Content to Product: How The Bourbon Pursuit Podcast Team Turned Into Distillers Themselves

kenny coleman bourbon pursuit co-founder
Kenny Coleman, Bourbon Pursuit co-founder

Like so many other successful podcasters, Kenny Coleman and his partners at Bourbon Pursuit started their journey with little more than an idea and a genuine curiosity and affection for their topic of choice – bourbon.

Mix in a lot of hard work and some smart decision-making, and a few years later the Bourbon Pursuit team is now literally putting their money where their mouth is, investing many years and millions of dollars into distilling their own bourbon to bring to market.

It’s not a typical path for a content creator, or an easy one, but in Episode 3 of the podcast, Kyle dug in with Kenny on how the Bourbon Pursuit team achieved this impressive feat.

Here are some main takeaways from our chat with Kenny Coleman.

Hit The Ground Running – and Keep Running

When Kenny and initial Bourbon Pursuit partner Ryan Cecil first decided to launch their podcast, the idea came together organically. It started with a mutual interest in the famed and increasingly popular subtype of American whiskey, including Cecil’s personal background as someone raised in Bardstown, Kentucky (the bourbon capital of the world).

First, they did their homework, focusing on what felt like a niche small enough to cultivate a passionate audience, but big enough to enable growth (bourbon and the culture around it, as opposed to a broader and shallower look at all whiskies). After that, it became about putting in the hard work of maintaining a regular stream of episodes.

Week in and week out. For years.

And it wasn’t exactly easy.

“It took two, three years before we start seeing really any dollars roll in whatsoever…you're spending eighty hours a week between your day job and this trying to make it successful," Coleman said. "The burnout sets in.”

Experimentation: Platform and Content Fit

So, how did Kenny and Ryan (and later, additional partner Fred Minnick) reach critical mass with Bourbon Pursuit?

Kenny attributes a good swath of their growth towards real monetization to their experiments with platform and content fit on social channels.

After initially forgoing Instagram and Facebook in favor of Twitter, the Bourbon Pursuit team realized, through experimentation, that pockets of potential audiences were camping out in bourbon Facebook groups.

But it was their additional willingness to put extra work into Instagram and TikTok in later years that fostered some explosive growth.

@bourbonpursuit It’s ole fashioned night. #meltdown #CocktailPursuit #PerfectMatch ♬ Triple S - YN Jay & Louie Ray

A video that went viral on TikTok eventually led to an opportunity to create a partner video... one that would eventually get shared by Duane “The Rock” Johnson.

“I’m not going to say no to that opportunity,” Kenny deadpanned.
Kyle and Jason's Take: Platform fit is also about tailoring content to each platform. It’s not just about dropping the same carved out podcast clips onto each social platform, and expecting that to work as a sole growth strategy. Bourbon Pursuit grew on TikTok because they observed what was working for other popular videos and brands, and sought to customize their message to that template.

Leverage Data to Inform Growth Efforts

Especially early in the process of growing an audience, you can’t just pivot blindly to new social channels to draw in new audience members. From the beginning, Kenny and team paid close attention to the data. After customizing a particular piece of core content from the podcast across multiple channels, they measured efficacy, and then reinvest more time and resources in those that were showing results.

Automate to Optimize

An offshoot of the aforementioned data-driven approach was that Bourbon Pursuit nearly became a victim of their own success. They at times struggled to keep up with production responsibilities, growth efforts, day jobs, and sourcing a sustainable and profitable trajectory for the show.

“Posting an episode to 19 different social channels can get very time consuming,” Coleman said. “I’ve automated a bunch of stuff on the back end.”

Borrowing on skills gained from his day job in tech, Kenny employed a little bit of coding magic and utilized Zapier to automate distribution of each podcast episode to those 19 platforms. This saved a lot of time that could be better spent on content creation.

Batching Evergreen Content

There’s more to Bourbon Pursuit’s success than depth, consistency and good marketing.

In order to maximize their limited available time, and also to avoid getting caught up in a mode where they’d need to chase weekly stories, Kenny and his team structured their production pipeline to batch-record episodes.

"Our main releases involve bringing in interviews and guests and kind of figuring out the stories of people in the industry," Coleman said. "We only record those four weeks out of the year. And that way we have this backlog. Our goal is to release evergreen content. Mostly podcast listeners listen within the span of the next 30 days. So what we wanna do is focus on that evergreen content that people can always go back to.”

By batching content that doesn’t depend on specific release dates, Bourbon Pursuit ensures that they always have plenty of content to share with their audiences, that also provides a long-tail ROI as listenership grows along with their library of episodes.

The Right Partners: The Minnick Effect

The show reached mainstream (at least in the bourbon world) when Fred Minnick joined the show.

An established, respected and influential voice in bourbon culture, Fred reached out to Bourbon Pursuit when his media team recommended he start his own podcast. As a fan of what Kenny and Ryan were doing, he thought it make make more sense if he just joined forces with them.

The result? A powerful, compelling new dynamic for the show – that quickly benefited from Fred’s audience that came along with him.

Kyle and Jason's Take: There's a great book called Smartcuts about creative thinking to take shortcuts to success. We're probably butchering the sentiment, but go with us. What Kenny did was leverage the success of the podcast to attract a BIG NAME in the industry, who immediately legitimized and opened doors for Kenny and the Bourbon Pursuit team. This is the sort of marketing and fortuitous bounce you can't plan for, but you have to embrace when the opporutnity arises.

Identify Signpost Moments

Kenny considers Fred’s addition to the team a signpost moment for Bourbon Pursuit’s growth.

A few others include their decision in earlier days to try out Patreon, where they’ve grown over the years from a handful of Patrons to over a thousand, and the related move to sponsor barrel picks, where audience members can take part in the selection of single barrels of bourbon from major and craft distillers.

Moments like these, in Kenny’s view, represent foundational springboard from which to grow.

And that leads us to the last major takeaway from the many lessons imparted by Kenny during our discussion…

Leveraging Audience for Growth

A passionate audience participates in content distribution, and when they do this that passion often ripples out to other like-minded people. Kenny humbly attributes a lot of Bourbon Pursuit’s success to the zeal of their dedicated listeners.

“One of the great things about building a Patreon community is that you have like-minded individuals that just want to help see you succeed," Coleman said.

While Patrons of course get a lot out of their support for Bourbon Pursuit, the relationship is mutually beneficial, as their contributions help fund the show. Fans sometimes also help manage the workload of getting the word out about new episodes, partnerships and product launches. They sometimes take part in content creation as well.

Conclusion: Content Excellence Can Translate to Product Monetization

It’s no small feat to grow and scale from a fan to a pro as the Bourbon Pursuit team has done. Now, Kenny and his fellow bourbon podcasters are on their way to becoming distillers as well, having learned and succeeded enough to feel compelled to join the fray.

Kenny explained that he and his team are taking investment and will outlay millions of dollars to distill and age their own bourbon. This will take half a decade to come to market.

But with the team's discerning palate, loyal audience, and knack for growth, odds are good they'll have a winning product.