Bourbon is having a moment, garnering a great deal of national and international interest.

A local group of bourbon enthusiasts, Taters Inc., has banded together to help raise funds for area nonprofits. At their first official bourbon tasting and auction July 13 at Pine Valley Country Club, a capacity crowd of 125 people paid to sample Four Roses bourbon, listen to, and ask questions of Four Roses award-winning master distiller Brent Elliott via a virtual call, participate in a silent and live auction for multiple bottles of bourbon, and discuss the merits of different bourbons with fellow “taters.”

A “tater” in bourbon lingo is a bourbon enthusiast who goes in search of the most popular brands and helps perpetuate the bourbon craze that is currently underway. The term, although it can be somewhat derogatory, refers to any new bourbon enthusiast. “We are all ‘taters’ at some point,” said Michael Barranda, president of the newly formed organization. “We wanted to take the term and turn it into something positive.”

Taters Inc. is the expansion of an informal group of bourbon lovers who came together virtually during the pandemic. “I enjoy drinking bourbon,” noted Barranda. “There’s a lot of American history and pride associated with it, and there’s been a lot of growth happening in the bourbon industry that’s drawing new enthusiasts.”

During 2020’s quarantine, many bourbon enthusiasts would go online to discuss their love of bourbon together. “I’d started seeing a lot of the same names popping up in discussions,” Barranda said. “We decided to start an official Facebook group. That led us to brainstorm how we could turn our love of bourbon into something positive for the community.”

A board of directors was formed which includes founding president Barranda; Karen Leininger, vice president; Charles Metz, vice president of programming; Justin Young, treasurer; The Honorable Judge David Zent, secretary; Matt Hakey, director of marketing and branding; Thomas Bucher, director of ambassadorship; and Paul Lagemann, director of Tater relations/development. The vision of the organization is “to harness the enthusiasm and generosity of the bourbon world for the greater good of the community.”

Barranda, who is active in the Fort Wayne community, knows how to help grow nonprofits. He has been a member of the boards of many area organizations, including serving nine years on the board of the Fort Wayne Community Foundation. “The pandemic taught us all to be creative around our hobbies and social interactions,” Barranda said. “Meanwhile the nonprofit world took a big hit. There are many of us that want to use our hobby to support those in need, and we are thrilled with the support thus far.”

The organization decided to work with the Fort Wayne Community Foundation to create a fund that will grant monies to deserving organizations. The new Hoosier Spirit Fund will be administered by the foundation, and will receive its funding from Taters Inc. fundraising activities.

A wide variety of bourbon enthusiasts, from young twenty-somethings to senior citizens, attended the tasting. Brok Lahrman and Aaron Schilb were bidding on several bottles in the silent auction. “I’m here because I’d like to learn more about bourbon,” said Schilb, “and I can have a good time and do something for charity.” Schilb said he has been a bourbon drinker for a couple of years. When asked why he enjoys bourbon, he said, “I think everybody gets something different out of it – it’s got its own unique flavors.”

Friends Jason and Stacy Brown and Chris and Alfredo Perez were seated together for the tasting. Stacy Brown, a stay-at-home mom, is a bourbon enthusiast. “I can tell the difference between different blends,” said Stacy. Alfredo Perez, who works in the medical field, was having a tougher time discerning differences between the blends. “I know I just like them,” he said. The couples have visited distilleries in Kentucky and related a story about a brand that was served at the Cotton Club in the 1920s that is just coming back into production. “You’re seeing a lot of the old Kentucky distilleries coming back and using their old recipes,” said Jason Brown, a retirement planning consultant.

Brent Elliott, master distiller for Four Roses, was the featured speaker, via Zoom. Four Roses is a highly sought brand of bourbon known for their small-batch limited editions. He educated guests on the science, history and mechanics of bourbon making, covering such subjects as mash bill, yeast varieties, unicorns, and explaining how ten different recipes are used to make their small batch products. Elliott walked guests through the tasting process for four different small-batch Four Roses bourbons served at the event. He also answered guests’ questions about bourbon and related how Four Roses returned to being sold in the U.S. after many years of only being sold overseas. Bourbon was recognized in 1964 by the U.S. Congress as a “distinctive product of the United States.” To be classified as bourbon, the liquor must be produced in the U.S. from at least 51% corn and must be stored in a new container of charred oak for its aging process.

Bourbon lovers at the event did not hesitate to bid on the many bottles up for auction. A bottle of “Pappy” Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot B 12 years sold for $825 in the live auction.

Although totals for the fundraiser are still being finalized, Barranda anticipates $10,000 will be donated to the Fort Wayne Community Foundation to establish the new Hoosier Spirit Fund. “The members of the board were blown away: by the generosity of the time spent by Brent Elliott from Four Roses; by the fact that there were no technical stumbles despite a live Zoom in front of a large crowd; by the way Pine Valley Country Club accommodated such a great event the day before hosting one of the largest golf outings in the state; by the enthusiasm and generosity of the attendees. It all exceeded everyone’s expectations,” he noted.

The group hopes that the event triggers more people into becoming members of the new organization. “When you can combine something you love with doing good for the community, that’s killing two birds with one stone,” said The Honorable Judge David Zent, a member of the board.

For more information on becoming a “Tater,” visit their their Facebook page, Tater Inc., or the website at https://www.whiskeytaters.com.

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