These quotes were pulled from three separate interviews conducted with Lincoln and Wes Henderson over the past three years. Lincoln Henderson was the Master Distiller of ANGEL’S ENVY Bourbon. His son, Wes, is the current Master Brand Ambassador and Chief Innovations Officer.

Kyle, Lincoln and Wes Henderson at a tasting
Kyle, Lincoln and Wes Henderson at a tasting

In his 50 years spent working in the spirits industry, Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson was driven by one interest above all others: flavor, and the art and science behind it.

“You have to want to know where flavor comes from. You have to be passionate about it. I was always fascinated with the science of flavor. Why are you tasting plums? Why do you taste pine nuts with a hint of toasted vanilla? Good taste is never an accident. It’s a question of molecular weight. Bourbon whiskey can have up to 300 scent elements with 70 very essential components. The chemistry of the human palette is amazingly complex. And while it’s definitely an art, there’s a science and technology in place that can support it. People can definitely be taught, but first, they have to want to learn. And there’s no substitute for experience.”

“I worked with an international group called the ISO (International Standards Organization) in Sensory Evaluation. Their work is recognized worldwide. It’s a very important part of the industry today. They had a division for sensory evaluation, and I worked with many people from different countries. They made me the head of vocabulary because we needed an internationally standardized language for discussing flavor. It wasn’t easy [laughs]. You try to standardize the vocabulary between the French, the Russians, the Germans and the Americans. It’s hilarious! We’d get stuck working on these little details for days. Everyone had to weigh in. It was like a United Nations of drinkers. Eventually though, we’d usually find a simple solution. After a lot of debate.”

Wes explains, “Dad was also a committee member of the ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials) which I’m now involved with. It’s great that thirty years later, I’m part of the same group that dad helped create the standards for. There’s a lot of technical innovation available with mass spectrometry or gas chromatography, which can be useful instruments in what we do. But you don’t see them very often in smaller, craft brands. At Angel’s Envy, we still do everything by hand.”

Lincoln discussed his early work with wine partners and the possibilities of using wine barrels to finish spirits. ”In the beginning, I worked with a group of Italians for probably about 10 years. I knew nothing about wines when I started, but they said you’re going to learn. You’re going to learn about wines. So I did. And what I began to learn about wines eventually helped me decide what I wanted ANGEL’S ENVY to be. It really opened my eyes to what wine barrel finishing could bring to bourbon. Scotch has been finished in fortified wine barrels like sherry or port for generations. So we wondered, why isn’t anyone really doing this seriously with bourbon? The finishing process can really enhance the whiskey with a subtle sweetness and complex flavors. As we were tasting our bourbon, a Portuguese ruby port finish really seemed like it would fit our bourbon’s flavor profile perfectly. It added just the right layer of richness to our bourbon. While it took us some trial and error to figure out the ideal aging window for ANGEL’S ENVY, we knew that we had a winner once we found it.”