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Musician Neil Giraldo delivers rockin' bourbon to Sarasota

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame guitarist's premium Three Chord Bourbon made its debut in Sarasota's market.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Neil Giraldo created Three Chord bourbon.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Neil Giraldo created Three Chord bourbon.
Photo by Ian Swaby
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Musician Neil Giraldo said his desire to create a bourbon whiskey line didn’t come just from his Italian heritage and memories of his grandfather placing grappa in his coffee in the mornings and making whiskey in the evenings. 

Giraldo said he was looking for a challenge even after a decadeslong music career that led to his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022 alongside his wife since 1982, Pat Benatar.

So Giraldo traveled the country and assembled a team, establishing Three Chord Bourbon in 2016. He now serves as chair of the board for the New York-based company whose products are sold in 37 states and are now entering Sarasota's market.

The brand's introduction to Sarasota kicked off with a party at Cask & Ale on April 24, which took place the same day as a concert by Giraldo and Benatar at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

“My business management and everybody said, 'Why can’t you just do a vodka? It’s real easy? Why can’t you just do a tequila? It’s real easy.’ I said, ‘Because I want one of the most difficult ones,'” explained Giraldo.

Giraldo hasn't forgotten the sense of gratitude his father, Anthony Giraldo, taught him. When he was 13, Anthony Giraldo, a carpenter, brought home a used piano from a home he had been working on, making it possible for Neil Giraldo to learn to play the instrument.

Giraldo said he now wants to give back to struggling musicians.

Only half of the project is about the whiskey, Giraldo said. The other half is the contributions to charity, with a portion of sales benefiting charities that aid musicians, such as Sweet Relief Musicians Fund and Songbird Foundation. Donations are made to other charities such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“In music, everybody has dreams,” Giraldo said. “You want to be at Madison Square Garden, you want to be at all these things, but it doesn’t always happen that way to people. I was very lucky that it happened for me, and I want to give back to the musicians I grew up with."

Three Chord bourbon is now available in Sarasota.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Giraldo's challenge to himself appears to be paying off, with the whiskey receiving awards including “Best in Show Overall” at the 2018 Craft Distillers Spirits Competition and the gold award from the 2019 International Review of Spirits by

"I don’t ever feel like it's a competition, because I don’t do that with music either. In music, you can have a competitive edge, but you do appreciate other people’s great songs, just like you would appreciate other people’s bourbon. It’s OK, there’s room for everybody."

The creative art

The process of creating a bourbon hit isn’t so far removed from that of songwriting, Giraldo said. 

Since 1979, Giraldo has served as Benatar’s producer and lead guitarist while penning some of the singer/songwriter’s hits such as “We Live for Love” and “Promises in the Dark.”

“It’s exactly the same,” he said. “In music, you have an idea that comes into your head, somewhere, somehow, and you end up writing the song. Then, after you finish writing it, you’ve got to perform the song. After you finish performing the song, you’ve got to mix the song. After you mix it, you’ve got to master the song. After you master it, you’ve got to put all these other elements together.”

Neil Giraldo gives some mixing instructions to Eve Gardner while aboard Lotus Yacht.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Even Giraldo's whiskey branding acknowledges its musical connection, from the name "Three Chord" to the creation process branded as “perfectly tuned taste.” 

The Three Chord team sources high-quality whiskeys from Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and North Carolina. Whiskey-maker Ari Sussman works with Giraldo on the flavor profile, with input from a tasting panel. Once the blends are aged, they undergo a finishing process where they are toasted in American Oak barrels heated to a precise temperature to release flavor and aroma compounds.

In addition to his whiskey venture, Giraldo is currently working on two books, as well as a screenplay for a composite film that honors struggling musicians. And he's still writing songs, which he said he loves “probably more than anything.”

“It’s a blessing and curse for me, because my mind never stops looking and creating,” he said. “Everything is another song hiding somewhere, and it haunts me sometimes, too.”

He said ideas for songs come to him most easily when he isn’t thinking.

“I don’t know where they come from — no one can really understand or explain that. But they come when you’re not trying, you’re not focusing.  You’re actually not in the conscious, you’re in the subconscious… It happens when you’re driving a car, it happens when you’re in the shower, and they just come all day long.”



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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