A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Shannon Smith: Revival, building a business model and a spirited community through stories

Every bourbon tells a story. From the grains to the mash, from the barrel to the bottle – the legacy of bourbon lies in the communities it has built and sustained throughout its storied history.

After initially planning to open with a community block party last spring, Revival shifted to an abbreviated ribbon-cutting ceremony months later (complete with facemasks and occupancy restrictions). Debuting a business model focused on leveling the playing field for bourbon novices and connoisseurs alike, Revival’s mission to build community in the time of social distancing serendipitously aligns with bourbon’s heritage and influence in my own life.

I became interested in bourbon in 2013.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail wasn’t as popular then; however, as I immersed myself into the brown water community, I became enamored with the history, local connections and stories that continued to influence their operations. I’ll never forget visiting Bardstown and discovering the impact the famed Jim Beam family had on the industry or learning about the 1996 Heaven Hill fire. One story is foundational, the other is tragic – and yet both are woven into the rich heritage of the industry and each respective brand. In short, bourbon never forgets.

Revival’s charge is to preserve and share those stories via bottle purchases, sales and exchanges – legally and in a way that is welcoming as well as approachable.

Before House Bill 100’s passage by Kentucky’s state legislature in 2017, the exchange of vintage spirits largely consisted of illegal sales between collectors. The legislation permitted private sellers to sell to retail package holders – thereby reintroducing these unique spirits back into the market. Kentucky is one of few states capitalizing on this unique opportunity.

Additionally, there is an erroneous perception that bourbon is a “man’s drink.” As a member of the Distillate Committee for the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Chapter of Bourbon Women, I can tell you the brown water community is vast. This is why my business partners and I want Revival to be a place where anyone regardless of race, gender, age, orientation or beliefs can come and put aside their differences to share and enjoy vintage spirits, along with the stories that complement them.

In bonding over this historic product in which we all take pride, we are building a community that highlights our commonalities as people. Bourbon may be what originally brought us together, but the friendships, respect and care for one another as people is what keeps us connected. In sharing stories about bourbon, we share stories about one another.

Revival is primed to fill a niche in the bourbon industry where stories can come to life – much like the spirits inside each bottle – and those long-lost dusties can be bought, sold, exchanged to be enjoyed and shared. Those just beginning their bourbon journeys as well as those with encyclopedia-like knowledge – we’re curating conversations over each pour.

Great bourbon can come from anywhere, which is why Revival buys, sells and trades from all over the world (we wouldn’t have fielded a call from Scotland before our launch otherwise!). Add in the tasting events host coupled with our planned membership program, providing new samples each month to promote discovery of new bottles, ensuring our patrons continue to be moved by the spirits.

In delivering an experience unique as bourbon itself, we aspire to give the bourbon community another place to call “home” at a time when human connection and story sharing is needed most.

Shannon Smith is owner of the Revival Vintage Bottle Shop in Covington.

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