Dixon Dedman has quickly established a reputation for growing brands and blending whiskey.
With sourced product, he and a team revitalized his family’s pre-Prohibition whiskey brand, Kentucky Owl, in 2014. That company sold to Stoli Group three years later; Dedman departed in 2021. While consulting in the industry, he remained interested in creating another whiskey brand. Opportunity arose, and Dedman launched 2XO last year through Prestige Beverage Group.
Success has swiftly followed the launch of both brands. Why? We recently spoke with Dedman, tracing his career through operating his family’s historic Beaumont Inn, to entering the spirits industry and building a reputation in sourcing and blending.
Beverage Dynamics: Tell us about founding Kentucky Owl.
Dixon Dedman: I grew up the hospitality business. I’m the fifth generation to do hospitality. It’s a people business. I love people, and I love the history and tradition in hospitality. Our family’s history includes Kentucky Owl. We still own the property. My grandfather used to say that when he won the lottery, one of the things he would do would is get back into bourbon. It was our family dream.
I’m into bourbon. I’m a huge collector. I was doing tastings at the inn, talking about profiles and flavors. I thought that bourbon could be a fun thing to do on the side. I had no plan, no idea that it could turn into something.
I connected with an old friend, Mark Carter. He had just purchased a stake in a winery. I knew that I could source and develop a whiskey, but there’s so many more challenges than that than people realize — the TTB, taxes, getting to a distributor. Mark said he could help with all that. He had already been bottling private label wines for people.
So we created the brand. And there was a little bit of ‘right place, right time’. People gravitated towards this small story of someone wanting to do something cool. We weren’t some big machine.
We had opportunities with big, global companies that wanted to come in. But we didn’t want to be another feather in a big company’s cap. Stoli back then was still a relatively smaller company. They said, ‘We want to grow Kentucky Owl using your vision, your dream’. For a long time, that dream came true. I learned so much. But then the whole nature of that organization changed. It became a global organization. It started taking away from my ability to drive the brand. I have to be able to sleep at night. I have to be proud of what direction I’m going in. It was the hardest decision that I ever made, having to walk away from that.
BD: What led to 2XO?
DD: I did not want to say goodbye to this business. It’s incredible: You get to create something that people gravitate towards and make a part of their special moments.
2XO means two times oak. We built the program around exposing the whiskey to oak in a number of ways. I wanted to push away from the heritage play that I’d done for so long. So many people now are selling whiskey while talking about something that was made in 1876. I wanted a modern approach, a modern feel.
There’s a ton of money coming into this space right now. I was approached by a lot of people. But I felt like I needed to be patient for the right opportunity to present itself. It did. I connected with Prestige Beverage Group.
They had laid down barrels of a proprietary mash bill in 2015. They brought me in to consult. They wanted to know whether they had made a huge mistake. I thought this was going to be basic 4- to 5-year-old stuff, but this stuff was incredible.
They’re a family-owned business that can make these kinds of gut decisions. I told them there was something there, and I told them about my idea for it. They put their faith in me. I pinch myself every day for it. 2XO wouldn’t be anywhere near what it is today if I had just gone with the first guy who said, ‘Here’s X number of millions of dollars, make it happen’.
BD: Tell us about your blending process.
DD: Blending always sounds cool — and it is cool — but I don’t start with some specific idea that I want to create and work towards that. Instead, it’s a ‘me’ thing. I think, ‘How do these things play together, how no they not play together’. I create the best blend I can with what’s available to me. Each time, it’s a blank canvas, and I try to follow my gut. Sometimes, it falls apart, and you have to go back three steps and start again. That’s the part I enjoy, working through the different blends and seeing where they land. You think you have the right spot and then you come back the next day and think, ‘Oh man, oops’.
BD: Seems like we’re in a transition moment in whiskey, where premium blends and distillery sourcing have emerged as the new trend.
DD: I do think it’s the beginning of something, but I don’t think the old stalwarts are going anywhere.
I do think the consumer is so much more educated today. The period where brands could buy old stories and trademarks and put generic juice into it, tying it all to something that happened 100 years ago — the whiskey community today says, ‘Fool me once . . .’
People do their research now. The juice in the bottle, people understand it. A good story won’t cover up the juice anymore.
Every day now, there’s 17 new whiskeys on the shelf. What’s being said about a bottle, who’s behind it, what substance is there behind it — that’s what people gravitate towards.
BD: What’s next for 2XO?
DD: We’re going to launch a single barrel series in an all-black bottle, called our Gem of Kentucky series.
BD: Why the all-black packaging?
DD: Think of the agave space. Brands there are completely changing what the bottles look like. Clase Azul is so cool. People gravitate towards it. Consumers today want some good juice bottled in something that looks different, something that’s unique.
There’s a modernization of American whiskey that’s taking place. There was a time when the bottle needed to look like something produced in 1935. Now we’re realizing that we don’t need to do that.
This interview was condensed and edited for publication.
Kyle Swartz is Editor of Beverage Dynamics. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent piece, What’s New at the Top Kentucky Bourbon Distilleries.