardstown, Kentucky. The 95 proof, ultra-premium whiskey is premised on three factors: the spirit’s unbridled growth over the past couple of decades, building an affinity of beer drinkers for a whiskey produced by a brewery and the effort to create more premium offerings with the company’s portfolio.
Let’s talk whiskey with the VOICE of WHISKEY, David Coors!
You must have many fond memories of growing up in the industry. Can you share with us a bit of what that was like?
It was a pretty special kind of upbringing. When I was growing up, my dad ran the business. He started in the early ‘70s and always said we were in several states with only one brand. It was amazing the growth it went through as he led the business, especially in the ‘90s when I was growing up. When he traveled to work-related functions on the weekends, he took the entire family with him. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have time together. I’m the youngest of six, so you can imagine when Pete Coors showed up with all of us, it was something. We were going to rodeos, NASCAR races and all these wonderful events. It was such a treat to experience the industry from that kind of lens, get to know the employees and distributors, and see how he engaged with those folks and consumers. It was just what life was. People will ask me what it was like to grow up a Coors, and I always thought just like everybody else.
When did you recognize you wanted to be part of the business?
I was intrigued by the business and enjoyed being around it. My dad’s approach was never that you will be in this business or that it was what I had to do. He was very much about letting us forge our own paths and see what interests and passions we have. We have a family rule that we have to work outside the business for a minimum of two years before working inside the company. That is to be sure we enter into a position we are qualified for and manage the sense of nepotism. I worked in the oil and gas business in West Virginia for a couple of years. I slept in my truck for several years more nights than my bed on top of mountains to experience the sunrises and sunsets and the fog in the valleys.
The new spirit Five Trail Whiskey from Molson Coors, which you spearheaded, has been getting positive reviews. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the decision to venture into the whiskey business?
I always tell the story that a little over 20 years ago, I was driving down the Golden Valley in Colorado around all the breweries with my dad. I was home on a weekend break from college, and I had been dabbling into whiskey a little bit. On a holiday break from Cornell, where I was attending college, I went on a hunting trip to southern Georgia. I was tired and had been playing lacrosse, my throat was sore, and I was beat up from the first semester. So my dad said here, and he poured me a glass of Crown Royal on the rocks. He said sip on this; it will soothe your throat. I had two Crown Royals on the rocks, and I woke up the following day; my cold was gone, and I was fresh as a bird. So I thought, hmm, there’s something to this. Now I’m not advertising it cures any health ailments, but that’s when I first got intrigued. As we were driving through the Golden Valley, I looked over at him, and he was driving a suburban with both hands on the steering wheel. Then I asked him why we don’t make whiskey, and he didn’t even look over at me to answer. He said, “we’re good at one thing and one thing only, that’s beer.” He kept driving, and I still kick myself, thinking, why did I not be more of a rebel? I could have had a 20-year-old whiskey by now. But I wasn’t a rebel. I took his answer, and we went back about our business. Still, that conversation has always stuck with me to this day.
In 2019 when Molson Coors evolved their strategy to include beverages, I applied for the job to lead the Next Generation Beverage business, which includes wine, spirits and cannabis. I thought this could finally be my chance to get whiskey into the business. Then covid hit in 2020, and we had formed a strategy, then everything shut down. We didn’t have the resources to get into a space, and I was diagnosed with shingles. It was miserable, doctors were giving me pain killers, and it just wasn’t working.
I was getting all these samples of whiskey sent to me, and I started doing this countertop blending. It was numbing the pain, and I was working at the same time after I finished all my zoom calls. As I learned more about the categories and research, I became fascinated with numbers and trends. Then I came up with this blend that I fell in love with and had no idea who would partner with us to bottle it for us. Of course, we were getting stuff from MGP, and then I connected with Herb Heneman at Bardstown Bourbon Co. He used to work at Molson Coors, and we had worked together in the Chicago office back in 2012. I knew he was there, so one of our colleagues connected us. He was in Denver that summer of 2020. We sat down and had a burger together outside at a restaurant. He said we had to come to visit them, I had so much already sorted out and told him we’re fine. I said ok, I have this blend idea. I shipped it to them. Then we sat down for two days with Steve Nalley, myself, one of our master brewers and the Bardstown Bourbon Co. team. We went on a journey for two days from the starting point to the finishing point.
For the whiskey novice, can you explain the nuances of the flavor profile of Five Trail?
I love that the four different whiskeys that make up the blend for Five Trail take your palate on a journey. You can pick out each component. That first sip upfront is that sweet wheat bourbon, 45% of the blend, four years old from Indiana. It’s that caramelly, honey sweetness upfront, and then the four grain takes you through the mid-palate of the complexity. That’s 35% four-year-old four grain from Bardstown, giving it body and depth. Then I find the 15% finish is the four-year-old single malt from Colorado. I think that gives it this interesting kind of dry ginger finish. You have the overtones of the thirteen-year-old Kentucky bourbon that gives it a slight woodiness, depth, and color throughout all of it.
Kentucky is known as bourbon country. With so many established brands already available plus new brands often launching, what makes Five Trail stand out amongst all the others?
One thing that has been a positive and a little bit of a challenge is that we have the single malt in the blend. People say it’s not bourbon, and you need it to be bourbon if you want it to sell. I understand the consumer dynamic and agree. However, we wanted the story to tie back to why Coors was making whiskey, and that’s how we leveraged our malt. We shipped water from the brewery to Bardstown, then packaged and proofed it down with water from the brewery. I didn’t want to source whiskey and slap a label on the bottle, and we wanted it to have a meaningful story. The uniqueness and finish we discussed earlier help it stand out and differentiate itself from the rest. A hope is that American blend whiskey can become more of a thing as people begin to venture beyond just bourbon and try to get more creative with the different sorts of blends. We are probably too early into that curve to try and forge our way just yet. When I first started experimenting with the blends, I wanted to make sure that our single malt was part of the blend. Again, we wanted the story to make sense.
Do you have a special cocktail recipe for Five Trail to share?
Yes, a Manhattan. During covid, as I was exploring whiskey and started making cocktails at home, my wife fell in love with Manhattans. So I was creating Manhattans with Willett Rye. When we finally made Five Trail, one night, while I was making a cocktail, I switched out the Willett Rye for Five Trail. I mix it with dry and sweet vermouth, Five Trail, bitters and Luxardo cherries. At the end, I splash it with a bit of soda water to lighten it up. My wife noticed the change and loved it even more, when I told her it was Five Trail.
For information on Five Trail visit their website at fivetrail.com
Grab yourself a bottle at these Louisville area locations: Liquor Barn, Total Wine & More (2 Louisville locations, 2 Lexington locations), Select Kroger stores, Cave Country Liquor and Distillery District Market.