Horse Soldier

Bob Pennington (left) and Scott Neil (right) of Horse Soldier Bourbon talk to yesterday’s audience at The Center of Rural Development to introduce the new distillery to Somerset.

The late, great Mayor JP Wiles had a saying he would always use when he would announce something positive coming to our community.

“It’s a great day in Somerset!”

I think JP is smiling down on his little town today. Over the past week or so, there have been several of those announcements that should lead to many “great days” for Somerset in the future.

On Wednesday at The Center for Rural Development, we got to meet John Koko, Scott Neil, Mark Nutsch and Bob Pennington — the men who opted to bring their Horse Soldier Bourbon distillery to Somerset.

These brave men — members of the first U.S. Army Special Forces unit to enter Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — want to be part of our community. They want to be our neighbors and friends.

And they have enough faith in our community leaders to make Somerset the home of a $50 million expansion prospect for their growing bourbon brand.

The project was announced last December and is progressing steadily — even through the Covid era. Land at Waitsboro has been secured and the City of Somerset just re-zoned the area so it could become the distillery’s Pulaski County home.

“From the first time we came to Somerset, we felt a serendipitous connection to the community that was unparalleled to anywhere else we visited,” said Koko, Horse Soldier’s President and CEO. “We immediately fell in love with Somerset’s downtown and rural areas. Everyone we encountered was so warm and inviting.”

The marriage between Somerset and Horse Soldier Bourbon is a melding of two tremendous visions.

One from these former soldiers who aspired to make the American Dream their own — after defending it so vigorously for years.

And one from Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, who identified the bourbon industry as one that could flourish in our city — and bring with it the economic spoils that comes with a business of this magnitude.

When (and I say when, rather than if) Somerset becomes part of the fabled Bourbon Trail, it will add to our area’s rich tradition of tourism.

With Lake Cumberland, our region is a tourism mecca in the summer months. A spot on the Bourbon Trail would certainly enhance the offseason and truly make Somerset a “destination city.” 

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a bummer.

But things won’t be like this forever. And when we come out on the other side of the Covid crisis, we will indeed have some very “great days in Somerset” lying ahead.

JP would be proud.

JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.

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