Russell Nance, L’97 and four law school classmates, Huntley Thorpe, Sam Stathos, Patrick Skelley, and Werner Versch, at the Ragged Branch distillery

A very fine diversion

September 26, 2023

Alumni Profile

To paraphrase the writer Raymond Chandler, there are no bad weekends with friends, only ones that are better than others. Russell Nance, L’97 (above, second from right), had one of his best weekends with friends over the summer. And it involved sumptuous sips of what Chandler was actually talking about: whiskey. In Nance’s case specifically, very fine bourbon.

Nance and four classmates — Huntley Thorpe, Sam Stathos, Patrick Skelley, and Werner Versch — and their spouses spent several July days together sipping bourbon at Ragged Branch, a craft distillery in Albemarle County, Virginia. “We had a great weekend together at the distillery — that was our home base,” said Nance, whose practice focuses on the tax aspects of securitizations and structured finance transactions. “We were as tight and as close as if we had just walked out of a law school class.”

Nance played host because, in addition to his role as a partner at Mayer Brown in Manhattan, he is part of Ragged Branch’s ownership team. The business is at a good point in its life cycle. When he first invested with friends and family in 2008, everything was hope and expectation, plus more than a small dose of stress and expenditure. The long process of distillation meant that five years passed between the time the company started distilling its bourbon and the release of its first full product line in 2019.

Today, the bourbon flows at a rate of about 100,000 bottles a year with plans to grow, and it is sold in 23 states. It also wins awards at the annual World Spirits Competition, the industry’s equivalent to the Oscars. Nance — a self-confessed beer guy when all of this started — now finds himself hosting barreling parties and tastings. He also has a killer icebreaker with clients, and, he added, his experience as a business owner gives him new understanding of the challenges many of them face.

“It has been a generator of emotions across the spectrum from anxiety to frustration to despair to elation to self-satisfaction, but more good than bad,” he said. “A lot of that anxiety and frustration was more in the early years. And now I’m in the gravy part of it where the business is running well. It’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’s rewarding.”