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Explore the impressive collection at Prohibition Bourbon Bar in Northern Kentucky.
Story by Chris Chamberlain
Photos courtesy Kim and Peter Newberry
If you haven’t heard the news yet, Northern Kentucky is home to some of the greatest bourbon bars in the USA. As evidence, check out some of the amazing establishments that are part of The B-Line, a tasty collection of bars, distilleries, and restaurants that all specialize in the finest of “brown water.” In fact, one member of The B-Line boasts the largest collection of bourbons anywhere in the world: Prohibition Bar.
It’s called Prohibition Bourbon Bar to convey a bit of a speakeasy vibe since it is tucked away in the back of a building that houses Newberry Bros. Coffee in front. The award-winning establishment is in the Historic East Row District of Newport, Kentucky (near Covington). Newberry Bros. Coffee is the community’s original coffee roaster, featuring organic, fair-trade coffee and espresso roasted on-site each week in small batches in the front window. The Café features artisan-made pastries, small plates, soups, stews, and decadent desserts. Prohibition Bourbon Bar boasts the largest collection of bourbon anywhere: Over 2800 and counting! Several private barrel selections are among the selection. The full bar also pours Rye, Scotch, Irish, Tennessee and Japanese whiskeys, as well as cocktails, wine and beer.
It’s all owned and operated by Peter and Kim Newberry, and the tale of how they evolved from a coffeeshop to the owners of the broadest selection of fine bourbons on earth is a fascinating one. We reached out to them for details of the story.
How did you come up with the original idea to open a coffee shop in Newport?
Peter: The short answer is a pulmonary embolism (PE) made us do it. In September 2011, Kim was hospitalized with deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and a PE that almost took her life. Thanks to divine intervention, and a team of skilled doctors and nurses, Kim survived. When you come THIS CLOSE to dying, it makes you appreciate every moment more. It changes you. It challenges you. We were too young to retire. So, we rewired. We asked ourselves what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. Together. And, well, roasting coffee got the most votes. So, we went for it. We went all in.
It wasn’t too long until you expanded from beans to bourbon. What inspired that move, and how do the businesses fit together?
Kim: Coffee and bourbon are similar in that they are born in the flame. Their flavor and character result from the varying applications of fire that’s needed to toast and char the barrels and roast the beans. But mostly, it’s about the people who drink them. The producers who make them. The stories they share. The memories they make.
Our original plan was to focus 100 percent of our business model to roasting the best coffee on the planet and sell it wholesale to small cafés, restaurants, stores and the like. Dream big. We consulted with Peter’s brother, Mark (also a coffee roaster). We purchased the best building, in the best location. We bought the best coffee roaster. The finest beans. And off we went, creating our own brand. The more we set forth down that path, the more the focus turned and shifted, in the way our lives had done since that fateful day in 2011. It was truly organic, just like the coffee, 100 percent. The coffee roasting business also became a coffee shop and then a pastry shop. Then almost like magic, along came a liquor license, and we became a bourbon bar. Customers became friends. They became family. We drank coffee together. We drank bourbon together. We laughed. We cried. We celebrated. Our tagline is “Love You. Mean It.” And we do. We are all in!
How did you come up with the idea to go for it in terms of acquiring the largest bourbon collection in the world? Is it still the biggest?
Kim: Peter read somewhere back in 2013 that the “world’s largest bourbon bar” was located in Tokyo, Japan.
Peter: When I told her, she said “B.S.! The world’s largest bourbon bar belongs in Kentucky! And it’s going to be ours. In Newport.”
Kim: I was drinking some of Kentucky’s native spirit at the time. Maybe too much. But, like everything else, we chose to dream big. And so again, we were all in.
Peter: Today, our collection includes over 2,800 bourbons, and nearly 4,000 whiskeys, and growing.
What was involved in gathering all those different bottles? Do you have any stories of particular notable acquisitions?
Kim: When you set out to be the largest bourbon bar in the world, there is obviously a need to purchase a lot of whiskey. We have worked hard to develop relationships with our distributors and with the distilleries. Our business is bourbon. If you’re going to go all in, you need to make it not just a financial investment, but also a personal one.
One notable acquisition was a bottle of A.H. Hirsch Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey 16-Year that was donated to us by a very generous customer who shared our love of animal rescue. That bottle was used for a fundraiser for the Stray Animal Adoption Program (SAAP). Another memorable acquisition was a very rare bottle of 1980 OFC Vintage Bourbon, also donated to us by a very generous customer. It, too, was used for a fundraiser for SAAP.
Other famous whiskey bars like Silver Dollar and Jack Rose have been auctioning off or selling part of their collections to raise money for charity and their own operations. Do you have any plans like that?
Kim: Our business philosophy is pretty simple: 1. Pay the bills; 2. Offer the best of everything we do—our bourbon selection, our coffees, our pastries, our space; 3. Show love and appreciation to everyone who walks through our doors; and 4. Raise money for a cause near and dear to our hearts: the Stray Animal Adoption Program (SAAP).
We are animal lovers. All of our kids have four legs and fur (we currently have two dogs and 16 cats, all rescues). There are so many great causes out there that it’s financially impossible for us to support all the requests we receive each year. For that reason, we chose to devote our fundraising efforts to benefit a single organization: the Stray Animal Adoption Program. SAAP is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization with a mission to rescue, protect and provide care for at risk pets, and promote lifelong adoptions while focusing on spay/neuter and animal welfare education. We are SAAP’s largest single contributor. Last year we raised close to $40,000 for SAAP. This year, as of March, we have raised $12,500. We do that through monthly drawings, and two annual fundraising events, in July and December. We donate whiskey and wine from our inventory, and experiences such as private tours, tastings, and barrel picks. So, yes, raising money for charity is woven into the fiber of who we are and what we expect ourselves to do in order to make a difference in the lives of others. For SAAP, we’re all in.