After September 11, heroes on horseback take American whiskey on a mission of honor

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Photos / Bourbon Soldier Horse

Horse Soldier comes in three varieties: Straight, Small Batch, and Barrel Strength. Each bottle features a mounted soldier, along with a tomahawk and arrows crossing each other to represent rangers and special forces.

If you’ve recently visited Ground Zero in New York City, you should have noticed a statue with a mounted soldier called America’s Response Monument. What you would not have seen are the bottles of Bourbon hidden under the monument placed there by the mounted soldiers themselves. The Bourbon, aptly known as the Horse Soldier, was co-founded by the mounted Green Berets sent to lead the US counterterrorism effort in Afghanistan almost immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The America's Response Monument at Ground Zero in New York City prominently displays a mounted soldier.

The America’s Response Monument at Ground Zero in New York City prominently displays a mounted soldier.

Green Berets Scott Neil and John Koko, along with Elizabeth Pritchard-Koko, co-founded Bourbon after the two soldiers worked for years in distilleries in Scotland, Ireland and America. As they had just served in Special Forces in the rugged and unexplored mountains of Afghanistan to neutralize the Taliban, they found a new mission: to learn everything there was to know about whiskey. It was in the spirit that they were served by the Afghans when the American soldiers arrived in town.

The founders were joined by comrades such as Green Beret Captain Mark Nutsch, who himself led the mounted soldiers; However, jokingly he seemed almost as proud to say that he was portrayed by Chris Hemsworth in the biopic. 12 Strong. Together they worked from distillery to distillery, transporting grain to places like Kilbeggan and Teeling in Ireland, continuing their “shared sacrifice” in a whole different way.

Green Berets toast the dead with Horse Soldier goggles at the America's Response Monument on the 20th anniversary of September 11.

Green Berets toast the dead with Horse Soldier goggles at the America’s Response Monument on the 20th anniversary of September 11.

This continued until the men began to create theirs. It started out in small batches, and eventually they capped 10 barrels before the movie premiere of 12 Strong, where they had a “private tasting” to show that the veterans were capable of more than infiltrating the bad guys. After all, the goal was to start a new career while showing that military veterans can do something on their own after service as well.

Once they got their kicks off, the next step was to craft a bottle that would both honor their service and be profitable. To do this, they had to acquire steel suitable for making glass of the right caliber, as steel molds are essential in shaping glass in the bottle-making process. As it turns out, the steel from the wreckage of the World Trade Center was also perfect for making glass bottles. Thanks to a deal with the New York Port Authority, and a bit of poetic justice, Neil and Koko were able to secure scrap steel from the very buildings they fought to avenge. The two contracted with Anchor Glass Co. to produce their bottles, and now every bottle of Horse Soldier has literally hit the World Trade Center.

Co-founder Scott Neil pours a lot of Bourbon in one of his many tastings.

Co-founder Scott Neil pours a lot of Bourbon in one of his many tastings.

Horse Soldier Bourbon is made in Columbus, Ohio and St. Petersburg, Florida, and comes in three wheat-forward versions: Straight Bourbon ($ 49.99, 87 proof), Small Batch Bourbon ($ 69.99, 95 proof) and Barrel Strength Bourbon ($ 84.99, 108 proof). Additionally, the brand releases limited edition expressions every year, such as the Commander’s Select Limited Edition version ($ 595, 132 proofs). Sales of Commander’s Select are all donated to the maintenance of the America Response Monument located at Ground Zero. The whiskeys have won awards, including three double gold medals at the San Francisco International Spirits Competition.

Starting in Florida in 2018, Horse Soldier is now available in retail stores in 13 states, as well as 33 states online. It can be seen prominently atop the shelves of the Urban Stillhouse in St. Petersburg, Fla., Their restaurant, where they hold official tastings and pairings with many cigars. Additionally, a three million gallon destination distillery is in the works in Somerset, Ky. On the Bourbon Belt, where retired army horses will aid in the making of Bourbon.

Horse Soldier's Green Berets sailed around New York City, having learned the art of boating as another post-war trip.

Horse Soldier’s Green Berets sailed around New York City, having learned the art of boating as another post-war trip.

The guys drew an analogy of the similarities between American history and whiskey, both born of fire. And as Green Beret Scotty Neil said, “We keep serving, now we only serve delicious whiskey.”

Their full history of service can also be seen in the CNN documentary, Legion of the Brothers, which includes interviews with the men who detail their courageous experiences.


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