New Riff Distilling CEO Ken Lewis to retire

New Riff Distilling CEO Ken Lewis to retire

Lewis, who has been working in the US beverage alcohol industry for five decades, is set to retire in spring 2024

News | 20 Jun 2023

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The founder, co-owner and CEO of America's New Riff Distilling, Ken Lewis, has announced his plans to retire in 2024 after five decades in the beverage alcohol industry.

A well-known and well-respected figure in the American spirits industry, Lewis' achievements over his 50-year career include working to revolutionise the beverage retail scene in the US, helping to bring about changes to Sunday liquor trading laws in the state of Kentucky, and successfully campaigning for distilleries to be able to sell their products on their premises.

Lewis' retirement will coincide with the 10th anniversary of New Riff, which has made a name as an innovator in the field of American whiskey in the past decade.

Lewis will be succeeded as New Riff CEO by Hannah Lowen, who will transition from her current role as vice president of operations. His daughter Mollie Lewis, currently New Riff's director of sales, will become company president, and Denny Gorman, currently director of engineering and logistics, will become COO. He broke the news of his retirement exclusively to Whisky Magazine's sister publication, American Whiskey Magazine.

Lewis said: "From the beginning, New Riff has been about innovation — about trying new things, about growing and exploring what we could do in the whiskey space. In that spirit, it is time for a new chapter at New Riff. Although it is hard for me to leave, I am excited to see what’s ahead and to celebrate the distillery’s successes in the future. I could not imagine a better group of people to take the helm and they are the reason I know it is the right time for me to step back.”

Lewis' career in the alcohol sector began when, at the age of 24, his father offered him the chance to take a break from his job teaching and take on the management of a small liquor store business. He didn't return to teaching. Instead, he dedicated himself to innovation in the world of beverage alcohol. He founded the retailer Liquor Outlet – which would eventually become The Party Source – and focused marketing on gatherings while giving over floor space in-store to non-alcoholic products, party supplies, and festive offerings. His work in the retail space led him to lobby (successfully) for changes to laws on Sunday liquor sales.

In order to found his distillery, Lewis sold The Party Source to his employees in a stock ownership plan – a progressive move at the time. He has continued this socially conscious ethos at New Riff, which offers its staff a rare commodity: a traditional pension plan.

"Values and company culture are important to me,” Lewis said. “New Riff is a 100 per cent family-owned business and will stay that way. It’s the only way we have the independence to eschew the exclusive drive for profits, share our success with our career employees, and live up to our values. Career employees give their best years to taking care of our company and in return we will take care of them in their retirement. My life has meaning because of these values — how hollow a life that is selfish and greedy."

New Riff was founded in Newport, Kentucky in 2014 with an aim to bring new twists to the state's traditional whiskey-making techniques, and has been committed to historical standards such as Kentucky's sour mash process and the bottled-in-bond regulations. Its whiskeys are now available in 31 states via retail outlets and direct-to-consumer shipping. The distillery was expanded in 2021 to increase production capacity by 50 per cent and a new barrel warehouse was added in 2023, with more renovations planned including improving its visitor experience and enlarging its on-site bar The Aquifer.
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