NEWPORT, Ky. — Ken Lewis has worked around spirits for decades, first in a series of small liquor stores and later as the owner of the renowned Party Source in Northern Kentucky. It was there that he saw firsthand the burgeoning interest in all things whiskey.

What You Need To Know

  • New Riff is Greater Cincinnati’s original whiskey distillery

  • Founder Ken Lewis will leave the company he founded in early 2024, passing the baton to his employees

  • For whiskey to be called bourbon, 51% of the mash must be from fermented corn

With the original Bourbon Trail beginning many miles away, Lewis saw an opportunity to establish an outpost in the Greater Cincinnati area, distilling a new American whiskey with a new spin, or, as it’s called, a New Riff.

“I saw the bourbon boom happening right in front of my eyes," Lewis said. "There were no distilleries—they were all concentrated in central Kentucky and Louisville."

The Greater Cincinnati area is two-and-a-half times larger than the area around Louisville, so the math made sense.

The venture was not without risk. With beer making, the brewmaster tastes the product after brewing and can fill the shelves within days. With whiskey, it’s a much longer runway. 

“We make whiskey, and in our case, it’s four years. So the emotional and financial rollercoaster you’re on as a startup is intense,” Lewis said.

In 2018 when New Riff unveiled the first batch of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, lines formed around the block in two directions.

“After four years and all that effort and all that money and dreams, to see people lined up like that and the atmosphere…it’s a day I will never forget,” Lewis said.