News & Features

Happy Hour Q&A with Misunderstood Whiskey

Welcome to our Happy Hour Question & Answer series, where we ask questions to interesting people in the alcohol world.

This week’s spotlight is on Misunderstood Whiskey and its co-founders JD Recobs & Chris Buglisi. Misunderstood Whiskey Co. started as a kitchen recipe by two best friends who set out to create fun, easy drinking whiskeys made with honest ingredients. Misunderstood Whiskey is delicately crafted to be approachable for newbies, yet balanced for whiskey enthusiasts. Misunderstood’s flagship whiskey is an American Whiskey blended with real ginger to mellow the finish, and is proudly bottled at 80 proof in Bardstown, Ky. A leader in the category, the brand announced its second release, Misunderstood Oat Nog, otherwise known as America’s first hard oat nog, in 2022. 

Hops & Spirits: Where does that entrepreneurial spirit come from?
JD Recobs: We’ve both been fortunate enough to grow up in an environment where our parents provided opportunities (and sometimes challenges) for us to learn what it’s like to build a business and problem-solve from a young age. My Dad has been an entrepreneur since I can remember and although things were certainly tough at times, I fell in love with the ability to create something from nothing and build a brand that other people could fall in love with. Chris’s Mom has been a huge inspiration to not only Chris but myself as well. She started working when she was only a teenager and played a major role in growing brands on an international scale. Even though our parents all have very different backgrounds, they raised us to work extremely hard and be humble. Without their guidance, Misunderstood would probably have stayed as just a kitchen recipe & nothing more.

HS: How did the idea for Misunderstood Whiskey come about?
Chris Buglisi: As we were starting to become casual whiskey enthusiasts (aka when we got our first decent paycheck and could afford it), we saw a big divide in the category between traditional whiskeys and flavored whiskeys. They largely attracted completely different consumers. We witnessed this firsthand while trying to introduce craft bourbons to our friends who’d stay far away from it, no matter how long it’d been aged. Fast forward a few hours later, we’d see those same friends ripping shots of flavored whiskey at a local watering hole. We asked – why isn’t there something for all of us to enjoy? Why couldn’t we develop something for both enthusiasts and newbies? Why couldn’t we create a product that would even attract those who suffer from what we call “whiskey-phobia”? That’s when we set out to create Misunderstood.

HS: Why a ginger-spiced whiskey
CB: As we were developing Misunderstood (and tried many different ingredients), we found that fresh ginger mellowed out the finish of our whiskey by essentially turning that typical whiskey “burn” into a light refreshing “heat”. When we first had the idea for Misunderstood, we realized that many people were gravitating towards the typical flavored whiskeys that were jam-packed with artificial ingredients & flavors because they wanted to drink whiskey but needed that “smooth finish”. Ginger was an incredible way to not sacrifice quality for “flavor” and allowed us to provide an exceptional product by using ginger to mellow the finish.

HS: What was the development process like?
JD: An absolute rollercoaster. At the time we were working full-time jobs in NYC and living at home. We would literally let different bourbons and American whiskeys infuse in mason jars with random ingredients to try and get a lead (we went through the alphabet a few times with all the experiments we were doing). After a couple of years in development, we learned two things: 1) Avocado & whiskey don’t mix 2) Ginger was our answer 3) We may have something here.

HS: How important was the Jersey City Whiskey Fest and being able to launch it there?
CD: Launching at Jersey City Whiskey Fest was very critical because it was our first proof of concept. There were 1,500 people there and 63 brands. It allowed us to taste the product at a larger level and propel our first few months on the market.

HS: Since then, what’s the feedback been like?
JD: It’s been incredible to watch people try Misunderstood for the first time and have that “wow” moment, especially folks that usually aren’t whiskey drinkers. Our approach to the whiskey category is certainly unconventional but we’ve been lucky enough to grow our brand from 3 cities in 2017 to 22+ states and ship internationally.

HS: Bartenders can be extremely important for building brands, what’s it been like to see them use it in cocktails?
JD: Both bartenders & consumers are extremely important when building a brand from scratch. Word of mouth and organic references are much more important than any advertisement. The bartender community were the early adopters of this brand because of the versatility. You can literally make anything with Misunderstood and once bartenders realized Misunderstood is a tool behind the bar and not just another whiskey, that certainly helped take Misunderstood to the next level. It’s been incredible to watch the brand grow organically and we just have a blast watching the creativity Misunderstood inspires behind the bar.

HS: What’s next for Misunderstood?
CB: We have a few really fun projects currently in the works that are expected to launch Q1/Q2 of 2024. We recently launched America’s first-ever dairy-free Oat Nog which was a huge success so we’re excited to expand our production & distribution for both our Ginger Whiskey & Oat Nog. We also just shipped our Whiskey to Australia which will be our first international market so we’re definitely excited for our friends over in Australia to enjoy Misunderstood.

HS: In February, you all donated $1 for every bottle sold to cancer research during February, National Cancer Prevention Awareness Month. Why was this something you wanted to do?
JD: I’ve known James and his family since high school. Our parents actually became friends and they were just the most incredible people. Unfortunately, James lost both his parents to cancer which was devastating. I can never imagine what that’s like but watching this guy pick himself up and dedicate his life to keeping their memory alive by helping others and starting the JDJ Foundation was absolutely amazing and something Chris and I both wanted to be a part of. JDJ has done some very meaningful work with families battling cancer and we’ve been fortunate to see the impact James & his team have had on these families’ lives. Have A Toddy, Help Somebody was just our way to give back and do the right thing. We had a great inaugural year and we’re excited to see what it becomes as the initiative grows.

HS: Where can folks find/purchase it? Or get more information?
JD/CD: We ship to most states online or visit our website to find a retailer near you. 

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