DANVILLE, Ky. — When Danville, Kentucky native Zachary Baeker attended his sister’s wedding in Rio de Janeiro six years ago, he had no idea he would be embarking on an adventure that would lead to a new profession as the CEO of one of Kentucky’s newest distilleries. Zachary quickly got to know his Brazilian brother-in-law, who introduced him to the local food and drink. One surprise was a famous Brazilian liquor little known in the U.S., cachaça, a rum-like spirit made from Brazilian sugarcane. He also discovered that vodka made with sugarcane has a smooth finish and a hint of sweetness that makes it unique.
Cachaça, Brazil’s national spirit, is most well-known as used in Brazil’s national cocktail, the Caipirinha, a well-balanced citrus drink sometimes called a “Brazilian Margarita.” However, it has many more uses. It is the basis for a diverse family of cocktails unfamiliar to most in the U.S.and can be used in cooking for both sweet and savory dishes, especially in sauces and marinades. The sugarcane-based vodka is popular in traditional Latin American drinks, but it also gives a fresh taste to more familiar cocktails. Its hint of sweetness also lends itself to use in recipes. Both spirits are naturally gluten-free and low in calories.
After his brother-in-law introduced him to purveyors in Brazil, Zachary began to explore the possibilities of bringing both spirits to the states. He started by exporting the products, soon to be named Espirito Cachaça and BOTECO Vodka, to a warehouse in Nashville. The company, named AMBRAbev for “American-Brazilian Beverage”, began the challenges of distribution in the United States and development of the sales force. Zachary’s father, Dr. Thomas Baeker, founder of Commonwealth Cancer Centers, and long-time childhood friend Brian Snead were soon pulled into the endeavor.
Construction is expected to be complete by spring of 2018 for a 10,000-square-foot distillery and warehouse in Danville, KY, with a 4,000 square foot tap room and gift shop. The new facility will provide warehousing and office space and will accommodate in-house bottling of imported cachaça and cane vodka, barrel aging of cachaça, production of flavored vodkas and distillation to produce additional spirits, including gin made from sugarcane.
Sales have grown exponentially since the company’s founding with distribution in 14 states and the District of Columbia. The new distillery is expected to boost sales even more dramatically in 2018.