Craft Spirits Magazine December 2019

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T R A C E A B I L I T Y To D R I N K A B I L I T Y

When knowing where it came from helps transform simple corn mash into a sipping masterpiece.

SureTrack PRO Spotlight Wood Hat Spirits New Florence, MO






2020 Vision Gazing Into the Future of Craft Spirits


Kyushu By Way of Maryland American Shochu Co. brings shochu production stateside. BY JEFF CIOLETTI


Bullish About Beer Barrels Why craft distillers are aging spirits in barrels that previously held beer




A Lux Experience Shedding light on the Luxembourg distilling scene BY JEFF CIOLETTI


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Editor’s Note




Recent releases from Wood’s High Mountain Distillery, Boston Harbor Distillery and more

IMBIBER’S BOOKSHELF 16 Cocktails Made Simple How to Cocktail



New Deal Distillery Announces 2020 Whiskey Making Classes


The importance of a great customer experience BY LEW BRYSON

What’s Stirring 28

Flavorful concoctions from Cardinal Spirits, Privateer Rum and Corsair Distillery



ACSA’s 7th Annual Judging of Craft Spirits competition and Miracle Bars in pictures


Why an ACSA PAC Matters An update on ACSA’s PAC BY STEPHEN JOHNSON


ACSA Toasts FET Reform Extension Craft Distillers Earn Tax Parity Through 2020

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Honoring History in Western Pennsylvania Paying homage to the Whiskey Rebellion


Formula Basics for Distillers How to ease the formula approval process for spirits BY JOHN MESSINGER


BUSINESS SENSE 61 Data Minding


Distillery-specific software systems help distillers stay organized and prepare for audits.

The creativity of craft distillers is starting to overflow into exciting new options for bottle closures.





Under the Microscope Examining the crucial role yeast play in creating distilled spirits BY NEVA PARKER

RETAIL: OFF-PREMISE 64 Minding the Store

How craft distilleries can work with off-premise retail to educate staff—and sell more of their spirits BY KATE BERNOT


A Winning Combination A growing number of stadiums and arenas are pouring craft spirits. BY JON PAGE

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING 68 That Tasty Ole Oak Tree Distillers Experiment with Char and Toast Levels to Create House Styles BY DAVIN DE KERGOMMEAUX AND BLAIR PHILLIPS



Opening Up To New Possibilities

A Local Partner with Big Reach

Working with a local convention and visitor’s bureau can help a distillery get deserved attention. BY JOHN HOLL


The Space Race Product storage can often be an afterthought, but it can play a critical role in a distillery’s future growth. BY ANDREW KAPLAN


Festive Factoids The dynamics of the holiday season by the numbers

Master Classes will be held in advance of the convention SATURDAY, MARCH 28 SUNDAY, MARCH 29

8:00 AM TO 5:00 PM 8:00 AM TO 12:00 PM

New Distillery Start-Up 101 In the beginning stages of planning your distillery? This overview will cover the basics of the industry including: • • • • • •

finding a lender creating a business plan selecting your site, equipment, and materials safety and compliance working with distributors sales and marketing.

Presenters: Courtney McKee (Headframe Spirits), Amber Pollock (Backwards Distilling Co.), Jake Holshue (Old Trestle Distillery), Johnny Jeffery (Bently Heritage), Donald Snyder (Whiskey Systems), Mark A. Vierthaler (Tenth Ward Distilling), Paul Hletko (FEW Spirits), Brian Christensen (Artisan Spirit Magazine), Colton Weinstein (Corsair Distillery), and others speakers to be announced. Member Rate: $200; Non-Member Rate: $350


8:00 AM TO 5:00 PM

Tasting and Sensory Class This one-day course will start by examining the tasting biases that affect our judgements and will also cover how to use tasting and sensory practices to ensure quality control, how to use barrels to target specific flavor development, and how to differentiate varieties and flavors of malt. Presenters: Gary Spedding (BDAS, LLC), Lindsay Barr (DraughtLab), Andrew Wiehebrink (ISC), and TBA from GrainCorp Malt. Member Rate: $399; Non-Member Rate: $699

Take advantage of these pre-convention offerings to maximize your time and money in Portland!


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CRAFT SPIRITS MAGAZINE C EO, A M E R I C A N C R A F T S P I R I T S A S S O C I AT I O N | Margie A.S. Lehrman, E D I TO R I N C H I E F | Jeff Cioletti, AS S I S TA N T E D I TO R | Jon Page, A RT D I R EC TO R | Michelle Villas CO N T R I B U TO R S | Kate Bernot, Lew Bryson, Davin deKergommeaux, John Holl, Stephen Johnson, Andrew Kaplan, Ben Keene, John Messinger, Neva Parker, Blair Phillips AMERICAN CRAFT SPIRITS ASSOCIATION O P E R AT I O N S A D M I N I S T R ATO R | Teresa McDaniel, E D U C AT I O N CO O R D I N ATO R | Kirstin Brooks, M E M BE R S E RV I C E S A N D S O C I A L M E D I A CO O R D I N ATO R | Carason Lehmann, ACSA ADVISORS M E E T I N G S A N D LO G I S T I C S | Stephanie Sadri, HelmsBriscoe S T R AT EG I C CO M M U N I C AT I O N S | Alexandra S. Clough, GATHER PR L EG A L | Ryan Malkin, Malkin Law, P.A. P U B L I C P O L I C Y | Jim Hyland, The Pennsylvania Avenue Group ACSA BOARD OF DIRECTORS, 2019-2020 P R E S I D E N T | Chris Montana, Du Nord Craft Spirits (MN) V I C E P R E S I D E N T | Maggie Campbell, Privateer Rum (MA) S EC R E TA RY/ T R E A S U R E R | Colin Keegan, Santa Fe Spirits (NM)

EAST Maggie Campbell, Privateer Rum (MA) Ryan Christiansen, Caledonia Spirits (VT) James Montero, Dogfish Head Distilling (DE) Becky Harris, Catoctin Creek (VA)

CENTRAL & MOUNTAIN Colin Keegan, Santa Fe Spirits (NM) Courtney McKee, Headframe Spirits (MT) Chris Montana, Du Nord Craft Spirits (MN) P.T. Wood, Wood’s High Mountain Distillery (CO) Amber Pollock, Backwards Distilling Company (WY) Colton Weinstein, Corsair Artisan Distillery (TN) Thomas Mote, Balcones Distillery (TX)

PACIFIC Jeff Kanof, Copperworks Distilling Company (WA) Molly Troupe, Freeland Spirits (OR) Dan Farber, Osocalis Distillery (CA) Jake Holshue, Old Trestle Distillery (CA)

EX OFFICIO Thomas Jensen, New Liberty Distillery (PA) ACSA PAC Stephen Johnson, Vermont Spirits (VT) ACSA PAST PRESIDENTS 2 0 1 7-2 0 1 8 | Mark Shilling, Treaty Oak Brewing and Distilling Co. 2 0 1 6 -2 0 1 7 | Paul Hletko, FEW Spirits 2 0 1 4 -2 0 1 6 | Tom Mooney, House Spirits CRAFT SPIRITS MAGAZINE EDITORIAL BOARD Eli Aguilera, Lew Bryson, Alexandra Clough, Sly Cosmopoulos, Dan Gasper, Dr. Dawn Maskell For advertising inquiries, please contact Kate Farrington: For editorial inquiries or to send a news release, e-mail P.O. Box 701414, Louisville, KY 40270 • 502.807.4249 © 2019 Craft Spirits Magazine is a publication of the American Craft Spirits Association.

Editor’s Note

NEW DECADE’S RESOLUTIONS I’ve about had it with end-of-year “best of lists,” because I’ve always felt that we should be looking forward, not backward. That’s the philosophy driving the theme of this issue, with a detailed outlook for all of the major spirits categories. And, since we’re in a “looking ahead” frame of mind, I’d like to offer a few of my own thoughts on not necessarily what we can expect to see, but some of the things that I’d like to see or not see. Dry January Anyone who works in drinks media likely has spent the better part of this month sifting through a barrage of “Dry January” press releases. While I am a staunch advocate of responsible consumption, I’m not the biggest fan of this annual beginning-of-the-year challenge. I feel like it does more harm than good in that it neglects to fully grasp the true meaning of moderation. The craft spirits industry has been a leader in promoting moderation in everything we do and those who embrace that concept are already making it a part of their day-to-day lives in January, as well as in February through December. One month off is not going to absolve the excessiveness and irresponsibility of the other 11. Moderation is a 365-day commitment (well, 366 in 2020). Keep it Neat! I know I’m probably in the minority here, but I’d like to see bars celebrate their cocktails’ base ingredients a bit more by promoting neat or on-the-rocks pours of spirits that aren’t whiskey, Cognac or añejo agave spirits. There’s no better way for a consumer to acquaint oneself with a spirit—brown or white—in all its nuanced glory than when it’s unencumbered by mixers (but in a much smaller serving of course—let’s not forget that whole aforementioned moderation thing.) I’m not saying it should ever take the place of a cocktail. Rather, bartenders should be thinking of neat or rocks pours as the solo side projects of their favorite bands.

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A Seat at the Dinner Table Twenty years ago, no one would ever have thought of beer as an elegant companion for food, and now beer-culinary pairing is an entire industry unto itself, giving wine a run for its money. In 2020, I’d like to see restaurants get bolder with their menus and offer spirits pairing suggestions for every course. Craft spirits producers are great at educating their accounts and food pairing should just be one more fore facet of that. Japanese shochu producers and importers have done a phenomenal job positioning that spirit’s gastronomic potential and we all should be taking a cue from them. (And speaking of shochu, check out this month’s profile of American Shochu Co. of Frederick, Maryland). Vive le Eau de vie After recent trips through Luxembourg and Germany’s Black Forest, I determined that I’d make it my mission in life to get the United States to develop a bona fide digestif culture just so more consumers will start drinking eau de vie (again, neat) and more U.S. distillers will produce it. A little nip of fruit brandy after a meal is one of life’s true pleasures and it’s high time that legal drinking age adults in this country came to appreciate that. And a word to European millennials: I know the stuff your parents and grandparents drink after dinner seems a bit weird, but get out of your comfort zones a little and don’t let these traditions die! Until next time, happy holidays and happy New Year!

Jeff Cioletti Editor in Chief


Thank You, Sponsors! The American Craft Spirits Association would like to thank all of our annual sponsors and our key supporters of education. We are grateful for all of your support throughout the year. Cheers!


Lew Bryson has been writing about beer and spirits full-time since 1995. He was the managing editor of Whisky Advocate from 1996 through 2015, where he also wrote the American Spirits column, and reviewed whiskeys. He is currently a Senior Drinks Writer for the Daily Beast, and also writes for, American Whiskey and Bourbon+. He is the author of “Tasting Whiskey” (Storey Publishing, 2014), a broad survey of the whiskeys of the world, their history and manufacture. He has also written four regional brewery guidebooks.

Andrew Kaplan is a freelance writer based in New York City. He was Managing Editor of Beverage World magazine for 14 years and has worked for a variety of other food and beverage-related publications, and also newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @andrewkap.

Neva Parker earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, and first became interested in the beverage industry while spending a semester in London. She started at White Labs in 2003 as a lab technician and now serves as Director of Operations. Neva is a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt and is a member of the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC), Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA), and AOAC.

Davin de Kergommeaux is an independent spirits expert who has been writing about spirits for over two decades. He is the author of the book, “Canadian Whisky: The New Portable Edition, second edition.” His new book, The “Definitive Guide to Canadian Distilleries,” will be published in March 2020. He is the founder and chairperson of the Canadian Whisky Awards, and publishes comprehensive notes about Canadian whiskies on He lives in Canada and writes full time. Find him on social media @Davindek.

John Holl is a journalist covering the beer industry. He’s the author of several books including “Drink Beer, Think Beer: Getting to the Bottom of Every Pint” and “The American Craft Beer Cookbook.” He is the co-host of Steal This Beer, a podcast and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wine Enthusiast and more. John has lectured on the culture and history of beer and judged beer competitions around the world.

Blair Phillips is a lifestyles and spirits writer who specializes in Canadian whisky. In addition to Whisky Magazine, Blair reviews Canadian spirits for Distiller. He also contributes to newspapers and magazines and is on the jury for both the World Whiskies Awards and the Canadian Whisky Awards. Blair was the Canadian columnist for during the TV show’s three year run. He currently lives in Toronto.

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Stay on top of the news.

Ben Keene is the former editorial director of BeerAdvocate and the author of “The Great Northeast Brewery Tour.” A Seattle-based writer and consultant, Keene has judged beer competitions across the United States and frequently speaks at industry conferences and conventions. He likes his beer barrel-aged whiskey in an Old Fashioned and, as a former licensed outdoor guide, burns most of his beer calories hiking in Washington’s Cascade Range.

Michelle Villas is an art director with more than 20 years experience in publication design. After spending 16 years working on magazines in New York for a variety of titles, incuding Beverage World, Michelle headed out to California where she now calls the South Bay home. She is the Senior Art Director on a range of lifestyle publications for The Golden State Company. A true typophile, she carries her obsession with fonts into every project.

Kate Bernot is a reporter covering beer, food, and spirits. She was formerly an editor at The Takeout and DRAFT Magazine; she now regularly writes for Good Beer Hunting, Craft Beer & Brewing, and other publications. She is a certified beer judge and lives in Missoula, Montana, with three backyard chickens and a well-stocked bar cart.

John Messinger is a Senior Attorney at Lehrman Beverage Law, PLLC. John received his J.D. from American University, Washington College of Law, and joined the firm as an attorney in 2009. He assists wine, beer and spirits companies with labeling, formulation, licensing, advertising, taxation, product development and other federal and state compliance matters.


Visit us online at

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New Spirits

Allegheny Distilling, the Pittsburghbased producer of Maggie’s Farm Rum, released Maggie’s Farm Sherry Cask Rum, an aged rum finished in sherry casks. After blending rums that were slowly proofed down in ex-rum casks during an aging period of three years, this blend is finished in Oloroso sherry butts creating an herbaceous sipping rum with no added sugar or coloring. Maggie’s Farm rum is fermented from Louisiana turbinado sugar over 3-week periods and then pot-distilled in house. This first batch has been bottled at 86-proof straight from the cask.

Iron Fish Distillery released its first farm-distilled whiskeys—a 96-proof Rye Whiskey and a 123-proof Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The Thompsonsville, Michigan-based distillery is dedicating its inaugural whiskeys to the Arctic Grayling Research Initiative. The release is focused on the successful reintroduction of the iconic Michigan Grayling, extinct for nearly 100 years as a result of land use practices and overfishing in the state.

SILO Distillery of Windsor, Vermont, recently released its first ready-to-drink cocktail—The Maple Manhattan—one of the first of this type of product in the state of Vermont. Made with a blend of SILO’s Maple Whiskey, housemade Amaro (soon to be released in a larger bottle format on its own) and a hibiscus tincture, the cocktail comes in at 74 proof and is available in 100-mL glass flasks.

Montanya Distillers of Crested Butte, Colorado, has added a new addition to its rum family—Valentia. This 80-proof, American-made, premium, limited-release rum celebrates the progress women have made in becoming a vital part of craft distilling. Renee Newton, a distiller at Montanya, first distilled Valentia more than four years ago, and it has been aging in oak ever since. The Valentia is finished in rye barrels from Catoctin Creek Distillery, which was distilled by Becky Harris, also a female founder, owner and head distiller.

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Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey recently celebrated seven years since beginning production in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and the distillery also released its new fouryear-old Straight Rye—a 95 proof whiskey. This release—a Pre-Prohibition style blend—also features Dad’s Hat’s new green labels, which the distillers just recently unveiled.


New Spirits

Rogue Ales & Spirits of Newport, Oregon, in November released a limited-edition Oregon Pinot Barrel Project. The 90-proof malt whiskey is a blend of Dead Guy Whiskey and Oregon Single Malt Whiskey which was aged in Pinot Noir barrels from the distillery’s winery neighbors. It features flavors of cola, blackberry, graham cracker and baking spices with a long warm finish that imparts tropical tones and a lingering spice.

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery of Nashville, Tennessee, recently released its Tennessee Whiskey. The 91-proof whiskey was created according to the 110-year-old recipe of Andy and Charlie Nelson’s greatgreat-great-grandfather, Charles Nelson. The sour mash combination of corn, wheat and barley has been aged between two to five years. It has a nose of caramel, vanilla, nutmeg, chocolate, cinnamon and nougat.


Wood’s High Mountain Distillery of Salida, Colorado, has released batch two of its newest whiskey expression: Sawatch American Malt Whiskey. This is Wood’s second batch of its 4-year-old malt whiskey made from a mash bill of 2-row malt barley, cherrywood smoked malt, chocolate malt, malt rye and malt wheat grains, aged in No. 3 charred new American oak casks and bottled at 98 proof. Sawatch Whiskey is named for the mountain range towering over Salida, with fifteen 14,000-foot peaks that provide the water used to make Wood’s spirits.

Tattersall Distilling of Minnneapolis announced the launch of its first bottled ready-to-drink product: Old Fashioned. Perfected in its cocktail room over the past four and a half years, this bottled cocktail features Tattersall’s signature Rye whiskey, made from 100% Minnesota-grown rye that’s been aged in charred American White Oak barrels. It’s then blended with Tattersall Sour Cherry Liqueur, aromatic bitters, a dash of orange zest and sugar.

In September, Crooked Water Spirits of Minneapolis released its ready-to-pour Negroni. The 57-proof cocktail features the distillery’s Sundog, an 86-proof American-style gin. The 750-mL bottle retails for $44.99.

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New Spirits

Northern Oasis Spirits of Wisconsin unveiled its Shorewood Whiskey. The 80-proof whiskey combines rye, wheat and corn whiskey sourced from MGP Distillery. It is combined with Wisconsin water and proofed in Plover, Wisconsin. The whiskey retails for $22.99 a bottle.

Newport Craft Brewing & Distilling Co. of Newport, Rhode Island, has released Sea Fog Whiskey. This 90-proof single malt whiskey is a blend of a 7-year and 8-year barrel. Sea Fog blends the pot still and “beer” traditions of the British Isles with the barrel forward innovation of the American distiller. Aged in 53-gallon bourbon casks, this American Single Malt exudes peat, smoke, vanilla, caramel and oak.

Sangfroid Distilling of Hyattsville, Maryland, recently announced that its Pear Brandy—an unaged, 87-proof eau de vie—has returned. Sangfroid used ripe, whole Bartlett pears grown on a farm in Pennsylvania about 120 miles from the distillery. The distillery crushed and fermented the pears, allowing the natural yeasts to ferment the pulp into a pear wine. Sangfroid then distills the pear wine twice in its alembic-style pot still. Then, it made some very tight cuts on the distillate, capturing only the most fragrant and delicate character of those bright, fresh pears.

Vikre Distillery of Duluth, Minnesota, released Frenchie, its first canned craft cocktail. The cocktail is a blend of Vikre’s organic Juniper Gin, sparkling rosé wine, a floral rosé liqueur and lemon juice. Frenchie is a love letter to one of co-founder Emily Vikre’s favorite cocktails, the French 75. The 12.5% ABV cocktail is available across Minnesota in liquor stores in 4-pack boxes of 250-mL slim cans (8.4 oz.). Boston Harbor Distillery recently released its ‘bottled-in-bond’ Putnam New England Single Malt Whiskey. The 100-proof single malt whiskey boasts a grain bill of 100% malted barley and the distiller’s skill of capturing only the flavorful heart of the spirit. Aged in 53-gallon new American oak barrels that were seasoned and heavily charred, Distiller Marco Forziati describes the flavor profile as “rich and flavorful with a bold chocolate finish.”

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Imbiber’s Bookshelf

Cocktails Made Simple: Easy & Delicious Recipes for the Home Bartender Authors: Brian Weber and Amin Benny Publisher: Rockridge Press Release Date: Oct. 15 For anyone looking for an exciting way to entertain, “Cocktails Made Simple” reveals how to craft 40 iconic cocktails in the comforts of your own home. From finding the right glass to a flaming peel finish, the book offers tips on how to build a functional home bar using cost-effective tips on the essential tools to mix with—and familiar alternatives to make the most of what you have on hand. The book includes: • Old-fashioned origins—Dive into the art of crafting cocktails with terms to know and tools of the trade. • That’s the spirit—Stock your home bar and enhance everyday ingredients using simple techniques. • Aperitif to digestif—Sip your way through recipes for 40 traditional cocktails categorized by spirit, as well as a brief history of each drink and tasty twists.

How to Cocktail: Recipes and Techniques for Building the Best Drinks Publisher: America’s Test Kitchen Release Date: Oct. 8 The first-ever cocktail book from America’s Test Kitchen brings the groups objective, kitchen-tested and -perfected approach to the craft of making cocktails. You always want your cocktail to be something special--whether you’re in the mood for a simple Negroni, a properly muddled Caipirinha, or a big batch of Margaritas or Bloody Marys with friends. After rigorous recipe testing, America’s Test Kitchen reveals not only the ideal ingredient proportions and best mixing technique for each drink, but also how to make homemade tonic for your Gin and Tonic, and homemade sweet vermouth and cocktail cherries for your Manhattan.

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Author Spotlight: Brian Weber Brian Weber is a professional bartender and the host of the Bartender Journey Podcast. He co-wrote “Cocktails Made Simple” with Amin Benny, whom he met through the United States Bartenders Guild. We recently caught up with Weber to discuss the book and his podcast. Simple is in the title of this book, but will experienced bartenders find value in the book? I’m excited about people getting a very solid grounding in classic cocktails. I feel like if you read this book from cover to cover and make all the drinks in the book, you have a perfect foundation for becoming an expert in cocktail making and creation. It’s interesting that our book has no original recipes, only classics. But if you can make all of these drinks you will have the knowledge you need to create your own original recipes. While we call the book “Cocktails Made Simple,” I feel that it’s a great start for the beginner or intermediate professional bartender as well. And it’s not just recipes! There are sections on tools, terms and techniques and ingredients as well. What do you hope people take away from listening to your podcast? I very much hope to expose my listeners to a wide variety of related topics, from how spirits are made, to responsible serving, bar management and ownership issues, even the best way to cut your citrus fruit! I try to stay humble, and not be the expert on every subject, but to find the expert on whatever given topic and share my curiosity and thirst for knowledge with my listeners. What is your favorite cocktail from the book? I love the Classic Daiquiri. Not only do I love to drink it, I think it may be the most important cocktail for a bartender to master. The Classic Daiquiri, for those who don’t know, is not a frozen slushy mix of strawberries or other fruit. It is a perfect balance of three ingredients, shaken and served “up”. It is silver rum, freshly squeezed lime juice and simple syrup. The trick is to have the perfect balance of strong (rum), citrus (lime) and sweet (sugar, or in this case simple syrup). Then it is shaken—not only to chill it, but to add dilution. The ice melts a bit and adds some water, which is the intended effect. (Shaking also adds some “life” to the drink—not carbonation exactly, but a bit of pizzaz!) If you can master the Classic Daiquiri you are well on your way to making tons of classic and even original cocktails!


Industry Update

NEW DEAL DISTILLERY ANNOUNCES 2020 HANDS-ON WHISKEY MAKING CLASSES New Deal Distillery of Portland, Oregon, has released the schedule and online registration for the 2020 Hands-On Whiskey Making Classes. These popular classes are great for beginning distillers, spirit geeks and whiskey aficionados alike. “Every aspect is covered: grain choice, enzyme and yeast usage, distillation technique, and how barrel aging affects the final whiskey product,” said Karen Locke, owner at High-Proof Creative. “It’s a mustattend class for both distillery nerds and the mildly curious drinker.” Each five-hour class has no more than 15 students and offers a hands-on introduction to fermentation, distillation and barrel-aging of a small-batch whiskey. Students will collaborate with New Deal Distillery’s owner and distiller Tom Burkleaux and leave the class with a working knowledge of craft whiskey


production. Attendees will assist with creating a whiskey mash, evaluating distillation cuts, and assessing samples at various stages of the barrel aging process. “I came to this workshop knowing that I wanted to better understand the science and engineering of whiskey making,” said class attendee, Adam Johnston. “What I came away with was partly this, but also a much clearer sense of the artistry involved. I don’t think you can adequately describe this in a book, and I suspect that it’s for these reasons that so many crafts are taught through some kind of apprenticeship. Within the art and craft, there are decisions you can’t have a real feel for unless you’re there to be a part of that decision; and you can’t really get a sense for what’s important in these processes unless there’s a mentor.” Classes are held at the distillery (900 SE

Salmon St, Portland, OR, 97214) with morning coffee, mini cocktails, whiskey tastings and lunch provided. Cost is $250 per person and attendees must be 21 or older. To register, visit To inquire about a private class, send an email to 2020 Hands-On Whiskey Making Class Schedule Sunday January 26, 2020, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Sold Out) Sunday, March 1, 2020, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday, April 5, 2020, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday, May 3, 2020, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday, July 19, 2020, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday, August 16, 2020, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

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Industry Update

COPPER & KINGS HOSTS THE FIRST-EVER BOOKSTOCK Copper & Kings American Brandy Co. hosted 16 of the most respected spirits and cocktail writers for the inaugural Bookstock, two days of spirited conversations, book signings and hobnobbing at Copper & Kings’s Louisville distillery Dec. 6-7. The distillery presented the event in conjunction with Louisville Tourism and independent bookseller, Carmichael’s Books. “We rightfully celebrate the art and craft of distillation, and we are privileged to enjoy these manifests as works of art in a glass,”

says Copper & Kings co-founder, Joe Heron. “But the oxygen of the spirits industry and the high profile that bars and bartenders enjoy today is the world class writing on the topic. “We are honored to rightfully acclaim and give credit to some of those writers who help raise the libations bar and discourse for spirits and cocktails in North America. They bring illumination, intelligence, as well as romance and entertainment to a wonderful art form, and we are privileged to give them their own,

well deserved stage.” At the conclusion of the book fair, authors were treated to an exclusive tour of the distillery, where they were able to fill their own bottles of a brandy or gin of their choosing. Attending authors included Frank Caiafa, Jeff Cioletti, Paul Clarke, Wayne Curtis, Aaron Goldfarb, Davin de Kergommeaux, Phillip Greene, John McCarthy, Jim Meehan, Fred Minnick, Kara Newman, Robin Robinson, Noah Rothbaum, Amanda Schuster Robert Simonson and David Wondrich.

CHARRED TO PERFECTION. The Barrel Mill crafts tight grained white oak staves into premium barrels. Then the magic happens. We toast and char the barrels to your specifications to inspire the unique flavor profile you desire. Here’s to excellence – from barrel to glass.

Let’s Talk. 800.201.7125

Choose from five sizes












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Industry Update

HOUSTON’S GULF COAST DISTILLERS OPENS TASTING ROOM In a nod to its historic site at the long-time Uncle Ben’s Rice silo and plant in Houston’s East End business district, Gulf Coast Distillers has officially opened its tasting room named Ben’s Den. The Grand Opening was Nov. 16. Ben’s Den welcomes visitors to hang out, enjoy the historic ambiance of the tasting room, enjoy a cocktail, tour the distillery, book an event, or relax with friends and family. Gulf Coast Distiller’s historic East End silos, once stored with Uncle Ben’s famous rice, is now repurposed to store locally farmed corn, rye and barley, as well as green coffee beans. Texas bourbons and whiskeys are now continuously flowing through the distillation process at Gulf Coast Distillers, with the Houston-packaged spirits being delivered nationwide. Beer is not far away from being completed, in addition to gin trailing not far behind. As a member of the Texas Whiskey Trail, the distillery and Ben’s Den tasting room are located just east of downtown Houston, south of I-10, east off Lockwood Drive at 5610 Clinton Dr. Visitors to the tasting room will be able to enjoy Gulf Coast Distiller’s wide-ranging product lines, including Giant Whiskey, BJ Hookers Vodka, Round Rock Vodka and Aldecoa Coffee.

Bars carry a lot of bottles.

So guests have a lot of options. But only yours strikes that delicate balance of flavors that makes them choose you again and again. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many bottles there are on the shelf because really, there’s only one. Yours. At FIG we take the very best elements of your brand and strategically reimagine them so that your customers never have to question which brand is the right one.

2020 isn’t waiting, why are you? Schedule your complimentary beverage consultation. 800-834-4946 or TTB RELEASES TRADE PRACTICES VIDEO SERIES The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) recently released a free series of educational and informational videos. The trade practices video series covers several beverage alcohol topics, such as the history leading up to the trade practice rules, definitions of related terms and details regarding the four prohibited trade practices. The videos can be viewed on the TTB website.


Visit to learn more. 800-834-4946

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Industry Update

SLO BREWING CO. PRESENTS ROD & HAMMER’S SLO STILLS SLO Brewing Co. of San Luis Obispo, California, celebrated the grand opening of Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills small batch distillery. The craft tasting room has five handcrafted spirits to complement the latest venture’s striking Central Coast furnishings and timeless ambiance. “Over the past three years we have been experimenting with distilling small batches of rye whiskey,” said co-founder Rodney Cegelski. “Today we have a full distillery and brewery operating under one roof.” Rod & Hammer’s first spirit, a Reserve Rye Whiskey, stands as a bold testament to SLO Brew’s roots as the oldest microbrewery on the Central Coast since Prohibition. Paying homage to the kinship between craft beer and brown spirits, the smooth and spicy rye whiskey is derived from in-house beer mash produced at SLO Brew Rock’s 30-barrel brewhouse. The distillery will also feature a Straight Rye Whiskey, a classic American Straight Bourbon, an uncut Cask Bourbon, California juniper and Valencia orange Dry Gin, alongside a chill haze filtered Vodka.

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Aged in 15-gallon New American oak barrels, each SLO Stills whiskey is cut with purified and desalinated Pacific Ocean water to represent the link that united founders Rodney Cegelski and Hamish Marshall. Ten years ago, the Shell Beach surfer Rod met Hammer, an Aussie jackaroo, and fostered a friendship grounded in appreciation for quality spirits and the Central Coast. “SLO Stills was crafted to reflect our story,” said Marshall. “Now that things are up and running we want to share that personal, elevated experience with our visitors.” Guests will have the opportunity to become founding members of The Barrel Club, receiving a personal 5-gallon oak barrel to age their own custom SLO Stills whiskey over a year’s span inside the tasting room. Club members can also enjoy early access to special releases, paired with complimentary tastings and roughly 28 (750-mL) bottles of personalized bourbon. Head distiller Paul Quinn will consult members on customizing the depth and flavor of their spirit with varying oak infusions at a range of char levels. On a quarterly basis, participants will be invited to taste their whiskey from the barrel to determine whether

the spirit should be bottled or continue to age. “We’re sharing the craft experience by walking people through the distillation process and teaching them to create a unique spirit that’s completely their own,” said Quinn. Anchored by a copper horseshoe bar, the tasting room comes embellished with cowhide upholstered seating and leather couches for a relaxed, intimate atmosphere. Wicker lanterns cast a warm glow over the whiskey lounge from an industrial ceiling, featuring functional piping that carries grain from onsite silos into the Rock’s brewery. Adjacent to the active distillery, the room displays enticing scenes of vintage surfboards, a historic direct fired reflux still deemed Ol’ Woody, and Marshall’s enduring masterpiece, a locked antique Cary Safe. Upcycled planks from the original Pismo Pier have been transformed into floating shelves supporting the entire range of Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills spirits. An artisanal craft cocktail menu boasts a signature Smokey Old Fashioned, Vaquero Margarita, classic Manhattan, Whiskey Mule and a decadent Whiskey Sour to pair with sweet and savory tapas. The SLO Brewing Co. lineup of Porch Pounder canned wine, Tio Rodrigo craft beer micheladas and select SLO Brew beers will also be available at the bar.


Industry Update

LIBDIB UNVEILS NEW FLAT RATE SHIPPING PROGRAM LibDib, the web-based wholesale alcohol distributor, on recently unveiled LibShip, a new flat rate shipping program that offers competitive pricing and enhanced features to save LibDib Makers time and money. LibShip utilizes FedEx to offer simplified pricing, automated tracking and overall ease of use. LibDib has been beta testing the new program with a select group of makers for the past 60 days. LibShip is now available to all LibDib maker customers in all LibDib markets. Via the LibDib platform, makers can leverage LibShip for shipping to warehouses and customers. The LibShip pricing structure cuts shipping costs significantly, from as high as $30 for a 6-bottle case to just $15 for up to 1,000 miles. Pricing is based on weight and distance, as well as LibDib’s overall shipping volume, so as more packages are shipped through LibShip, the more LibDib makers will continue to save. “LibShip is just what we needed and makes our lives a whole lot easier,” said Remy Ekvall, operations and logistics manager for Local Choice Spirits, a LibDib customer. “Local

Choice Spirits is located in South Carolina and the cost to ship across the country was becoming expensive. With LibShip’s flat rate we are gaining big savings, allowing us to offer our products on the West Coast at a lower price. No more creating labels and one less bill to pay.” To participate, LibDib makers are required to complete the FedEx Alcohol Shipper’s Agreement. Once a maker receives an order, LibShip automatically creates a prepaid label that is attached to packages and product is then shipped to either the reseller directly, or to a warehouse (depending on the at-rest laws in the receiving state). Automated tracking and notification options allow the maker and reseller to easily track all shipments, anytime. LibDib plans to expand the program to include discounts for large shipments, such as pallets, as well as bulk discounts on shipping materials. “Our goal is to help small production, craft Makers stay more competitive,” said Josh Zeller, COO of LibDib. “LibShip absolutely reaches that goal.”

INK360 SWEEPS THE GOLD, SILVER AND BRONZE DECORATION AWARDS FOR CURVED GLASS AT SGIA Small batch, short run decorator, ink360 announced that it was the recipient of the top three awards, gold, silver and bronze for curved glass direct to bottle screen printed decoration put on by the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA). The annual conference was held on October 2325, in Dallas, which is where the entries were submitted and judging took place. It is the first time in ink360 short history to have entered this competition.


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Industry Update



Brewers Supply Group (BSG) recently announced that on Jan. 1, BSG will be the exclusive distributor of Dingemans Malt in the U.S. and Canada. BSG is thrilled to partner with the Dingemans family, and to distribute their superior quality malts to brewers, distillers and homebrewers. “BSG strives to offer the highest quality ingredients from around the world to craft brewers and distillers and the addition of Dingemans to our portfolio achieves an important goal of offering the finest malt from Belgium,” said Ian Ward, president of BSG, in a press release. “Dingemans malts are used in every iconic Belgian beer from Trappist triples, to lambics. We are truly excited to partner with the Dingemans family and increase the understanding and availability of their diverse range of malts across North America.” BSG will be carrying the wide range of malts from Dingemans, with favorites like Special B, Aromatic and Pilsen malt. As an established brand in the U.S. and Canadian brewing communities, BSG is committed to strengthening Dingemans’ presence and providing technical support for our customers. Information on the range of Dingemans malts can be found on BSG’s websites, catalogs and at events.

The core spirits from Spirit Works Distillery of Sebastopol, California, now feature a new look. The spirits come in a sleek custom glass bottle, have a few design and shape adjustments to the labels, and have a more consistent warm color scheme throughout. The most notable changes are on the signature Sloe Gin and Barrel Reserve Sloe Gin labels. The labels have taken on some of the plum color from the liqueur and now include a small embellishment of a Sloe Bush (Blackthorn) branch. The spirits inside the bottles are the exact same recipes as before.

CALEDONIA SPIRITS HIRES JOEL ELMER AS VICE PRESIDENT OF SALES Caledonia Spirits, the Montpelier, Vermont-based distiller of Barr Hill Gin, Tom Cat Gin, and Barr Hill Vodka, recently introduced Joel Elmer, a highly experienced executive in the spirits industry, as its vice president of sales. Elmer joins Caledonia Spirits after 20 years in executive sales roles at Brown-Forman Beverages, one of the largest wine and spirits companies in the U.S. He has a wealth of knowledge and a proven track record in the spirits industry. “In this industry, we hear about grain to glass, and Barr Hill is the embodiment of that,” says Elmer. “The coming to life of agriculture meeting distillation—Barr Hill has that authenticity. When I heard there would be an opportunity to possibly work with Barr Hill, I knew it was something that I wanted to pursue.” Most recently working at the vice president level as Northeast Division Director of Brown-Forman Beverages, Elmer has directly managed sales teams throughout the U.S. Elmer’s knowledge of the spirits industry, his deep relationships in the field, and his experience launching new brands and new markets aligns well with Caledonia Spirits’ growth trajectory. “I had the pleasure of meeting Joel in market a number of years ago, and I remember really appreciating his candor, dedication, and relationships within our industry,” says Ryan Christensen, president and head distiller at Caledonia Spirits. “The recent growth of our team and the momentum of our brand have both aligned with Joel’s career path, and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome him to Caledonia Spirits.”

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Industry Update

THE DIGEST OF WINE & SPIRITS LAW LAUNCHES NEW WEBSITE The Digest of Wine and Spirits Law team launched its website at wineandspiritslaw. com, making The Digest an even more powerful tool for the wine and spirits industry. Trusted by industry professionals since its debut as a printed publication in 1991, The Digest provides a thorough and comprehensive condensation of statutes, regulations and administrative decisions from all states governing the sales and marketing of wine and distilled spirits for both wholesale and DTC channels. Subscribers include wine and spirits suppliers, wholesalers, distributors, attorneys and compliance professionals. Compliance Service of America (CSA) purchased The Digest, known in the industry as the “Red Books,” from Mary Kramer in early 2018 when she retired. “As long time subscribers to The Digest, we wanted to keep this valuable resource available to the industry,” says CSA’s founder, Sara Schorske. CSA is uniquely qualified to take over as publisher of The Digest because the company has years of compliance experience

with all tiers of the industry. “The experience and understanding we’ve gained from working directly with regulatory agencies over the years make CSA a perfect fit for continuing the development of The Digest,” says Alex Heckathorn, Senior Consultant at CSA. In addition to expanded content, the new website offers significantly improved flexibility and ease in assembling regulatory information, allowing subscribers to instantly generate comprehensive and detailed reports covering many states and topics. More great news: The Digest team can now post changes to rules and laws to the website immediately, making the online version of The Digest more accurate and up-to-date than ever.

TALES OF THE COCKTAIL FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES 2020 DATES FOR TALES ON TOUR Tales of the Cocktail Foundation is pleased to announce that Tales on Tour will return to Puerto Rico in 2020. The four-day festival will take place from April 19-22 in Old San Juan with Hotel El Convento once again serving as the host hotel. Tales on Tour is an annual initiative that partners Tales of the Cocktail Foundation with a domestic or international host city outside of New Orleans to further the Foundation’s mission to educate, advance and support the industry on a global scale. The Foundation first brought Tales on Tour to Puerto Rico in 2019 to directly help the community rebuild after Hurricane Maria and support the region’s spirits and hospitality industry. “Bringing Tales on Tour to Puerto Rico this past March was one of the more meaningful things we have ever done as a Foundation,” shared Gary Solomon Jr., Board of Directors Co-Chair.

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one industry convention next year, take part in...





Journey to Craftlandia with us March 29-31 at the Oregon Convention Center. • Network with fellow craft spirits producers, leading suppliers, and industry experts. • Accelerate growth with insights drawn from 30+ hours of education sessions. • Kick-start a new business concept by learning from peer best practices. • Participate and taste our industry’s best spirits at the Annual Spirits Awards dinner and tasting.

Walk away energized and inspired as we celebrate the craft spirits community. Stroll away with new knowledge on market access! Sprint away confident on how to grow your business!

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lew's bottom shelf


Way back in the early days of craft distilling, probably around 2005, I was talking to a distiller who’d started up a small place in rural upstate New York. We were talking about their rye whiskey; I’d been sent some samples that showed some promise. They weren’t what I’d call “good,” though. With 10 years of talking frankly with brewers under my belt, I decided right there that was going to be my course of action with small, new distillers: tell them the truth. “I don’t think your whiskey is quite ready for the shelf yet,” I said, and braced for the reaction. “It’s not, is it?” they said. “I’m still working on it. What do you think might be the problem?” Great reaction! We had a substantive discussion after that, and somehow we wound up talking about a visit the late and legendary distiller Lincoln Henderson had paid them a few months before. I have no idea why Lincoln was up in the sticks of New York, for all I know he was on vacation and just couldn’t pass up a distillery visit. Lincoln had some immediate advice for them, it turned out. “Well, he was kinda rude,” they said, and laughed. “He came in and looked around, had a sour look on his face. Finally we got to talking and asked him what he thought. ‘You gotta clean this place up!’ he yelled at us. ‘It’s a dump! You have to grab people from the first moment they walk in!’” I had to laugh as well, because Lincoln didn’t suffer fools—or much—gladly. He’d ripped me once or twice, but he was almost always right. And he was right this time, too. “He was right,” they said. “We’d let stuff pile up in the corners, we hadn’t swept in a while. It was kind of a dump. The still was clean, but that was about it.” They cleaned up, and the results were immediately noticeable. People stayed longer, they seemed more at ease, and they spent more. Which was the second thing Lincoln emphasized on these impromptu visits: merchandise. I know this because I called another distiller a month or so later to set up a visit,

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and again, we got to talking. “You know, I learned a lot from Lincoln Henderson,” the owner said. “He stopped by a few months ago.” Was Lincoln on some kind of Pay It Forward tour no one knew about? What did he say, I asked. You needed to clean your place up? “No!” came the quick, annoyed response. “We keep this place spotless. No, he said we were missing a bet not having things for people to buy besides our product. He’s right, we could be selling more than just bottles and t-shirts.”

Discovery is one of the most powerful feelings there is in marketing, the idea that the place or product isn’t well known, but you discovered it. I did visit that distillery, and by the time I got there, there was a full line of merch and a nifty new tasting bar with a set of house cocktails. And they were doing a land office business. You don’t need a visit from a famous distiller to wake you up to the potential of your premises. Just remember this: people didn’t really come to see your still and hear how you make whiskey, or gin, or aguardiente. A few of them, maybe, okay. But almost everyone who walks through your door is looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon/ Thursday evening. They’re looking for fun, a good time, an experience. Unless they’re fans of dive bars, that’s not happening in a hellhole, so wield a broom. You’re a food production plant; look like one!

Then if they have a good time, they’re probably going to want some kind of souvenir to remind themselves and feel good again, or to make their friends say, ‘Hey, where’s THAT?’, and they can tell people about the great little place they found. Discovery is one of the most powerful feelings there is in marketing, the idea that the place or product isn’t well known, but you discovered it. Which is why you should have an assortment of branded merch ready for them. Not just for the cash flow. No, besides that. Good merch—glasses, coasters, hats, t-shirts, hoodies, bottle stands, bitters, cocktail cherries, a certain whiskey writer’s notably excellent books—shows that you know you’re worth spending money on. But yeah, the money, too. I remember one brewer back in the mid-90s wishing he’d never actually opened a brewery. “The money’s in t-shirts. I should’ve just sold t-shirts.” Okay, he said that on a really, really hot day while he was shoveling spent mash. Don’t ever lose sight of the main product: your product, the ones you make. You can lose your way with merchandise, and you don’t ever want to have anything drive the character of your spirits except how you want them to taste, and cost and project. But your product can really benefit from a great consumer experience. Those people become your ambassadors to their friends, to everyone who sees them drink your spirits, wear your merch, say your name. Make sure they’re saying it with a smile on their face. ■

Lew Bryson has been writing about beer and spirits full-time since 1995. He is the author of “Tasting Whiskey.”



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WHAT’s Stirring

DRINKS TO SAVOR FROM ACSA MEMBERS Rosemary’s Second Baby With gin, pear juice and rosemary, this cocktail from Cardinal Spirits in Bloomington, Indiana, feels wintry, but not in a trite way. Created by Chris Resnick, a former bartender at Cardinal Spirits, the distillery brings this cocktail back by popular demand every holiday season. Ingredients 2 ounces Cardinal Spirits Terra Botanical Gin 1 ounce pear juice 1/2 ounce lemon juice 1/2 ounce rosemary simple syrup (recipe follows) rosemary sprig, for garnish Instructions Add all ingredients except for garnish to a shaker, then add ice. Shake well, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary. To make rosemary simple syrup: Combine 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water and 4-5 rosemary sprigs in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool completely. Strain out the rosemary once the syrup has cooled. Store unused syrup in the refrigerator.

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Privateer Hot Toddy A unique take on the classic cold weather drink, featuring two rums from Privateer Rum in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Ingredients 1 ounce Privateer New England White Rum 1 ounce Privateer The Queen’s Share Rum 1 ounce fresh lemon juice 3/4 ounce local honey 2 dashes Angostura Bitters 2 dashes Reagan’s Orange Bitters Instructions Combine ingredients in a hot mug and top off with boiling water (6 to 7 ounces). Garnish with a floating lemon twist studded with cloves.

Black Friday This smokey offering from Corsair Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee, is perfect for the day after Thanksgiving or any day thereafter.


Ingredients 2 ounces Triple Smoke Whiskey 1/2 ounce burnt marshmallow syrup 2 dashes Fee Brother’s Aztec Chocolate Bitters 4 drops 18.21 Havana & Hide Bitters 1/8 tsp activated charcoal Instructions Add all ingredients to a mixing glass, stir with ice, strain over a large cube and garnish with a toasted marshmallow. For the syrup, combine 150 grams burnt marshmallows, 350 grams demerara sugar, and 350 grams hot water. Stir to combine, chill and strain.


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Judging of Craft Spirits ACSA’s 7th Annual Judging of Craft Spirits competition was held in late October at Cardinal Spirits in Bloomington, Indiana. Winners will be announced in March at the 7th Annual Distillers’ Convention & Vendor Trade Show in Portland, Oregon.

Cardinal Spirits hosted a reception the evening before judging started.

An esteemed panel of judges evaluated hundreds of craft spirits.

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What a Miracle Miracle, the Christmas-themed pop-up cocktail bars that serve holiday cocktails in a festive setting, returned with dozens of locations across the nation.

Washington, D.C.’s Miracle on 7th St.

Miracle at Allusion in Colorado Springs

The SanTaRex

The Gingerbread Flip

Hanukkah-themed room at DC’s Miracle


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ACSA Affairs


Since its formation in January 2018, the mandate of ACSA’s Political Action Committee (PAC) has been to secure a permanent reduction of the federal excise tax (FET). Recently, the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act of 2017 (CBMTRA) made its way into HR 1865 with a one year extension. This was no small feat considering the CBMTRA was thrown into a tax extender package with over 20-plus unrelated tax provisions. Some of those had expired years before. With 333 members of the House of Representatives and 74 U.S. Senators co-sponsoring the CBMTRA—which is more than any other bill currently under consideration—this uncertain outcome showed that our elected officials do not play well together. If you have not been following the most important issue of the day, the CBMTRA lowered the FET rate from $13.50 to $2.70 per proof gallon, through this Dec. 31. If the tax legislation did not pass, every DSP would again pay the FET at $13.50, which is a staggering 400% increase; think about employee layoffs, stalled distribution, and plans to expand production capacity curtailed. Our ACSA poll demonstrated distillers would have been forced to cut costs almost immediately, with some reporting anticipated layoffs on Dec. 21 should the legislation had been defeated. But let’s return to the positive. The craft distilling industry has worked its tail off to get the CBMTRA this far, and every distiller should acknowledge how our unity and focus is paying off. With our members, individually, via state guilds and through ACSA

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leadership continually applying pressure on our elected officials, we have without question made our mark in Washington. With member financial support of the ACSA PAC and individual participation, the ACSA has been able to gain direct access to the leadership in both chambers and our message is being taken seriously. For the first time, the craft distilling community has a seat at the table and is playing a meaningful role in shaping the future of our industry. ACSA member donations to the PAC have made a world of difference in our legislative successes. Since mid-2018, the ACSA PAC has supported 17 U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators and one State Senator, with funds donated by ACSA members and supporters of our cause. Thousands of dollars were depeleted. It is time to replenish the funds. Looking out through 2020, the ACSA PAC will be critical to our industry’s ongoing legislative goals and strategy. With 2020 being an election year and Washington’s appetite to tackle any legislation potentially deemed controversial very low, the ACSA will hit the ground running on Jan. 1. Our association is well-positioned to keep up the fight, because of the tremendous support from its growing membership. By the time this article has arrived to your inbox, we will know a lot more about our immediate future, and the ACSA Board of Directors is looking forward to supporting our industry and all of the hard-working, entrepreneurial distillery owners and operators, who have made this industry the success it has become. ■

With member financial support of the ACSA PAC and individual participation, the ACSA has been able to gain direct access to the leadership in both chambers and our message is being taken seriously. For the first time, the craft distilling community has a seat at the table and is playing a meaningful role in shaping the future of our industry. Stephen Johnson is President of Vermont Spirits and Chair of the ACSA PAC. Previously Steve served as ACSA Treasurer & Secretary from 2013 to 2016.


ACSA TOASTS TO FET REFORM EXTENSION Craft Distillers Earn Tax Parity for One More Year Following approvals in the U.S. House and Senate, on December 20 the President signed the Craft Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA) as part of a larger tax package, which will give the country’s 2,000 craft spirits producers much-needed tax relief and parity with their counterparts in beer and wine, who have enjoyed a lower tax rate for many years. FET reform has been ACSA’s top legislative priority, and its extension passage marks a major victory for the distilled spirits industry, who faced a 400 percent tax hike come Jan. 1 without legislation. Prior to the passage, ACSA, together with other major beverage industry groups, worked tirelessly to rally support for FET relief, which was set to revert back to $13.50 from $2.70 for the first 100,000 proof gallons removed from bond per year. CBMTRA had also garnered tremendous bipartisan support with endorsement by more than three-fourths of the House and Senate. Though industry groups had advocated for permanent passage, this one-year extension still provides significant continued relief. Come early 2020, ASCA, along with its industry allies in beer, wine and cider will once again begin a broader push for permanence. Since 2015, craft spirits producers across the U.S. have rallied together in an effort to push forward long-term FET relief, and although the recent victory is a temporary one, it is clear this grassroots storytelling effort is working. ACSA has facilitated more than 1,000 meetings with Members of Congress and their staffers. This past year, ACSA

The ACSA Board of Directors returned to Capitol Hill in December to make an 11th-hour push for FET relief.

brought more than 150 craft spirits producers and the entire Board of Directors and Past Presidents to the Hill to share their stories. PAC chair Stephen Johnson of Vermont Spirits Distilling Co. also managed ACSA’s advocacy efforts, promoting the clear connection between FET relief and job and agricultural growth. Member PAC contributions were paramount to the success of this reform extension, but these efforts will need more attention in 2020 to keep up the dialogue. Margie A.S. Lehrman, CEO, ACSA: “In a political climate that is arguably more divided than ever, we applaud Congress for working together on both sides of the aisle to support our community of 2,000 small businesses and do what is vitally important to keep our industry growing. Though FET permanence is critical to the long-term success of our industry and the peripheral industries we support, including U.S. agriculture and hospitality, today we celebrate a small but critical victory. But tomorrow, we will again shift gears to

focus on permanent tax relief and long-term parity with our friends in craft beer and wine.” Chris Montana, President, ACSA and CoOwner, Du Nord Craft Spirits: “As President of ACSA and a craft spirits producer myself, I know firsthand the struggles we all face in forecasting our financial futures. This oneyear extension is a certain step in the right direction, but the need for permanent reform is evident as ever. Without the certainty of a longer-term reduction, it remains difficult to plan for growth and expand.” Mark Shilling, ACSA Immediate Past President and Chair, Government Affairs, and Founder, Shilling/Crafted: “Although FET relief through 2020 is a great step forward, there is much work yet to do. A one-year extension temporarily saves jobs and keeps businesses afloat, but also continues the cycle of uncertainty and this uncertainty means owners cannot plan and manage into the future, and potential investors will be anxious about additional investments into the industry.”

ACSA PARTNERS WITH TIPS TO PROMOTE RESPONSIBLE DRINKING CULTURE ACSA and Health Communications, Inc. (HCI) recently announced a partnership to promote the responsible service and sale of alcohol within the spirits industry. As part of this partnership, ACSA will provide each member with a complimentary eTIPS registration. Additionally, members will have access to exclusive discounts on the suite of TIPS products including TIPS Train-the-Trainer workshops, classroom training materials, and the online course. In addition to promoting the responsible consumption of spirits, TIPS will benefit most distillers by meeting regulatory compliance requirements, lowering insur-


ance premiums, reducing their exposure to alcohol liability lawsuits, and improving overall customer service and satisfaction. “As craft spirits ambassadors, we want to ensure consumers enjoy our members’ products responsibly,” says ACSA CEO Margie A.S. Lehrman. “Partnering with TIPS provides our members with an opportunity to build a responsible culture by offering the best training in the industry at an accessible cost.” “The craft spirits industry has been an advocate for responsible consumption for many years,” added Adam Chafetz, President and CEO of HCI. “Partnering with ACSA will pro-

vide member distillers with direct access to discounted TIPS training and, in turn, continue to foster responsible culture within the industry.” HCI was founded in 1982 by Dr. Morris Chafetz, founding director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. HCI is a nationally recognized expert in the field of alcohol server training. Its flagship program, TIPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS), was the first of its kind and continues to set industry standards.

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Where Science Meets Art Yeasts, Nutrients, and Process Aids

At Lallemand Craft Distilling, our single source philosophy provides the highest quality ingredients, tailored technical service and education, and industry leading experience to support your needs. Your spirits are our passion, your needs are our motivation. Contact us to learn more today.

Š 2019

2020 Vision 2020 Vision Gazing Into the Future of Craft Spirits


s we prepare for a new year— and a new decade—Craft Spirits magazine peers into the near and distant future of craft spirits. Through conversations with distillers and market analysts, we examine trends to watch in each spirits category, with an eye toward opportunities for growth and innovation.

Table of Contents 36 Whiskey 38 Vodka 40 Gin 42 Rum 44 Brandy 45 Liqueur 46 Agave 47 Ready-to-Drink Cocktails

2020 Vision | WHISKEY

MALT FORWARD Rye is on the rise but many craft distillers see huge gains for American single malt whiskey. BY JON PAGE


n his role as director of spirits for Rogue Ales & Spirits in Newport, Oregon, Dewey Weddington frequently travels around the nation. Two years ago, he says the concept of an American single malt whiskey was foreign to many people he encountered on those travels. “So many people didn’t understand what American single malt was,” recalls Weddington. “I didn’t see them on at whiskey bars. There [were no] designated areas on retail shelves. People didn’t understand it.” Over the past six months, however, Weddington has seen a transformation. More buyers and consumers are asking for American single malt. In Portland and beyond, he has recently noticed local stores creating sections specifically for American single malt as more distillers release their own versions, even though the category is not yet officially recognized by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). “We’re seeing more whiskey lists not just lumping American single malt into the American whiskey category or haphazardly throwing us under bourbon because they don’t know where to go, but carving out an

Westland Distillery

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American single malt space on their list,” says Weddington. “Things are definitely shifting there. In the next year or two, I believe that we’ll continue to see that growth of interest and exploration of American single malt.” Forecasts from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis back him up. IWSR projects that “Other US Whiskey” will have a compound annual growth rate of 1.2% for the period that began in 2018 through 2023. However, more substantial growth is expected for rye (10.1%), bourbon (5.6%) and Tennessee whiskey (1.6%). For the overall whiskey category, IWSR forecasts a growth rate of 2.6%. The booming popularity of rye whiskey is good news for Greg Eidam II, the head distiller at Sugarlands Distilling Co. in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Currently, the distillery releases its potdistilled Roaming Man Straight Rye Whiskey about two times per year and quickly sells out. But Sugarlands is in the process of building a barrel house and second distillery and is planning to increase production. Across the country in 2020, Eidam expects to see more new rye whiskey releases from other distilleries. He plans to keep Roaming Man cask strength and expects more distillers will follow suit.

“When we started doing this I’d never seen another cask strength rye whiskey on the market,” says Eidam. “I’ve definitely seen more of it now. There’s more rye whiskey available now. I think that’s something that we’ll see more of, especially as rye whiskey consumers are developing their palates and liking the view of the whiskey more, looking for that next change.” However, once the new distillery is up and running, Eidam is also eyeing opportunities with Tennessee whiskey and American single malt. The growth of American single malt, of course, could only be helped if it were officially recognized by U.S. law. As reported in the first issue of Craft Spirits magazine, the category does not officially exist in the eyes of TTB. In 2016 a small group of distilleries formed the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC) to establish a definition for the aspiring category. Today, the category still lacks a place in the TTB’s Beverage Alcohol Manual (BAM), despite extensive groundwork by the ASMWC, which continues to grow and how has nearly 150 members. “The next step is simply the ratification of [TTB’s] long list of proposed rules which we’re confident we’ll be a part of,” says Steve Hawley, director of marketing for Seattle’s Westland Distillery and a founding member of ASMWC. “It’s largely out of our hands though at this point. As of today, the TTB has not published any timetable for that ratification. We’re in a waiting game—one that I can foresee taking a year or more.” Attaining BAM placement would mark a major victory for American single malt, says Gareth Moore, the CEO of Virginia Distillery Co. of Lovingston, Virginia. “Consumers, retailers and distributors all put a lot of weight on those government definitions,” says Moore. “It’s one thing for Gareth and the guys at Westland and the guys at Balcones to say, ‘Hey, our imaginary group set up an imaginary definition.’ It’s another thing if the federal government does.” Regardless, 2020 figures to be an exciting year for Virginia Distillery Co. Previously, the company only released blended whiskey. But late this year, it released a preview of what Moore calls the distillery’s first true blue


WHISKEY | 2020 Vision

“In the next year or two, I believe that we’ll continue to see that growth of interest and exploration of American single malt.” —Dewey Weddington of Rogue Spirits American single malt, and in 2020 Courage & Conviction will see its full launch. But despite the progress noted by Weddington, Moore says there is still a strong need for education, and not just for consumers. “We’ve encountered retailers where we’ll say, ‘Hey, do you have an American single malt shelf?’ And they’ll say, ‘Well, no, we just don’t have enough of a critical mass of American single malts.’ I’ll walk through the shelves with them and say, ‘Well hey, that’s a single malt over there, and you have it in the random blended section. Here’s a single malt and you have it somewhere between the bourbons and the ryes.’” Lance Winters, the master distiller at St. George Spirits in Alameda, California, agrees that more education for consumers is vital for American single malts. “It’s very difficult to tell the consumer what it is and how it’s different from Scotch,” says Winters. “Now all you can say is that it’s a whiskey not made in Scotland, all malt barley—or not necessarily, as we haven’t settled on what it is.” Just as the mantra goes that a rising tide lifts all boats, Weddington believes that more distilleries producing American single malt can only help. “We’re seeing more people releasing single malts,” he says. “The more of us making solid, true-to-definition—once that [definition] is approved—quality single malts, the better it is for the whole category.” ■ —Jeff Cioletti contributed to this report.


Dewey Weddington of Rogue Ales & Spirits

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2020 Vision | vodka

VODKA: A GATEWAY TO CRAFT The ‘lean, austere’ spirit remains the entry point for many craft-curious consumers. BY JEFF CIOLETTI


or a spirit that’s supposed to be defined by its lack of color, flavor and aroma, the vodka category can get pretty complicated. It remains the largest spirits category by volume, even in an age when consumers are exploring more complex flavor experiences. Bartenders have been guiding drinkers toward gin, whiskey, brandy, agave-based spirits, obscure liqueurs and anything else they themselves have gained a passion for and want to share said passion. However, in spite of that, cocktails mixed by many of those same bartenders are what’s enabling vodka volume to remain in the black. “Vodka is innately benefiting from the increased interest in cocktails due to its ease of mixability,” says Ryan Lee, market analyst at IWSR. IWSR expects a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.7% for vodka through 2023—a not insignificant percentage when you consider how huge and mature the

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category is. On the craft side of things, the spirit is used to having its thunder stolen by the more headline-grabbing categories. But, in a lot of ways, vodka enables those stories to be told. “What role does [vodka] play for the craft distillery? The role it plays is as a sort of soft introduction, the training wheels for a lot of consumers who might be afraid to try a craft whiskey, or invest the money in a craft whiskey, or afraid to try a craft-produced gin,” says Lance Winters, master distiller at St. George Spirits, which produces all of those spirits. St. George famously created Hangar 1 Vodka, which it sold to Proximo Spirits in 2010. When the distillery’s non-compete agreement with Proximo expired in 2014, Winters started to look for new ways to innovate within the category. “I wrestled a while with [the question] ‘do we even make one?’ and what role does it play,” he recalls. “But not everyone’s going to reach for a bottle of St. George Terroir Gin or Absinthe as their first purchase from St. George.” St. George’s vodka portfolio now includes All Purpose Vodka (distilled from Bartlett pears), orange-infused Citrus Vodka and the pepper-enhanced Green Chile Vodka. Those latter two products reflect the fact that there likely always will be a place for flavored vodkas, despite some sharp drops on the macro-level. The gimmicky, artificial flavors that large distillers were marketing early in the decade sought to boost volumes for aging trademarks, but ultimately ended up doing more harm than good for the segment. “As bad a name as [flavored vodkas] have in the world, they have a bad name not because of craft distillers but because of the big conglomerates, that wanted to make things

“What role does [vodka] play for the craft distillery? The role it plays is as a sort of soft introduction, the training wheels for a lot of consumers who might be afraid to try a craft whiskey, or invest the money in a craft whiskey, or afraid to try a craftproduced gin. —Lance Winters of St. George Spirits


vodka | 2020 Vision

that tasted like cornbread, cake frosting or whatever,” says Winters. “They played on the worst instincts of the drinker.” But, when done right, flavored vodkas offer opportunities for distillers to flex their creative muscles and develop something that truly resonates with consumers. The best way to help eliminate some of the negative perceptions around the flavored vodka segment, Winters says, is to make a good one and pour it into people’s glasses. “As consumers have become wary of all things artificially flavored and colored, we’ve seen producers pivot to naturally flavored


variations,” says IWSR’s Lee. So far, however, naturally flavored vodka volumes haven’t been enough to compensate for losses in the overall flavored segment. “It’s got to start with finding a flavor that you actually love, that you identify with,” Winters advises. “You will have a personal commitment to getting that flavor in the bottle and finding things that haven’t been done before. It gets harder every day.” One natural flavor Winters doesn’t think belongs in vodka is oak, as he’s not a fan of barrel aging the spirit. It’s another area where large producers have experimented, primarily

as line extensions for their existing brands. The practice strikes him as a “desperate” attempt to redefine a brand story “so it’s worth telling.” “And it’s a fail,” Winters says, adding that many times all that the barrel does is help mask the shortcomings of the base spirit. “A really good vodka—it’s about this very lean, austere experience,” he philosophizes. “It’s like looking at a Japanese design aesthetic with a spirit—something lean and simple. And in that, there’s nowhere to hide, if you’re just trying to hide flaws.” ■

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2020 Vision | gin

JUNIPER ASCENDING Gin is a category ripe for boundary-pushing. BY JEFF CIOLETTI


f the trade show floor of Bar Convent Berlin (BCB) this past October was a microcosm of the entire spirits business, then it’s gin’s world and we’re just living in it. Naturally, that observation is going to be a bit skewed as BCB is a European event, featuring a disproportionate number of brands from that part of the world, reflecting the botanical spirit’s conquest of much of the continent. The gin-aissance has, however, spilled over into much of the rest of the world and has been gaining traction in the U.S. for quite some time. But, as is the case with other

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spirits categories—namely, rum—consumers just have to know where to look. And looks can be deceiving, especially when numbers are concerned. IWSR projects a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -0.1% for gin—essentially flat— through 2023. Last year the category grew just 0.2%. So, on the surface, it looks like the outlook for gin can best be described as “meh.” “But diving deeper into the data,” says IWSR market analyst Ryan Lee, “brands that are below premium, which hold a majority of volume in the category, saw sales decline by

-2.6%. Meanwhile, premium-and-above brands grew by 24%” When the final figures are tallied for full-year 2019, Lee adds, we’re likely to see a repeat of that scenario, with declining sub-premium gin volume pulling the entire category down. “But in 2020,” Lee asserts, “we’ll likely see the growth of premium-and-above-brand lead to total gin category growth.” He cautions, though, that anticipated U.S. gin growth levels next year and beyond aren’t expected to be at levels similar to


gin | 2020 Vision

those in European markets. The greatest opportunity for American craft gin producers lies in straying from convention—convention, in gin’s case, being the London dry style. “The American palate is quite different from London dry styles of gin,” Lee observes. “It is likely that gins with a less juniper-forward taste are better positioned to do well with new consumers in this category.” St. George Spirits in Alameda, California, has been successful at crafting spirits that satisfy a wide range of taste preferences, with a gin line that includes the herbaceous, 19-botanical Botanivore, the genever-esque Dry Rye and the Douglas fir-forward, Northern California-inspired Terroir. “My hope is that craft distillers start to justify our existence by making things that are different,” says St. George master distiller Lance Winters. “If all we’re doing is being inspired by London dry to make our own version of a London dry, soon [stores] will be stocked with Elvis impersonators. We’ll just be forgers. Some good, some shitty.” That doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue right now, as Winters has been encouraged by what he’s observed in the U.S. market so far. “As I travel to accounts across the country, I see more and more gins on the shelf, with more and more regional representation on the shelf as well,” he says. “If you don’t get out to, say, Florida, you might not see that there are Florida distillers with gins on the shelves, Chicago, or Austin, things like that. They might not be getting out of their regions, but they’re certainly well-represented.” Many, like St. George, have been tinkering with the notion of terroir, using botanicals


“It is likely that gins with a less juniper-forward taste are better positioned to do well with new consumers in this category.” —Ryan Lee of IWSR indigenous to their respective regions, giving consumers a taste of their backyards. A handful have been experimenting with foraging ingredients, as well. But, Winters warns, such activities must be more than just fodder for good PR. “Really what it should be about is what it tastes like,” Winters says. “The value of any of those sorts of things—it’s just purely marketing value and it’s going to be shortlived. What you really want is something that shows up in the glass. Any supplementary story is great to have along for the ride, but it shouldn’t be what it’s about.” Bartenders will continue to be the ones to show consumers exactly what those gins are about, accentuating their core flavor notes through classic and creative concoctions. “[Bartenders] have always been our whole craft community’s foot soldiers,” Winters points out. “Those are the ones who touch the most people on a daily basis. Once we’ve wowed them [with our gins], they’ll share that enthusiasm and they’ll teach those customers.” Gin has made quite a premiumization journey over the past two decades, but IWSR’s senior market analyst Chris Budzik is hesitant to say that there’s any significant whiskeyfication of the category. “While ‘connoisseur’s

spirit’ might be a bit of a stretch because gin isn’t typically enjoyed neat the same way whiskey and Cognac are, it is making progress as a premium spirit, as it is being used in the craft cocktail scene beyond just gin & tonics and martinis.” But as distillers push the boundaries on what defines gin, consumption habits that are considered “typical” could evolve as well—especially when you consider more grain-forward, gin-adjacent spirits, like those inspired by genever. In addition to St. George’s Dry Rye being a close cousin of the Dutch spirit, distilleries increasingly are dabbling in that space. (The TTB doesn’t recognize genever as a separate category, so producers frequently refer to them as “genever-style gin.”) For instance, Geneva from Portland, Oregon’s Freeland Spirits is inspired by that tradition, as is Pittsburgh-based Wigle Whiskey’s Dutch-Style Gin. Winters says the Dutch-inspired spirits represent one of many ways to shift the mindset around what gin’s flavor profile is supposed to be. “[Gin] is a category defined by juniper and not a whole lot else,” he offers. “So, it’s got a lot of latitude to interpret and play and that’s what it should be all about.” ■

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2020 Vision | rum

CANE ENABLED Consumers are getting more rum-savvy by the day. BY JEFF CIOLETTI


ere’s an idea. Can we stop saying X spirits category is going to be the next whiskey? Please and thank you. It’s sort of been the party line among pundits to declare any category with momentum to what’s undeniably been the most significant renaissance in the global spirits market. Let’s forget for a moment that it’s usually an apples-and-oranges scenario when you’re comparing two categories with vastly disparate volumes. But it also does a disservice to a spirit that has its own nuances and market dynamics and should be allowed to grow on its own terms. That’s pretty much where we are with rum. If you look at the macro category numbers, things seem mediocre at best. IWSR projects

“As the category breaks from its rum-andcola image and establishes itself as a sophisticated spirit worthy of today’s craft cocktail culture, consumers will gravitate toward the movement.” —Chris Budzik of IWSR 42 |

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that U.S. rum volume will have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -0.5 percent for the period that began in 2018 through 2023, mainly due to the outsized market share that the top brands—namely Bacardi and Captain Morgan—command. Unlike the whiskey category, high-volume rum brands continue to struggle. In the most recent five-year period that IWSR tracked, 2014-2018, the premium and below-premium price tiers–i.e. the megabrands and their less-expensive, “value” counterparts, experienced a CAGR of -1.3%. But if you look at the above-premium tiers—which includes the craft spirits universe—those higher-end rums enjoyed a CAGR of +11.3% for the same time period. “The current U.S. trend of ‘less is better’

is evident in the category,” says IWSR senior market analyst Chris Budzik. Budzik notes that while super-premiumand-above brands accounted for only 0.8% of rum volume in 2018, they represented 4.4 percent of the category’s total revenue. If rum has anything in common with whiskey, it’s that consumers are sipping it more—a trend that likely will be more prevalent in 2020 and the years to come. Barrel-finish and age statements are gaining popularity, with rum makers heading a bit into Scotch whisky category with port and sherry-cask finishes. And some venerable rum brands are offering special releases as old as 50 years. But even for the much-younger, clear versions of the spirit, expect dramatically more challenging, deeper flavor profiles as rum consumers explore and their palates mature. “This seems to be where the category is headed—richer flavors that can be sipped on their own or mixed in a craft cocktail,” Budzik says. One of the best indicators of where rum is going is the fact that the conversation around the spirit has been gradually changing. Maggie Campbell, president of Privateer Rum and vice president of the ACSA Board of Directors, has observed that development first-hand. “Things have changed a lot,” Campbell says. “I remember when we started at Privateer, we were having to have the most basic conversations with customers, it was really, really hard. Now those conversations are very rare.” Among the recurring refrains was “rum is this sticky, sweet thing that I don’t like” because they were used to brand-driven rums that were sweetened. And consumers, for the longest time, didn’t have many options outside the highestvolume brands. There wasn’t much around to elevate the conversation. “[Rum] was talked about in very low terms,” Campbell says. “The vast majority of sales was from two brands. … Meanwhile there are over 500 distilleries in Haiti, tons of beautiful rum out there, but we just don’t have access to it. Rum is so different in so many countries,


rum | 2020 Vision

cultures have their own expressions.” A growing number of bartenders and drinks enthusiasts, for instance, have been gravitating toward Agricole-style rums, enjoying the grassy, earthy profile of a pure-cane-juice distillate as a counterpoint to the more bakingspice elements of molasses-based rums. The tiki renaissance has played a small role in that, as bartenders have been more actively exploring the origins of some classic tropical drinks, many of which featured rhum Agricole as a prominent ingredient. That, itself, opens a can of worms, especially as more U.S. distillers start to experiment with the style. “Rhum Agricole” isn’t defined in federal labeling laws in the U.S. and any official Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) designations are for region-specific iterations


of the style, such as AOC Rhum Agricole Martinique. That label applies only to those spirits produced in very specific parts of that island, adhering to specific production standards and processes. Expect the debate over what American craft producers should or shouldn’t label their own Caribbean-inspired cane rums to get a bit louder as they wrestle with identity and definition. Many say that there’s more to the term “rhum Agricole” than it just being made from cane. There’s local tradition and heritage, there’s terroir, there are specific types of stills used and a host of nuanced trade practices associated with the spirit. Others would like the ability to label their U.S.-made spirits “rhum Agricole.”

“There’s a big discussion, but it’s really highly regulatory,’ says Campbell. “The U.S. TTB doesn’t recognize it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not out there. There’s a big push by the French government to get it recognized.” (Campbell will be presenting a deep dive into this issue in the February 2020 edition of Craft Spirits magazine). The fact that these discussions are even taking place speaks to the heightened enthusiasm and evolving palates of consumers looking for new flavor experiences. And that can only bode well for the rum category. “As the category breaks from its rumand-cola image and establishes itself as a sophisticated spirit worthy of today’s craft cocktail culture,” Budzik says, “consumers will gravitate toward the movement.” ■

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2020 Vision | brandy

THE ROAD TO FRUITION Brandy still has a bit of a journey ahead of it. BY JEFF CIOLETTI


s we pointed out in the October edition of Craft Spirits—The Brandy Issue—brandy is another one of those categories that many within the mainstream food and beverage punditry anoint as a whiskey-in-waiting when the actual story is a bit more nuanced. If you’re a French brandy, you’re probably loving life right now, as market researcher IWSR reports that Cognac and its lesserknown cousin, Armagnac, enjoyed a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 11% between 2014 and 2018. IWSR projects that they’ll experience a continued CAGR of about 4% through 2023. All other brandies, which include Americanproduced brands, as well as imports like pisco, should see a CAGR of about 2.2% through 2023, following a similar growth rate over the prior five-year period. “Cognac steals the show when it comes to brand and category recognition, while U.S.made brandy isn’t typically viewed as a highend spirit and is often associated with sweet, artificially fruit-flavored brandies,” says Chris Budzik, senior market analyst at IWSR. However, Budzik credits Copper & Kings American Brandy Co. in Louisville, Kentucky, and the New York bartender-created brandy Bertoux with helping elevate the conversation around U.S.-produced brandy. And that ultimately could pay dividends for the category. “It will likely require educating consumers on what a high-quality American brandy has to offer before the subcategory gains real traction,” Budzik notes. But if anything is going to keep American craft brandy from realizing massive, doubledigit gains in the near-term, it’s simple logistics. “The raw material, the fruit, is very perishable,” says Dan Farber, founder and distiller of Osocalis Distillery in Soquel, California. “To make great brandy you have to be close to a high-quality fruit source.” And, you yield far less alcohol from a ton of

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“I think that [brandy] is another category where people have an opportunity to express themselves incredibly well. And there are people who do it incredibly well, people who understand the balance between the fruit and the barrel.” —Lance Winters, St. George Spirits fruit than you do from a ton of grain, which makes it pricier to produce. Getting consumers’ heads around why their bottle of brandy costs so much is still a bit of an uphill battle.

“In the last 25 years that I’ve been out in the market, every time I go out, somebody’s going to tell me what the next thing is going to be,” says Lance Winters, master distiller at St. George Spirits in Alameda, California, which started out in the ‘80s as an eau de vie distillery, but has since diversified into other categories. “And for nearly 25 years it’s been rum—okay keep saying that and one day it’ll be right. And then people keep saying that brandy’s going to be the next big thing. I don’t think that it’s going to be.” But there’s a difference between the notion of a “next big thing”—which is hype—and the potential for steady growth—which is closer to reality. “I think that [brandy] is another category where people have an opportunity to express themselves incredibly well,” Winters says. “And there are people who do it incredibly well, people who understand the balance between between the fruit and the barrel.” Farber is the first person who pops in Winters’s mind. “I love the fact that [Farber] has been doing this for as long as he has and he’s just been a tireless fighter for what he believes in,” Winters explains. “It’s not the trends that are going to be driving anything good with regards to brandy, it’s going to be the sheer force of will of someone like Dan.” ■


liqueur | 2020 Vision

OVERFLOWING WITH INNOVATION Liqueur producers embrace local ingredients and creativity. BY JON PAGE


ccording to data from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, the compound annual growth rate of the overall liqueur category will be relatively flat for the period that began in 2018 through 2023. But in interviews with distillers around the nation, the craft liqueur category is ripe with potential growth and creativity. “People are increasingly looking to explore new flavor profiles and get exposed to new things, and a liqueur can be a really powerful medium in the alcohol industry to get that exposure because there is a lot of room for creativity and innovation,” says Jordan Tepper, a co-founder of Chicago-based Apologue Liqueurs, which only produces liqueurs. “What we really focus on within that is taking ingredients that aren’t readily accessible for bar programs or home bartenders and to make them more accessible.” As an example, Tepper points to Apologue Saffron, a 70-proof liqueur made with saffron and a blend of Middle Eastern fruits, roots, herbs and spices, that the distillery released in August. Tepper also sees enormous opportunity in focusing on regional ingredients. Apologue Saffron joined a portfolio of products made with ingredients rooted in the Midwest, like aronia, persimmon and celery root. At Cathead Distillery in Jackson, Mississip-


pi, distiller Phillip Ladner is also expecting to see continued growth in liqueurs with a sense of place. Cathead produces the 66.6-proof Hoodoo Chicory Liqueur Legba Reserve. “The increased focus on local ingredients, especially foraging for local ingredients and finding those fruits or herbs that are unique to your area and incorporating them into some type of liqueur is a [great] route,” says Ladner. “You’re starting to see the increase of heirloom ingredients that are specific to certain areas or that people are starting to grow because it hasn’t been grown for a long time in that area. I think you’re going to continue to see that not only with liqueurs but all the products.” For James Montero, the general manager of Dogfish Head Distilling Co., which recently released the 40-proof Booze For Breakfast coffee liqueur—the category is exciting because it allows craft distilleries to take risks and create products that blur the lines of traditional liqueurs. He also points to the topic of moderation, and creating a liqueur that can stand alone. “[Most commercial liqueurs] are very specifically designed to be added to other booze and citrus to create cocktails,” says Montero, who is also an ACSA board member and convention committee chair. “What’s fun about craft and what we’re doing in this space is we’re creating spirits that, mostly we’re thinking about them [in terms of], can they be strong enough to stand on their own?” Of course, Montero also likes to include Booze for Breakfast in an espresso martini. And Tepper agrees that liqueurs are appealing to drinkers hoping to avoid higher proof spirits. “I think they make a great option for people looking for low ABV cocktails,” says Tepper. “Something as simple as adding a little bit of club soda for some effervescence or some sparking wine and you have an elevated spritz or a highball. I think these casual elevated cocktails have a lot of room for growth, and also allows you to celebrate the liqueur instead of letting it purely be a modifier.” ■

“I think they make a great option for people looking for low ABV cocktails.” —Jordan Tepper of Apologue Liqueurs D ECEM BER 20 1 9

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2020 Vision | agave

SUPPLY AND DEMAND Agave-based spirits keep rising, but a shortage of raw materials looms large. BY JON PAGE


redicting the future of agave-based spirits is a complicated endeavor, rife with contradictions. A recent headline on proclaimed that “The Tequila Shortage Could Be Almost Over,” citing conversations with tequila producers and numbers from Mexico’s National Chamber of the Tequila Industry. However, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, Douglas French, the master distiller and owner of Scorpion Mezcal, says it’s hard to trust record keeping in Mexico and his outlook is less optimistic. “With the agave, it’s kind of a heart-breaking situation because of the scarcity of the raw material,” says French. “All I see for myself is probably to just harvest the little bit of agave that I have and make a little bit of mezcal.” For French, that means he is planning to make 10% less mezcal in each of the next four years. But the overall category of agave-based spirits continues to rise, with IWSR Drinks Market Analysis forecasting a compound annual growth rate of 5.5% for the category for the period that began in 2018 through 2023. French believes the growth of the category is a double-edged sword. While he’s glad to see more drinkers’ palates turning on to agave-based spirits, he is disheartened to

“With the agave, it’s kind of a heart-breaking situation because of the scarcity of the raw material.” —Douglas French of Scorpion Mezcal hear that some producers are harvesting agave much sooner than the 7 to 13 years it usually takes the plant to mature. “I’ve heard people saying that they’re harvesting at three years in some places,” says French. “I don’t think that at three years there’s anything to harvest. It’s so small, the piña, it’s not even worth cutting it.” American makers of agave-based spirits are equally cautious about ramping up production. David Woods, the co-founder of Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York, Maine, has watched the price of the agave syrup his distillery uses for its agave-based spirits continue to rise. Wiggly Bridge released three agave spirits in 2018: Platinum Agave (decanted for about 14 weeks), Reposado (rested in a barrel for two to 11 months) and Añejo (aged between 12 and 18 months). Due to the cost of raw materials and the production process, the prices

range from $90 to $130 per 750-mL bottle. “It’s too bad that people’s palates are really starting to get turned on to agave and it could possibly be in short supply in three-tofive years,” says Woods. “That’s the biggest reason we’re not betting the farm on this whole thing. I’d rather use retail pricing as a governor on distribution.” Despite the stories of early harvesting, many agave farmers are staying true to the natural timeline of the plant, while replanting in a sustainable manner. “Sustainability is a buzzword, but it needs to be a buzzword,” says Francisco Terrazas, Samson & Surrey’s national brand ambassador for Mezcal Vago. “Ideally, over the years we’ll see it—rather than just become a buzzword that people throw into their marketing campaigns—be a theme that most brands would really pursue.” ■

Harvesting agave plants from a nursery to replant in fields at Scorpion Mezcal

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RTD Cocktails | 2020 Vision

READY TO DRINK & READY FOR 2020 RTD Cocktails head into the New Year with the wind at their backs. BY JOHN HOLL


istillers around the country are bullish on their canned cocktails. With many making a gin or vodka that will likely be paired with mixers or crafted into a cocktail, the time is right to be pushing house-made-and-packaged ready-todrink (RTD) products direct to consumers. “I think it’s a growth opportunity to show what we can do,” says Melissa Katrincic, CEO, president and co-owner of North Carolina’s Durham Distillery. We are nimble in creating new flavors, and through these cocktails we really get liquid to lips a lot easier.” In many ways the push to the RTD space is a natural evolution of the craft distilling business. Most distilleries will craft cocktails in their tasting rooms, showcasing the flavors and versatilities of their spirits, and when consumers can then take those flavors home it’s a win-win. That’s certainly been the case at Freeland Spirits in Portland, Oregon. Distiller Lee Hedgmon says that the Gin and Rose cocktail the company had been mixing behind the bar using locally made spirits became so popular with consumers that it was the first the company put into a can. “We actually stopped mixing the cocktail all together at our bar, and now if people order one from the menu it comes from the can,” Hedgmon says. “This way they know the flavor and can take the same thing to go right


from the distillery.” Once a distillery lands on a winning recipe, be it their take on a gin and tonic, a vodka soda or a Moscow Mule variation, the sales are quick to take off. While not near the numbers of the hard seltzer market, that category is certainly helping drinkers broaden their horizons and look for canned beverage alternatives to beer or wine. IWSR is projecting a compound annual growth rate of +10.6% between 2018 and 2023. “Canned cocktails are a small but growing segment of the ready-to-drink category as their portability, convenience, and ease of consumption (no mixing) are very appealing to consumers,” says Brandy Rand, IWSR’s COO of the Americas. “They’re also attractively priced— a canned G&T, for instance, is often less expensive than ordering the cocktail in a bar. Also, portion control is relevant as it relates to ABV and calories, which is becoming more important to consumers who are increasingly focused on wellness and moderation.” Craft distillers can also control a narrative with their RTD cocktails, conveying a sense of place. Rogue Ales & Spirits, for example, has started to roll out its own line that includes a vodka cranberry elderflower soda, with cranberries from Oregon bogs, and a cucumber lime gin fizz, with cucumbers from the Rogue Farm in Independence, Oregon, says Steven Garrett, the company’s director of business

“We actually stopped mixing the cocktail all together at our bar, and now if people order one from the menu it comes from the can.” —Lee Hedgmon, Freeland Spirits development. While the novelty is fresh and the consumer curiosity is high, there are several factors all craft distillers to be mindful of, however, says Katrincic, with quality being the highest priority. “As long as we all have a tight quality control we’ll continue to see growth,” she says. “The danger of an emerging category is that we have to give the customers a great experience from the very first time and make it easy for them to come back again.” ■

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ACSA Member Spotlight

Kyushu By Way of Maryland American Shochu Co. brings shochu production stateside. BY JEFF CIOLETTI


s if launching and running a successful distillery weren’t difficult enough, imagine if the ingredient crucial in imparting a spirit’s signature flavor and aroma elements wasn’t even allowed in the country. That was one of many hurdles that Taka Amano faced when he was launching American Shochu Co., which now produces the barley-based style of the Japanese spirit in Frederick, Maryland. The component in question was koji, the mold that produces the enzymes necessary to break down starches into fermentable sugars and distinguishes shochu from every other spirits category in both character and process. While U.S.-based sake producers had been using aspergillus oryzae, the koji strain specific to their fermented rice-based beverage, no one had been using the strains most commonly employed by shochu distillers in Japan (at least they hadn’t been working with those strains legally). The particular strain that Amano hoped to use was aspergillus luchuensis. “I went to the USDA five, almost six years ago now, and I told them that I was doing this,” Amano recalls, “and they said, ‘you can’t do this, you can’t bring it back to the country.’” The federal agency’s reasoning was a matter of guilt by association. When the regulators were researching aspergillus luchuensis, they came across aspergillus niger, a nuisance of a mold that’s known to infect fruits, vegetables and nuts. “[They said] ‘that’s dangerous, it’s hazardous, you can’t bring it in,’” Amano continues. “I said it’s not aspergillus niger, it’s a food product, it’s a food manufacturing item.” Amano eventually convinced the USDA, but that didn’t mean the federal regulators were going to make it easy for him. Once USDA agreed, the agency required Amano to have it shipped into Miami and then quarantined,

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“which means I have to get it from Miami to me and they won’t do it,” he says. “They would send it back [to Japan]—they said, ‘okay, we’re going to send it back.’ So, the first time around, it literally took six months from the vendor to me. I must’ve paid crazy amounts of shipping [fees] to the vendor to reimburse them—much more than the value of the koji.’” Ultimately, though, Amano’s efforts got aspergillus luchuenses—as well as other shochufriendly variations like aspergillus awamori and aspergillus kawachii—included in the USDA database, so if other U.S.-based distilleries decide they want to start producing shochu, it should be less of a hassle for them. Amano and his wife, Lynn, run his modest operation in two rooms in a complex that serves as an incubator for biotech-related startups. The main production room houses multiple plastic vessels of organic pearl barley mash in various stages of fermentation, as well as two compact, Turbo 500 five-gallon stills on which Amano and staff distiller Agnes Kwankam produce the bulk of the spirit. They’re gradually transitioning to a 53-gallon Mile High still, already set up in the distillery, which will enable the distillery to produce about 200 cases a month, versus the 60 it’s been producing on the smaller units. “It’s still a tiny still by distilling standards, but we’re excited to get to that,” Amano says. After the koji propagates, the barley mash will ferment for up to a month and a half. “We mash pretty much every other day or so because the koji takes three days,” he notes. “The mash takes two to six weeks [to ferment], depending on the climate, the temperature and all of the other environmental stuff that’s going on. We’re still figuring out the exact amount of time, obviously we want to be on the two-weeks side, not the six-weeks side, but we wait. The mash talks to us when it’s ready to get distilled.”

It comes off the still at 190 proof and then rests in five-gallon carboys for about three months before it’s bottled. Its flagship product, Umai, is diluted down to 48 proof (48-50 proof being typical for shochu in Japan; in the U.S. some states allow the spirit to be sold in restaurants holding only a wine and beer license if it’s bottled at no more than 48 proof/24% ABV) and is hand-bottled in 375mL glass containers. The distillery recently launched an 80-proof line extension called Roy’s Demon, packaged in 750-mL bottles. The name is an homage to Amano’s father. “My dad’s name was Ryuichiro—a big mouthful—and he was a sales guy in the early ‘70s in New York,” he explains. “People couldn’t say his name so they called him Roy. He was shy and introverted and so he would sit in sales calls and fold origami demons and then hand them to his customers. By the end of his career he was known for ‘Roy’s demons,’ so this is my tribute to him.” In Amano’s own sales pitch for his spirits, he’s moved away from geeking out over the history of shochu, the process and the role of koji. “People who are in the know want to know all about the koji and I’m happy to talk about it, but 90 percent of my consumer population don’t care and they don’t even care that it’s called shochu,” he says. “A year ago at a fair, I would say, ‘come try my shochu,’ and what’s somebody going to say? ‘What is it? I don’t know what it is. And I would say ‘Shochu is a traditional Japanese spirit, yadda yadda,’ but I don’t do that anymore.” Instead, he’s simplified his message considerably. “I tell them ‘this is the smoothest drink you’ll ever try’ and people will say, ‘those are big words,’” he reveals. “They try it and they buy it. I’m selling 50 to 60 bottles at a farmer’s market every weekend.” ■


“We’re still figuring out the exact amount of time, obviously we want to be on the twoweeks side, not the six-weeks side, but we wait. The mash talks to us when it’s ready to get distilled.” —Taka Amano

Taka Amano of American Shochu Co. in Frederick, Maryland


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Bullish About Beer Barrels Why craft distillers are aging spirits in barrels that previously held beer. BY BEN KEENE

Westward Whiskey lead distiller Miles Munroe says the natural flavors of stout beer perfectly accent Westward’s single malt whiskey.

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he Abyss. Dark Lord. Bourbon County. Black Gold. In the world of craft brewing, these are beers with big reputations. For years, bourbon barrel-aged stouts and porters have been some of the most sought-after bottles in the country, earning high ratings and attracting lines on release days. Once difficult to find, these boozy bruisers now appear on shelves with regularity, spellbinding beer drinkers and whiskey fans alike. Now, a growing number of craft distillers are joining the action, hoping that beer barrelaged whiskeys will prove just as beguiling. The idea to finish whiskey in barrels previously filled with beer first garnered serious attention in 2015 when Jameson, one of the world’s largest distillers, announced the release of Caskmates, a collaboration that involved working with a nearby Irish brewery to produce a whiskey aged in stout barrels. (In fact, Scotland’s William Grant & Sons had beaten their Irish neighbors to the punch with Grant’s Ale Cask Finish more than a decade earlier.) Word had reached American shores, however. And so, several years ago, after Jameson made another splash by collaborating with American breweries and promoting those Caskmates variants in a national adver-

tising campaign, a handful of U.S. producers— New Holland Spirits, Great Lakes Distillery, Hotaling & Co., Pinckney Bend Distillery—began to experiment with the concept. More recently, seeing potential to reach new audiences, a second wave of craft distillers ventured into the realm of beer barrel-aging. Across the country, craft distillers are following the lead of New Holland (roughly 60% of its output is now Beer Barrel Bourbon) by adding these complex creations to their lineups. In Oregon, Westward Whiskey and Rogue Spirits each released stouted whiskeys in early 2019, while on the East Coast, Great Wagon Road Distilling and Virginia Distillery Co. did the same. Seattle’s Westland produced a single malt whiskey aged in a blend of coffee stout and kriek casks. Pittsburgh’s Wigle Whiskey got festive with its take on the trend by using casks that previously held a ginger, cinnamon and honey-infused Christmas Ale from Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Clevelannd. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, Chattanooga Whiskey Co. offers eight different beer barrel variants, from a Creme Brûlée Milk Stout to an Imperial Coffee Stout. “Collaborating with breweries is a way for us to stretch outside of the traditional expectations of the spirit category,” explains Jill Harries, national PR manager for Wigle

Whiskey. To create this year’s Rudolph, the distillery allowed its organic straight whiskey to undergo a secondary 10-month maturation period in freshly emptied barrels that had contained Christmas Ale. As Harries explains it, the project emerged from a mutual interest in showcasing warm winter flavors. “The craft brewing industry, on a whole, has wholeheartedly embraced collaboration and innovation, which is something that our team at Wigle strives to do as well,” Harries adds. “By partnering with breweries like Great Lakes, whose values and attitudes align with our own, we are able to cross over categories while simultaneously exploring the far reaches of what constitutes a distilled spirit.” In some cases, craft spirits producers that have worked with breweries view the gap between industries as a small one. “We’ve always been very involved with the brewing industry in Oregon,” says Miles Munroe, lead distiller at Westward. “Most of our distillers are former brewers. Being heavily connected to brewing has also encouraged us to collaborate at inventive levels—we’ve actually recreated beer recipes at our brew house, then pot distilled them, such as Fort George Cavatica Stout among many others. We’ve always enjoyed being experimental, plus we realize the Wigle Whiskey collaborated with Great Lakes Brewing Co. to create this year’s Rudolph.

natural flavors of stout accent our single malt perfectly. [Oregon Stout Cask] felt like an excellent opportunity to speak to our heritage here in Portland.” Westward ages its whiskey in new, mediumcharred white American oak barrels. Several years ago, Munroe began sending recently emptied vessels to Portland-area breweries like Migration, Ruse and Breakside. The brewers used these barrels to make a variety of different stouts, from Belgian chocolate to maple oatmeal. After soaking in sweet, rich liquid for months on end, the casks found their way back to the distillery, where Munroe racked 2- to 4-year-old Westward American Single Malt into them, finishing the barrels for another year. Ultimately, the five barrel blend yielded roughly 120 cases of 90 proof Oregon Stout Cask. “We use an ale yeast to ferment our washes and that combined with our malt gives a spirit that both whiskey and beer drinkers enjoy,” Munroe says. “We want grain and fermentation to feature in our single malt more so than char and wood characteristics. The roast and chocolate stout notes perfectly accent these flavors already present in Westward. Many of the flavor components of stout can be found in single malts, so utilizing those attributes as a subtle finish note makes for superior complexity and a long but mellow presence on the palate.” Overall, a desire to balance attributes of beer and spirit guide the process. Oliver Mulligan, founder of North Carolina’s Great Wagon Road Distilling refers to his collaboration with Olde Mecklenburg Brewery as “the circle of malt.” Dubbed Fat Boy Rúa, the small batch release combines the distillery’s Rúa American single malt whiskey and the brewery’s cheekily named Baltic porter. According to Mulligan, the caramel and chocolate malt elements in the beer that are picked up by the barrel harmonize with the two-row pale Pilsner malt he uses in his whiskey mash. But over the course of time—at least six months Mulligan says—in 25 gallon white oak barrels with a No. 3 char, the 92 proof Rúa evolves, emerging from its slumber at nearly 115 proof. “It has huge amounts of chocolate in it, and complements the Rúa,” Mulligan says, noting that his flagship whiskey features notes of vanilla and toffee. “The vanilla is lost to some extent because we use brand new barrels.” At Virginia Distillery Co., distillery director Ian Thomas has also found that a relatively short maturation period yields favorable results. In February 2018, Virginia Distillery Co. collaborated with nearby Three Notch’d Brewing to introduce the Brewers Batch series. It was well received. Both the Los Angeles

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“Putting together a beer-barrel aged whisky has its challenges.” —Ian Thomas of Virginia Distillery Co.

Virginia Distillery Co. launched its Brewers Batch series in 2018.

International Spirits Competition and the International Wine & Spirits Competition’s Critics Challenge recognized this first release with a gold medal. For Brewers Batch No. 2, the spirits company partnered with 3 Stars in Washington, D.C., loaning the brewery five barrels to age a strong ale. When they came back, Virginia Distillery Co. finished its blended whiskey in them for roughly eight months to create a 92 proof Virginia-Highland Whisky. “Putting together a beer-barrel aged whisky has its challenges,” Thomas says. “Most of the finishing casks we work with in our finishing programs have previously held wines, ciders, or other types of spirits with alcohol concentrations typically higher than a beer. The time our whisky finishes in those types of casks is commonly greater than 12 months, whereas with the beer barrels, our sensory analysis panel has identified quality whiskies with key profiles such as stone-fruit aromas and complex malt characteristics within as little as eight months.” Thomas describes the flavor transformation in terms of a shift from a sweet-forward,

baking spice profile to a more nuanced, complex spirit with notes of cocoa replacing milk chocolate flavors. Beer barrel aging may still be new territory for many craft distillers, but for the companies that have tried it so far, most plan to stay the course. “Those flavor components in a whisky [are] unique, new, and interesting, and translate well to customers who may typically reach for a beer before they reach for a dram,” Thomas says. ■ Author of The Great Northeast Brewery Tour and the former editorial director of BeerAdvocate magazine, Ben Keene has judged beer competitions across the United States and frequently speaks at industry conferences and conventions. He lives in Seattle.


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The village of Schwebsange, Luxembourg, home to Distillerie Zenner

A Lux Experience Shedding light on the Luxembourg distilling scene. BY JEFF CIOLETTI


ere’s the river,” Christian Zenner points out from the driver’s seat of his Land Rover as it heads into the hilly, vineyard-village of Schwebsange, Luxembourg. “The other side is Germany.” Zenner’s matter-of-fact observation speaks to a key facet of being a Luxembourger: The home country—officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg—exists in the shadow of the larger, economically dominant neighbors that surround it, all with their own iconic beverage-alcohol-making traditions. And that’s

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something of a mixed blessing. Germany, France and Belgium certainly hog most of the spotlight from the relatively pocket-sized country with which they share a border. But it also means that Luxembourg gets to enjoy a bit of best-kept-secret status within Western Europe, which only adds to its appeal. As far as adult beverages go, Luxembourg’s most prominent tradition is winemaking—just as it is in the larger sovereign states in its neck of the woods. The Moselle Valley—adjacent to the aforementioned river of the same name—is its best-known oenological region, producing Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot

Noir, Pinot Gris and a host of other varietals, as well as Crémant de Luxembourg, its proprietary offering to the world of sparkling whites. Moselle benefits from micro-climates that make it attractive for growing grapes and other fruits. “The side valley climate makes [this area] heat up exceptionally well during the summer, so you have a micro-climate that enables you to get grapes of the highest grade,” Zenner says. Naturally, where fruit’s being fermented commercially, you can bet it’s being distilled as well. So, it should come as no surprise that


Luxembourg gets to enjoy a bit of best-kept-secret status within Western Europe, which only adds to its appeal. the region has an eau de vie-making tradition that holds its own amongst those from across its borders. And it’s had nearly 300 years of (legal) practice. In the 18th Century, when Luxembourg was part of the Hapsburg Empire, Empress Maria Theresa made distilling legal for the masses. “Before that, it was just the privilege of the nobles, monks and pharmacists,” says Zenner. “But she gave the right to distill to the normal people—and that means farmers, growers.” Zenner himself is part of that tradition, the latest generation in a long line of distillers in his tranquil little village dating back to the late 18th century. In its heyday at the beginning of the 20th century, Schwebsange was home to nearly 30 distilleries—of about 2,000 spirits producers across Luxembourg at the time. Now, Distillerie Zenner is the last remaining one in its village and the total number in the country is down to the double digits. “Some still have the pot still, but no longer have the privilege to distill,” Zenner reveals. “If you’re not actively distilling, the privilege voids after a few years. You can request to have it renewed, but it’s taken away from you if you’re not active.” Over the years, many have gone inactive because they’ve lacked the resources or desire to upgrade their existing infrastructure. “The life of the alembic dictates the cycle,” Zenner says. “The cycle of a distillery is about 50 years and people were just not reinvesting in new equipment.” The remaining active distillers in the Moselle Valley and throughout Luxembourg give new meaning to the term “labor of love,” as the tax structure in Luxembourg is not exactly conducive to entrepreneurship. Two types of licenses are available to distillers in the country, agricultural and industrial. The former are producing craft


spirits primarily for human consumption. The latter produce industrial alcohol for sale to the chemical industry. Agricultural distillers must pay excise taxes up front, before they’ve even produced a drop. “They don’t have the tax shelter of a customs-bonded warehouse,” Zenner notes. “When we have a batch to distill, we have to announce to customs, customs comes and they make a calculation based on how much alcohol [yet to be made]. Then they send you a bill and say, ‘now you can distill’ and during the distillation process they come and check to make sure you’re not doing any nonsense.” The industrial distillers, on the other hand, have room to breathe, as they’re not required to pay taxes until the alcohol is removed from the bonded warehouse. Excise tax collection hasn’t always been within customs’ purview. It’s a development that stems from the Schengen Agreement of 1985, signed near the Luxembourg town of the same name. The Agreement, signed by Luxembourg, France, then-West Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, eliminated border controls among those countries (though Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands already had abolished such controls as part of the Benelux Economic Union). Before Schengen, the country’s finance department oversaw distilling activities and the customs department kept an eye on the borders. But, without borders, there was now little need for border controls, so the government put customs personnel in charge of collecting taxes on alcohol production. Because of the challenging economics of running a distillery, spirits production is a side-gig for most producers. Zenner himself has a day job in the aviation industry. (Most of the full-timers are those industrial alcohol distillers). Zenner’s father runs the day-to-day at the distillery, but “I’m still very present.” Aroung the time Craft Spirits magazine’s October visit, Zenner had spent a significant portion of his days in the vineyard, as it was the tail end of the Riesling harvest. Those grapes (as well as their pomace), of course, find their way into Zenner’s spirits, but so do a host of other fruits from the countryside. Like any good Luxembourg-based distillery, Zenner produces the country’s two signature eaux de vie, Quetsch and Mirabelle, made from their namesake purple and yellow plums, respectively. The Zenner portfolio also includes spirits made from Williams pears (another popular base among distillers in the region), apples, raspberries, cherries, quince and other items, as well as a handful of

Top to bottom: The vineyard adjacent to Distillerie Zenner; grape pomace to be distilled; Christian Zenner; Zenner’s shop

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“Our intent was to create a Luxembourg whiskey, not a copy of an Irish or Scotch.” —Mariette Duhr-Merges of Distillerie Diedenacker

Top to bottom: Diedenacker’s single malt ages; Mariette and Camille Duhr-Merges; brandy gift pack; where the magic happens

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liqueurs flavored with fruits and nuts. Most of the fruit comes from area growers with which Zenner has had relationships for years, ensuring quality and consistency. The distillery barrel ages a portion of its marc (pomace) spirit, Calvados-esque apple brandy and Cognac-like grape brandy—some of which has spent upwards of 12 years in wood and is still maturing—but the majority of its distillates spend at least three years in stainless steel. “Nothing that’s younger than three years leaves the house,” Zenner says. There is, however, one exception. This year the distillery produced its first gin, a London dry style that was the result of a collaboration with a local Rotary-like club. “It’s sold exceptionally well since day one,” Zenner reveals. Distilleries like Zenner likely will remain, at their core, traditional Luxembourg brandy distilleries, but projects like the gin demonstrate that they’re not above tapping into the biggest trends in the European and global spirits market. Gin has enjoyed a renaissance across the continent over the past decade or so and Zenner is one of at least a dozen Luxembourgish distilleries making the botanical spirit. But, the biggest star on the worldwide stage, by far, has been whisk(e)y. And there’s even a little of that being produced in Luxembourg, as well. The undisputed pioneer of modern whiskey-making in the Grand Duchy has been Diedenacker in the town of Niederdonven, a sixth-generation operation dating back to 1862, now run by husband-and-wife team Camille and Mariette Duhr-Merges. Camille took over the business from his father, Nicolas Duhr, in 2000 and five years later the traditional eaux de vie distiller first dipped its toe in the whiskey waters. Then, in 2010, Diedenacker introduced Luxembourg’s first rye whiskey (blending rye and malted barley). “The whiskey made us a little famous,” says Mariette Duhr-Merges. The distillers didn’t want to just mimic the styles of traditional whiskey-making regions. They wanted to give theirs a bit of a distinctive local accent. “Our intent was to create a Luxembourg

whiskey, not a copy of an Irish or Scotch,” Mariette notes. Diedenacker sources everything but the malt in Luxembourg, as there are no maltsters operating there, and the distillery ages the whiskey in barrels that previously held white wine produced in the country. The coming year will be a big one for Diedenacker, as it’s releasing a single malt and a 10-year-old rye from the first batch it distilled. Still, the vast majority of Diedenacker’s output remains fruit brandies, as its whiskey stock is extremely limited. The distillery produces eau de vie from about 25 different fruits, with Mirabelle, Quetsch, Williams pear and apple-based products among its top sellers. The producer also has tried some unconventional experiments, including a spirit distilled from asparagus (though, as you’d expect, some additional sugar was required to kick-start the fermentation). The distiller procured about two tons of the vegetable from a local farmer who was discarding the ones that weren’t suitable for market. “We got only about 11 liters of pure alcohol from two tons [of asparagus],” Mariette says. “We wanted to try it but I don’t know if we’ll try it a second time.” Unconventional distillates are the trademark of the tiny father-son operation Distillerie André Weber in nearby Wormeldange. “I know it’s very small, says Steve Weber, “but everywhere we have liquor.” And he wasn’t kidding. It seemed like virtually every inch of the compact, rustic space was covered with vessels of all sorts holding distillates of various bases and ages. While the family does produce the usual Mirabelle, Quetsch, Williams pear and other eaux de vie based on traditional regional fruits, they seem to be intent on reaching beyond their immediate area and distilling and aging anything that’s not nailed down. That includes things like kiwi and banana. Weber poured a little of the latter from the vat and one’s nose didn’t have to get very close to the glass to know what the base fruit was. The aroma evoked Bananas Foster covered in crushed nuts. And Weber noted that it hadn’t even reached its peak banana-ness. “It’s


young, but when it gets older, it will develop more into banana,” he says. After three years, the banana is very dominant in the taste.” Three years is a drop in the bucket compared with the ages of some of the other spirits sitting in plastic tanks. He poured a glass of Quetsch from 2006, a Pinot Noir pomace brandy from 1998 and a pear distillate from 1982—produced by his father, André, who took over from the first generation in 1977 and is set to hand over full control to Steve next year. But he seems to have an affinity for tropical fruit and he hopes to continue in that realm, beyond banana. “I might do mango or something like that—exotic,” he says. “I haven’t tried mango or pineapple.” But, as is the case for many spirits producers in Luxembourg, Distillerie André Weber’s activities skirt the line of hobby and full-time career. There’s no denying, however, that consumers are starting to take notice. Zenner and Diedenacker both have upgraded their tasting room experiences in recent years to reflect the heightened interest in craft spirits. Both are available by appointment only and on open distillery days twice a year. “It’s very important to be able to show this to people,” Christian Zenner says. “We’re only open on request, but we have two times a year [when people come in] on open day and we’re crowded. That’s good to know because it shows people are interested in this activity and want to see how it works.” Diedenacker’s Mariette Duhr-Merges recalls that the distillery’s previous building was small and dark. “We wanted to make something where the light comes in and where we could prepare meals with the tasting,” she says. “People are coming in more often than before. It’s an event around alcohol and we want them to be able to appreciate it.” ■

Because of the challenging economics of running a distillery, spirits production is a side-gig for most producers. C R AF TSPIR ITSMAG.COM

André Weber

Steve Weber

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distilling destinations

HONORING HISTORY IN WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA Paying homage to the Whiskey Rebellion while focusing on the current renaissance is top of mind for distilleries in and around Pittsburgh.

“We’re at ground zero of great American whiskey history.” —Jim Hough of Mingo Creek Craft Distillers

Mingo Creek Craft Distillers

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History remembers Western Pennsylvania is the birthplace of the Whiskey Rebellion, a protest against a federal tax imposed on distilled spirits. Between 1791 and 1794 it was seen as a revenue generator for the still young country, but many distillers and farmers saw it as an unfair penalty and resisted the government hands in their pockets. For Jim Hough, the co-founder of Mingo Creek Craft Distillers (purveyors of Liberty Pole Spirits), the history of the rebellion is front and center to what he produces. “Our distillery is located 50 yards from the home of David Bradford,” says Hough, invoking the lawyer who was a suspected rebel and had a warrant for his arrest. He was later pardoned by President John Adams and his home is a National Historic Landmark. “We’re at ground zero of great American whiskey history.” Visitors to the Houghs’ distillery in Washington about 30 miles to the south of Pittsburgh are treated to the history and importance of whiskey in the area and shed light as to why there was a rebellion in the first place. “We talk about how in the barter economy of the frontier whiskey was used as currency (since there was no real currency here), about how it was safer to drink than the water, how it preserved crops (crops go bad or get eaten by pests, whiskey once distilled lasts forever), how it was considered medicinal, and how it helped keep you warm in the cold winters and cool in the summer! It was really an integral part of life here in the 1790s.” To that end, the Houghs serve true Pennsylvania rye, which is traditionally corn free. It’s made with bloody butcher corn, an




Luminary Distillery currently makes 13 spirits.

heirloom variety “not so much for the historical but because we thought it made the best whiskey,” he says. As the number of distilleries continues to grow in the area, there is a reverence most have for history but also excitement when talking about the present and the future. This is especially true in Pittsburgh, where there is a concentration of distilleries, all following

their own path and all seemingly happy to be working together. Nearly every distiller interviewed for this story invoked the name of other businesses with a touch of admiration. “We are all friends and colleagues and we all have vastly different philosophies and everyone has their own niche,” says Blake Ragghianti the co-owner, COO and head

Blake Ragghianti of Kingfly Spirits


distiller of Kingfly Spirits. “Someone visiting here won’t get bored tasting around over multiple days.” Ragghianti, for example, makes a limoncello, sourcing his lemons from Sorrento, Italy, and gets ingredients for his other spirits from the best sources, no matter the distance. Not far from him is Allegheny Distilling (makers of Maggie’s Farm Rum), where Tim Russell says his tasting room is giving him a chance to hand sell “sipping rum” to the curious and those who only know the overly sugary concoctions by larger distilleries with national marketing budgets. Lawrenceville Distilling has found a following for its absinthe while Pennsylvania Pure Distillery, makers of Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka, take pride in using 100% state-grown and harvested potatoes. And there’s Quantum Spirits, where co-founder and distillery czar Ryan Kanto is making rye vodka, gins, and whiskey plus bitters. In addition to laws in the commonwealth changing several years ago, easing the path for distilleries to open their doors, there’s also been consumer demand, especially in the Pittsburgh area where the city is shedding its steel worker image and becoming a tech hub. “There’s a lot of innovation happening in the region, and that’s really playing into all of our styles and tastes,” says Kanto. It’s similar to the north in Erie, where Maria DiSanza and her husband Joel Normand opened Luminary Distillery and want to make sure that when a customer walks through the door there is something that will appeal to their taste buds. Luminary currently makes 13 different spirits, including an apple pie moonshine. One thing DiSanza says is crucial to running their business is that, even with three

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children, at least her or Normand would be at the distillery during open hours. “It’s very important to be here for customers when they come in,” she says. “It helps people make a connection when they can talk to owners.” One way the regional distilleries are balancing the Rebellion with the current renaissance is through education. There’s a mission to bring a taste of place to spirits, says Meredith Meyer Grelli, the co-owner of Wigle Whiskey and Threadbare Cider & Mead. She is also the advisory committee co-chair of the The Whiskey Rebellion Trail. Launched last July, it’s a regional trail that stretches from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, down to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., with small towns and rural areas in between. Throughout, it highlights the“dynamic contributions of the region to the history of American spirits and the exciting rise of award-winning craft distilleries in the area over the last several years.” Taking the trail reveals the strong regional characters and interesting differences in how spirits are made with varying amounts of ingredients, Grelli says. The region isn’t content with a boring spirits landscape. “Our hope continues to be to create remarkable products and communities around these spirits and be bigger than any single company by itself,” she says. So far that appears to be paying off. Russell of Allegheny Distilling points to the essence of the area, calling the general demeanor “a very salt-of-the-earth spirit, a working-man spirit.” The innovation happening in the region and how it is moving away from being an old steel town and now focused on technology, food and craft beverages means that it’s a place for the curious to come and visit.

Quantum Spirits co-founders Sarah and Ryan Kanto

“It’s funny. There used to be a saying that anything that happens will happen in

Pittsburgh 10 years later,” says Russell. “I haven’t heard that saying in years.” ■

Tim Russell of Allegheny Distilling

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business sense

DATA MINDING Distillery-specific software systems help distillers stay organized and prepare for audits.



Before an audit, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) may warn a distillery a few months in advance. Or it could be a surprise, which was the case this fall for Jason Parker, co-founder and president of Seattle’s Copperworks Distilling Co. “I was driving into work,” Parker recalls, “and an employee texted me and said, ‘TTB is here.’ So when I got to work we chatted, and they stayed here for two and a half days.” Rather than feeling extreme concern, Parker was confident in the software system (Stillhouse from Five x 5) that the distillery uses to track data related to proof gallons, among other things. After reviewing the electronic records and the equally important notebooks of records kept by Parker and his co-founder Micah Nutt, Parker says the auditors were pleased. “That combination of the paper and the electronics served us really well,” says Parker. “If it hadn’t been there, I have no idea what sort of citations we would have gotten. … That was really rewarding to have invested this amount of money and this amount of time in the system and lo and behold it turns out it was a very good investment.” While Copperworks has used the software since it was founded, many startup distilleries opt to create their own data tracking systems in Microsoft Excel. While that homemade solutions may be a viable option for a startup or hobbyist, larger distilleries will eventually require a more robust, professional system for TTB reporting and beyond. “While home-grown spreadsheets might seem to be a cost-effective option, they can be difficult to maintain, never capture all the needed audit data, and are easily corrupted,” says Donald Snyder, president of Whiskey Systems, which helps keep distilleries in compliance and can also provide key business analytics. “Having audited and cleaned up distillers’ records over the last 14 years, we know what can happen when distillery operators try to stay in full compliance with their own internal sheets. Distilled spirits production is a strictly regulated industry and


putting your distillery’s license and your business at risk while spending hours managing spreadsheets is not worth the stress.” For many years, Crater Lake Spirits of Bend, Oregon, was one of those distilleries that got by with spreadsheets alone. CEO Alan Dietrich said they worked fine when production was small, but eventually he looked for an alternative and found his solution with Orchestrated Spirits. “Having to report to 35 states and [TTB], we were getting terrible financial data and sales tracking,” says Dietrich. “We were facing the point where we had to hire another person just to do data entry. [The software] was considerably less than another employee would cost us.” That’s largely because all of that data entry requires a significant amount of time and dedication. Parker says the burden of data entry is “always bigger than the distillery thinks it’s going to be.” That’s because setting up your own system will be a learning process. “When you start, it’s probably going to take you 30 hours a week,” says Parker. “You’re going to have to build forms. What tools do you have to understand what you’re going to collect? Well, you have to go read everything and understand every requirement. “If you’re going to be a professional place, I would highly recommend budgeting [software] into your opening. Start with it. Get used to the system before you even have your first record, not just tax payments, but monthly reports due. Know where the data is going to go, know what your processes are.” Aaron Selya, the head distiller at Philadelphia Distilling, recommends that distillers take plenty of time considering all the features available from various systems. Along with his counterparts at other Samson & Surrey distilleries, Selya is looking at the possibility of switching to a new platform. “We try to put them through their paces and not rush into anything,” says Selya. “Once you do spend the time and effort to implement one of these systems, there’s the whole investment of time that’s going to hold you back from switching to another system if you

“Distilled spirits production is a strictly regulated industry and putting your distillery’s license and your business at risk while spending hours managing spreadsheets is not worth the stress.” —Donald Snyder of Whiskey Systems

don’t like this one. Don’t feel like you’re being forced into a system because it’s going to feel really painful to switch to a different one.” Dietrich echoed those sentiments. “This is not software you just want to try out and abandon,” he says. “You’re making a big commitment.” For Dietrich, Orchestrated Spirits was the right choice because it includes its own financial system separate from QuickBooks. “It’s really powerful, but it’s only as good as the effort you’re going to put into it,” he says. “If you’re not prepared to do the work, it’s not worth your money. But the payoff down the road can be significant.” Regardless of the system, Parker is quick to remind that there’s an equal need for a paper trail. “When the auditors came in and asked to see our records, I first showed them Stillhouse,” says Parker. “They had never seen it, and they were happy we were recording the data, but they wanted to see the paper backup. So I pulled notebook after notebook down and they left saying, ‘you’ve got the best paper trail we’ve ever seen. We’ve got very strong confidence in your numbers and we’re very happy.’” ■

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raw materials

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE Examining the crucial role yeast play in creating distilled spirits. BY NEVA PARKER

In thinking about influences on flavor and aroma compounds in distilled spirits, most people look at ingredients such as grist or botanicals, barrels and aging, or even flavoring compounds. Very few would consider the art of fermentation as an important part of creating spirits. However, as many professional and hobby brewers know, fermentation plays a critical role in producing unique flavor and aroma compounds in beer and is also true of distilled spirits. Aside from ethanol production, yeast strains have been selected over hundreds of years because of a variety of characteristics they display during fermentation. These secondary metabolites produced by yeast during fermentation are crucial to the sensory profile of any fermented beverage, many of which carry over into the distillate. Since yeast is a living, active component of fermentation, many shy away from learning much about it. Yeast can be complicated and fickle, and can sometimes cause a great deal of head scratching when they don’t perform as expected. Nonetheless, being well-versed in yeast education is one of the most important weapons in a distiller’s arsenal. Yeast are a fungus, and the species used in beer fermentation are the Saccharomyces cerevisiae, one of over 500 species of yeast, which can then be subdivided into countless strains. They are single-celled organisms whose main purpose is to produce ethanol and carbon dioxide from glucose molecules derived from complex carbohydrates in grains and other starches. As secondary byproducts to this metabolic process, the yeast also produce flavor- and aroma-active compounds. The types and quantities of these compounds produced vary by strain. Some strains produce high levels of ester compounds, resulting in such aromas as pear, apple and banana, while other strains produce high

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levels of phenolics which can be attributed to spicy characteristics. In fact, the majority of the aroma characteristics found in fermented beverages are yeast-derived compounds. Today, a diverse collection of strains are available to distillers that vary in fermentation performance and contribution of flavor characteristics. During the formation of ethanol and carbon dioxide in fermentation, the yeast cell also produces the byproducts that make a major contribution to flavor and aroma. The primary aroma-active compounds of interest are npropanol (alcoholic, harsh), iso-amyl alcohol (alcoholic, vinous), ethyl acetate (solvent, nail polish remover), iso-amyl acetate (fruity, banana), acetaldehyde (grassy, green apple), diacetyl (buttery, butterscotch), and sulfur compounds. The level of compound produced during fermentation is strain-dependent, and many are also controlled by external factors. Aside from simple ethanol, yeast will also produce fusel alcohols as a fermentation byproduct. The biosynthesis of amino acids from nitrogen (free amino nitrogen) from barley malt is one of the largest contributors to the formation of these flavor-active compounds. These alcohols contribute to the harsh alcoholic, vinous character and can be typical in many washes with high sugar concentrations. In large quantities, these compounds can be “hot” or solventy, and will be carried over into the distillate. The reaction of these fusel alcohols with other metabolic intermediates (acids) result in the production of iso-amyl acetate, ethyl acetate and other trace ester compounds. Ethyl acetate is the most common, producing a solvent or nail polish remover quality in large amounts. Isoamyl acetate, when present and detectable, is the larger flavor contributor, giving beer and resulting spirit a pronounced fruitiness even in small quantities.

All spirits can benefit from the use of a carefully selected yeast strain. Other common byproducts are the carbonyls—diacetyl and acetaldehyde. Diacetyl is always produced as an intermediate in amino acid synthesis. Diacetyl can contribute a buttery or butterscotch character, which can add complexity to malt-forward spirits such as bourbons or molasses-based spirits such as rum. Acetaldehyde is commonly produced by most strains as well, but typically in lower quantities. It is a very volatile substance and can be captured in the distillate if some of the heads are collected, resulting in an apple or nutty character. Some less detectable flavor compounds are phenolics—vinyl phenols, guaiacol and eugenol. These typically display spicy, peppery characteristics, which can benefit whiskey or bourbon. There is a consideration to be made regarding the use of active dry yeast or live liquid yeast. While both types of cultures perform similarly in terms of fermentation speed, however, there is an unmistakable difference in the congeners produced. The use of live yeast in fermentation commonly produces more notable metabolic byproducts, resulting in more complex characteristics in the final distillate. This is especially favorable in malt or corn-based spirits, such as bourbon and whiskey, as well as more aromatic spirits like rum and brandy. All spirits can benefit from the use of a carefully selected yeast strain. In brewing, yeast is known to be one of the biggest play-


ers in creating beer flavor and aroma. With the production of spirits, distillers are essentially making beer first, so the connection of these aromatic compounds to the final product correlate. They contribute to the spirit by producing countless aroma compounds including butterscotch, caramel, nutty, apple, pineapple, banana, spicy and clove. With any distilled spirit, the rule of thumb should be to start with the best possible product before


going to the still. Different types of yeast will create a variety of different flavor and aroma profiles. Varying fermentation conditions such as sugar levels and fermentation temperature will further affect the intensity and quality of the flavor-active compounds produced by any strain. In this way, each distiller can develop specific flavor profiles, making a product that is truly complex and unique. â–

Neva Parker started at White Labs in 2003 as a lab technician and now serves as Director of Operations.

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Retail: Off-Premise

MINDING THE STORE How craft distilleries can work with off-premise retail to educate staff—and sell more of their spirits. BY KATE BERNOT

As wonderful as it would be, bottles of craft spirits don’t fling themselves off the shelves and into customers’ baskets like spawning salmon. In the battle for shoppers’ attention and dollars, a retailer’s sales staff can be the difference between that bottle lingering on the shelf or heading to a home bar. Distilleries hope their products are in the hands of knowledgeable, passionate retail staff—but they can do more than wish. By working strategically with retailers, distillers can play a role in training the staff they wish to see in the world.

Invest your time wisely Small distilleries don’t have unlimited resources, so it’s crucial to invest precious energy, time and resources in the retailers whose employees are most likely to draw customers toward new brands. “I think even before you’re training or investing, you’ve got to segment retailers out and ask whether it’s even worth it,” says Jeff Wuslich, president and co-founder of Bloomington, Indiana-based Cardinal Spirits. “Just like not every off-premise account is the same,

not every liquor store is the same.” He says Cardinal chooses to spend its time with “high-end, hand-holding stores” where staff members greet customers and interact with them as they’re browsing merchandise. Retailers with minimal customer rapport who have products entirely behind glass probably aren’t worth Cardinal’s time. “Some customers have long-standing relationships with a retailer, and people count on them for recommendations. When you come across a store like that, it’s’ time to invest

Staff members at Rogers Park Provisions (which also operates Rogers Park Social) in Chicago are encouraged to know the stories behind the bottles on the shelf.

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deep on that team,” Wuslich says. It’s also important to get a sense of how much training or resources a retailer expects from a craft distilling partner. Evan Hughes, co-owner of Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Central Standard Craft Distillery, says there’s not as much to be gained from bombarding a retailer that’s not prioritizing staff education. “We ask [retailers], ‘What level of engagement do you want from us?’ We’ll be here every other day doing samplings if that’s important to them, or we’ll just [send them] some posters, whatever works best,” Hughes says. “We don’t want to spend our time on something that’s annoying to them.” Treat sales associates like potential customers Hughes calls sales associates at retail stores “the hardest people to market to.” Every brand wants those associates to recommend its product, so forging a long-lasting connection with them means thinking of them as customers. As craft distilleries know, making a face-to-face connection with a customer fosters long-term loyalty. “Take Total Wine, for example, which does a really good job of educating their employees. We want to take that next step: We want Total Wine to bring all their employees through our doors,” Hughes says. “Any time we can get people through our front door, that’s huge for us. We can tell our story, provide a good experience. Those people then go back to their colleagues and customers and talk about that experience.” Large producers will generally always have the bigger budgets for marketing, swag,


Pat McQuillan and Evan Hughes of Central Standard Craft Distillery

signage, etc. But it’s the personal touch that small, craft brands can use to set themselves apart and show that they’re invested in a specific retailer. “In terms of investment, make sure you’re compliant with state and local laws, but for us it might be throwing a shoutout on social media like ‘Hey, we love our friends at this store,’ or it might be showing up to their annual whisky festival in a significant way, or just dropping off doughnuts on a Friday,” says Wuslich. “I don’t

think there are any shortcuts here. You have to be in the store as often as possible.” What off-premise wants Tuning in to what a retailer needs to educate its staff helps distilleries direct their energy toward strategies that work—and avoid wasting time on ones that don’t. What’s valuable to a small, specialty shop’s employees might be less relevant to a larger liquor store chain’s employees and vice versa.

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Binny’s has 41 locations across Illinois.

Take the heart of every craft distillery: its story. That’s something boutique retailers might find more relevant than larger stores whose staff can’t possibly rattle off the back story of every bourbon on the shelves. “The effective distilleries do well when they come in without an entourage, when it’s literally just them and they talk about having a passion for the industry. It’s really fun to hear that and understand their background,” says Erik Archambeault, owner of Rogers Park Provisions, a small Chicago market and liquor store. “It’s super easy nowadays to take a picture of the product I’m tasting, send it off

Cardinal Spirits

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to the staff and tell them ‘Hey this is the story behind this.’” But that’s not the information most important to Patrick Brophy, director of spirits sales for Binny’s, which has 41 locations and more than 1,500 employees across Illinois. Brophy leads weekly spirits education classes for small groups of staff, and he says it all comes down to what’s in the bottle. “Connect what you’re doing in the stillhouse with how those decisions and what you do differently in there affects what’s in the bottle,” Brophy says. “Any way a supplier can take details from the production level

and convey that to what someone sees in the bottle, we’re interested.” Brophy says he’d ideally like to see “nuts and bolts” details such as the mash bill, barrel entry proof, filtration information and fermentation time on a sales sheet that he could share with staff, as opposed to “marketing fluff.” So while a story, location and branding might matter greatly to how retail staff at a small store educates consumers on a product, that same information could be largely irrelevant to a multi-store retailer’s employees. At least there’s one asset both types of retailers agree is useful: product. “We ask brands to leave some behind not just for our customers to taste but staff as well,” Archembault says. “You can’t go off words because everyone has a different palate. We encourage staff to open a bottle, sample it off and tell the story behind it.” ■

Kate Bernot is a reporter covering beer, food, and spirits. She was formerly an editor at The Takeout and DRAFT Magazine; she now regularly writes for Good Beer Hunting, Craft Beer & Brewing, and other publications. She is a certified beer judge and lives in Missoula, Montana, with three backyard chickens and a well-stocked bar cart.


Retail: On-Premise

A WINNING COMBINATION A growing number of stadiums and arenas are pouring craft spirits. BY JON PAGE

Once synonymous with macro-produced beer, a day at the ballpark now offers fans a wealth of beverage options. At T-Mobile Park, Seattle Mariners fans can find cocktails at one of several bars that feature branding for Seattle-based Heritage Distilling Co. and its popular Brown Sugar Bourbon (BSB). And at branded carts throughout the stadium, Heritage CEO and co-founder Justin Stiefel says it’s common to see dozens of people standing in line for lemonade with the distillery’s Batch No. 12 Vodka. It’s one of several stadiums and arenas where Heritage products are available, and Stiefel says there is room for growth when it comes to craft spirits at sports and entertainment events. “If you go back 10 or 15 years ago, we’re at the same spot where craft beer was starting to get pulled into these stadiums and arenas,” says Stiefel. “That’s why you see arenas and stadiums outdoing each other in terms of advertising how many craft beers they have, how many local beers they have. In about five or six years you’re going to see the same thing with spirits, once the spirits market locally has matured, once you’ve got the variety and quality and price to be able to support that.” Heritage products are also available at the homes of the Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, Dallas Stars, Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves. When Stiefel is looking at a new partnership with a team, he is often curious if Heritage gets rights to the team’s trademarks and what the potential is for TV and radio promotion. “While you might have 20,000 people go to a basketball arena or 60,000 or 80,000 people go to to a football stadium, there are literally a million people watching and listening to it a home or in their car or at the bar or restaurant,” says Stiefel. “That’s where the real outward projection of scale happens. Do I get to use the trademarks at


retail? Do I get to put something on my website? Can I use their logos in social media?” For Matti Christian Anttila of Dixie Vodka, which recently announced a multi-year partnership as the official vodka of NASCAR, it was important to partner with a brand that aligns with Dixie. The company is based in Charleston, South Carolina, and its slogan is “Made in America. Raised in the South.” “Our story tracks a parallel path to NASCAR. For us that connection was really important,” says Anttila, who launched Dixie in 2014. “Our goal is to take what we’ve done in the Southeast and build on this narrative of flavors of the South and tell that kind of culinary story that is so engaging in the region, to a national audience. NASCAR is a national platform that allows us to tell the same story we’ve been telling to a much larger audience.” Of course, those larger sponsorships won’t fit into the budget of a smaller distillery. That’s why Greg Eidam II of Sugarlands Distilling Co., which is the official moonshine of NASCAR, recommends starting small. “Start at a local stadium,” says Eidam. “That’s a great place of getting that liquor to lips, but it’s incredibly expensive. Most of these stadiums, the contracts they want are huge dollars to pay for you to put your product there.” Those looking to simply sell their products at sports events can find their way in the door through regular distribution channels. While some teams may have exclusivity agreements when it comes to certain beverages, it is typically a separate concessionnaire that buy spirits for game days. “[The concessionaires] make money by selling customers the product that the customers want,” says Stiefel. “So if you have a really hot local whiskey or vodka or gin and customers want it, you’ve got to get your customers to go to the game and ask the people at the game, ‘Hey, why don’t you stock this local whiskey or vodka?’ You’ve got to create that

pull, that demand. You can’t just sign a sponsorship deal and create demand.” Jenna Gill, the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sales manager for Samson & Surrey USA, says that while more established brands often reign supreme in stadiums and arenas, there is indeed a great opportunity for emerging brands and craft spirits. In Philadelphia, Bluecoat Gin from Philadelphia Distilling is available at the Wells Fargo Center (home to the 76ers and Flyers) and at Lincoln Financial Field (home of the Eagles). At the latter, Gill says the stadium has pop-up bars that offer craft beverages. “That’s kind of catering to that craft cocktail consumer that doesn’t want the simple Jack and Coke and wants to head over there and have a Tom Collins with Bluecoat Gin,” says Gill. “You’re definitely seeing them try to find ways to bring craft into their mix but still maintaining a high volume bar with those iconic call brands behind the bar.” That’s a victory for the fans, no matter how the team fairs. “Some of these people are going out to a nice cocktail bar or a nice dinner before the game and they don’t want to trade down when they’re at the game,” says Gill. “They want to be able to keep drinking that craft whiskey or that premium spirit that they enjoy on a regular basis.” ■

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Technically Speaking

THAT TASTY OLE OAK TREE Distillers Experiment with Char and Toast Levels to Create House Styles BY DAVIN DE KERGOMMEAUX AND BLAIR PHILLIPS

The Tony Orlando & Dawn song “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” recalls the story of a Civil War soldier returning home in search of a yellow ribbon on the town’s oak tree—a signal the love of his life was waiting for him. Simple and direct, but the song wasn’t pushing the boundaries of music in 1973. Much like distilleries’ use of wood at the time. Now, with two thousand distilleries across the United States, pushing boundaries is how distillers ensure their products stand out from the crowd. Inevitably this comes down to one thing— flavor. And once again the oak tree figures large. “The American consumer likes oak,” says Alex Grelli of Pittsburgh’s Wigle Distillery. When we look at where the most desirable oak flavors come from, experience points to changes caused by heat. The Independent Stave Co.’s flavor wheel confirms the flavors in fresh oak barrels are often harsh, bitter, herbaceous and woody. This is why some of the most successful experiments involve toasting and charring oak staves. “Toasting activates compounds in the wood that may not otherwise be activated,” says Christin Head, executive bourbon steward at Moonshine University. If heating is key to producing flavor, it has also ignited new research and development efforts. Charring takes seconds once the staves catch fire, while toasting is a much slower process sometimes lasting 45 minutes or longer to generate flavorful changes throughout the stave. “Toasting is a wholewood treatment,” says Head, “not just a surface treatment.” Colton Weinstein of Corsair Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee, employs a range of barrels for his whiskeys, comparing other treatments to a standard No. 3 char. “Don’t shoot from the hip,” he cautions, “start with a known quantity. A light char brings out more

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of the grain flavors; a heavy char more wood and vanillas.” Weinstein uses these various chars and toasts to give his blends deeper and richer flavors. However, new distillers needn’t stumble blindly into experimenting from scratch. “Maker’s Mark went to great expense and spent a great deal of time figuring out how to make the stave process work,” Head explains, of Maker’s Mark 46. “The average startup doesn’t have those resources. They are looking for something to make their product

“Utilizing different barrel char and toast levels is one way we leverage everything oak has to offer.”

—Steve Hawley of Westland Distillery distinct and this is one way they can do it. It’s the cooperages that are answering that call for the small distillers.” Independent Stave Co. is one cooperage taking up the challenge to uncover new toasting and charring concepts for small distillers. Along with extensive barrel treatment research, twice a year the company collaborates on a barrel aging course with Moonshine University. It’s a shortcut for small distillers who can’t afford years of trial and error. Independent Stave is where Joshua Beach, head distiller at Wayne Gretzky Estates in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, looked to bolster his barrel program. Being part of the long-

established Peller Estates, Beach already has access to fresh wine barrels and has explored that avenue deeply. “It has to be a whisky first and foremost,” he says, acknowledging the risk of wine dominating the whisky. Beach concurs with Weinstein that there is a sweet spot for traditional whiskey barrels. For his standard, Beach uses a No. 3 toast with a No. 1 or 2 char to give balance. Still, to investigate the impacts of various toast and char levels, Beach made a 30,000-liter batch of 100% rye spirit then filled it into four each of 37 barrel types with different char and toast combinations. It’s been a year, and it’s almost time to draw his first barrel samples. Grelli settled on a No. 4 char based on consumer response to various Wigle ryes matured in No. 2, 3 or 4 char oak barrels with different seasoning levels. For a recent apple brandy he chose medium toasted barrels. “We wanted some oak profile without overwhelming the gentle brandy aromatics.” “Our approach to blending very much requires us to consciously create diversity in our stocks of aging whiskey,” says Steve Hawley of Westland Distillery in Seattle. “Utilizing different barrel char and toast levels is one way we leverage everything oak has to offer. New American oak barrels are a key component of our house style. Another thing we’re doing is exploring the impacts of char and toast in various sizes of barrels. “We have learned that the degree of barrel charring is ultimately less important than the quality of the oak that’s used to make the barrel. We use only slow-growth oak with airdried staves. It was surprising to us how much more important that was to the quality of our whiskey than the nuances of the various char/ toast levels.” Many of Westland’s explorations focus on a local Pacific Northwest species of American white oak called Quercus garryana, or Garry


Human Resources

Oak. “There is a great deal of established knowledge for how Quercus alba reacts to charring and toasting, but that level of understanding doesn’t yet exist for Garry Oak,” Hawley continues. “Thus, we’re experimenting with a variety of char and toast levels to uncover the nuances that the process has on this unique oak.” Toasting and charring are just two of many variables, agrees Corsair’s Weinstein. How the wood was dried has a huge influence, and so does barrel size. To get product quickly to market, Weinstein began by maturing his whiskey in small barrels. He also experimented with honeycomb barrels from Black Swan Cooperage. Honeycombing dramatically increases the surface area of the barrels. “It was too much in a smaller barrel,” he recalls, “As we move to larger barrels, we may go back.” Grelli too will re-explore charring levels as Wigle transitions from 25-gallon to 53-gallon barrels. As the influence of heat on wood is better understood, distillers are homing in on specific char and toast levels to create desired house styles. “Not everyone will want to take that route though,” Head advises. Those looking to make pre-Prohibition-style whiskey, for example, “need everything all over the map.” Nevertheless, rather than sporting a yellow ribbon, today’s oak tree welcomes spirits lovers with a flavorful amber liquid. ■ Westland Distillery uses only slow-growth oak with air-dried staves.

Davin de Kergommeaux and Blair Phillips are the authors of “The Definitive Guide to Canadian Distilleries” to be published March 31, 2020.


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legal corner

FORMULA BASICS FOR DISTILLERS How to ease the formula approval process for spirits. BY JOHN MESSINGER

Most distillers understand that they must jump through a seemingly never-ending number of hoops to get their products to market. There are federal and state permits and licenses to obtain, taxes to be paid, reports to be filed, and so on. Aside from obtaining Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) label approval for most or all of their products, distillers must also obtain TTB formula approval before they can produce and sell certain spirits. TTB’s rules regarding when formula approvals are required, and the formula approval process, can be confusing or intimidating for both new and established distillers. This article breaks down the basic federal requirements for distilled spirits formulas and attempts to make the formula approval process at least a little bit easier. When Do I need a formula for a distilled spirit? TTB formula approval is required before you may blend, compound or otherwise treat spirits in such a way that results in a “change of character, composition, class or type.” For example, adding sugar (at least 2.5% by weight of the finished product), natural flavors and water to neutral spirits to create a liqueur changes the character, composition, class or type of the neutral spirits. A good rule of thumb, though not all encompassing, is that any time you add flavoring ingredients to a distilled spirit (e.g. adding vanilla beans to vodka) or blend different classes/types of distilled spirits together (e.g. blending straight bourbon whiskey with light whiskey to create blended bourbon whiskey), you must get an approved formula to produce the product. Gin is one of the exceptions to the rule; it contains flavoring ingredients but does not always need TTB formula approval. Distilled gin, which is a gin distilled from a fermented mash where the botanicals (juniper berries plus at least two additional botanicals)

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are added to the mash or to the distillation column before or during distillation, does not need TTB formula approval. TTB formula approval is required to produce gin where spirits are redistilled with botanicals (i.e. redistilled gin) or blending/infusing neutral spirits with botanicals or botanical extracts (i.e. compound gin). Another exception to the rule is barrel finishing. In general, barrel finishing a distilled spirit requires TTB formula approval if 1) the barrel finishing changes the taste, aroma, or characteristics attributed to that particular class/type of spirit (e.g. finishing rum in a used maple syrup barrel) and/or 2) the barrel used is a different type than what is required by the regulations (e.g. finishing straight bourbon whiskey in any barrel other than a charred new oak barrel). In these instances, the product will most often be classified as a distilled spirits specialty (DSS). The DSS category covers any product not defined by TTB’s standards of identity for distilled spirits. For example, a straight bourbon whiskey finished in sherry casks or a “moonshine” distilled from a mash of corn and cane sugar to less than 190 proof, are both considered DSS products because they do not fit into any TTB defined class or type of distilled spirits. Preparing Your Formula for Submission Once you determine that you need formula approval, you should start putting together the information TTB requires to process and approve your formula (basically, a recipe). In general, a TTB formula application must provide the following information: 1. Class/Type (e.g. Flavored Vodka, Distilled Spirits Specialty, Liqueur). The formulation provided must fit within the selected class/type. 2. Total yield (volume/weight or percentage). 3. Alcohol content of the finished product (by volume or proof).

4. Ingredients and use rates. Ingredients typically fall into five categories: • Fermentables—any ingredient that contributes fermentable sugars (e.g. malted barley, cane sugar). Fermentables are generally only required for spirits produced by original distillation. • Finished alcohol—finished wine or spirits added to the product. Finished alcohol is generally only required for blended/compounded distilled spirits products. • Flavors—any additive that imparts flavor to the finished product (e.g. cherries, apple juice, vanilla extract, natural cinnamon flavor). • Colors—any ingredient added solely to impart color to the finished product (e.g. caramel color, FD&C Red #40). • Other—a catch-all category encompassing ingredients such as water, sweeteners and preservatives. 5. Method of manufacture—a step-bystep description of the process used to make the finished product. The method of manufacture can be simple, but should include the following details: • For spirits produced by original distillation: mash preparation and fermentation (including alcohol content of fermented mash), distillation process (including proof at distillation), flavor/ color additions (if any), blending, proofing, aging and filtration, and packaging. • For compounded/blended spirits: blending, flavor/color additions, proofing, filtration, and packaging. In addition to the above, additional documentation may be required for certain ingredients. For compounded flavors (e.g. natural vanilla flavor purchased from a flavor company), a Flavor Ingredient Data Sheet (FIDS) must be attached to the formula ap-


TTB’s rules regarding when formula approvals are required, and the formula approval process, can be confusing or intimidating for both new and established distillers. plication. The FIDS can be obtained from the flavor producer or supplier, and shows that the flavor is approved by TTB, safe, natural or artificial, used within limits, and with or without coloring. A Few Tips If you want a bit more flexibility to make changes to your products after formula approval—without submitting and waiting on a new or superseding formula to be approved—you may want to use the following suggestions when preparing formulas for TTB submission: 1. Provide broad ranges for ingredients and alcohol content (e.g. 0.1 to 5 gallons of apple juice).


2. On the fence about a particular ingredient? It can be listed as optional provided its inclusion or exclusion does not impact labeling. For example, an amaro formula could list 10 optional herbs/spices, as long as there was one non-optional flavor/herb/spice in the product, but it could not list optional caramel coloring. 3. Do not give overly specific details about ingredients when possible. For instance, instead of listing “Madagascar Vanilla Beans” or “Pure Cane Granulated Sugar” simply list “Vanilla Beans” or “Sugar.” These tips, along with a better understanding of TTB’s rules regarding formulas, should hopefully make it easier for distillers to navigate TTB’s formula approval process. ■

John Messinger is a Senior Attorney at Lehrman Beverage Law, PLLC. John received his J.D. from American University, Washington College of Law, and joined the firm as an attorney in 2009. He assists wine, beer and spirits companies with labeling, formulation, licensing, advertising, taxation, product development and other federal and state compliance matters.

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OPENING UP TO NEW POSSIBILITIES The creativity of craft distillers is starting to overflow into exciting new options for bottle closures. BY ANDREW KAPLAN

When it came to the closures it uses on its bottles, the third time was the charm for Corsair Distillery of Nashville, Tennessee. The natural cork shank wooden bar tops it first used caused its clear spirits to turn a greenish hue, possibly because of residue left on them. Then, the micro agglomerated t-tops, where bits of cork are held together by glue, had structural integrity issues, with the shank pulling off from the wooden top or pieces of it falling into the bottle. So Corsair turned to an offering from NimbleJack Partners, near Atlanta, Georgia. Called Nature, and supplied by Supercap, of Mombaroccio, Italy, the shank in these bar tops are composed of a sanitized cork micro-granules blend of natural cork and highperformance polymers where no glue is used in the mix. “We use sanitized cork granules and blend them with polymers. No polyurethane glue is used,” says Heinz Heidenreich, owner of NimbleJack. “And that is the great advantage since, in our experience, the polyurethane glue used during micro agglo production can leach into the spirit over time as 45% alcohol is very aggressive.” “To me, it’s kind of like the best of both worlds,” says Tyler Crowell, Corsair’s COO. “We’ve had consistent quality issues with 100% natural corks from various suppliers which led us to research synthetic options. The main benefits of the Supercap Nature corks are structural integrity, natural appearance and pricing. The simplicity of only need-

ing one style cork for all of our products was also a factor as well as the superior customer service from the NimbleJack team.” Corsair’s experience with finding just the right bar top for its bottles exemplifies the wide range of options available to craft distillers today when it comes to closures. There are more choices than ever on the market whether it comes to purely 100% natural cork solutions, synthetics or somewhere in between. There are also closures made purely of glass like those from Vinoseal, as well as a variety of metal and plastic screw tops.

“It’s the customer cue that a product has come out of a barrel if it’s got a wood stopper on it.” —Kevin Dunbar of Tapi

“The craft movement has allowed a more entrepreneurial approach to closure selection as brands are about image and differentiation rather than simply cost,” says Sandra ShandBrown, supply & NPD director for Bruni Erben, a Berlin Packaging Company. “As a result, we have witnessed growing demand for a range of new

styles, shapes, finishes and material types.” David Schuemann, owner of CF Napa Brand Design, adds that his clients just seem to be paying more attention to the quality of their closures as more and more evidence shows that consumers correlate it to the quality of what’s in the bottle. “I see definitely a move by a lot of craft distilleries recognizing that the closure is the major quality cue to the consumer. And so they’re investing in more than just a simple stock t-top,” he says. “And so we’ve been designing wood t-tops where they’re engraved, or they’ve got metal pieces embedded in them, or so they have a substantial weight to them, and really almost become keepsakes. For example, something like a Blanton’s or something where people tend to take these and keep them and collect them. “I’m definitely seeing much more attention to detail on that part of the package than I have in the past, if I look back over the last five to seven years,” he continues. “Because of the minimum quantity order for a lot of these kind of custom items, a lot of distilleries shied away from them, but I think now people realize their value. They’re just going to deal with having some back stock for a number of years and leverage the quality cues they get from them.” It makes sense. After all, the closure on a bottle of spirits gets a lot of use, especially compared with those for other beverages, such as wine. On average, a bottle of spirits gets opened and closed 12 to 33 times before

Amorim has stoppers that feature LEDs, fragrances and microchips.

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the bottle is finally emptied, according to NimbleJack. With a bottle of wine it’s used once or twice and then thrown away. And as in the examples Schuemann cites, it is wood bar tops that continue to remain the popular choice for craft spirits, says Kevin Dunbar, general manager for Tapi of Padova, Italy. “It’s the customer cue that a product has come out of a barrel if it’s got a wood stopper on it,” Dunbar says. “That seems to continue to be the customer cue on the shelf and few people seem to want to buck that customer cue right now. And as more and more product comes out of barrels, it would appear that they’re going to continue with that for their closures and that they’re going to try to differentiate their product in other ways with bottle shape, with labeling and bottle decoration, things like that.” Of the 3 billion spirits closures used in the U.S. each year, 700 million are bar top closures with half of those consisting of natural shank, and the other half synthetic shank, according to NimbleJack. Heidenreich, of NimbleJack, says customers are also showing more interest in eco-friendly options as consumers become more sensitive to packaging’s impact on the environment. “At our factory in Italy we design a closure, the Eco Series, where the polyethylene does not come from oil, but it rather comes from sugar cane. Because sugar cane as it grows in the environment absorbs CO2, the overall carbon footprint will be much lower compared to a typical synthetic shank made from oil by-products. So it’s essentially zero carbon footprint,” he says. Costs for closures can range from 10 cents for a screw cap, to 30 cents for a standard bar top with wood, to up to 50 cents for higherend bar tops. But, it is not unusual for the more elaborate bar tops with, say metal figurines atop of them, to cost as much as $8 each. Heidenreich says the closure experience is as much about form as it is function. In other words, consumers appreciate the feel of the closure as much as they do its utility in keeping the liquid inside the bottle fresh while giving them easy access to it. “If you buy a bottle of bourbon, when you open it you look at that cork a couple times, you touch the cork, it’s almost like a nice interior of car. There’s that experience of tactile feel. So, we do laser decoration, pad printing, so all kinds of ways to make the top of the cork look very nice so the distillery can actually bring out their branding. It’s a great branding space,” he says. As an example of just how far closures can go in appealing to the sensory experi-


Corsair Distillery uses closures from NimbleJack Partners, supplied by Supercap.

ence, Amorim, in Argoncilhe, Portugal, has recently introduced closures with their own scents called Sense Tops. These stoppers can include enamels with a wide range of colors and decals or embossed/debossed artworks that are infused with fragrance. Alternatively, the varnish of any stopper can be mixed with micro-capsules so the fragrance is released when the surface is scratched. Sense Tops created a major buzz at Luxe Pack Monaco 2019, the company says. Furthermore, the company’s new Ambiance Series incorporates LED technology in the stopper while its Evolutive Series is a heat

sensitive stopper that can indicate when the spirit has attained the ideal temperature to be consumed. And, in early 2019, Amorim Top Series launched a new range of bartop cork stoppers—the Tap Series—that includes a microchip with pre-recorded information, such as a serial number, production date and a link to internet pages that can be used to provide exclusive information and identify authentic products. “There’s a myriad of things that are on the horizon for people in the closure area,” sums up Dunbar of Tapi. “It’s kind of come later because the closure is such a small piece of the package, but it is coming.” ■

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sales & marketing

A LOCAL PARTNER WITH BIG REACH Working with a local convention and visitor’s bureau can help a distillery get deserved attention well outside of the city limits. BY JOHN HOLL

There’s only so much a distillery can do on its own to get new people through the doors. A clean, easy-to-navigate website is a must. The same is true for a robust in-house social media program and making sure that rankings, reviews and other important metadata are correct and up to date on search engines and consumer sites. There comes a point in the life of every business, however, when it needs help to grow and help new customers walk through the doors. This may not mean a fancy public

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relations firm, or a big media buy, but rather reaching out to a local convention and visitor’s bureau (CVB) or tourism board for help. Distillers pride themselves as being part of a local community and good neighbors, so working with a CVB is a chance to show off that local pride to residents and travelers alike. “There can be a lot of misunderstanding on what a CVB does, so I think the first thing a distillery owner should do is reach out to their local organization, set up a meeting and just listen and learn how they work,” says Stepha-

nie Sadri, who coordinates meetings and logistics for the American Craft Spirits Association and is the manager for global accounts at HelmsBriscoe, a company that specializes in meetings procurement and site selection. “Once you find out what they are involved with you can figure out how to participate.” Generally, CVBs serve as a promotional and outreach agency for a specific area. They can focus on entire states, within certain city limits, or a wide swath of a region. The aim is to bring in tourists from around the world



Boot Hill Distillery owner Hayes J. Kelman sits on the advisory board of his local CVB.

and to help conventions of all sizes commit to holding their event. The more travelers and groups that come in, the better it is for the local economy. One way these organizations convince people to visit is by showcasing local businesses. From restaurants and entertainment venues, to natural landmarks and historical sites, any place of interest can bring in visitor dollars. Distilleries can play a big part in this as well. Sadri says that in many cases when people visit a new place, they are open to new experiences and getting outside of their comfort zones. “The [CVB employees] are trying to sell their city and are going to do all they can to make it cooler and different and offering up distilleries as an option is at the top of the list,” she says. That’s certainly the case in Florida, where the Daytona Beach CVB is keen on promoting its local distillery, Copper Bottom Craft Distillery. “More and more, vacationing visitors are looking for unique and special experiences with their beverages and Copper Bottom provides exactly that,” says Kate Holcomb, director of communications for the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “This locally-owned and family-operated distillery ties together local history with the craft of distilling. It offers behind-the-scenes tours and tastings, and its popularity is growing quickly. Local establishments benefit as well as visitors love seeing locally crafted spirits on the drink menu.” This kind of boosterism is repeated by countless CVBs around the country when it comes to local distilleries. Working with a CVB helps a local business get exposure well beyond the city limits. The CVBs will often host travel journalists, bloggers and social media influencers on trips that showcase the very best a city or region has to offer. By hosting the traveling correspondents for a short period of time, sharing the distillery story and some samples, there’s a good chance the spirits will pop up in articles around the country or world, enticing readers to come visit for themselves. “When you have a local group that wants to bring in national media and show off what you’re doing, that’s a great thing,” says Hayes J. Kelman, the owner of Boot Hill Distillery in Dodge City, Kansas. “We’ve had great success with that.” Kelman sits on the advisory board of his local CVB which also keeps him informed of upcoming events and to think of ways to be involved. Being a part of a local CVB can also bring


Shelby and Hayes J. Kelman of Boot Hill Distillery

“When you have a local group that wants to bring in national media and show off what you’re doing, that’s a great thing.” —Hayes J. Kelman of Boot Hill Distillery locals to your doors. The CVB websites are often a great resource for residents who are looking to entertain guests from out of town. Many are segmented into options for dining, entertainment, kid’s fun and things to do with fellow adults. There are often itineraries that include multiple businesses near each other that can be visited in a reasonable time period. Show those folks a good time when they are out with visiting friends, and they might just come back again soon. That’s the tourism part. There’s also the convention angle to consider. If a city has a robust convention center that brings in groups and industries from around the country, there are additional opportunities. Sadri suggests that if a distillery has a big enough space or is amenable to being open to private parties on nights when the business would normally be closed, there are opportunities to host out-of-town conventioneers to hold special events, even a chance to help make spirits. One final thing to consider is

reaching out to other businesses in town that a distillery can connect with to help drive business both ways. Sadri says working with local hotels is one avenue to explore. A local hotel that carries local spirits is an ideal partner. By offering special packages that include drink specials, complimentary tastings or even private tours as part of a room stay, guests have a chance to connect with the brand. The same can be done with local restaurants, featuring a special cocktail or a tasting flight as part of a dinner. In both cases the businesses are mutually promoting the other. “Working with other businesses is very high on our priority list,” says Kelman. “We have to build our home base and one way to do that is work with others in town. We don’t serve food, so if customers ask for restaurant recommendations or other places, we’ll point them to places in town that serve our spirits, or just down the hill to the local brewery or coffee shop. They do the same for us and we’re all seeing the dividends pay off.” ■

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Distribution & Logistics

THE SPACE RACE Product storage can often be an afterthought, but it can play a critical role in a distillery’s future growth. BY ANDREW KAPLAN

It’s a good thing Jake Holshue has a good sense of humor. Otherwise, the head distiller’s efforts to expand the amount of space at Old Trestle Distillery in Truckee, California, could have caused him to throw up his hands in frustration a long time ago. “I am faced with a pretty dire space issue at the moment,” Holshue admits. Unfortunately for Holshue, not everyone can appreciate the hardships of a craft distiller—even the town officials who run Truckee, a picturesque resort town of just 16,000 people located near Lake Tahoe. Anti-development factions in the town have not embraced his attempts to expand his operation. “They’ve been dragging their feet,” he says. “And it’s made it very hard on us so we’re having to make do with what we have for now and much past the expectation time that we initially had. So, we are actively searching for other options, but the well is drying up on that.” For a growing distillery like Old Trestle, finding sufficient space can be crucial. As is the case with many other craft distilleries today, Holshue’s operation is having to balance paying the bills today—distilling faster-to-market products like vodka and gin—while also planning for its future. And much of that future is tied up in the whiskey maturing in its barrels. “We produce more whiskey than anything but the only products we have out currently are two gins and a vodka,” Holshue says. And that means Old Trestle has to come up with more space if it is to keep growing. Holshue’s immediate goal? To free up space for production in Old Trestle’s existing 4,000-square-foot facility by relocating

Jake Holshue

its barrels. Today, that 4,000 square feet is a bustling mix divided into a third for the barrel aging, another third for production, and the last to dry good storage and milling. “And then everything else just kind of wedges in between everything else at the moment,” says Holshue. Holshue’s race to find more space is a situation familiar to Alexander “Sandy” Wood, co-founder and CEO of One Eight Distilling. Based in Washington, D.C., One Eight also finds itself quickly outgrowing its space for storage. This, despite the fact that One Eight recently expanded into an adjacent 7,500-square-foot space, doubling its footprint to about 15,000 square feet of space for production and storage. “A few years back we expanded into that space and we’ve been in good shape for storage since then but are already looking at what we’re going to do for offsite storage in a couple of years,” Wood says. Until they find more space, Holshue, Wood and hundreds of other small craft distillers around the country find themselves having to make do with what they have. And they are doing so in some innovative ways. Some Best Practices When it comes to barrel storage, two options are the most common. One is the use of traditional wine racks—two barrels laid down next to each other in each rack location. These can be moved reasonably easy by forklift. However, if they are stacked too high they can tip over in the event of an earthquake. A work around for that is to lower the stacks and/ or go to a four-barrel rack as it more evenly

“I’ve found that ultimately, if you need to bring in an expert to maximize your storage space, the answer probably just is ‘you need more space.’” —Jake Holshue of Old Trestle Distillery


distributes the weight. Also, barrel racks can rust over time. Most barrel rack manufacturers have a 10-year limit for the lifespan of a rack, so don’t be afraid of rotating your racks and taking old ones out of service. Another option is palletized storage, where the barrels are stored rightside up, using metal straps to hold them together, with additional palletized barrels stacked on top of them. This can be more economical as more barrels can be fit into a tight warehouse. Palletizing the barrels can save some space but can also be more challenging. For one thing, the barrels are often different sizes, making stacking them on top of each other often difficult and a potential safety hazard. Also, wooden pallets are not the best platform for long-term storage. They may be weakened from having been damaged during transit, and there have also been some cases where there have been insect infestations. In fact, experts say that there are many different safety considerations to be aware of when storing alcohol, especially when it comes to fire prevention. However, smaller operations typically do not have to deal with as many regulations as larger ones. For example, oftentimes extra sprinklers are needed only when storage gets above 12 feet high in a facility. Even so, it is important to make sure barrels are stored in areas where the chance of fire or explosion from electricity is minimized. Also, making sure the building has enough ventilation is also very important. Another thing to consider is aesthetics. Visitors to distilleries expect to see the barrels stored neatly on their sides in racks, not stacked on pallets. As a result, some distilleries choose to use a little of both storage methods to get the best of both worlds: efficient space utilization and an aesthetically pleasing barrel storage area for tours. “You want to go by the barrels and talk about what they do and their connection to the spirit and everything else,” says Wood. Seeking Outside Help Unlike larger distilleries, craft distillers typically don’t seek the help of outside consultants when it comes to setting up their barrel or other storage spaces. In fact, some even scoff a bit at the idea, often because of the extra cost involved. After all, many of these companies are on such tight budgets. “We’ve had storage solution vendors come in,” says Holshue, “and shake their heads and say we need more space. I’ve found that ultimately, if you need to bring in an expert to maximize

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Based in Washington, D.C., One Eight Distilling finds itself quickly outgrowing its space for storage.

not necessary, but the pick path design is still important to maximize productivity.” One Size Doesn’t Fit All Wood, of One Eight Distilling, says he is still considering his options for that fastapproaching day when he will have to expand storage capacity once again. He is considering storing his barrels at another nearby barrel storage facility in Virginia, factoring in the cost of transport and the rent. Or, he might rent a facility on his own if he can find one cheap enough. “We’re not the only ones facing this,” he says. “Even not the only ones facing it in D.C., so we may be talking to other

folks locally to potentially share an offsite storage facility.” As for Holshue, while he continues to look for a suitable new location to help grow Old Trestle, he has already learned some valuable lessons from working and consulting for other distilleries. “I think when it comes to general storage issues in craft distilleries there is no one right answer,” he says. “It’s whatever works for you and your team. But I believe that safety is the number one issue when it comes to craft distilleries. So as long as the storage space is inherently safe for you and your employees, and you’re not doing stupid things with it, then that is the best solution.” ■



your storage space, the answer probably just is ‘you need more space.’” And yet industry consultants say they can help—maybe not with the smallest operations, but certainly as craft distilleries grow further and begin to outgrow their spaces. “Right now, craft distillers are focused on growing their businesses,” says Randy Russo, manager, Precision Distribution Consulting (PDC), in York, Pennsylvania. “But the reality is that most folks end up looking at their warehouse costs as a means to either maintain their profitability or continue to grow profitability as the growth trajectory starts to flatten or they find they’re starting to get boxed in.” If you do decide to go the route of hiring a consultant, many can help focus the operation on areas it needs to address. For example, Dalkita, Inc., of Englewood, Colorado, has come up with a series of templates distillers can use to calculate the resources they will need looking out several years. “It doesn’t come up with all the answers, but it gives them a tool to understand what the questions need to be to arrive at the answers,” says Scott Moore, Dalkita’s president. In fact, a little such planning can save a lot of headaches down the road. “We work with the customer to develop a vision of their business at least five years out,” says Dan DeMarco, distillery engineer at Thoroughbred Spirits Group LLC in Chicago. “Where do you want to be in terms of volumes? What types of spirits are you looking at? How long do you think you might be aging them? It’s not a precise exercise, but it does at least form the basis for a plan. And then we can estimate what your storage requirements are going to be for barrels, glass and finished goods.” Warehouse consultant Chet Willey of Arlington, Texas, adds that the same goes when it comes to investing in things like packaging equipment. “You have to look at the future, where you want to be, and then figure out what equipment you will be needing, because that capital investment is pretty substantial for packaging equipment,” he says. “If you design for only today, then you’re going to eventually have to take that out and put in something that gets you to the future, and that gets really expensive.” Willey also recommends paying attention to any storage space’s layout. “A properly designed storage space should incorporate good product flow from package to storage and from storage to shipping,” he says. “One objective is to minimize travel distance. For a small operation, a separate order pick area is

closing time

FESTIVE FACTOIDS The dynamics of the holiday season by the numbers Price increase for the average 750-mL bottle of spirits during fourth quarter of 2018:


Percentage of total annual cordials/liqueurs volume sold during the holiday period:


Percent increase over expected/average cordials/ liqueurs sales during non-holiday 7-week period:


Percentage of total annual American whiskey dollars sold during holiday period:


Percent increase over expected/average American whiskey sales during non-holiday 7-week period:


Percentage of total Scotch whiskey dollars sold in the U.S. during holiday period: 2


Percent increase over expected/average Scotch whisky sales during non-holiday 7-week period:


Percentage of total Irish whiskey dollars sold in the U.S. during holiday period:


Percent increase over expected/average Irish whiskey sales during non-holiday 7-week period:


SPIRITS WISH LIST In the November installment of The Monthly Mash—ACSA’s monthly newsletter—we asked our members and readers which type of spirits were on their holiday wish lists. Here is a look at the results, based on 76 participants.

Whiskey 19.7% Liqueur 15.8% Brandy 14.5% Rum 14.5% Agave 11.8% Gin 11.8% Vodka 11.8%

Source: Nielsen | Time period: Calendar Year 2018 C R AF TSPIR ITSMAG.COM

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The American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) is the only national association of craft distillers created and governed by craft distillers. Our mission is to elevate and advocate for the community of craft spirits producers.


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