Turner Wathen and his business partner, Jordan Morris, named their Crestwood, Ky.-based Rolling Fork Spirits after the first Wathen family distillery, founded in 1788—Rolling Fork Distillery. “We set out to revive this family legacy with a unique twist: barrel-aged artisan rums. We run an independent rum label out of Kentucky, where our primary focus is on bringing unique and interesting rums to the shelf for spirits enthusiasts. While the family legacy—spanning more than five generations—is in American whiskey, we thought we could add value to consumers by introducing hard-to-access rums. Our rums come at higher proofs and have no sugars, caramels or additives. We tailor rums to whiskey-centric audiences and adhere to a family motto: No finer spirits can be made.”
How did your Bellarmine education help prepare you for what you are doing today?
Bellarmine University’s alumni and staff have helped shaped our company. Michael Spurlock ’86/’06, overseer, mentor and advisor, is helping us plan for growth. I also receive legal advice from my former professors. I built my dream of launching a spirits company while attending Bellarmine. I learned how to draft company forecasts and financials while earning my MBA. I then worked full-time from 2010 to 2012 at Bellarmine in Graduate Admissions. Attending Bellarmine University enabled my dream to become reality. During my time at Bellarmine, I met my wife, Kelly Wathen, who introduced me to my partner, Jordan Morris. It’s not just the tools and professors that Bellarmine provided; the Bellarmine community came together to help us make it this far.
What advice do you have for alumni or students interested in pursuing your profession?
The spirits industry has its own ecosystem. Every player has an important role. Producers, suppliers, distributors, retailers, enthusiasts and consumers enable and support the spirits culture. Let me walk you through an example of someone starting a spirits brand from scratch. You’ve figured out all the legal loopholes, licensing, regulations and have obtained the permits to start your brand. You have the right partners and have invested money to establish inventory. You’re ready to go to market. Congratulations, you’re like us, and all you have inherited is debt! Now comes the hard part. It’s up to you to sell your product. You need to know your story, why you’re different from competitors, who is going to be your sales person or sales team and know how to explain why these things matter to you so much. You’re the best voice for your product, so you should be comfortable in sales. Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. In fact, it’s emotionally and physically taxing. You need to have something other than making money drive your passion. Our driver is our story. Both Jordan and I are passionate about spirits, spirits history and culture and we desperately want to have a role in this industry.
What career accomplishments are you most proud of?
Being a father and a husband. When we welcomed our first son, Henry “Hank” Wathen (he’s named after Henry Hudson Wathen, who founded the Rolling Fork Distillery in 1788), Jordan and I were preparing to launch our first brand, Fortuitous Union. I remember sneaking outside of the hospital to call and discuss label design and print options. I thought to myself, “Anyone can have a kid (factually incorrect), but so few people have the opportunity to start a brand and a family.” I was going to be the proud father of both. I didn’t comprehend, then, how lucky I am to call myself Hank’s father. Having Hank in my life is by far the best thing that has ever happened to me. He keeps me grounded, keeps things simple and reminds me to have fun.
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