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Eric LeGrand Whiskey

The story of Eric LeGrand is still being written, and his resilience in the face of a traumatic incident only energized him to soar past his limits and on the path to conquer them eventually. The former football star recently launched his Eric LeGrand Whiskey brand, adding to LeGrand’s growing business portfolio and expanding his efforts to help others.

Earlier this past spring, CASSIUS had the honor of speaking with Eric LeGrand, who graciously shared the story of how he got into bourbon, what he hopes to achieve in the competitive spirits world, and much more.

In 2010, LeGrand, then a defensive tackle for the Rutgers University football team, was injured on a play that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Since his injury, LeGrand has regained some sensation and motion while he continues to recover and he shared where his determined mindset stems from.

“I was born and raised in New Jersey and it’s all I know, and that’s where my toughness and grit comes from,” LeGrand began before going into the football injury on the field.

“It’s been a journey since then. On October 16, 2010, I faced a paralyzing injury at Met Life Stadium that changed my life forever, obviously,” LeGrand shared. “I said then that I wasn’t going to let [the injury] overcome me. I was 20 years old at the time of my injury and I didn’t want that to be the end of it.”

LeGrand’s stark determination that he learned through the world of athletics not only served him on his road to recovery but also as he entered the spirits world. A world that routinely doesn’t feature a ton of Black figures in that space.

“A lot of times it appears that African-Americans are reluctant to get into the space but if they knew the history of spirits, especially brands like Uncle Nearest, that brand actually inspired me,” LeGrand stated. “You don’t always see the diversity in the spirits world but that’s why I’m here to disrupt that perception. Not only because of my physical disability but also as an African-American taking this leap of faith.”

LeGrand added, ” Hopefully, Eric LeGrand Bourbon will have success for years, even beyond me being on this planet. Yes, the odds are often stacked up against us but you can’t let that stop you from living out your dreams.”

Portions of the sale of LeGrand’s bourbon go towards supporting The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which supports individuals suffering from spinal cord injuries and their families. LeGrand’s partnership with the foundation has been ongoing for a decade so far and he explained how it came to be.

“I joined forces with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation back in 2013 after forming my Team LeGrand foundation and we have shared goals in curing paralysis which include education, therapies, and so forth,” LeGrand said. “Our goal as a company is not only to live out Mr. Reeve’s dream of empty wheelchairs but also to write the biggest check ever to the foundation to support the effort.”

Our conversation then turned to the juice inside the bottle and LeGrand shared how the process of building his brand came to be. LeGrand shared that his bourbon’s mash bill is 72% corn, 21% rye, and 9% barley and is distilled in Owensboro, Kentucky at the Green River distillery and bottled by the fantastic folks over at Bardstown Bourbon Company.

“When my business partner Brian [Axelrod] told me that Bardstown had the juice we were looking for, and we got samples sitting at a 115 proof,” LeGrand shared. “I thought to myself ‘This is going to have a gnarly bite to it,’ but we took in the samples at my coffeeshop in New Jersey and we all gave that look to each other and knew we had something.”

Eric LeGrand Bourbon is bottled at an approachable 88 proof, making it a fine evening sipper or a solid cocktail base depending on one’s mood. As the mash bill dictates, there is a lot of that sweet, mellowed flavor from the corn with the warmth and spice from the rye coming through in the long finish that is rounded out by the barley. While we’ve only had it neat thus far, we can see this bourbon making for a solid Old Fashioned or even a Boulevardier.

LeGrand credits a lot of his bourbon’s quality due to Axelrod, a veteran of the spirits industry who partnered with LeGrand last June and brings a wealth of executive-level experience to the burgeoning brand.

Before we let Eric LeGrand get back to building his growing business empire, we had to ask about his favorite way to enjoy bourbon.

“I personally drink it neat and I made it a point to try it all sorts of ways in all kinds of cocktails but if it’s just me, I’m taking it neat, I’m taking shots, and that’s just how I prefer it,” LeGrand said with a hearty laugh.

Eric LeGrand Bourbon is widely available across the state of New Jersey and in select locations in Kentucky. The brand plans to expand its distribution reach as the year goes on.

Learn more about the bourbon by clicking here.

Photo:: Eric LeGrand Whiskey / Eric LeGrand