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Liquid Gold: Q&A with Julie Macklowe

Liquid Gold: Q&A with Julie Macklowe

Entrepreneur and whiskey aficionado Julie Macklowe brings American single-malt whiskey to the luxury market.

The path from connoisseur to collector is a well-trodden one in the world of finer things. The road from collector to creator? A little less traveled. But Julie Macklowe has never let a little trailblazing stop her from achieving her goals. The finance and beauty industry veteran – her vbeauté line was sold in Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman and Fred Segal, and was one of Home Shopping Network’s best sellers – pivoted to something a little more personal in 2019. Something a little more spirited.

“How come there’s not any super high-end, luxury American single malt?” Macklowe says she asked herself after years of whiskey connoisseurship and collection, which ultimately culminated in her becoming a registered whiskey ambassador. “I was like, ‘I know. I’m going to go create it.’” In trademark Macklowe fashion, she went full tilt on her newest enterprise, The Macklowe, the U.S.’s first luxury single-malt whiskey – so new, in fact, that it was still under category review at the time of this writing. “Obviously, I lost my mind,” she laughs.  

Macklowe partnered with Ian MacMillan, a Scottish master blender and distiller with more than 40 years of experience with fine whiskeys (Glengoyne, Deanston, Bunnahabhain) under his belt, to source and blend premium single-malt whiskeys – translation: 100 percent malted barley, water and yeast – crafted in America, from American ingredients. “Our philosophy’s been farm to table. We locally source all the grain. It’s USDA grade one,” Macklowe says. “The highest-end barrels [for aging] have been used – ISC Cooper’s Select, which means they’re 36-month air-dried. I took a barrel aging class from Moonshine University to learn more about char levels.” As usual, she’s all in.

Macklowe chatted with us about the origins of her whiskey worship, designing a vessel fit for The Macklowe and enticing women with her wares.

How did you get into whiskey?

I started collecting whiskey while I was working in finance. Living in Korea, I basically would spend my dinner allowance on wine, Champagne or Scotch. Since I was 23, Scotch lasted longer and got me drunk quicker, so I gravitated quickly toward that. A couple bottles here led to a few duty-free stores there. A couple more became a couple hundred, then a couple thousand, and I was staring at my collection… I have amazing things, like an Old Elgin 1936, the entire Glenlivet cellar collection, one of my favorites is Springbank 1969, I have-present day whiskeys – Japanese, Taiwanese, Irish, Canadian. 

But no high-end American single malt, as you mentioned.

I basically had this thought: “I know how to do packaging and marketing, but what I really love is whiskey and golf, so why not go follow my dream?” Luckily for me, I was on a trip to Islay in Scotland, hanging out with some guys from some big brands… and I was like, “Hey guys, who’s the master of this world? I’ve got this crazy idea. I want to do American single malt.” They introduced me to Ian McMillan. He’s world-famous… Ian said yes, and The Macklowe was born. 

We started scouring like all these distilleries trying to figure out who we were going to work with, who our partner would be. We came across and finally decided to work with Wilderness Trail [Distillery, in Danville, Kentucky]. We chose them because [co-founders] Dr. Pat Heist and Shane Baker knew how to really do single malt. They had done a small batch that had been about 20 years old for one restaurant, I think one or two barrels. They’re obviously the masters of yeast, and everyone goes to them for problems with yeast.

So, they helped you create your forthcoming signature whiskey, Kentucky Gold. 

 That’ll come out – that becomes four years old this September… We’re going to release it officially at the Food & Wine [Classic Aspen] in June. We’ll do a preview, and they’ll ship for September 1. 

In the meantime, during COVID, I was really lucky. I came across a handful of casks of distinction. They were exceptional barrels from a tiny distillery up in Oregon. Ian and I thought the quality was outstanding, so we actually purchased the entire lot of what they had and brought them down to Kentucky. As he would tell you, things in Kentucky go from 100 degrees to 20 degrees. So, the aging process happens much quicker than in Scotland. That is what we started with, in these casks of distinction. There’s only four of these per year, so only 1,000 bottles total… We only made 189 bottles. These were so expensive because those casks were tens of thousands of dollars. You can divide that by 189 bottles, and we handcraft and hand-paint every single bottle. And that’s why these [black bottles] are MSRP $1,500 each, and where our price point comes from. The [Kentucky] Gold bottle, which you saw, will be more in that $250 to $300 range.

Our goal is to be the Ferrari of single malts. I think we’ve succeeded in doing that. Every bottle is pre-allocated, pre-sold. At this point, we’re in 135 of the best on-premise restaurants in all of New York City. All the Jean Georges, Daniels, all the Cipriani places, Marea, Altamarea, Sistina… the list goes on and on. 

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Image: Courtesy of The Macklowe

How should The Macklowe be enjoyed?

Obviously, our goal with this bottle is to have more of your $45 price point – a typical baller shot. We recommend drinking our liquid neat or with a couple drops of water to open it up. However, we do see Macklowe Manhattans abound. Just don’t tell me. 

Who’s our drinker? It’s definitely the customer of the best restaurants that we’re looking to explore. People who are alpha connoisseurs. They’re like me – they never met a cocktail they don’t like or a whiskey they don’t want to try. I joke it’s the Birkin bag, Rolex-wearing, Ferrari-driving, Lamborghini sort of person, or somebody who aspires to be like that. They love that their brand elevates their status. And they really know that drinking whiskey in all forms is what makes them who they are. 

Can you talk a bit about the design of the bottle?

It’s based on my favorite thing, jewelry, and a flask, which is why we designed it that way. And every bottle is editioned a number… I wanted something that appealed to not just men, but to women as well. And that was sort of gender-inclusive for everyone, because I felt like so many of those bottles are geared toward men versus women as well… We went through multiple iterations, and I actually went to full pack, scrapped it twice, and then we got to this one. Luckily for me, COVID bought us a little bit more time to do that, but I really wanted to create something that was a unique product that no one had done, and that really no one had seen anything like it.

Obviously, scalability is limited now due to the production. Is that something you want to get bigger? Or do you want it to always be pretty niche, by design?

We’ll always be high-end luxury, I’d say, versus your mega brands… I think it’s fair to say we’re a craft brand, and we’re never going to be Johnny Walker or Maker’s Mark or Jim Beam. That’s not our goal. Our goal is to be Louis Vuitton, Krug, Dom Pérignon, Hermès, the Birkin bag, So, I think we have to be authentic to why the brand was created as well, which is presenting our customer base with the highest quality. And sometimes that means you have to wait for the liquid to be there and be the right age, and you can’t go too quick on that.

Describe your perfect evening enjoying The Macklowe.

I love being by the fireplace sitting there with my copita glass. I like it neat, personally. Sitting with my family, my dog next to me, just enjoying a dram and having good conversation. I feel like a lot of people want to collect whiskey, and I do as well, but the real joy of whiskey is creating great memories and having a great time with your friends, you know? … It’s supposed to be a fun party drink that you can really enjoy with everyone.

Image: Courtesy of The Macklowe

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