There are those who look at bourbon as merely an option among many at a bar, and there are those who see it as a way of life. Brian Gelfo lands squarely in the latter category, and he is slowly turning his hobby into a full-time gig.
Gelfo, who works as a program manager at Humana, has been enamored with Kentucky’s brown spirit since first sipping a Maker’s Mark many years ago. After moving to Kentucky in the late ’90s, he went from just another dude from south Florida who drank Jack Daniel’s to an elite bourbon collector and connoisseur.
Now, if you bring up bourbon in a conversation with Gelfo, you will easily put in 15, maybe 20 solid minutes on the topic. His private collection boasts more than 500 bottles of rare Maker’s Mark bottles to more than 300 drinkable (read: a bottle you can open and enjoy) bourbons and rye whiskies.
Gelfo is one of the founding members of the Bourbon Mafia, a group of bourbon enthusiasts who meet to talk and swap and trade bottles, and also hold events for charitable causes. So far, they’ve donated more than $10,000 to local charities in Louisville and beyond. (I first met Gelfo when I joined the Bourbon Mafia on a trip to Maker’s Mark Distillery.)
But the big news today is Gelfo has been selected to be the “bourbon curator” for the new NuLu company Rabbit Hole Distilling. Bourbon curator is another name for brand ambassador, and his responsibilities will be to share Rabbit Hole with the world — one tasting event at a time.
He’ll hold panels, parties, events and other common industry practices to help spread the word throughout Kentucky as well as Illinois and other markets as the company’s reach expands.
He’ll also have a part in creating an ambassador program for Rabbit Hole, become a member of the tasting/quality assurance team, and contribute to its online blog.
Gelfo will manage both his jobs for the time being, as construction on the Rabbit Hole distillery is just getting underway, with a target opening date of late 2017. He’ll stay busy, however, with the three products the company does have out: a bourbon, a rye whiskey and a bourbon finished in sherry casks.
Gelfo says this is a very exciting time for him, and he’s looking forward to putting his passion to work.
We caught up with him in between sips of Rabbit Hole’s rye whiskey to ask him some very important questions…
What’s the most surprising thing on your Bucket List?
At my age, you would think I would have a Bucket List all prepared, but I do not. I am lucky to live a pretty rewarding life with a lot of great experiences. I really like to travel, so I guess the opportunity to vacation on every continent would be it. And yes, I mean Antarctica, too!
What poster was on your wall in junior high?
Believe it or not, I used to have hair (a lot of hair) and was a huge fan of the ’80s hair-metal bands. My walls were covered with posters from Ratt, Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Ozzy Ozbourne, Metallica and many others. My parents absolutely hated it!
If you were mayor, to whom would you give the key to the city?
I am sure I could come up with a quick list of deserving candidates, but I know who would be tops on it. I would give the key to Bill Samuels Jr. Bill has done so much for the growth of Maker’s Mark, the bourbon industry overall and the state of Kentucky that I do not personally know a more deserving person. He has also been a friend to me and provided great insight for my pursuit of a position within the bourbon industry. Heck, he probably has keys to several cities already.
What are your preferred pizza toppings?
Gotta have meat and heat! I love some pepperoni, bacon, sausage and hot peppers. You can put some red onions on there, too … guess you have to have vegetables.
If you could be any age for a week, what would it be?
I am sure most people would say 18 or 21 so they could relive their youth, but that is not for me. Been there, done that. I think it would be interesting to live a week as a person 100 years old, but being fully capable of getting around and enjoying life. There are not a lot of people who get to see triple digits, so I would like to try.
What famous person do people say you resemble the most?
This one is going to hurt because the “person” people have said I look like the most is a cartoon character. I used to get Bobby from “King of the Hill” in my pre-goatee days. Of course, I have also heard Curly from “The Three Stooges,” but that could be based more on personality.
Who would you most like to be stuck with in an elevator?
It would have to be someone I could have meaningful conversation with. If it could be someone who is no longer living, I would go with Walt Disney, because I think he had a brilliant mind and unique vision. If it has to be someone alive today, I would go with Bill Gates. Most people would probably not expect that from me, but he, too, has a brilliant mind, a business sense second to none and is an incredibly generous philanthropist.