Raj Bhakta and His Latest Chapter in Spirits
Raj Bhakta holding court in a former classroom on the college campus he bought to house BHAKTA Spirits
These ones are some of the oldest in the world and bear the name
BHAKTA Spirits – and they live on a Vermont college campus.
Raj Bhakta is larger-than-life; a vibrant, driven man with good looks and swagger. It figures that this kind of personality, who founded the hyper-successful WhistlePig whiskey brand didn’t stop distilling after selling his piece of that business.
Bhakta was in search of something new and mind-blowing in its uniqueness and quality. Bhakta Spirits was born and, with it, potentially the finest and oldest Armagnacs in the world. Long a cherished French digestive, Raj secured a chateau in Southwestern France, south of Bordeaux, in the Armagnac region with a cache of barrels dating back to the early 20th century.
Raj tells the story of spending some time in France with his wife and three children, living the good life and exploring the country in a Cadillac Escalade, a very atypical car for Europe, no matter which country you visit. When Raj tells the story of his wife, pregnant with child #4 (now almost five years old) chasing him out of a chalet in the Alps with a broom, the glint in his eye signals this is the trigger that founded BHAKTA Spirits. Raj hit the road and went straight to the Armagnac region on a tip that there was an Armagnac-producing family with a chateau full of the aged spirit that they could possibly be convinced to sell.
A gold mine for a spirits aficionado, Raj was sure the family patriarch would hear him singing Disney tunes in his outrageous car and slam the door before he even got inside. Yet, somehow his charm (and plentiful US dollars) got Raj welcomed into the historic family and Bhakta Spirits became the label fronting the oldest Armagnac collection in the world.
That massive collection of Armagnac and other aged spirits like Calvados, rum and rye, is now housed in the library building at the former Green Mountain College, a classic New England campus in the town of Poultney, Vermont, close to where Raj, his wife and four children live on a bucolic farm in lovely Shoreham. The former college was run into the ground by its hapless board and Raj bought the whole thing, lock, stock and barrel. Totally intact, including the books in the library, the giant pool in the gym, the ballroom-like dining hall, the honors dorm (where I stayed when visiting) and the science lab, where we created a fantastic blend of Armagnac, rye and Calvados which was named “Les Mathematiques” and bottled in a limited edition of four.
The impressive Green Mountain College is now the BHAKTA-Griswold Campus and currently hosts writers and spirits buyers for crazy, fun-filled, spirits-fueled retreats that give one an inside look at what is to come from Raj and Bhakta Spirits, and the story is long, winding and fabulous. That campus will become a hospitality center and launch BHAKTA as the revolutionary, elegant brand that Raj Bhakta envisions and that all of us who visited believe it will become.
In addition to committing to growing a business in this small town,, the Bhakta family has become very involved in th
e community, founding a school and supporting many local businesses left high and dry with the failure of the former college. Poultney is seeing a rebirth and its distilling and hospitality, which may be more sustainable than higher education!
Follow Raj and BHAKTA on a wild ride that is sure to be glorious and industry-changing. I feel privileged to have been there in the early days and plan to stay on this carousel of innovation and tasty spirits and see how the ride goes.If you have any idea what Whistlepig’s premium “Boss Hog” sells for as it ages, you will realize the value of Bhakta Spirits as they age and become more rare.