Jeff Stum has worked in the beverage industry for nearly his entire life.
In high school, he worked part-time at the Dr Pepper plant in his hometown of Madisonville, Ky. In college at Western Kentucky University, he bartended and worked at a liquor store.
And after he graduated, he took a job with Glazer Distributing in Arizona as a merchandiser and, later, in sales.
He was then hired by Brown-Forman to help introduce Tropical Freezes — a ready-to-drink concept — into Texas and Louisiana, and he eventually became a rep for Jack Daniel’s in the Austin area.
After moving around in the company and even moving back home to Kentucky, Stum decided to quit the corporate life and create his own products. The first idea he had was an alcohol-based tea brand, but he soon dropped the “alcohol” portion of the concept and launched Rooibee Red Tea.
Stum and his team took it from farmers markets to local stores like Rainbow Blossom to eventually getting it in Kroger and beyond. He sold his portion of the company a few years ago, and as reported in Insider this week, Rooibee Red Tea sadly ceased its operations earlier this week.
While he’s been out of the company for four years, Stum believes the brand had fallen on hard times recently.
“In my opinion, the brand never fully recovered from a poorly devised package change (12-ounce plastic bottles with a horrible label design) and the ill-advised launch of a kids beverage line,” Stum says. “The best thing I can say about the Rooibee experience is that some great people worked on the brand with us. Several folks are still in the beverage business.”
Stum is still in the beverage business as well, this time promoting a concept he developed with former Brown-Forman co-worker Paul Tuell — Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey. Tuell and Stum launched four flavors of the chocolate whiskey in 2015, and business has been steady and strong, he reports.
Of course, he and his partner have worked hard at spreading the word of Ballotin, and they can often be found at bourbon events near and far, plus many other activities at bars and liquor stores. Ballotin is now in 15 states, and that number should be up to 20 by the end of the year, Stum says.
“I have never worked harder or had more fun than building the Ballotin brand,” he adds. “While we have some extended team members, there are still only two of us driving sales locally, regionally and nationally.”
Stum believes his product is approachable and tasty — a gateway of sorts into the realm of bourbon and whiskey.
“Outside of our bourbon-belt cushion, there is still a lot of whiskey/bourbon intimidation among most adult beverage consumers,” he says. “So sure, if our line gets people engaged in the category, we love being the gateway to bourbon.”
Ballotin comes in Original Chocolate, Chocolate Mint, Bourbon Ball and Caramel Turtle flavors, with the latter two the most popular in most states.
Stum says the company is working on two new flavors, although he won’t give us any hints, and they’ve developed new boozy shake flavors that’ll be served at both Kingfish locations.
(We actually tried a sample of the Ballotin Banana Split last weekend at the Kingfish on River Road and found it to be incredibly divine — we’d like three of them next time.)
Ballotin also is available at many other local establishments, and bartenders have had fun coming up with various drink recipes and concoctions, Stum says.
His favorite way to drink it is in a Dirty Manhattan, with one part your favorite bourbon mixed with one part Ballotin Original Chocolate, a dash of bitters and a dash of sweet vermouth.
“It might not change your life, but it might make you start thinking differently,” he adds.
Stum is on the road promoting Ballotin in Nashville, but we caught up with him in his downtime to ask him some very important questions …
What’s the most surprising thing on your Bucket List?
My family members are big music fans. Most of our Bucket List stuff has centered around seeing bands or venues. We have had the good fortune to see lots of cool stuff.
Now, most of my Bucket List centers around making sure my kids — Zane, 18, and Wyatt, 14 — begin fulfilling their own Bucket Lists.
What poster was on your wall in junior high?
I hit 50 last year, so I am a child of the ’70s and ’80s. I had the ubiquitous Farrah Fawcett poster. I also had the ubiquitous Cheryl Ladd poster.
My favorite poster, though, was of the band Blondie. I won it at King’s Island. I had KISS posters, but my mom made me put them on the back of my door.
If you were mayor, to whom would you give the key to the city?
The original board of LIBA (Louisville Independent Business Alliance): John Timmons, Don Burch from Quest, Summer Auerbach, the Carmichael’s Bookstore folks, Reba Mercer, Jennifer Rubenstein, others I’m forgetting.
I’m writing this from Nashville. I’m down working the market. I really like being in Nashville, but I LOVE living in Louisville. Had this group not formalized a while back, much of the thriving local business scene could have been defunct as Louisville has grown. Growth doesn’t have to mean loss of a local vibe, like what has happened — in some degree — to Nashville.
What are your preferred pizza toppings?
My go-to is meatball, fresh tomato, fresh garlic and banana peppers. Sometimes spinach. Sometimes mushrooms. For slices, I like DiOrio’s and The Post. We live in St. Matthews, so we wear DiOrio’s out.
If you could be any age for a week, what would it be?
I am begrudgingly accepting 50. No sense in not living in the now. That said, 1988/’89 was a fantastic year for me.
What famous person do people say you resemble the most?
Nobody would see it now, but in ’88/’89 people called me Keanu. It was my damn dirty hippy phase.
Who would you most like to be stuck with in an elevator?
As you know, I have been a fan of yours for a long time. I have read many responses to this question, so I have actually thought about it.
If I can pick a super-roomy elevator, this would be my current list: Willie Nelson (I have been a fan since I was a kid — he is an amazing humorist and has a keen outlook on life), I have been fascinated by Tiffany Haddish for a couple of years, so she has GOT to be on there.
I like Michelle Beadle from ESPN — she is tough and smart, and we could talk sports to pass the time. I’d also like to have Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin on there. I am a bit of a history buff. I wish more people understood that “the past is prologue.”
I am a libra, so I am constantly looking for middle ground and agreement, so — bear with me here — I want Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear on there with the caveat that they can’t talk, only listen.
Lastly, you need to be there to report on the whole thing. That’s not pandering, I’m just betting you would have some super-secret stash of the most rare bourbon known to mankind.