Craft Spirits February 2020

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Charting the Course Exploring the rapid rise of spirits-themed trails across the United States. BY JON PAGE



Defining Agricole Can anyone in the U.S. ever really make ‘agricole’ rum? BY MAGGIE CAMPBELL


Tradition, Competition, Reinvigoration The Japanese craft spirits market evolves amidst modern market realities. BY JEFF CIOLETTI


Mountain Rum Montanya Distillers crafts rum at high altitude while remaining committed to sustainability and social responsibility. BY JON PAGE


Cover illustration by Yasmine Kahsai



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Editor’s Note




Recent releases from One Eight Distilling, Tattersall Distilling and more


The Big Book of Bourbon Cocktails Whiskey Master Class



Colorado’s Peach Street Distillers, Ska Brewing Partner on Brewstillery

LEW’S BOTTOM SHELF 24 Living Up to the Look

How to stand out in a crowded space BY LEW BRYSON


Flavorful concoctions from Ironclad Distillery Co., Montanya Distillers and Apologue Liqueurs



San Antonio Cocktail Conference


Getting to Know Our Keynote Speaker A conversation with Joth Ricci, the president of Dutch Bros Coffee


ACSA Announces Call for Nominations


ACSA Education Committee Chairs Detail World-Class Pre-convention Education

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Long-distance Neighbors Stay Close in Texas Distillers in Texas are working hard to show off their spirits. BY JOHN HOLL


The Language of Business In a Q&A, accountant turned distiller Béla Náhori offers insights on his former trade.


Agave Spirit: Difficult to Make, Worth the Work American distillers are embracing agave in all its forms. BY JOHN HOLL

RETAIL: ON-PREMISE 54 Riding the Wave

Tiki bars offer plenty of opportunities for craft spirits producers—just don’t try to mess with the classics. BY JEFF CIOLETTI

RETAIL: OFF-PREMISE 57 A Family Affair

How a family-run store turned into an Arizona liquor legacy.


Ensuring Compliance with Third Parties How to maintain industry compliance when working with unlicensed third parties BY RYAN MALKIN AND ASHLEY HANKE


How macro trends will influence craft spirits packaging in the new decade

SALES & MARKETING 64 A Marriage Of Equals

How Distilleries Can Develop Successful Co-Branding Partnerships BY KATE BERNOT


Brand ambassadors can be excellent assets for craft spirits companies, as long as they approach their role with certain things in mind BY ANDREW KAPLAN



Tips and Insights on Maintaining OSHA Compliance for Distillers

Examining how water affects the distilling process.




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



Water Rules Everything Around Me


Packaging Roars Into the Twenties

Safety Standards

The Year in Spirits The Most Popular On-premise Channels for Drinking


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, S E N I O R E D I TO R | Jon Page, S A L E S & D E V E LO P M E N T D I R EC TO R | Kate Farrington, A RT D I R EC TO R | Michelle Villas CO N T R I B U TO R S | Kate Bernot, Lew Bryson, Maggie Campbell, Ashley Hanke, John Holl, Jake Holshue, Andrew Kaplan, Ryan Malkin, Erika Rietz 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 © 2020 Craft Spirits Magazine is a publication of the American Craft Spirits Association.


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

Editor’s Note

IS IT TOO COLD IN HERE? I’ve had on-premise channels on my mind quite a bit lately, most likely due to the fact that, in January, I attended the San Antonio Cocktail Conference and was surrounded by wall-to-wall bar industry people (see some of my photos from the event in this month’s Snapshots section on page 28). Well, that and the fact that, according to Nielsen CGA, spirits’ share of on-premise dollar sales bested that for beer, 43% to 40% respectively. (Also check out Closing Time on the final page of this issue for more on that and, while you’re at it you can check out the archived version of the recent “Spirits Category Trends” webinar ACSA hosted with Danny Brager of Nielsen and Matt Crompton of CGA, who presented analyses on those and many more figures. Head to for more info.) But what really put bars and restaurants front and center on my brain was a recent night out with a friend in Northern California (the city shall remain nameless because process of elimination should make it pretty easy to deduce the name of the venue). We went to what fancies itself the premier craft cocktail bar in the anonymous city, but the experience itself argued otherwise. We waited nearly a half hour before the bartender was even willing to acknowledge our presence to take our drink order from what appeared to be a very well designed and curated drinks menu. Look, I get it, things get busy. Drinks take time to make, especially good ones. Patrons at such establishments understand that. We’re paying a premium for expertly crafted cocktails and we don’t want anything sub-par. But it doesn’t give the bar staff license to make people feel invisible. This isn’t an isolated incident, nor is it unique to that particular establishment. We’re lucky to live in a golden age of mixology (even though, apparently, many in the industry aren’t fond of the m-word). There are bartenders who are bona fide superstars, much like their counterparts in the kitchen, whose culinary techniques have made them famous. And those bartenders—many true pioneers among them—earned their place in such rarefied air. But an unfortunate by-product of that phenomenon is that some in the service industry have gotten starry-eyed and spend too much time chasing fame, hoping to mix their way to celebrity. Whether they realize it or not—perhaps because they do have a solid group of regulars who fawn over them—they’ve adopted an attitude that guests should feel privileged to be served by them. The California incident reminded me of an amazing ses-

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sion I attended at Bar Convent Brooklyn in 2018. Renowned Houston-based bar owner Bobby Heugel presented a chart based on Dutch social scientist Geert Hofstede’s theory of cultural dimensions, illustrating the continuum between individualism and collectivism. As a culture, Americans rate high on the individualism scale. East Asian countries tend to occupy more of a collectivist space. Collectivism is more conducive to creating a culture of hospitality, as the bar teams are driven by a desire to serve and provide the guest with the best possible experience. Individualism, on the other hand, is more about oneself, where (often, but certainly not always), ego drives career pursuits. And if that’s not kept in check, it can be detrimental to true hospitality. Heugel’s an advocate of integrating more collectivist elements into the bar business to drive a better service culture. The one bar that, for me, epitomizes a culture of hospitality, is Rosalia’s Menagerie in Amsterdam. Upon arrival, the door is often locked and there’s a note asking you to ring the bell. No, this isn’t some kind of speakeasy-style kitsch. The Rosalia’s team wants you to ring because they want to personally greet you at the door and escort you in. When you’re directed to a seat (and you will be sitting; it’s not the sort of place where you stand), a staff member hands you a small pour of that evening’s welcome punch—a little something to sip on while you ponder your order and while the bartenders craft other drinks and serve other guests. And everyone who works there has an encyclopedic knowledge of spirits. (If you really want them to geek out with you, ask them about their genever selection). When I’m there, I don’t want to leave. It’s one of my homes away from home when I’m traveling because it has all the warmth and comfort one expects in their own home. That’s what every bar, tasting room, restaurant or any business in the consumer service sector should be striving to be for those they serve.

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.

Erika Rietz is a freelance writer with more than 15 years of experience covering craft beer, spirits and a breadth of culinary topics for print and digital publications. She was previously the editor-in-chief of DRAFT Magazine, and is currently the owner of Se_Ku Skatewear, a brand of athletic apparel for figure skaters.

Jake Holshue is the head distiller at Old Trestle Distillery in Truckee, California, and serves on the American Craft Spirits Association’s Board of Directors. Jake has held positions as head distiller, founder and consultant, working with some of the most well-known distilleries across the U.S.. He has been awarded hundreds of accolades and distinctions at top industry competitions around the world.

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.

Maggie Campbell is the president and head distiller of Privateer Rum, vice president of the ACSA, and serves on the WSET Alumni Advisory Board. She is also a current Master of Wine student and received her Diploma in Craft Distilling Technologies from the Siebel Institute, her Level IV Diploma from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, and was the founder of the Denver Brewer’s League. She previously worked as assistant distiller at GermainRobin after being introduced to distillation through her original passion for whiskey.

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Stay on top of the news.

Ryan Malkin is an attorney focusing on alcohol beverage and cannabis law. He has extensive experience providing guidance to suppliers, wholesalers, retailers, agencies, and third parties within these regulated industries. Ryan’s passion for the alcohol industry began as a staff writer for SmartMoney, and his articles have also appeared in Artisan Spirit magazine, Beverage Media,, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, DJTimes, and Esquire to name a few. Ryan is also counsel to the American Craft Spirits Association.

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.

Ashley Hanke is an attorney at Malkin Law P.A. practicing alcohol beverage and cannabis law. Her practice includes state and federal alcohol beverage licensing, TTB formula and label approvals, trademark registration and maintenance, Craft Beverage Modernization Act excise tax assistance for suppliers and importers, non-beverage formula assistance, and other matters affecting the alcohol beverage industry. Her desire to pursue a career in the field was solidified after working on a vineyard in Tuscany.


Visit us online at


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new spirits

Peach Street Distillers of Palisade, Colorado, has made state history. The distillery released Colorado Straight Bourbon 10 Year Single Barrel, a bourbon that has been quietly resting in a dark corner in Peach Street’s rickhouse since October 2009. The bourbon is made from sweet Western Colorado corn grown two miles down the road, pure Rocky Mountain water, and rye and barley from Proximity Malt in the San Luis Valley. It was aged in American oak for 10 years and bottled from a single barrel. Chemist Spirits of Asheville, North Carolina, recently released two new products. The distillery’s 114.2-proof Navy Strength Gin, is a throwback to this historic and storied variety of gin, offering proof that ‘overproof’ varieties of gin are alive and well. The distillery also collaborated with Wicked Weed Brewing for Milk & Cookies Bierbrand, by distilling the brewery’s Milk & Cookies Imperial Stout and aging it for months in barrels that previously held bourbon and beer. It features deliciously warm notes of cinnamon, golden raisin and vanilla balanced by rich chocolate, toffee and hearty oatmeal.

One Eight Distilling of Washington, D.C., celebrated 5 years of distilling recently with the unveiling of Washington D.C.’s first bottled in bond whiskey. The 100-proof District Made Bottled in Bond Rye Whiskey — a 4-year-old rye whiskey distilled grain-to-glass from Virginia rye, Maryland corn and North Carolina malted rye—is the oldest whiskey to be distilled, aged and bottled in D.C. The whiskey was crafted from 57% Virginia rye, 28% malted rye and 15% Maryland corn, and aged for four years in a charred new American oak barrel.

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After years of development J. Carver Distillery of Waconia, Minnesota, is proud to announce the release of J. Carver Aquavit. With its 100% red winter wheat base produced on its 42-plate vodka column, J. Carver Aquavit delivers aquavit lovers a uniquely smooth, soft, sweet and savory experience. Botanicals include sweet orange, bitter orange, grains of paradise, fennel seed, caraway and dill.


new spirits

Dallas-based Oak & Eden Whiskey announced expansion of its product line by adding the 90-proof Wheat & Spire, a unique twist on wheated bourbon. In a traditional wheated bourbon, the wheat grain replaces the rye grain in the bourbon mash bill, producing a sweeter, creamier profile than a standard bourbon. Oak & Eden created a process called “In-Bottle Finishing,” where it places a 5-inch long spiral-cut piece of wood, called the Spire, into its fully-aged bottle of whiskey, imparting new flavors and characteristics to the whiskey that couldn’t be achieved in a single barrel alone.

J. Henry & Sons Bourbon of Dane, Wisconsin, recently released a 10th anniversary blend, the first of an annual release the distillery plans every December to celebrate its anniversary of making bourbon. J. Henry 2019 Anniversary Blend is a 126.56-proof blend of 5-to-9-year cask strength whiskey. The distillery produced 1,200 bottles.


In January, Minneapolis-based Tattersall Distilling announced the launch of its USDA Certified, non-GMO and gluten-free 80-proof Organic Vodka. Tattersall sources and mills its organic grain from an independent family farm, just 87 miles away. The result is a smoother and more neutral-tasting vodka that’s environmentallyfriendly, handmade and even higher in quality.

James Bay Distillers, Ltd. of Everett, Washington, recently announced the release of its 80-proof Lochside Summer Gin No. 5. This sipping gin begins with a nose of orange blossom, followed by juniper and coriander, with a complex citrus blend of kumquat, mandarin and tangerine on the finish. This citrus-forward gin is made using a two-step process: first the creation of the distilled “London Dry” style, followed by a cold infusion of the more delicate botanicals to preserve the fragile citrus aromas and flavors.

F E BRUARY 20 20

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Imbiber’s Bookshelf

The Big Book of Bourbon Cocktails: 100 Timeless, Creative & Tempting Recipes Author: Amy Zavatto Publisher: Rockridge Press Release Date: Dec. 24, 2019 For bourbon aficionados―or aspiring ones―this book is a guide to plenty of inventive and exciting ways to savor an American classic. From a traditional Old Fashioned to a Churchill Downs Crusta, explore 100 cocktails that incorporate flavors from a variety of bourbons, regions and time periods. From a solo nightcap, to pre-dinner drinks for two and cocktails for a crowd, readers will learn to whip up the perfect bourbon drink for every occasion. Taste trendy new flavors created exclusively for this book, and long-forgotten recipes from the Prohibition era.

Whiskey Master Class: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, and More Author: Lew Bryson Publisher: Harvard Common Press Release Date: Feb. 18 Over the past three decades, Lew Bryson has been one of the most influential voices in whiskey—a longtime editor of Whisky Advocate, author of the definitive guide “Tasting Whiskey” and a contributor to Craft Spirits magazine. In this book, Bryson shares everything he’s learned on his journey through the worlds of bourbon, Scotch, rye, Japanese whiskey, and more (yes, there are tasty Canadian and Irish whiskeys as well!). The book includes an overview of the different types of whiskeys, including the rules and identities of each. Bryson also includes information on craft whiskeys, which tend to be more creative and freewheeling than the styles made by traditional producers. The book also includes numerous interviews with master distillers, still makers and other artisans at the top of their field.

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Author Spotlight: Amy Zavatto Amy Zavatto writes about spirits, cocktails and wine for a variety of publications and has written several books on those topics, as well. We caught up with her recently to talk about her latest, “The Big Book of Bourbon Cocktails: 100 Timeless, Creative & Tempting Recipes.” What was your inspiration for working on this book? The recipes are a mix of originals that I came up with, classics, and some fun recipes generously contributed by some of the spirits producers I personally like. I think that’s really what I was going for—the basics, but also to inspire the reader’s own creativity to riff and really dial into the spirit. Maybe a higher ABV works better in certain cocktails; maybe you want something that’s a high-rye to play up spiciness; maybe you want something softer that accents all those lovely caramel and vanilla notes. What is one of the new cocktails created for the book that you’re particularly excited about and why? I like the way Garden Grace veers in what I think is an unexpected direction for bourbon, which is really how it was kind of accidentally created—necessity and an abundance of a particular ingredient. I had some friends over in the summer and they wanted a bourbon cocktail but something snappy and refreshing. I wanted to make use of a pile of cucumbers my friend’s dad had given me. Cucumber is a natural fit with gin, but I also really love the way its soft, juicy, fresh notes play with a softer-style bourbon—I both muddle it into the drink with mint simple, and also cut a long, thin strip and press it in a circular pattern inside the glass for both the aesthetics and the aromatics. Overall, what is your favorite cocktail in the book? I have been thoroughly stuck on the Artist’s Special. I’d never heard of the drink before I started researching, and it’s just the most savory, delicious mix of ingredients. Plus, anything that uses sherry is aces in my book. Why is it such a great time to be a bourbon drinker? First of all, the freedom of knowledge has entirely changed the landscape—more consumers understand what bourbon is, and that, really, it’s kind of tough to make a crappy one and abide by the laws that govern the creation of it; it just helps them explore the category. At the same time, that knowledge and interest has inspired both small, passionate upstart distilleries all over the country, and has put new wind under the wings of larger, established producers who are coming out with new releases all the time. From both large and small distillers, I’m particularly excited about the trend toward studying, dialing in, and growing heirloom corn and other grain varieties for distillation and seeing how those things express themselves in the bottle. And I really love seeing more women at the helm of distilleries today and making great whiskey. The creativity and forward-thinking is inspiring.


CALL FOR NOMINATIONS Do You Have What it Takes to Elevate our Industry? ACSA, the only national non-profit trade group created, organized and governed by craft distillers announces its Call for Nominations. ACSA is looking to fill five positions on its Board of Directors with qualified DSP members. The successful candidates will help lead the Association, one that is dedicated to elevating and advocating for the community of craft spirits producers. Nominations must be received no later than Monday, February 24th.

Interested parties should contact Election Chair, Renee Bemis, Driftless Glen, at

Industry Update

COLORADO’S PEACH STREET DISTILLERS, SKA BREWING PARTNER ON BREWSTILLERY Colorado’s Peach Street Distillers and Ska Brewing have announced Ska Street, a “brewstillery” joint venture, slated to open in the former FATE Brewing space in Boulder this spring. Peach Street Distillers was hatched in 2005 when Ska Brewing’s two co-founders Bill Graham and Dave Thibodeau found the allure of Palisade, Colorado’s locally grown fruit too much to pass by. Since Peach Street’s opening, the two companies have worked side by side— with a shared sales team, and collaborations such as Modus Whiskey, and the Boomerang Barrel Program. Backing up even further, Ska Brewing was born on Colorado’s Front Range out of the minds of Graham and Thibodeau, with the influence of Boulder’s burgeoning beer community. This area is where they grew up and learned to homebrew, where Graham attended the University of Colorado, and where many of Ska and Peach Street’s staff got their start in the brewing industry. After 15 years of partnerships, Ska and Peach Street will finally set up shop under the

same roof in spring of 2020. “A number of serendipitous factors have come together to make Boulder the answer to what we’ve been trying to do for a decade,” says Thibodeau. “when the opportunity presented itself, we jumped at this chance to call Boulder home.” Steve Breezley, Ska’s chief operating officer who formerly worked at Avery Brewing, says, “So many of us at Ska feel attached to the Boulder community— it’s active like our home in Durango, and it’s an epicenter for craft beer.” Ska Street will integrate Ska and Peach Street’s businesses, with onsite brewing of Ska beers in a 10-barrel brewhouse and distillation of Peach Street spirits in a 450-liter still. The brewstillery will offer 30 Ska beers on tap and a mixology program that replicates the Palisade distillery experience. Ska Street’s food menu will bring together components of each business, with music-inspired, Caribbean-influenced eats to mirror the food served at Ska’s World Headquarters in Durango, and the thoughtfully sourced farm-to-table

approach that guests have come to love at Peach Street. Ska’s experimental brewery, the Mod Project, has afforded the brewery and many of its retailers the opportunity to do some unique projects together in Durango, and at Ska Street in Boulder they plan to build upon this platform with their spirits, as well as their beers.

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Industry Update

ALEX CASTLE PROMOTED TO MASTER DISTILLER AND SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF OLD DOMINICK DISTILLERY Christopher Canale Jr., president of Old Dominick Distillery and its parent company, D. Canale & Co. has announced Alex Castle is now senior vice president and master distiller of Old Dominick Distillery. “Alex has been with Old Dominick from the very start. Everyone knows she produces great spirits, but what everyone doesn’t know is that she has been instrumental in the creation and development of every aspect of the business,” Canale said. “She is more than a dedicated employee. This promotion is merely a formality to reflect in title what she is already doing and has been doing daily for Old Dominick.” Castle will now oversee all operations of the distillery to ensure goals set forth in accordance with the company’s strategic plans are being met. Castle will work daily with distillery team members and department leads, evaluating the eco-systems in place to make certain the success of the organization, and success of


individual employees. “Four years ago, I moved to Memphis to help build not only the Old Dominick brand, but also the Old Dominick Distillery. Since then, I have loved witnessing our brand grow and thrive,” said Castle. “In that time, we’ve created and released multiple products, filled over 1,000 barrels of whiskey, and grown our team by more than double. It has been a wild and crazy journey, and I look forward to continuing this journey with Old Dominick as the new senior vice president.” Castle started with Old Dominick in September of 2015 as the first female head distiller in the state of Tennessee. In January of 2019, Castle was promoted to master distiller overseeing all facets of production at Old Dominick Distillery. She also serves on the board of the Tennessee Distiller’s Guild and Tennessee Whiskey Trail, and is a member of the Tennessee Bourbon Women Chapter.

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Industry Update

CHEMIST SPIRITS WINS DOUBLE GOLD IN WOMEN’S WINE AND SPIRITS AWARDS Chemist Spirits of Asheville, North Carolina, recently won honors at what’s considered the most important wine and spirits competition in the world to be judged by women buyers — the Women’s Wine and Spirits Awards (WWSA). With the explosive growth in the gin market over the last year, winning a Double Gold WWSA medal for its Chemist American Gin as a new woman-owned distillery is highly impressive. “We are honored to be appreciated by female buyers and consumers, whom we hold in the highest esteem, and will be proudly displaying our WWSA Medals to showcase that Chemist Gin is a Double Gold WWSA Medal Winner,” says Debbie Word, founder of Chemist Spirits. The Women’s Wine and Spirits judges were dazzled by the caliber of spirits presented. One of those judges, Sara Rossi, has a career that spans Fera at Claridges, Gordon Ramsay’s Royal Hospital Road, and the Dorches-

ter Collection, where she was mentored by Vanessa Cinti. Now head sommelier and wine buyer at Trinity London, Rossi comments “I feel proud that I have been considered as one of the WWSA judges for this year. I am delighted to give my thoughts about spirits. I believe WWSA results are a guarantee to the customer of a quality product.” Held in London at the Royal Yacht Club, 100 of the world’s most influential female beverage buyers assembled for the historic occasion. Wine and spirit buyers at top retailers, importers, and hospitality entities including Waitrose & Partners, Bibendum, Enotria & Co, 67 Pall Mall, and The Arts Club were ready for the blind tasting. WWSA 2020 rated more than 1,000 samples from 45 countries around the world. High-profile entrants included Amazon UK, Concha y Toro, Dewars, Wakefield Taylors, Allegiance Wine and DFJ Vinhos.

Decisions, decisions. Let us make this one easy for you: This could be your ad in the next magazine.

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Industry Update



The Virginia Distillers Association has announced the dates for the 2020 editions of the Virginia Spirits Roadshow. The first event was held at Vanguard Brewpub & Distillery in January. The remaining 2020 editions of the Virginia Craft Spirits Roadshow will take place on Feb. 8 at A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg; March 28 at IX Art Park in Charlottesville; April 4 at Building Momentum Co-Op in Alexandria; May 30 at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center in Roanoke; June 13 at Oatlands Historic House and Gardens in Leesburg; July 18 at the Speakeasy at the Hippodrome in Richmond; Aug. 22 at Belmont Farm Distillery in Culpeper; Sept. 19 at Building Momentum Co-Op in Alexandria; Oct. 3 at A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg; Nov. 14 at IX Art Park in Charlottesville; and Dec. 12 at Hampton at the Vanguard Brewpub & Distillery in Hampton. For more information visit virginiaspirits. org.

Admiral Maltings of Alameda, California, recently announced the release of Capay Malted Rye, a unique, Californiagrown rye named for the region of Yolo County in which it’s grown. Capay Malted Rye is kilned to balance Maillard reaction and spice, creating a malt with the traditional cinnamon and pepper notes of rye, complemented by a sweet, whole grain backbone (think Grape Nuts, almonds and sugar cookies). At 9-11 SRM, it has a richer color than conventional rye malts but it also has copious enzymatic power and an extract that’s almost off the charts (88% FGDB). This malt is an ideal addition to the mash tun for a roggenbier, rye IPA or any farmhouse ale—and of course, for a rye whiskey or as part of a complex bourbon grain bill. Capay Rye is a new year-round addition to Admiral Maltings’ lineup.


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Industry Update

LIBDIB EXPANDS TO FLORIDA LibDib recently announced that the company is now a licensed wholesale alcohol distributor in the state of Florida. LibDib has opened the market to any and all wine and spirits producers looking for distribution in the state. In addition, Florida restaurants, bars and retailers now have access to new and emerging brands via LibDib’s online platform. “The nation’s third largest market is now open to thousands of brands,” said Cheryl Durzy, founder and CEO of LibDib. “I’m thrilled that Florida buyers now have a large variety of small production products to choose from. It’s a big day for Makers and Resellers alike!” LibDib now offers three-tier compliant, webbased distribution in five states including California, Colorado, Florida, Wisconsin and New York. Hundreds of brands have found success with the LibDib model, which evolves the traditional distribution model to be inclusive to all. “LibDib is the lifeline that has allowed our business to thrive,” says LibDib customer, Adam Hersly, owner of Hersly Wines in the Napa Valley. “We’ve been very successful with

the LibDib model and our accounts love the easy online access. We’re delighted to expand into Florida with them!” Makers interested in the Florida market can be up and running with distribution within days. Makers simply sign up for a free account on, register their products with the state of Florida, and create a LibShip account. LibShip is LibDib’s flat-rate shipping program that cuts shipping costs significantly, enabling Makers to drastically improve margins–even when selling one case at a time. In Florida, Makers are required to use LibShip to deliver products to accounts. Interested makers can find more details here at Licensed Florida restaurants, bars and retailers can sign up on There’s no obligation or cost to join. LibDib’s online ordering gives immediate access to new and emerging brands, allowing buyers to purchase products by the case. LibDib is a partner of RNDC, one of the nation’s largest wine and spirits wholesalers. Florida is the second state (following Colorado) where RNDC and LibDib are operating jointly.

That’s what people will do when your ad is here in our next issue. Contact for more information.



Lonerider Spirits of Holly Springs, North Carolina, has expanded the footprint of its whiskey mule RTD to include a launch into 100 ABC stores in Virginia in 2020. The ginger and lime whiskey mule comes in a 4-pack of 12 oz. cans and the ABV is 7%. “We are pleased to be featured in Virginia,” says Chris Mielke, president of Lonerider Spirits. The RTD cocktail category is on the rise which is a great opportunity for spirits creators like Lonerider. According to the Mintel Group, it’s a trend that will continue. The company’s December 2017 RTD Alcoholic Beverages report forecasts a 24% gain for spirits-based RTD cocktails for the period from 2017 through 2022. “We’re hoping to scale up past 100 stores in Virginia but we’re a small distillery,” Mielke says. “Hopefully the consumer demand for our spirits will help us grow and we’ll be able to have our RTD in all Virginia ABC stores soon.”


Point and click

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The developers of the distillery management system, Whiskey Systems, announced availability of two new devices aimed at helping spirits producers improve product quality and yields. The Barrel Warehouse Monitor tracks temperature and relative humidity data that is archived on the Whiskey Systems interface. This allows operators to continually view, track and optimize their barrel aging environment. The Fermentation Sensor automatically records ambient and mash temperatures over the duration of fermentation runs. Producers can monitor live fermenter or internal barrel liquid temperature from anywhere in the world. Customized temperature probes available for unique setups. Both devices can be set up in minutes and operate wirelessly over existing Wi-Fi networks using secure SSL protocols. No Bluetooth, special gateways or custom equipment is required. They work anywhere there is Wi-Fi. “These devices are easy to use and connect directly with the Whiskey Systems platform to provide valuable information to the makers,” says Donald Snyder, president of Whiskey Systems. “As producers strive to better understand all the variables affecting their finished products, these tools will give them vital information that can be used to make positive adjustments to their processes, and environmental conditions.” “Within just a few days of installing these sensors, we have learned valuable information about diverse environmental conditions that each of our barrels experience,” says Reade Huddleston, head of production at Headframe Spirits. “We will use this information to create better and more interesting products.”


Industry Update

J. RIEGER & CO., SPORTING KANSAS CITY KICKOFF SPIRITED PARTNERSHIP Kansas City distillery J. Rieger & Co. and the MLS soccer stars at Sporting Kansas City are joining forces to celebrate their “love of the city.” As of December 2019, the two hometown favorites have an exciting new partnership in play encompassing specialty bottlings, cocktails and events at the J. Rieger & Co. distillery, Children’s Mercy Park and other local venues. Scheduled to debut with the 2020 Sporting season, Rieger’s products will be served at Children’s Mercy Park during matches and at private events in the suite levels, Shield Club and additional concession locations at the stadium. To show their spirit, J. Rieger & Co. is throwing their full support behind Sporting, now known as the “Official Sports Team of J. Rieger & Co.” In return, Sporting has named them “the Preferred Distillery of Sporting Kansas City.” “We’re so proud to support Sporting and their amazing fan base,” says Andy Rieger, president & co-founder of J. Rieger & Co. “This is a true partnership that goes beyond

traditional sports marketing and is all about responding to the energy and excitement our Kansas City fans have come to expect from J. Rieger & Co. and Sporting.” “Sporting is thrilled to partner with great local businesses that showcase everything we love about Kansas City,” says Jake Reid, president and CEO of Sporting KC. “The team at J.

Rieger & Co. is taking our spirits program to a whole new level with creative cocktail and drink experiences that we look forward to showcasing throughout Children’s Mercy Park.” Season Ticket Members of Sporting Kansas City are invited to a season kickoff event at the distillery on February 19. Additional details will be announced at a later date.

JAMES BROTHER’S DISTILLERS SIGNS DISTRIBUTION CONTRACT WITH TRI-EAGLE SALES James Two Brother’s Distillers of Ocala, Florida, has signed a new contract with a distributor having extensive background and distribution coverage in the alcohol beverage industry. Ken Daley, president of Tri-Eagle Sales was seeking to expand their already successful craft beer distribution in Florida with a craft spirit, and agreed to add the three varieties of both craft rum and whiskey J2B currently offers. “We have seen some real challenges since our opening in 2018,” said Paul L. James. “After a successful retail launch with an Orlando distributor, we were unable to reach local restaurants, retail liquor stores and bars because of state restrictions. Fortunately, we were well received by the folks at Tri-Eagle Sales.” Daley recognized that aside from the distinct advantages there are in spirits distribution, supporting local business and the smaller scale craft beverages is crucial.


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If you attend only

one industry convention this 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!

For more information, visit programs/convention/

lew's bottom shelf


There once was a square bottle of gin who longed to fit in a round hole. All around her were round bottles: some tall, some green, some brown. Some had cheery labels, some had somber, forbidding labels, some very plain and textbook-informative. The bottles often had corks—some covered with wax—and some had screwcaps. But so many of them were round! The square bottle felt out of place, and all alone. Who would want her squared sides, her tapered glass, her corners? She waited alone on the shelf in the bottle shop, and sometimes, when the store was closed and dark, she cried sad, juniper-scented tears that ran down her straight, clear sides. Then one day a friendly bartender came to the bottle shop. She picked round bottles of whiskey, and round bottles of vodka – so many bottles of vodka! – but when she came to where the square gin bottle sat, she stopped. “Look at that!” she said. “A square bottle! The clear glass gleams, and the gin seems even more pure and transparent because of it. The label! Look at that label, so well-designed and yet informative! I will take this one, because it is special, and my customers will love it.” So the square bottle found a new home, on the back bar, among all the other bottles. She was delighted: there were other square bottles! And triangular ones, and spherical ones, bottles shaped like fruit, and skulls! Everyone loved the square bottle, and delighted in drinking the gin she held, and the bartender slung her around so happily that she was empty in two shifts. She was tossed in the dumpster, and the bartender went back to the store to find more of her sisters. The End. Everyone wants their bottle to stand out. It’s your product’s face, a statement of its character, a promise of its quality, and a signpost to the curious drinker. I’ve addressed this in my new book, “Whiskey Master Class:” Does whiskey taste better when the bottle is heavy? Whiskey makers put corks in way too many bottles simply because there’s a perception that screw caps look cheap.

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Molded bottles with waves of glass may imply that a whiskey has “marine” character. Johnnie Walker isn’t just packaged, it’s color-coded, from the workaday Red to the aspirational Blue. What flavor is added by things like this? “Better.” The whiskey tastes “better.” Similarly, you can attract volume sales or fill a price category by bottling in plastic, by putting a screw-cap and a two-color label on your spirit. Everything serves a purpose when you’re positioning. Sometimes it’s just a desperate flare sent up in the long shelves of the liquor store. Hey! Over here! Here’s a funny bottle that you don’t recognize. Why not try me? You can try a tall bottle to stand out, or a squat bottle to add weighty seriousness, or a novelty bottle to simply attract attention. Just remember what the historical review board told me about painting my house: you want to stand out, not stick out. Or you can have the same bottle as other products with a stand-out label. Bright colors attract the eye of the novice, but complete and detailed information will draw the expert. An interesting story or bold claim might interest some, but be careful; if it’s not truthful, you risk backlash these days. If you maximize your oddity to stand out on the shelf, be aware that you may lose out in the well. If that’s what you want for your spirit—and it sure worked for Tito’s—you need to think about it. Bartenders won’t put a bottle in the well if it isn’t easy to grip, or if it’s too tall, or too fat to fit. Some brands go so far as to package separately for on- and off-premise. Don’t forget the cost. If a novelty bottle costs too much, you’re going to be thinking about that cost every time you do a bottling run. If you go too cheap, and the bottle or closure breaks or causes problems, you’ll be thinking about that. Either way, it’s going to be part of the cost of your spirit for a long time. Consider all that carefully, because you’re going to want to stick with that look. You can’t change labeling at a whim, spirits last too long on the shelf. Make sure you like what you’ve got.

Everyone wants their bottle to stand out. It’s your product’s face, a statement of its character, a promise of its quality, and a signpost to the curious drinker. Finally, you have to live up to the look. If you’re just starting, and have a great idea for a package … maybe hold off on that one until you’re sure you’ve got the quality you want. Some have gone so far as to create a separate brand and package for their first few years, so that when the stuff really does get good, they can use that amazing bottle and label for it without fear. Just don’t make the mistake of feeling like you’re selling something your spirit simply doesn’t have. As I tell drinkers in the book, if all that intangible stuff is combining to make the spirit taste better to you … exactly who is being hurt in that transaction? Don’t we all want our drinks to taste better? So package wisely, and you’ll stand out proudly, like the little gin bottle that could. ■

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



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WHAT’s Stirring

DRINKS TO SAVOR FROM ACSA MEMBERS Horse’s Neck A cocktail that pre-dates the Moscow Mule by about 50 years, this offering from Ironclad Distillery Co. in Newport News, Virginia, is simple and refreshing. The drink got its name from the garnish, a lime rind twisted to hang over the glass rim in such a way that it resembles a horse looking over its stable. Ingredients 1 1/2 oz Ironclad Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey 3 dashes Angostura bitters or Fee Brothers Black Walnut bitters Quality ginger beer Lime Directions Build in the glass with ice. Top with ginger beer and a squeeze of lime. Garnish with a lime slice or twist.

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Cucumber Templar Rum Cocktail This cocktail arose from Montanya Distillers’ mission to break rum drinkers of the belief that rum cocktails are all sweet and fruity. This one is savory, mildly spicy and has no paper umbrella. It is a house favorite year-round at the distillery in Crested Butte, Colorado, because it is light, low-calorie, sips for a long time, and it is contagious. Once one person orders one and the house sees it delivered, everyone wants one. Ingredients 2 slices cucumber sliced lengthwise 1/2 fresh lime 2 1/2 ounces Cucumber Infused Montanya Platino Rum Soda water Tonic water 3-4 drops Montanya Cucumber Jalapeño bitters Mint Directions Add cucumber, lime and rum to an empty glass. Add ice and equal parts soda water and tonic water to fill glass. Top with bitters and garnish with mint. Cucumber Infusion Directions Infuse half a cucumber (peeled, seeded and sliced) in 1 bottle of Montanya Platino Rum. Strain and decant after four day.

Gaudy Toddy This toddy riff from Apologue Liqueurs of Chicago is a holistic nod to the classic cold-weather sipper we all know and love. Showcasing medicinal ingredients like ginger, turmeric, honey and cayenne—it’s a modern cocktail elixir. Ingredients 1/2 ounce Apologue Saffron Liqueur 1 1/2 ounces Bertoux Brandy 1 ounce Plantation 3 Stars 3/4 ounce honey turmeric syrup 1/2 ounce lemon juice 1/2 ounce ginger juice 2 ounces oat milk Dash of cayenne Directions Combine all ingredients into small pot, bring to a slow simmer while whisking, let it come to a boil, then remove from heat. Pour into your favorite mug and garnish with a delicate dash of cayenne.


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Lone Star Libations San Antonio Cocktail Conference is Texas’s premier gathering for professionals in the bar industry. It’s also becoming one of the top events in the country for the trade and increasingly is a platform for up-and-coming craft spirits brands.

Copper & Kings brought the taste of Louisville-made brandy to Texas.

Catoctin Creek president Becky Harris

Irish bar and brand owner Dave Mulligan preaches the gospel of poitin.

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No bar? No problem! This gives new meaning to “tailgate.”

A standing-room-only crowd for ACSA Board of Directors VP & Privateer Rum president Maggie Campbell’s session on yeast



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ACSA Affairs

GETTING TO KNOW OUR KEYNOTE SPEAKER A conversation with Joth Ricci, the president of Dutch Bros Coffee Whether you are in the early concept stage or running an established distillery, you won’t want to miss the keynote address from Joth Ricci at ACSA’s Distillers’ Convention and Vendor Trade Show on March 30 in Portland, Oregon. As the president of Dutch Bros Coffee, Ricci guides a brand that is the nation’s largest privately-held drive-thru beverage company, with more than 365 locations in seven western states. He is a consumer product and beverage industry veteran with nearly 30 years of experience encompassing sales, marketing and executive management over a range of companies, including Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Over the past 20 years, Ricci has had a front seat to the growth of the craft spirits, craft beer, wine, coffee and kombucha brands that have emerged from Portland and the state of Oregon. We caught up with him recently to see what he’s drinking besides coffee and ask how his address will benefit craft distillers. First, we have to ask: How do you take your coffee? Joth Ricci: Black. It’s the best way to appreciate the varietal and flavors of the bean and origin. We saw that you said this in a podcast: “I’m a beverage guy. I don’t know that I’m necessarily a coffee guy. I think coffee is one of the things that I do.” So when you’re not drinking coffee, what are your favorite drinks? Ha! I like a great glass of Oregon pinot noir, a good cold pilsner, high end whiskey and, yes, some water for hydration! Seriously, I try many different beverages to see what is on the mar-

ket and who is doing interesting things. How is growing Dutch Bros similar to growing a distillery or spirits brand? All brands start with similar principles: a positioning, a consumer and marketplace. Then how each brand breaks down its consumer base and channels will vary by category segment. Understanding your customer and developing your brand is the key to any business. So it’s actually very similar and understanding the nuances of a category brings it all together. Are there other parallels that you see between the coffee and distilled spirits industries? I think coffee is very similar to spirits. Highly competitive, various price categories, a story of source and flavor to differentiate product type, and some brands can scale where others have a smaller niche to serve a market. Can you give us a short preview of your keynote? How will it benefit distillers? Sure, the keynote will focus on the cross section of the consumer and brand development and how important it is to be disciplined in your execution of both. While it sounds simple, I have seen so many brands—big and small—skip steps through the journey and ultimately result in a business that doesn’t meet the founders expectations. Given the competitive and regulated nature of the distilling business, discipline is critical! What makes Portland (and Oregon) such a great place to run a beverage company? People are cool … this is a great place to live … and we have great water! Can’t wait to see you in March!

ACSA ANNOUNCES CALL FOR NOMINATIONS ACSA announces its Call for Nominations, open to all qualified DSP members of ACSA to fill five positions on its Board of Directors. The successful candidates will help lead the association, one that is dedicated to elevating and advocating for the community of craft spirits producers. The successful candidates will replace the following outgoing members whose terms will expire:

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Colin Keegan, Santa Fe Spirits; Courtney McKee, Headframe Spirits; Chris Montana, Du Nord Craft Spirits [Central/Mountain Region]; Jake Holshue, Old Trestle Distillery [Pacific Region]; and James Montero, Dogfish Head Distilling [East Region]. All elected will serve on the ACSA Board of Directors for three years, with staggered yearly terms, for the 15-person board (plus ex officio members).

Positions are open across the country in each of the three regions. Interested parties should contact Election Chair, Renee Bemis, Driftless Glen, at renee@ You may self-nominate or be suggested by another member of our craft spirits community. Renee will contact you for additional information so please supply relevant contact information.


ACSA EDUCATION COMMITTEE CHAIRS DETAIL WORLD-CLASS PRE-CONVENTION EDUCATION We asked ACSA Education Committee Chairs Jake Holshue (Old Trestle Distillery, California), Courtney McKee (Headframe Spirits, Montana) and Amber Pollock (Backwards Distilling, Wyoming) to give us a preview of the pre-convention education program—particularly this year’s new addition: New Distillery Start-Up 101. Why should people attend New Distillery Start-Up 101? Courtney McKee: Just because an individual wants to open a distillery doesn’t mean they’ve got expertise in all aspects of the business and operational considerations. It’s a great primer to help folks interested in opening distilleries understand many of the areas where expertise is critical in opening a successful distillery. The classes are taught by experts in each of the subject areas, meaning attendees will get face time with people who can be true assets moving forward. For new hires at existing distilleries, it’s a great introduction to all the aspects of running a successful distillery. Folks

in any department will get information relevant to their work and to the work—and complexity—their peers deal with.

regardless of background or industry experience, has opportunities to come and learn with us.

What can attendees expect to take away from that session? Amber Pollock: The goal of this session is to give attendees a broad understanding of the many facets of running a distilling business. We will go as in-depth as possible on each topic while still covering the breadth of material needed to touch on each area of importance to attendees. Attendees will leave with a variety of recommendations on further reading and resources to help them dig into topics deeper as they continue in the industry.

How did you decide on the topics that would be covered? AP: We developed the content based on the experience of multiple industry players who have been through the start-up process and lived to tell the tale. CM: The Education Committee got together and outlined all of the content we wished we’d been introduced to when we were getting started. We’re a broad and diverse group and we all shared our input to build something really well rounded, and impactful, for attendees. JH: Specifically to my section (Production and Safety) I chose topics that I wished I would have known on my first day in the industry.

What was the motivation behind including Start-Up Distillery 101 this year? Jake Holshue: We have often been told that one of the deficits of our education programming is we provide such high-level info, that we miss the newcomers to our industry. We want to change that and make sure everyone,

Register for pre-convention education at convention/


FROM THE CROWD Get in front of the crowd and position your brand to make the most of the convention. A Sample of Opportunities: • AWARDS DINNER & TASTING • CONVENTION MOBILE APP • BAND ENTERTAINMENT • LUNCH STATIONS • THE OREGON TOAST • AND MORE... For more information contact


MARCH 29-31, 2020



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F Charting the Course Exploring the rapid rise of spirits-themed trails across the United States. BY JON PAGE


ueled by summertime family road trips to national parks, David Weglarz developed a love for the outdoors and a longing for adventure at an early age. The greatest adventure, as he saw it, was the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition of 18041806, when Captain Meriweather Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark led a team of explorers across the American West. “The idea of voyaging on an expedition through uncharted wilderness was always irresistible,” says Weglarz, the owner and distiller at StilL 630 in St. Louis and the president of the Missouri Craft Distillers Guild (MCDG). His passion for the expedition was rekindled in adulthood when his father turned him on to Stephen E. Ambrose’s “Undaunted Courage,” an exhaustively researched and spirited retelling of the epic journey. So when the MCDG started plans for a distillery trail in early 2019, Weglarz was quick to suggest a tie-in with the expedition. Urgency struck when the guild realized a notable anniversary was looming, and on May 14, 2019, the Missouri Spirits Expedition officially launched at 4 p.m., roughly 215 years to the hour that Lewis and Clark started their march toward the Pacific Ocean. With the launch, Missouri joined a rapidly growing list of states, cities and regions across the nation where distilleries are joining forces to collectively promote craft spirits through a trail. While the features differ from trail to trail, all are unified by a motivation to spread the word about craft spirits. “From the visitor’s side, it gives them a bigger picture of the industry,” says Steve Bashore, director of historic trades at George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Virginia, which is on three distillery trails. “You can go online and read about distilleries, but the visitor loves to get that map and do a journey. For some of them it’s a pilgrimage. There’s some [distilleries] that they have always heard about and wanted to see. And you know how it is, you see one and you want to see more.” While it can be difficult to track precisely, distillers say that participation in the trails brings more customers through their doors. Meagan Miller, the president of the Colorado Distillers Guild and co-founder of Arvadabased Talnua Distillery, says she frequently

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1220 S 8th St., St. Louis, MO •


6100 Idadale Ave, St. Louis, MO •


2206 MO-100, Hermann, MO •



17190 MO-13, Richmond, MO •







1901 Day Rd, Walnut Shade, MO •

44307 State Hwy B, Creighton, MO •



Branson & Ste. Genevieve, MO •

108 Front St #102, Labadie, MO •









1 Mc Cormick Ln, Weston, MO •

1000 S 4th St, St. Louis, MO •







321 S. Hudson St., Buckner, MO • @BoneHillViewDistillery 2258 Hwy 100, Hermann, MO •

210 St James St, Columbia, MO • Robin’s Nest, 2998 S Missouri 94, Defiance, MO

4 Schiller St., Hermann, MO •

2700 Guinotte Ave, Kansas City, MO • 125 Boone Country Ln, Defiance, MO • 210 E Meadow St, Smithville, MO •


9603 Hwy B, Higbee, MO •


7000 MO-248, Branson, MO •


1101 Miller St, New Haven, MO • 109 E 18th Ave, North Kansas City, MO •

1013A Ann Ave. St. Louis,MO • 1727 Park Ave, St. Louis, MO • 755 Friedens Road, Saint Charles, MO •

8500 NW River Park Dr #136a, Parkville, MO • 1701 Main St, Kansas City, MO • 7631 State Hwy T, Purdy, MO •


489 Booneslick Rd, New Florence, MO •


7239 Co Rd A, Higbee, MO •

Updated October 2019

507 W Walnut St, Springfield, MO •

“We get to go to our Missouri state senators and legislators and say, ‘Listen, because we built this trail, the first person to finish it brought dollars from out of state. They’re eating here and staying here. They brought dollars to Missouri because of this.’” —David Weglarz of StilL 630

greets visitors carrying Colorado Spirits Trail maps. And in Kentucky, Joyce Nethery of Shelbyville-based Jeptha Creed Distillery sees a tangible benefit of the distillery’s place on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour each month: 250 referrals from the trail’s official website. Trail Rewards Incentives also help lure visitors. Many of the trails offer a prize after a person visits a certain number of distilleries, and a larger prize for those who complete the trail. Visitors on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour receive a coin once they have completed each region. Once they have completed all regions, they receive a commemorative stave to house their coins, as well as an official tour tasting tasting glass. On the Virginia Spirits Trail, when people get 10 stamps from distilleries (or a Virginia Craft Spirits Roadshow event), they can claim a t-shirt. The Colorado Spirits Trail also offers t-shirts, plus a chance to win bottles of spirits for those who complete the entire trail. And for one trail, the passport itself is part of the incentive. Established in 2019, the Whiskey Rebellion Trail includes roughly 80 craft distilleries and cultural institutions spanning across Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and parts between. Rather than collecting stamps, trail goers purchase curated passes online that grant them access to spirits flights and entry to museums and cultural institutions along the way. The tour celebrates the infamous Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, when a large group of farmers and protesters rebelled against a whiskey tax in Western Pennsylvania. Passes range from $20-$149. “It’s really about creating experiences that feature this region as the birthplace of American whiskey and really feature the amazing craft scene that we have in the mid-Atlantic today,” says Teresa DeFlitch, director of people and education at Pittsburgh’s Wigle Whiskey and a co-founder of the trail. “The focus is around education, both in terms of what craft spirits are and what that means. And then, of course, the mid-Atlantic’s dynamic whiskey and spirits history, and trying to bring that to light in these amazing regions.” Back in Missouri, the MCDG also put its own spin on incentives. Anyone who collects 10 stamps on the expedition log receives a $10 voucher, which can be spent at any stop on the expedition. Twenty stamps earn a $20 voucher. And anyone who visits all 33 distilleries earns a bottle of the Missouri Spirits


Virginia launched a spirits trail in 2019.

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“Don’t just plunk [a guide] down and think that people are going to pick it up. We personally promote it to everyone who comes in and they get so excited the minute they know about it.” —Kara King of Ironclad Distillery Co. Expedition Missouri Blended Bourbon Whiskey, the state’s first blended bourbon, made with whiskey from several distilleries across the state. It is not available for purchase and is only available to people who complete the trail. The barrel is located at StilL 630, where Weglarz says about half of it was recently bottled. “The idea is that we’re going to keep topping off this barrel with bourbon from other Missouri distilleries across the state,” says Weglarz. “We’ll keep blending it. It’ll keep evolving.” The first person to complete the expedition, much to Weglarz’s delight, was not from Missouri, but Illinois. “We get to go to our Missouri state senators and legislators and say, ‘Listen, because we built this trail, the first person to finish it brought dollars from

out of state. They’re eating here and staying here. They brought dollars to Missouri because of this.’” Finding Allies For distilleries and guilds looking to start a trail, the state tourism office is often an excellent starting point. Both Colorado and Virginia launched their trails with the help of grant funding. “Lead your friends in state government to the economic value of launching a program like this and you’ll likely find out that there are opportunities for financial support,” says Amy Ciarametaro, the executive director of the Virginia Distillers Association. “You can cite the folks at the Kentucky Bourbon Trail [who] do a wonderful economic impact study on the

There are more than 60 stops on the Colorado Spirits Trail.

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value. Obviously, that’s much larger scale than what we’re doing here in Virginia, but when you start to talk about state-run initiatives that are generating billions, not millions, of dollars in tourism and so forth, it starts to perk up their ears.” In Colorado, the state tourism office supported the spirits trail with a $25,000 grant for each of the past two years. “They have limitations on that, so we have grandfathered out of that,” says Lee Wood, the co-founder of Wood’s High Mountain Distillery in Salida and the treasurer for the Colorado Distillers Guild. “We are working with them to figure out what other ways of support [exist], because they’re really behind it, as well as local and convention and visitors bureaus. … It’s going to be a challenge, but we are making what we think are necessary adjustments and we should be able to pick the flag up and keep charging forward.” In Virginia, Ciarametaro is already looking for support beyond the state. Virginia Hop On Tours, a transportation supplier, was the initial presenting sponsor of the spirits trail. “They’re a great partner because we can co-promote that you can enjoy traveling the trail responsibly,” she says. “I would encourage anyone who wants to go down this path of launching a trail to also partner with a transportation provider, as well. It’s just good business for both parties.” Ciarametaro says future iterations of the trail guide will likely be larger and have an advertising component. “In a perfect world we’d love to be purists and keep the guide completely 100% focused on our industry,” she says. “We’re going to ensure that [the guide] maintains the integrity and tone of the existing guide when we go forward, but also helps to ensure that we have revenue to continue printing the guide and keeping it up to date and lively in the future.” There are also allies beyond state tourism offices. The creation of The Whiskey Rebellion trail was a joint effort between distilleries and visitors organizations throughout the mid-Atlantic region. DeFlitch says it started years ago in conversations she


Jeptha Creed Distillery is one of 19 distilleries C R AF TSPIR ITSMAG.COM on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.

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“From the visitor’s side, it gives them a bigger picture of the industry. You can go online and read about distilleries, but the visitor loves to get that map and do a journey.” —Steve Bashore of George Washington’s Mount Vernon

had with Wigle co-owner Meredith Meyer Grelli along with Visit Pittsburgh. The conversation was quiet until workers at Visit Pittsburgh started mentioning the idea to counterparts in other cities “There was this uproar of interest in supporting the trail,” says DeFlitch. “Once that happened, it was really full steam ahead.” Today, DeFlitch says the advisory board consists of roughly 20 distillers and destination marketing organizations. “That’s a lot of people in a large geographic spread, but the amazing thing is that everybody gets into a room and has just worked together so beautifully,” she says. More Advice It’s important to remember that just as a hiking trail requires occasional maintenance, so do spirits trails. “It’s a huge amount of work, both on the part of the board and the spirits trail committee,” says Wood. “We have a committee that meets every other week … and it’s just an ongoing thing.” In Colorado and in other parts of the country, distillers are frequently considering ways to better their trails. For the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, that means adapting to the rise and growth of distilleries. Wilderness Trail Distillery of Danville, which was one of the founding destinations on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, recently graduated to the

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Kentucky Bourbon Trail, becoming its 18th stop. For The Whiskey Rebellion Trail, DeFlitch says there are plans to tweak the passes based on visitor feedback. They also plan to add more distilleries, and are interested in adding restaurants and hotels to the trail. “It’s definitely a living thing,” DeFlitch says of the trail. “It’s a beast, but it is a beautiful one.” Ciarametaro recommends finding a person who is “a creative thinker and a workhorse” to guide the process of creating a guide. For the Virginia Spirits Trail, that person was Kara King of Ironclad Distillery Co. in Newport News. King is quick to say that distillers should be prepared to heavily promote a trail. “Don’t just plunk [a guide] down and think that people are going to pick it up,” says King. “We personally promote it to everyone who comes in and they get so excited the minute they know about it. You have to do a little work to get it out there.” King also recommends capturing data on those who complete the trail. “We ask questions like your age [and email address] at the end, before they get their t-shirt. … We can also go to sponsors and say, ‘This is our audience, and if this matches your audience, perfect.’ Then we have a very clear picture of who our audience is.” In Colorado, Miller says guild members learned a valuable lesson soon after launching their trail. Initially, each distillery shared the same stamp and there were reports of cheat-

ing. As a solution, each distillery now has its own stamp. “Some people do it for the incentives and some people do it to enjoy time with friends and family, and really that’s what we want to encourage, is making distillers kind of the brewery hangouts,” says Miller. “It’s easy for a lot of people to go to a brewery and that’s the culture around that. [We are] trying to drive hanging out in your local distillery, as well.” DeFlitch believes that the idea for a trail should start with a broad story, but then it’s important to home in on a unique perspective. “You want to be open to everybody and tell every possible story,” she says, “but the closer you can get to what your unique story is, the more successful that you will be.” Weglarz recommends focusing on your state or region’s unique characteristics or history. The connection between Lewis and Clark and Missouri was almost too perfect. The expedition originated near St. Louis and snaked its way through Missouri, and whiskey was one of the most prized provisions along the journey. “It’s like my life has been leading up to making this trail happen here in Missouri,” he says. “It’s a distillery trail, but we really want you to explore and go and visit all of these new places and discover your new favorite spirits that are being made in Missouri. That just jives perfectly with the Lewis and Clark Expedition.” ■



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Defining Agricole Can anyone in the U.S. ever really make ‘agricole’ rum? BY MAGGIE CAMPBELL


or the last few years there has been a growing rumbling about the use of “agricole” on U.S. craft spirits labels. Last year, the topic came up at each RumFest held globally with groans and moans … and defenses. So what’s the issue? Agricole is a designation not dissimilar from Scotch. But currently, in the U.S., this designated term is not protected like Scotch. Similarly, when a U.S. producer creates a bourbon, it too only holds meaning as a labeling term if the country it is exported to legally recognizes the term. Otherwise, if in a country that does not recognize the term, anything can be labeled as such without meeting our standards of identity. If a U.S. producer becomes globally relevant and wants to export an agricole to countries recognizing the legal standard agricole, they will be required to change the labeling term as the spirit is not considered an agricole by the very people who invented the style.

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Imagine picking up a pale bottle of booze labeled four-year-old bourbon whiskey that smells nothing like corn nor oak—instead it smells like rice distillate distilled to high, nearly neutral proof with no aromas of oak. Wouldn’t you think that product was ridiculous and laugh to yourself? The same question was posed to me by a French Caribbean distiller a few years ago, and I’ve heard this discussion rise up at every cocktail conference and RumFest ever since. I asked Ben Jones of Spiribam (the North American subsidiary of Martinique’s Rhum Clément and Rhum J.M) what they must do in order to legally qualify to label their product as an agricole rum. First, they must select cane only grown in specific and precisely mapped regions that are known to have character expressive of the style. They must cut the cane in a legally defined season to only select cane at the height of health and flavor expression. Third, they must hit an explicit

window on minimum and maximum brix to ensure the cane is at prime ripeness and no subpar cane is used as agricole is expected to be made with a certain standard and best practices. Fourth, it must be fermented within an explicit time, again to guarantee freshness and keep production to best practices only. Then it must be distilled in a Creole column made of copper and be distilled to 65-75% ABV. Traditionally, it had to be rested for three months in vat (for all the added benefits of resting in terms of flavor quality). This has now been updated to six weeks, but producers on the whole honor the traditional three-month window. Then, and only then, may white agricole be bottled. Following this, it must go to a tasting panel to be approved as having the essence and expressiveness of agricole—and even then it may be declassified and not able to bear the designated name. The regulations continue for aged agricole. Jones feels passionately that when agricole


The romance of the use of the French name agricole could be seen as a way to borrow a reputation without doing the work. is on a bottle of his rum it captures a nature, style, and agri-culture (agricole refers to agriculture after all). With warmth and a calm patience, he shares that he still does not understand how spirits produced in often such a wholly different way can consider themselves a part of a category they do not resemble. I’ll offer that his sentiments seem widely shared across the Caribbean. I regularly get questions about U.S. “agricole,” even coming from distillers not in French territories like Jamaica and Barbados. A quizzical look comes over their faces as they try to understand what the intention in using the phrase could mean to these U.S. producers. The romance of the use of the French name agricole could be seen as a way to borrow a reputation without doing the work. Agricole producers have labored so hard to build their reputation that may now be being conflated and eroded—they do not get to enjoy the very fruits of the style they created, especially as the fine rum market is finally growing. There is concern among producers globally that U.S. craft producers are muddying the waters. But not all U.S. producers disagree with Jones. Erik Vonk of Richland Rum would never consider his single estate cane rum an “agricole” either. When I asked him why he doesn’t call his rum “agricole” he fired back instantly, “Well first it’s not made in the French Caribbean.” He also explained his cutting of his estate cane does not mimic the regulations nor create the exact expression understood to be the agricole style. “It’s a known exportable qualification” he shares, while also noting that rum is a global community. We are only a small member of it, it means something culturally to a great many people and what we are doing here in the U.S. is not simply recreating an inauthentic copy, but rather creating something new and exciting, “The rest of the world will have to come up with a new classification,” rather than borrow a geographical name from someone else. It does not simply mean fresh pressed cane is the ingredient, that would be akin to calling all 100% barley whiskey Scotch. He also succinctly points out that U.S. producers making “agricole” do not call their molasses rums ‘industriel,’ which would be the applicable and relevant term in


this system of labeling. You get the feeling this is a talk Vonk has often, as he follows up swiftly that it also implies that “agricole” is inherently better, rather than describing a method of production and style of expression. “There are plenty of people who do not like agricole so it is demand inefficient, unnecessarily driving people away,” Vonk added. He is a fierce proponent of honesty and transparency. “State what you do and how you produce, we should no longer have to deal with pseudo-agricole.” He is rather working with the state of Georgia to be recognized as an agricultural product unique and special to the region. His rum is delcious by whatever name he calls it. Roulaison Distilling Co., a craft U.S. producer in New Orleans, has quietly come onto the U.S. rum scene producing wonderful rums and gaining attention for its high quality, thoughtfulness and kind demeanor. Andrew Lohfeld, co-founder and head distiller, got his start at the heralded and award sweeping King’s County Distillery, starting as a production grunt under Nicole Austin. In their release of their “agricole,” rum no one could deny they are well connected to the agricultural process of the rum making. They worked hand in hand with their grower, Charles Guidry, to source local cane they crushed out in a muddy field. They were connected to him through Bhoomi Cane Water (who also work with the sugar cane growing Provost family, who are also setting up an accelerator program next door to Roulaison). Guidry is one of the few black cane growers in Louisiana—which considering cane’s history in the region is important to highlight as shows like “Queen Sugar,” or The New York Times podcast “1619” (episode six is fascinating and all about sugar cane) bring more visibility to the ownership of historically black work by black folks themselves. Roulaison is proud to champion the use of local and regional cane and hopes to steward other craft producers to follow. Lohfeld’s passion for this valuable and important effort is palpable. For Roulaison’s “agricole” release, the distillery pressed 1,200 pounds of cane to yield 80 gallons of fresh juice that yielded eight gallons of rum. “Agricole is a charged topic,” says Lohfeld, who also notes meaningfully, “New

Orleans was a French colony and the word agricole lands with people in the local community.” To him it highlights the hard work, the connection to the field, the fragility of a highly perishable ingredient, and the tiny yields they achieve that bring rarity and expense to the project. Speaking to Lohfeld, it’s clear to see his passion to support local cane growers and encourage his peers to use local U.S. cane is genuine and heartfelt. For now, legally, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau seems to continue to allow U.S. “agricole” through approval as it yet does not have the protection of categories like Scotch or cachaça. The question of whether it is right and proper still lays in the choice of producers (who do not export to iconic markets like the EU who would not allow the term on such products). As our own market and producers mature and spread their reach, will this trend grow as more people jump in the rum game? Or will the producers of the U.S. broadly, or even regionally, create their own identity of fresh pressed cane rum? ■

Maggie Campbell is the president and head distiller of Privateer Rum, vice president of the ACSA, and serves on the WSET Alumni Advisory Board.

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Sasakura Shochu Bar in Kagoshima City

Tradition, Competition, Reinvigoration The Japanese craft spirits market evolves amidst modern market realities. By Jeff Cioletti

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Noriyuki Yamashita, proprietor of Glocal Bar Imo Vibes in Kumamoto City C R AF T S PI R I T S MAG .CO M


n Los Angeles, February is Japanese Craft Spirits Month, which can only help the marketing potential of the likes of shochu and awamori—two traditional products with very little but gradually growing presence in the U.S. Back in their home country, consumption of those spirits has been on a steady decline for years, so the producers increasingly are relying on overseas markets for continued growth. The obvious culprit has been changing Japanese consumer tastes, pulling them away from the country’s traditional beverage alcohols and toward things like whisky and other exploding international categories. “It’s now sort of whisky’s turn and everyone’s drinking highballs,” says Stephen Lyman, international shochu import/export consultant and one of the authors of “The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks.” “It’s cheaper than just about everything and it’s just about cheaper than beer because the beer tax is relatively high. I think people decided that’s what they wanted to drink.” But whisky highballs are starting to make way for another fizzy refresher: the gin and tonic. Japan has been bitten by the juniper bug and many distillers in the country—even those whose flagship products have been shochu—are integrating gin-making into their operations. “As recently as two or three years ago there were, maybe, two gins in all of Japan,” says Lyman. “Now I can’t tell you how many gins there are.” Kyoto Distillery’s Ki No Bi Gin is credited as the first mover in the Japanese craft gin category in 2016, a full year before Beam Suntory unveiled Roku, arguably the most visible Japanese gin on the world stage. According to Japanese drinks website Nomunication, there are more than 30 distilleries producing gin in the country and exports of the spirit grew by 600% in 2018 alone. “There’s been a sudden spike in gin made by shochu makers,” observes Lyman, an American expat living in Fukuoka—the largest city in Kyushu, the southwestern Japanese main island that’s responsible for most of the country’s shochu production. “They’re hoping that gin follows whisky. If you look at trends in spirits, they bounce between clear and brown and [the producers] are just hoping that they can catch lightning in a bottle.” However, despite whatever trend-chasing is happening in Japan’s spirits market, Lyman is fairly bullish on shochu’s future. There’s quite a bit of creativity happening in the traditional


production houses. Shochu distillers have been embracing the notions of terroir and vintage, for instance. Yachiyoden distillery in the Kagoshima Prefecture, the hotbed of sweet potato or “imo” shochu production within Kyushu—acquired sweet potato farms to enable its tuber-to-glass operation. “They’re essentially doing single-farm bottlings and making them vintage,” Lyman explains. “You can taste year-over-year from a single farm.” The Kumamoto Prefecture, meanwhile, is known for its rice shochus and the producers there have been experimenting with grain-toglass expressions. “A number of distillers can control rice production and make extremely limited releases of [spirits made] of the rice they grow—organic rice that’s locally grown,” Lyman says. “I don’t think they’re doing it to save money, they want to find expressions that capture their local environment.” Rice and sweet potatoes are just two of the five most popular bases for the spirit—the others being barley or “mugi,” most closely associated with Oita Prefecture; buckwheat or “soba,” first used as a shochu base in Miyazaki Prefecture and black sugar or “kokuto,” native to the Amami islands, a small archipelago southwest of Kyushu. Okinawa’s native spirit, Awamori, often is lumped in with shochu, but it really is its own distinctive product. It also predated shochu production, as Japanese distilling began in 15th-century Okinawa before it made its way to the other islands 100 or so years later. Awamori is made with long-grain indica rice (traditionally cultivated in Thailand, Vietnam and China), versus the short-grain Japonica variety that’s prevalent throughout Japan and used as the base in rice shochu. As is the case with shochu, the mold known as koji kickstarts fermentation by releasing the enzymes that break down starches into fermentable sugar. However, where shochu producers typically use white koji—technical name: aspergillus kawachi—Awamori distillers use the highly earthy black koji, whose technical name just happens to be aspergillus awamori (shochu makers do, to some extent, work with black koji on some of their more experimental products). There are currently 47 Awamori producers in Okinawa, according to the Okinawa Awamori Distillers Association, most of which are rooted in generations of tradition and looking for new ways to engage with today’s consumers. Some even have been adapting the single-

Japan has been bitten by the juniper bug and many distillers in the country— even those whose flagship products have been shochu— are integrating gin-making into their operations. barrel concept to the spirit—though, in the case of Awamori it’s not wooden cooperage, but clay pots we’re talking about. “They’re doing single vat bottlings and [releasing] those as unique brands—which, to me, is very exciting,” says Lyman. “That’s a way for them to differentiate, instead of blending and making it more neutral-tasting.” Producers could use a little help on the marketing side to make that style more relevant to drinkers. Right now they’re referring to it as “single storage,” which is somewhat vague. “The Awamori makers are leading the way with the single-pot concept,” Lyman asserts. “They tend to do their own thing and tend to be forgotten in mainland Japan. It’s good to see them thinking outside the box.” Some exporters are hoping that Awamori will be a bit more memorable outside of Japan, as they’re beginning to make a significant push for the spirit internationally. Last October’s Bar Convent Berlin saw the debut of Ryukyu 1429—named for the Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa—a line of Awamori from three Okinawan producers designed to appeal to Western markets. Ryukyu 1429 products include Tsuchi (“earth”), Mizu (“water”) and the five-years-aged Kaze (“wind”). Although Awamori is traditionally enjoyed neat, Ryukyu 1429 expressions were designed with cocktails in mind. “Awamori did not originally have a culture

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Shochu aging vessels

Shochu and Awamori have a long way to go on the education front before Western consumers learn to distinguish one from another—let alone understand that they’re two distinct types of spirits. Shochu Meets White Dog

Kagoshima Prefecture is most famous for its sweet potato-based shochu.

of drinking it diluted, but in modern society, on-the-rocks and added water with ice—“mizu-wari”—have become increasingly mainstream,” says Tomoya Tomimura of the Okinawa Awamori Distillers Association. “Recently we’ve seen Awamori being used as a cocktail-based liquor and other new products emerging from mixing Awamori with Okinawan botanicals as gin.” Coffee, fruit juice, mint and herbs are increasingly common ingredients in Awamori-based cocktails. The spirit also has been used as the base of fruit liqueurs. Shochu and Awamori have a long way to go on the education front before Western consumers learn to distinguish one from another—let alone understand that they’re two distinct types of spirits. But thanks to ever-more-curious consumers worldwide and a commitment to effectively balancing experimental geekery with uncompromising authenticity at the producer level, traditional Japanese craft spirits seldom will have a problem finding a market. “The good makers don’t have to worry,” says Lyman. “They have very loyal fans.” ■

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Within the Japanese shochu market, a niche has emerged that’s not unlike the bottling of new-make whiskeys in the U.S. Shin-shu, which translates to “new alcohol,” eschews the traditional three-to-sixmonth aging period within steel or ceramic vessels in favor of a much shorter resting period before bottling. “Whatever your [production] run is, you bottle it two or three weeks later, instead of waiting for all of the volatiles to dissipate,” says Lyman. “It’s extremely popular with the geeks in Japan.” So far, distillers have only been successful making sweet potato-based shin-shu. They’ve tried it with barley, rice and black sugar, but only the sweet potato’s base ingredient was recognizable in the final product. “You can tell the quality of a distillery by the quality of their shin-shu,” Lyman says. “The stuff that’s really off, funky and wild and makes you nauseous when you drink it turns out to be not very good shochu.” Even the better versions are known to cause wicked hangovers, which could be an obstacle for shin-shu’s long-term prospects. “If people give up on it because of the hangover, it’s going to lose the novelty,” Lyman adds. “I do see where there may be a movement toward making shin-shu that’s nice to drink.” Having said that, don’t count on shin-shu finding its way to the states any time soon. “I don’t think it’s ever going to pass a chemistry test with the TTB,” Lyman warns.


ACSA Member Spotlight

Mountain Rum Montanya Distillers crafts rum at high altitude while remaining committed to sustainability and social responsibility. BY JON PAGE



he story of a distillery synonymous with American mountain rum begins not on a Rocky Mountain peak or surrounded by wildflowers in a pristine valley, but at sea level on a small Carribean island. Montanya Distillers crafts, ages and bottles its rum at an elevation of 8,909 feet in Crested Butte, Colorado, but founders Brice and Karen Hoskin cemented their vision for the distillery on a 2007 vacation to Tobacco Caye in Belize. On the beach, Karen, who was working as a graphic designer, told Brice she was tired of giving her work away to clients, that she wanted to build her own brand. “We sat there and basically planned out the whole company right there,” remembers Brice. “We came up with the name Montanya. We knew we were going to make rum. We talked about how and what the sourcing was. That was when we talked about using a tiny bit of caramelized honey to color it and make the flavors pop. That all came together at that one moment.” Despite those seaside origins, the mountains loom large over this distillery. On that same trip to Belize, the Hoskins also visited Guatemala, where they discovered Ron Zacapa’s method of aging rum at high altitude. Today, more than a decade after Karen and Brice founded Montanya, the mountains define the distillery. The distillery benefits from pure mountain water, but perhaps the best benefit comes in the barrel-aging process. “The way that aging takes place in our environment is really unusual and unique. It is accelerated,” says Karen. “If we put rum in a barrel in the Carribean, whatever goes in those pores stays in those pores. Here, we have so much kinetic action going on every day in our barrels. I have been able to verify with barrel experts that that is a catalyst—the more access to the wood that the rum is getting all throughout its lifespan, the better.” Serving as good stewards to the mountains


At Montanya Disillers, the distillery is located upstairs, above the restaurant.

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“The way that aging takes place in our environment is really unusual and unique. It is accelerated.” —Karen Hoskin of Montanya Distillers

Montanya Distillers recently unveiled a new line of glass bottles.

and the local community is another key component of Montanya’s identity. In 2018, the company was the first distillery in Colorado, and third in the nation, to earn B Corporation certification. And in September of 2019, B Corporation recognized Montanya as a Best for the World Company, meaning that it operates within the top 10% of all B Corps. The assessment is based on many factors, such as a company’s sourcing of ingredients, how it handles trash and waste, and how it treats workers. Evidence of sustainable practices are abundant at Montanya, where the distillery never uses single-use items (like plastic cups) unless it’s a 100% recycled product. Karen—who is also the founder of Zoetica, a lifestyle product line for zero-waste living— says that commitment to sustainability has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. “I feel really strongly that I don’t sleep as well, I don’t feel as good about what I’m doing if I’m kind of ruining something along the way.” Another recent example is Montanya’s search for a new glass supplier. Karen wanted to find a shorter, stouter bottle shape—which

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she believes customers consider premium— but it was a challenge to find a supplier that fit all of her criteria. She finally found a solution that is Cradle to Cradle Certified. “We’ve done the assessment of its raw materials with which the glass is made, the water, any aspect of the byproducts,” Karen says. Montanya also strives to create a diverse workplace, and Karen is well known in the spirits industry as a leading advocate for creating opportunities for women in distilling. The founder of The Women’s Distillery Guild—now part of Women of the Vine and Spirits—Karen regularly serves as a mentor for women in the spirits industry. Mentees Caitlyn Krug (who is in the process of launching Ebra gin) and Lacie Thornton (who is launching Cutwork Lace Distilling Co.) call her a role model and a pioneer. “Karen has been an amazing resource for me,” says Thornton. “Any little question that I have, Karen is always there for me. … She’s been such an instrumental female presence in the industry.” Montanya distiller Renee Newton echoes those thoughts. “She’s a very powerful woman and in this industry there aren’t that many of

them yet. To see her making such a name for Montanya [after] all the hurdles she’s been through being a woman business owner, it’s cool to watch,” says Newton. A recent celebration of women in the spirits industry was a special release of Valentia, a rum distilled by Newton more than four years ago. It was finished in rye barrels from Catoctin Creek Distilling Co., which was distilled by Becky Harris. The team that bottled it and launched it was all female. “It’s my ode to the women who persevered over the last decade, back when there weren’t very many, if any of us, in the room,” Karen says. Perseverance paid off for Montanya last summer when Constellation Brands acquired a minority stake in the distillery through the Focus on the Female Founders program, which Constellation launched in 2018. The infusion is helping Montanya with an expansion that could increase production fivefold in 2020. Although the current distillery is charmingly perched above Montanya’s restaurant in downtown Crested Butte, lead distiller Gilles Hügi is looking forward to having more space at the new production facility two miles away.


“With our smaller distillery here we’re limited on space and what kind of ingredients we can get up into the distillery,” Hügi says. “With the new distillery, everything will be forkliftable. I’ve been really wanting to work on an all molasses blackstrap rum for a while but we have to carry our molasses up in 5-gallon buckets and they’re heavy, they’re like 50 pounds. So when I want to try and do a blackstrap molasses rum in this facility it takes me almost an hour to get that amount of molasses up the stairs and I’m spent at the end of it.” Aside from the expansion, when Karen looks ahead at 2020, she sees it as her mission to do what she calls “closing the gap.” “We’ve been pretty successful over the past decade at really helping people to understand rum and understand premium rum … but we have not always done the best job of closing the loop so that people can actually find it at their liquor store,” says Karen. “My big mission for 2020 is to close the gap for people who want Montanya and how they can get it. There’s a lot of change around online sales and shipping of spirits so we’re really embracing a new way of reaching customers.” ■


Karen Hoskin

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Distilling Destinations

LONG-DISTANCE NEIGHBORS STAY CLOSE IN TEXAS Distillers in Texas are working hard to show off their spirits while playing into the regionality, climate and collaborative spirit of the state. BY JOHN HOLL

Craft distilling might not be the biggest industry in Texas, a state where size matters. But it does have heart, and plenty of it. In and around the greater Austin area, where vast expanses of land are all that connect one populated area to the other, the small distilleries that have opened in recent years strive for a spirit of cooperation, knowing that while their products might differ it will be the

camaraderie that will help them survive. “Everyone knows each other,” says Mark Shilling, the founder of Shilling/Crafted and the immediate past president of the American Craft Spirits Association. “Even if we’re not physically close, because that’s a challenge we have, we do try to see each other regularly.” It is difficult to assign one culture to such a big swath of land, and Texans are loyal not

Hill Country Distillers uses prickly pear cactus, jalapenos, peaches and other fruits.

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only to their state, but their regions, as well. The distilleries that have opened in the cities like Fort Worth, Waco, Houston and San Antonio each have their own identity, and even if they are making similar products, like a bourbon, the difference in geography can play a role on the final result. Thomas Mote of Balcones Distilling in Waco makes it a point to talk about the microclimates in the state, and notes that his location “is not as humid as in Houston, but we have hotter hots and colder colds, we hit both peaks on both ends of the spectrum.” As a result, and because they expose their barrels to the temperature swings, he sees an 8-9% angel’s share loss each year. “It’s like what you’d see in Scotland,” he says. Waco has been on a tourism upswing and Mote is using that to educate customers who walk through his doors, possibly on their first distillery visit. “We tell them this is Texas whiskey, and that it’s not fair to compare it to what they know, but rather what makes us different and special.”


It is difficult to assign one culture to such a big swath of land, and Texans are loyal not only to their state, but their regions, as well. The new nature of the industry in the Lone Star State means that the existing distilleries have a lot of claims about being the first in something, or somewhere. At Still Austin Whiskey Co., the first distillery in the Austin city limits, John Schrepel, the head distiller, says there is a commitment to quality, fine ingredients and history that many make their approach when releasing a spirit. While bourbon, gin and vodka are prevalent among the producers and many use local ingredients, some other distilleries in the region were born out of local desires but no supply. Take Austrian Farms of Texas Distillery, for example, where K.C. Cantwell, the coowner and chief bottle washer, says the distillery started making Edelbrand (the first in the state) because of the European population and descendants that settled in their part of the state had a taste for the fruit brandy from the old country. Rather than shipping it across two continents and an ocean, the Cantwell family decided to make their own. And the customers come from far and wide. In other cases, like at Hill Country Distillers “we’re the best cocktail bar within 30 miles,” says co-owner John Kovacs. The distillery is focusing on local ingredients in its spirits, but in a different way. Using prickly pear cactus, jalapenos, peaches and other fruits and produce grown in the area. Hill, and others point to the abundance of wineries and breweries in the region as another reason to visit. The drinks tourist can have an excellent long weekend exploring the flavors of all three categories, all with a dose of that good hospitality. There’s a chance to meet pioneers as well. Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye was the first producer of legal Texas bourbon. Or to drink local, like the products of Deep Ellum Distillery, which only sells its products in the state. The distillers interviewed for this story kept talking about diversity in product and growth. Many were born in places where no cocktail


Still Austin was the first distillery in the Austin city limits.

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MORE TEXAS DISTILLERIES When visiting Texas, or making the trip between Dallas, Austin, Houston and all stops in between, there’s likely a craft distillery nearby that is ready to talk spirits and fill your glass. In addition to the distilleries mentioned in this story, here are some more places to mark on the map. 1845 Distilling Co. in Fairview is a familyowned and operated distillery. … Andalusia Whiskey Co. in Blanco was founded by former brewers Tommy Erwin and Ty Phelps. … BlackEyed Distilling Co. in Fort Worth produces the first vodka crafted by hand from black-eyed peas. … Coastal Bend Distilling Co. of Beeville seeks to support Texas agri-life, environmental conservation, Texas country music and Texas history through its cultural initiatives. … Crowded Barrel Whisky Co. of Austin focuses the spotlight on the amazing craft whiskey movement in America. … Derelict Airship Distillery of Bastrop was the first distillery in the state of Texas to make absinthe. Devils River Whiskey sources its water from the Devils River, which provides naturally-filtered limestone spring water… In Dripping Springs, Dripping Springs Distilling produces vodka, gin and bourbon. … Front Porch Distillery in Nacogdoches crafts rum, moonshine, vodka, and barrel-aged whiskey… Gulf Coast Distillers of Houston is harvested, distilled, matured and bottled 100% in Texas. … Hitch Hall Spirits of Georgetown aims to be a gathering place full of possibilities. Like Texas itself. … Modisett & Sons Distillery in Manor makes single malt Texas whiskey … At Sanctified Spirits in Westlake, Joe Giildenzopf, Jamie Giildenzopf, and Brad Neathery pioneered a technique that would become the lifeblood of Oak & Eden: inbottle finishing. … TahWahKaro Distilling Co. of Grapevine produces well balanced whiskies handcrafted from grain to glass. … Tate & Co. Distillery of Waco was founded by Chip Tate. … Treaty Oak Distilling in Dripping Springs strives to take whiskey into new frontiers. … And at Houston’s first legal whiskey distillery, Yellow Rose Distilling specializes in handmade, blended and bottled premium whiskey.

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or whiskey culture had existed before, making the early years difficult. They innovated and adapted, and created something that was truly their own, able to stand alone and as a collective. There is grit, and art and a lot of good humor in nearly every pour. And while there are products that come

out of the region that might have a global following, the real gems are the ones worth the drive down a long stretch of highway or a dusty back road. “We want to show the world that Texas can put out some serious whiskey,” Schrepel says. ■

Austrian Farms of Texas Distillery produces fruit brandies in Luling.


Business Sense

THE LANGUAGE OF BUSINESS Accountant-turned-distiller Béla Náhori offers insights on his former trade. Before he and his family opened ChainBridge Distillery and started making brandy in Oakland Park, Florida, Béla Náhori worked as an accountant in Ohio. We checked in with Náhori recently to discuss insights into accounting best practices for those in the craft spirits business. What type of accounting work were you doing before you launched ChainBridge? How long were you doing that work? Béla Náhori: Before launching ChainBridge Distillery, I worked at Grant Thornton, an international public accounting and advisory firm. I worked in their national tax strategic solutions (NTSS) team with a focus on national tax training development. I also helped launch the newly developed shared service center in Bangalore, India. Prior to Grant Thornton, I was a tax accountant at a regional public accounting firm in Cleveland, Ohio. How does your previous work in accounting benefit your career as the owner of a craft distillery? Being part of a small group (NTSS) who was in charge of the entire national tax group at Grant Thornton helped me to learn how to balance wearing many hats. Owning a small craft, family-owned distillery, I wear the hat of a distiller, marketer, running the tasting room, distillery tour guide, product development, accounting, purchasing and so on. Is accounting in the spirits world remarkably different or the same as accounting in other industries? Understanding the fundamentals of accounting is imperative to all business owners. The most complex accounting for a distillery is inventory and cost accounting, similar to any industry that has three categories of inventory—raw materials, work in process (WIP) and finished goods. At our distillery, the cost of each batch is different. It is very important to track the cost of your raw materials. For us the biggest costs are the cost of fresh fruits and


vegetables. The brix values of the fruit/vegetable, fermentation results or even outside temperatures—all could affect the cost of the product. It is very important to track the value of your inventory. Are you currently doing all of the accounting work for ChainBridge? Currently, all the accounting and tax work at ChainBridge Distillery is done in-house by me and my wife, Katie, who is a CPA. Her being on the audit side of accounting, she tackles the monthly bookkeeping in order for us to have accurate records for cost and completing our federal tax return. She is still in practice for a regional public accounting firm. Based on my prior work experience, I am responsible for any tax accounting including federal and state excise tax returns, state sales and use tax, state reemployment tax and TTB reporting. Her being on the audit side of accounting and me being in tax gives us a great balanced duo. For startup distillers who are considering tackling accounting on their own vs. hiring a person or a service, what advice would you give to them as they get underway? Make sure you invest in an inventory system that tracks your cost of goods in detail early in the startup process. If you lack the fundamentals of accounting, I highly recommend hiring a professional to keep your records current and don’t fall behind the required reporting. What types of qualities/attributes should distillery owners look for in an accountant or accounting service? Distilleries should look for someone that is experienced in tax reporting, inventory accounting and cost accounting. What are the most common accounting mistakes or potential problems/issues/ considerations that distilleries should look out for?

The Náhori family and team at ChainBridge Distillery, left to right: Béla, Katie, Agnes, Béla and Monika.

Distilleries should invest in inventory system that tracks cost of goods sold. Without detailed cost accounting, it is hard to determine the real cost of the product and know if the product is profitable or not. Another, common accounting mistake someone could make at the beginning is forgetting to factor in the cost of direct and indirect labor cost. The cost of labor could be one of the biggest expenses a distillery could have. It is important to accurately track your WIP, which should include labor and overhead costs. Are there any important trends in accounting that distilleries should be aware of? Or any resources you would particularly recommend? Distilleries should make sure to do the proper research to determine what inventory system best suits them and their distilleries. Make sure the software covers distillery operations, distributor or tasting room fulfillments, average unit cost or total inventory cost. ■

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raw materials

AGAVE SPIRIT: DIFFICULT TO MAKE, WORTH THE WORK American distillers are embracing agave in all its forms to create a spirit that honors tradition, is just right for sipping or adds oomph to a margarita.

If it’s made in America, you can’t call it Tequila. Much like Champagne, the name is a regional designation, in this case the Jalisco state of Mexico. But that hasn’t stopped American distillers from making a spirit from the blue Weber agave plant, and that is perfect at home in a mixed drink like a margarita or taken as a shot with some lime and salt. Overall, the number of agave spirits being produced in the United States by small distillers lags behind other categories like bourbon, vodka and gin. There’s a good reason for that. “It’s hard and expensive,” says Sean Smiley, the owner of State 38 Distilling in Colorado. Those two reasons alone might be why there aren’t more craft distillers creating spirits from the plant, which is grown in Mexico and parts of the Southwest, where climate conditions are just so. It might also have to do

Agave thrives in a dry, hot climate.

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with the scarcity of the plants. Agave is’t just used for alcohol, and as its popularity started to grow as a sweetener for coffee or baking, the plant, either in raw form or as a syrup, became harder to procure. This is where trust in a supply chain is paramount, craft distillers interviewed for this story say. Smiley started making agave spirits as a home distiller and “it’s the classic story where people liked it and I decided to do this professionally.” In his small batch days, he would simply go to a local Whole Foods, buy Weber blue agave, ferment it and then run it through his still. Over time he struck up a conversation with the buyer at the grocery store, who introduced him to their supplier. He started buying in bulk, at around $5,000 per tote of the raw plant from the supplier and continually increased his

orders as interest in his spirit grew. When the supplier went out of business, Smiley connected directly with the farm and now gets his piña without the use of middlemen. Given the popularity of the plant as a sweetener and more consumer demand for the product, Smiley says he is now paying $7,500 per tote. To help his agave spirit appeal to consumers without the sticker shock, he says he’s kept his margins low in other places like labor and overhead so that his bottles are affordable. It ranges from around $35 for the blanco to $60 for añejo. “Anyone who likes good Tequila will like our agave spirit,” he says. “We don’t want to block them because of pricing.” There are other producers, like Peach Street Distillers in Palisade, Colorado, that also produce an agave spirit, but import the syrup, not the plant, from Mexico. That has its challenges, too. Davy Lindig, the head distiller, says that Peach Street’s supplier has to keep a tight rein on his farmers to make sure the syrup that arrives at the Mexican border hasn’t been cut with additives like corn syrup. “He has a whole testing process that looks for red flags and he’ll send it back if it’s not pure or has things it shouldn’t.” In the true spirit of American ingenuity, there are some distillers that are now working with farmers in this country, specifically in California, who are growing agave. It has led to what some call the Mezcalifornia movement. “We have agave that’s growing here and we have a passion for production,” says Lance Winters, master distiller at St. George Spirits in Alameda, California. “For us it’s never going to be of commercial significance to be making




“You’re not going to get rich making agave [spirits] in America.” —Bill Graham of Peach Street Distillers

this. The batch that we made last time, I think we ended up with just over 200 bottles. We’ll sell it in our tasting room. There’s not enough to put it out into the broad market. It’ll be a fun little thing, but when it comes to the revenue that it generates, it will be a blip on the map, let alone the profit because there’s going to be next to no profit because it was such a pain in the ass to make.” That’s the other rub. Not only can quality raw ingredients be difficult to come by, but it’s also not easy to work with. Smiley says that he routinely gets calls from distillers from around the country asking about process, sourcing and more. He’s happy to talk about all of that, with the exception of one thing: the yeast strain he uses. He settled on a specific strain after a lot of trial and error and says the final result brings a bit of fruity and butteriness to the bottle. Winters says he uses Champagne yeast. Lindig is full of praise for the yeast nutrients that they use during fermentation. Agave in its raw form is notoriously difficult to use, from how to process it for distilling (there’s everything from roasting, to chopping and soaking, to pureeing) and then getting the resulting liquid to ferment all the way through. David Woods of Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York, Maine, describes a painstaking process to make sure fermentation doesn’t stall when he’s

Dave Smith and Lance Winters of St. George Spirits


State 38 Distilling produces a line of agave-based spirits in Golden, Colorado.

making agave spirits. “Sometimes twice a day you have to spoon feed it nutrients to keep the yeasty buggers happy,” he says. It’s a struggle to keep the pH from crashing “because it will crash big time and you have to stay ahead of it. That’s why I think a lot of people have a hard time fermenting with agave” because the pH will drop and kill the yeast. Because so much of what is produced in the United States is in very small batches, the distillers can talk about the spirit directly to customers in their tasting room. When it’s out in the world sitting on a shelf without any real representation, it can be a tougher sell up against better known brands. “You’re not going to get rich making agave [spirits] in America,” says Bill Graham of Peach Street Distillers. Even if sales aren’t a guaranteed retirement plan for the distillers that are making agave spirit, there’s genuine interest among aficiona-

dos and a real appreciation for the ingredient and the process. “I think there are a lot of people that really get jazzed about it,” Winters says. “The biggest thing is making sure that there’s a compelling reason for a group of gringos to be making a spirit like that. For us it started as something that was wanting to understand a process and wanting to experience firsthand what it is. “The bulk of craft distillation in this country is one form or another of cultural appropriation. We’re taking things that were created by different cultures around the world and working with them. The big thing is making sure that you’re being respectful of the point of origin and not trying to take anything away from that. That’s our biggest challenge, giving a compelling reason for why we’re doing this.” ■ Jon Page contributed to this story.

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Retail: On-Premise

RIDING THE WAVE Tiki bars offer plenty of opportunities for craft spirits producers—just don’t try to mess with the classics. BY JEFF CIOLETTI

Tiki bars may have helped give consumers a renewed taste for rum, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those venues are a sure thing for small brands hoping for a foothold in the cocktail scene. And that’s mainly because few within the tropical drinks realm want to mess with the classics—and what made them classic in the first place. Some of the most iconic tiki cocktails became so after painstaking experimentation, with recipes often shrouded in a level of secrecy that would make the CIA envious. Once the creators dial in the precise flavor profile they’re looking for, they’re reluctant to undo the alchemy that got them there. And sometimes the increasingly in-theknow consumer can be—almost counterintuitively—too spirits-savvy for their own good. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, renowned author of multiple tropical-drinks-related books and owner of Latitude 29 tiki bar and restaurant in New Orleans, occasionally encounters that scenario. Trust the Experts “Once in a while, someone comes into Latitude who knows their rums and will call out something on the back bar—‘I’d like this in a

Mai Tai, or that in a Mai Tai,’” Berry explains. “I’m not generally in favor of that. It’s taken me time to figure out the right combination of flavors, [and their choice] might not have the right ester count, etc. From my point of view, it’s not always a good thing when people are brand conscious.” A daiquiri, he says, is a different story. “It’s rum, lime and sugar and we can work with that,” Berry explains. “But with the more classic, more complicated drinks, I wish people wouldn’t [try to substitute].” On rare occasions, Berry says, he comes across something new that he likes and will replace a spirit he’s already using with it. Maggie Campbell, president and head distiller of Privateer Rum and vice president of the ACSA Board of Directors, is mostly on the same page as Berry. It’s all a matter of honoring the classics. “Tiki’s all about a really good story, the story of adventure and exploration,” Campbell says. “It’s really important that we respect the traditional tiki ingredients. If you walk into a bar and tell a bartender to swap out your product for another, traditional product, it can be really offensive to a long history of culture.” Regulars at tiki bar Hale Pele in Portland,

Oregon, typically stick to the menu, even though, as general manager Paddy Holland acknowledges, consumers these days— especially those in a craft-centric city like Portland—are much more savvy about spirits and which brands to name drop. “At least in our case, we have a mostly set, but large cocktail menu,” says Holland. “And although we do create new things for our customers every so often, it mostly stays the same. Most of the people who come in—90 to 95% of them—consider it a kind of feature of this bar to order something fun and different from the menu and know what they’re getting into.” Occasionally, guests will ask staff to craft a drink based on a specific rum, but mostly what those drinks end up being are completely up to the bartenders. “It’s like ‘dealer’s choice,’ with this or that rum, ‘could you build something around it?’— to the extent that happens,” Holland explains. But if it’s an ultra-classic drink—something dating back seven or eight decades to tiki’s golden age—Hale Pele bartenders make every attempt to align with the original flavor profiles and the sorts of spirits that were readily available in the first few decades after Repeal.




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Latitude 29 in New Orleans


Hale Pele in Portland, Oregon

A Little Local Love For many products—especially non-rum, secondary tiki spirits like gin—Holland’s team tries to give as much visibility to neighborhood producers as possible. And Portland has no shortage of those. “We try to use local stuff as much as it makes sense,” he says. “In the case of vodka and gin, there’s a local distillery, a craft distillery that we use and the people who come in are very interested in that—‘What do you have?’ and ‘What’s local?’” But Latitude 29’s Berry advises small spirits brand sales reps who are looking for placement behind the bar to do a little more than the bare minimum amount of homework on the venues to which they’re trying to sell. He’s encountered more than a few reps who’ve been oblivious about not only their potential accounts, but about the very products that


“At least in our case, we have a mostly set, but large cocktail menu. And although we do create new things for our customers every so often, it mostly stays the same.” —Paddy Holland of Hale Pele in Portland, Oregon they’re hawking, as well. “When they come in they don’t know how to use their own brands in cocktails,” Berry reveals. “They’ll come in and say stuff that makes no sense to me. Sometimes brands will hire reps who don’t know anything about their products.” For instance, they’d say the rum’s really great with Coke or it’s terrific in a piña colada. “We don’t do those,” he points out. “Sure it’s good with Coke—every rum is good with Coke.

That doesn’t distinguish you in any way.” Selected Sips It may be difficult for a new brand to crack Latitude 29’s and most other serious tiki bars’ cocktail menus, but that certainly doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Quite the contrary. If a product stands out (in a good way), it may find its way on to a sipping menu. But keep in mind that quality always trumps quantity on any list of neat pours. At any given moment,

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#NoFilter The marketing lexicon is full of annoying, made-up buzzwords and one of the more recent ones from the past several years is “Instagrammable” or “Instagrammability.” But while the term may be eye roll inducing, the concept behind it is quite valid, especially where spirits and cocktails are concerned. Even though tiki bars and drinks predate the social media age by at least seven decades, the genre seems tailor-made for these times. “The tiki bar and tiki drinks are kind of already a nice package for photographing and any picture you take in the bar has a cool backdrop for it—which is most true for any authentic tiki bar,” says Holland. Still, how good a drink looks in some influencer’s Instagram feed isn’t what’s driving the Hale Pele team behind the bar. “We’re never telling bartenders, ‘Hey, make something that looks crazy, go out of your way to do that,’” Holland says. “That being said, the idea of a prototypical tiki drink already has that kind of built in. Crushed ice, with a kind of snow cone dome on it that sparkles, complex, unique garnishes—[those kind of things] speak to what tiki already is, that it’s meant to engage all the senses.” Jeff Berry of Latitude 29 in New Orleans isn’t motivated by what looks great on Instagram, but he’s also not complaining that the platform has helped images of his drinks take on a life of their own. “I have to say, Instagram’s been very good to us, but we don’t make drinks especially for social media, we make them for the guest. We try to delight the guest with the garnish and with what’s in the glass.” ■

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Latitude 29 never has more than 30 rums behind its bars—all thoughtfully curated. “I’m not one of those bars that want to have 500, 600 rums—I don’t even think there are that many good ones,” Berry says. And when he comes across a new rum that he likes, the bar will rotate out something already on the list to make room for it. “I don’t need to have 10 agricole r(h)ums on my sipping list,” he argues. “Why should [guests] have to play Russian roulette with 10 different brands. You don’t know which ones you’re going to like the best, which one’s going to have no fusel oils, which one’s going to be smooth. That’s my job, to put on the list the one that best [epitomizes] that.”

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry of Latitude 29


Retail: Off-Premise

A FAMILY AFFAIR How a family-run store turned into an Arizona liquor legacy. BY ERIKA RIETZ


It was a not-so-happy accident that led Greg Eccles to open Tops Liquors in 1981: A college student in his early 20s, he was a passenger in a car wreck that left him with a broken leg—and a handsome settlement. It was Greg’s father, Bob, a Dos Equis rep and former grocery store manager, who suggested that Greg use the money to purchase a liquor store on Mill Avenue, a stone’s throw from Arizona State University. But the finance major had his sights set on a more traditional career. “I told him I didn’t want to do it. I told him I wanted to go out and make money, make my mark in life,” Greg says. “I got my degree, and five days later he had all of this mapped out ... how we’re not going to lose money, but even if we lost money, how we could sell the store and still make our money back. He convinced me. And that’s how I got to go into business with the guy I admired most in my life.” After the first year, Tops started to sell kegs to ASU’s fraternities and sororities for $35, earning a meager $5 profit. Greg delivered the kegs and taps to the fraternities midweek, then returned on Monday morning to load them onto a truck and take them back to the store, all for free. “We would do 40 keg drops a week; it was crazy. When Playboy came out with their top party schools and ASU was on the list, we were 100% part of that. We weren’t making a lot of money, but we got to know everybody in the fraternity and sorority system, and they all came to Tops Liquors. It was gangbusters. We tripled our business.” Tops has since moved a few blocks from its original location and is still popular with ASU students, but has added legions of craft spirits and beer fans from around the state


to its customer base. Greg still does his share of kegs sales, but the breadth of his selection extends miles beyond low-end liquor, listing tens of thousands of bottles that range from five-figure rare whiskeys in a locked case to whiskey barrels he hand-selects for bottling. There’s even a “mezcal mountain,” a 7-foot-high display of more than 100 different mezcals. And it’s not just a volume game, it’s about curating quality and highlighting star bottles; locally made spirits and bitters are given eye-level placement on the shelves. He focuses heavily on local spirits, including a line of flavored vodkas from O.H.S.O. Brewery & Distillery’s line of Arcadia spirits (among them, Lemon, Horseradish, Rosemary and Orange) and offerings from SanTan Spirits (including Saint Anne’s Botanical Gin Kashmir Spice and Sacred Stave Arizona Rye Whiskey). “We always tried to carry everything that the grocery stores didn’t cover. That was our thing, and it still is to this day. And it works.” Greg and his dad made annual pilgrimages to Tennessee and Kentucky distilleries with two or three employees to pick out barrels for special bottle releases back at the store. Their tasting process was serious business: “There’s no talking. There are no expressions. Nothing. There’s no way to influence the person next to you.” Each taster scored the barrels on paper, and the barrels with the most points were selected. Last year, shortly before they were supposed to do the whiskey trip together, Greg’s father passed away at the age of 86. “On the plane we decided to dedicate all of the barrels to my dad; we said, ‘Let’s come up with

some names for the barrels,’” Greg recalls. “My dad’s name was Wilson Robert Eccles, but he always went by Bob because he hated Wilson; when he was a kid they’d call him Willy. We told the master distiller at Willett Distillery about my dad, and we came up with the name Don’t Call Me Willy. So we put it on the bottle.” Don’t Call Me Willy turned out to be a coveted 131-proof rye whiskey, and all 75 bottles of it sold out in two days. Tops was always a father-son effort, but the liquor store business permeated the rest of the Eccles family, as well; Greg and Bob partnered with Greg’s sisters and brother to open nearby Sun Devil Liquors in the early 1990s (which they sold three years ago). The employees at Tops are equally close-knit; most of the people who have worked there were passionate customers first, and some have worked in the store for more than 20 years. Soon, the next generation of Eccles will be taking the reins: Greg’s son, Ben, and daughter, Kirsten, who have both helped to run the store for more than decade, will become the new owners of Tops Liquors when Greg retires this spring. ■

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Technically Speaking

WATER RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME Jake Holshue of Old Trestle Distillery details how water affects every aspect of the distilling process BY JAKE HOLSHUE

When it comes to distilling, most industry folks have an idea of the general importance of water. From changing taste profiles, attributes and the essence of different spirits, water can be considered one of the most essential ingredients when making spirits. However, water is often one of the most overlooked elements when it comes to the distilling process. Many of us do not fully understand just how important water really is at each stage, and how much influence it has on every aspect of distillation. No matter what spirit you’re making, or what region you’re in, there are many ways to better understand your local water sources, find better water if needed, and understand how you can change your water to improve the final product. Making spirits near Lake Tahoe in California, we have access to some of the purest water in the world. We’re essentially at the source. Our water at Old Trestle Distillery in Truckee comes from a natural underground aquifer and is filtered through decades, and sometimes hundreds of years of granite before it reaches us. Whether you’re at the source or the end of the stream, so to speak, there is a lot you can do to change the makeup of the water you work with to influence your spirits in the exact way you want it to. And the best news is you don’t need a limestone aquifer in the back hills to make good spirits! One thing you can do from the start is to find a good, local water processing partner. Ideally you want someone who has a good understanding of your local water supply.

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They can help you maintain your processes so you don’t always have to think about having good water. Having the right information and vendors can help you make good decisions about your water program, particularly as a smaller distillery when everyone has a million and one jobs. Information such as local water reports from municipalities can help guide you, but it’s important to understand that one report is not the entirety of the answers you seek. They can only tell you what the city is measuring on their end, at one moment in time. You may need to send off your water (from the distillery) for analysis to see if there is a major discrepancy between the city’s numbers, and yours. Keep good records and review them annually. Typically, as distillers, there are three different types of water we work with—mashing water, post distillation water and boiler water (where applicable). Mashing water is really where we get the house flavor into the spirit with how the different minerals in the water react with the yeast at this stage. The yeast will utilize minerals and create a unique flavor that can become inherent in the specific spirits that you’re mashing. While we always boil the water in our process to sanitize the mash, boiling also removes any volatile compounds such as chlorine, so generally there’s not a lot of filtration at this stage because it allows to preserve the water as it is. If you’re trying to re-create the water profile of a particular region (Kentucky, Tennessee, Scotland, France, etc.) you need to not only

Water is one of the most overlooked, and underutilized ways to change the flavor of your spirit and efficiency of your distillery. understand your own water profile, but the water profile of the region in question. Then you can learn how to get your water to match. There are some great internet calculators that can help you calculate things like the alkalinity and pH of the water you need and how to adjust them. I often use Brewer’s Friend (though more commonly utilized for beer brewing) which is a free online tool one can use to correct for proper mashing water. I would also suggest the book “Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers,” by John Palmer and Colin Kaminski (yes I know it’s for brewing beer, but there’s some great science in there). In the post-distillation phase, you can also impact the spirit with your water quality, say when you’re proofing down from cask strength, or proofing down to bottle strength. You must use reverse osmosis water in this stage, failure to do so can result in unwanted flock (or sediment) in your final product, and potentially cause off flavors. Another one of the biggest recommenda-


tions I’d give any distiller is if you utilize a boiler in your process, get your boiler tested regularly. Depending on where you’re located, you may get different types of water throughout different times of the year. For instance, in most municipalities including up here in Tahoe, water chemistry changes in the spring because of the snow runoff, and then has a different chemistry later in the year. Our boiler chemical supplier comes to our facility and does regular boiler water testing—making sure we are doing enough boiler blow downs, ensuring the proper amount of boiler chemical on board, making sure pH is correct, and making sure total dissolved solids are correct. With this handy information we’ve started to keep a library of the water profile in our boiler throughout the year so we can change our program as needed. The efficacy of your boiler is directly related to your water quality. Say you have really hard water, you may have to do blow downs three or four times a week, just to make sure you’re removing all the solids. This is important because every thirty-second of an inch of sediment in your boiler results in a 20% decrease in boiler efficiency, and ignored for long enough can result in shortening the life of your boiler. Ultimately, understanding how different water profiles are going to affect your final product is key when you’re trying to make a specific style of spirit. Beyond just having good water quality, different water makeups will result in different finished products. Water is one of the most overlooked, and underutilized ways to change the flavor of your spirit and efficiency of your distillery. Do your best to know where your water is coming from and the quality of that water. Then you can determine how your water should be handled at each stage of the distilling process, and implement the right methods to change your water to get the best final result for your spirits. ■

Jake Holshue is the head distiller at Old Trestle Distillery in Truckee, California. He also serves on the ACSA Board of Directors and is a chair of the Education Committee.


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legal corner

ENSURING COMPLIANCE WITH THIRD PARTIES How to maintain industry compliance when using unlicensed third parties to promote your alcohol beverage brand. BY RYAN MALKIN AND ASHLEY HANKE

Use of third-party marketing companies is widespread. For good reason. As a distiller, you can’t be everywhere and do it all. Maybe you could use a hand with on-premise or off-premise consumer tasting events; targeted advertising and promotion via the internet, social media, or other inventive technologies; creating and managing online content; or executing experiential brand events and activations. Third-party providers or marketing companies tend to be unlicensed entities involved with the promotion, marketing or facilitation of sales of alcohol by their clients, the licensees. Effective marketing professionals can increase a brand’s market presence through relationship building and helping industry members solve a problem or operate more efficiently. However, increased popularity in using third parties has caught the attention of federal and state regulators, prompting heightened scrutiny of trade practice activities involving unlicensed entities. Now, more than ever, engaging a third-party marketing company should trigger legal considerations. If you cannot legally conduct a trade practice activity directly, do not use a third party to conduct the activity on your behalf. The use of third parties to carry out promotional activities on behalf of alcohol beverage licensees has certainly caught the attention of federal regulators. Over the last few years, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has taken enforcement action against industry members who used unlicensed third-party intermediaries to engage in trade practices that would

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otherwise be prohibited by industry members. Notably, the TTB received a $2.5 million offer in compromise, TTB’s largest monetary settlement to date, from a supplier who allegedly used third parties to provide money or things of value to retailers in exchange for product placement. The TTB has also prioritized the matter at recent trade enforcement seminars, reminding industry members that the unfair trade practice prohibitions cover activities undertaken directly, indirectly or through an affiliate. Do not pay a third party for guaranteed shelf, menu or display placements. Seemingly going the way of the VHS, some agencies would simply take distiller money, add its fee, then pass the distiller money on to a retailer in exchange for a placement. Credit card swipes, gift cards or lavish gifts for retailers are not line items you want to see on a marketing company’s invoice to you. Industry Member Liability for Acts of Third Parties When engaging third parties, such as brand ambassadors or influencers, it is also important to remember that social media posts are subject to the same advertising considerations as any other traditional print or internet advertisement and if publicly visible, are a great tool for regulators to monitor business practices without even leaving the office. As one of the most heavily regulated industries in America, it is no surprise that, in addition to general responsible advertising considerations, industry members must advertise in accordance with state and federal laws and, although not mandatory, self-regulating trade groups.

Brand ambassadors, influencers and employees, although unlicensed, are extensions of the brands they promote, and industry members face potential liability for employee or third-party conduct over the internet if acting on behalf of the brand or within the scope of employment. And while scope of employment considerations vary from state to state, they generally include whether an employee’s acts were directed by the employer, in the ordinary course of business, preformed with the intent to further the employer’s interest or reasonably anticipated by the employer. Specifically, advertising industry members may be on the hook for third parties acting on their behalf if the use of the internet or social media is related to job duties, if the conduct was conducted on behalf of the brand or if the industry member encouraged the third party to use the internet to engage in promotion and marketing — all of which happen to directly affect alcohol brands that frequently use the internet and social media to promote products and increase brand awareness. For instance, in many states, it is considered an unlawful inducement from a supplier to a retailer to name only one retail account in an advertisement or post on social media. If an employee or brand ambassador was not properly trained on the intricacies of state and federal laws where they advertise or post and inadvertently mentioned an event at a single account or one retailer that carries the brand’s products, the licensee could be on the hook for a tied house violation by providing a “thing of value,” free advertising on social media, to the retail licensee. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also warned that delegation of marketing and


Increased popularity in using third parties has caught the attention of federal and state regulators, prompting heightened scrutiny of trade practice activities involving unlicensed entities.

advertising does not relieve the advertiser of responsibility under the FTC Act. In 2017, after reviewing numerous Instagram posts by celebrities, athletes and other influencers, the FTC staff sent out more than 90 letters reminding influencers and brands of the need to clearly and conspicuously disclose the relationship between the brand and the third party when promoting or endorsing products through social media. As a result, FTC staff issued “The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People are Asking” which state that any material connection between an endorser and an advertiser must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed. The Guides also explain that the advertising brand is ultimately responsible for what others do on the brand’s behalf and that appropriate programs to train and monitor members of a brand’s social media network are necessary. What can your business do to mitigate risks? The benefits of using an experienced thirdparty marketing company to promote your business arguably outweigh the associated risks. With the proper safeguards in place, businesses can market their brand in a compliant manner with ease in knowing that they have implemented adequate policies and procedures. While not exhaustive, the following considerations should be addressed when utilizing unlicensed third parties: • Indemnification: The agency should indemnify you for its failing to follow the terms of the agreement, which should include following the law. • Compliance Language: Agreements with agencies should include language that makes clear that the agency does


not have any ownership in any retailer and your payments are not intended — and will not be used — to induce a retailer to purchase certain products to the exclusion of competitive products. • Social Media Policy: Every employer should create and implement a comprehensive and balanced social media policy which provides clarity to employees on permissible and prohibited conduct when advertising on behalf of the brand. The policy should provide concrete direction and give examples, such as the proper use of hashtags. Employees and marketers should also be made aware of their responsibilities of disclosing both their connection to an alcohol brand when endorsing products and when a post is sponsored or paid for by a brand. • Education and Training: Due to the nature of the heavily regulated alcohol industry, employers should educate all employees, including third-party marketers and independent contractors, on alcohol laws and advertising regulations to help ensure compliance when acting on behalf of the brand. Employees should also know what to do if a regulator shows up at the door or an event. • Enforcement: Comprehensive policies should be strictly enforced and updated periodically to reflect changes in the law and advancements in technology. In addition to training new employees and marketers, trainings for all staff should be held on an ongoing basis. Employers should have a mechanism in place to frequently monitor social media pages and follow up in the event of misconduct. Although the FTC has stated that it is

unrealistic to expect employers to be aware of every single statement made by an employee or a third party, it is up to the employer to make a reasonable effort to know what employees and thirdparty participants are disseminating on behalf of the company. Most importantly, delegation of promotional and marketing duties to an outside entity doesn’t relieve a brand owner of responsibility under the FTC Act. • Legal Review: Legal review should be conducted of all policies, advertisements and posts including obtaining copyright clearances. ■

Editor’s Note: Malkin Law, P.A. is a law firm serving the alcohol beverage industry. Nothing in this article is intended to be— and should not be—construed as specific legal advice but is for educational purposes only

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PACKAGING ROARS INTO THE TWENTIES How macro trends will influence craft spirits packaging in the new decade BY ANDREW KAPLAN

When the Hawaii-based Kupu Spirits recently debuted a line of ready to drink cocktails it chose to print its logo directly on the cans instead of using plastic shrink sleeves. “Plastic and island living are completely incongruous with their brand,” says David Schuemann, owner of the company Kupu worked with on the package, CF Napa Brand Design. “So, they couldn’t possibly put plastic shrink sleeves around their canned cocktails.” CF Napa is currently working with several other craft spirits companies on canned cocktails and Schuemann says each has requested the same thing. “I think that’s just because there’s been an increase in consumer awareness around plastic,” he says. It’s one of the signs of where craft spirits packaging is headed. There’s a new ecosensitivity catching on fast with consumers when it comes to packaging and it is starting to makes itself felt in the craft spirits industry. In actuality, craft spirits is one industry that can breathe a little easier these days when it comes to packaging. After all, unlike some other segments of the beverage business, the majority of the packaging craft spirits relies on these days—glass bottles, corks, cans— happen to be fundamentally eco-friendly. But sustainability is not the only thing

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that will shape craft spirits packaging in the 2020s. Until now, packaging has, for the most part, not really kept up with the digital era we live in. The designs, though increasingly eyecatching, are fundamentally static. But that might be about to change as new technologies bring labels to life and add new layers of functionality to them as well. “Talk about an opportunity to jump off a store shelf or get noticed in a bar,” says Don Wright, one of the owners of Wright Global Graphics, in Thomasville, North Carolina, about emerging packaging technology like augmented reality (AR), near field communication (NFC) and organic light emitting diodes (OLED). “All the bits and pieces are there. It’s probably still too cost-prohibitive but in 10 years that will probably change.” Manufacturing Shifts Arglass has been busy putting the finishing touches on a new glass plant being built in Georgia, what the company’s chairman and CEO José de Diego-Arozamena says will be the first new glass plant in the U.S. in nearly 40 years. Its construction points to a couple of important trends that will influence craft spirits packaging in the coming years. On the one hand, the plant will specialize in

creating small runs of glass bottles in a variety of shapes. This goes to what Diego-Arozamena says is a growing demand for customshaped bottles as craft spirits companies try to differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded market. “We are bringing to the market something that doesn’t exist,” he says, “which is the ability of small and medium-size customers to have their own customized bottles in any shape or color, made here in the U.S. and produced just-in-time and at very competitive costs.” The “made here in the U.S.” part is also very significant. That speaks to the growing awareness of craft distillers and consumers of the carbon footprint created by packaging. Locally produced bottles have a smaller carbon footprint than those made in Europe, for example. Schuemann also points to the move by Saverglass to open a new plant in Mexico in 2018. “The world’s supply chain for glass is changing radically,” he says. “That’s a gamechanger for them not to be producing in Europe for North America. It’s greener. They can truck instead of fly or ship.” There is also some interest in lightweighting glass bottles for the same reason. “Although


it is sometimes a bit counterproductive to talk about lightening in the luxury world, we have been offering lighter bottles for more than five years now without having denied what is our DNA: design,” says Régis Maillet, group marketing director for Saverglass. Wright points to another near-future advantage to lightweighting: the coming possibility of drone deliveries. If the dreams of Jeff Bezos take off, Amazon, for example, might be piloting thousands of delivery drones around the country by the end of this decade. “Packaging will need to be engineered for maximum efficiency to fit those methods of delivery,” Wright says. There are other eco-friendly efforts underway as well and no part of the package is too small to not be green. “We introduced a generation of fully recyclable organic inks more than 10 years ago now and have since converted our tools,” says Maillet, of Saverglass. “More than 75 percent of our decorations are made of organic inks.” And NimbleJack Partners, LLC says the Eco Stopper from Supercap that it sells in the U.S. is made using sugar cane instead of fossil fuels. “I think there will continue to be a pretty interesting opportunity for innovation on closures,” says Schuemann. “We’ve seen more and more craft spirits going into screw caps believe it or not and just skipping synthetic or natural cork closures altogether.”

experts like Wright and Schuemann predict the coming years will see more embrace AR. “I think augmented reality is something that’s here to stay,” says Schuemann. “Right now, it’s a bit gimmicky, but marketers will learn how to leverage that technology.” He’s seen spirits brands use AR for videos of bartenders teaching how to make cocktails, for example. “I think that’s brilliant,” he continues. “And I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a chance to tell your story, it’s a chance to engage directly with the consumer in a way that is probably the most engaging—through video. The bottle of the future is going to be leveraging that kind of ability to connect with consumers far more. We haven’t even scratched the surface of that.” Wright is a big advocate of NFC, which he says offers much of the same capabilities of AR but can provide a more streamlined experience because the cellphones don’t require a special app. “As that scales up, those opportunities will be more easily adapted by the craft guys,” Wright says. “I think that’s a real opportunity that’s just ripe for the picking. It’s there, it’s affordable, it’s easy to integrate and it can do so many things.” For instance, NFC can also be used to track bottles through the supply chain, for quick inventory counts. “NFC is a computer chip that you can literally inlay into a label and it allows for instant tracking,” he says. Another technology that could see wider use in the coming years is OLED. In January, for example, Coca-Cola become one of the

largest consumer brands to include OLED labels in a limited edition run that lit up its bottles’ labels when the consumer touched them. What’s more, these labels were sustainable and cost just cents to produce. “OLED is something that we’ve actually looked at and explored,” Wright says, “being able to create illumination directly on the label itself. And as batteries get stronger and smaller and the light emitting diodes from an OLED panel get brighter, you can very easily create bottles that have scroll messages or can be illuminated.” So, as packaging becomes increasingly connected, craft spirits bottles may evolve from simply a vessel to hold the beverage, to a launching point for storytelling. “The beauty of craft is it has a different experience tied to it,” explains Wright, “going to the distillery, talking to the head guy and being in their tasting room and hearing the story of the building that they’re in, or grandpa’s recipe, or why they built this flavor profile based on their local sourcing, the local products. So, carry that into packaging, the consumer experience has to go with that.” Maillet, of Saverglass, believes that overall, packaging’s purpose in the coming years will be to be launching points for shareable experiences for today’s consumers. “There is a need for creativity, shifting, imposed by social networks that work a lot on storytelling, staging but treated with style, idea, eclecticism, inspiration,” Maillet says. “This generation is fed by stories, which lead to advocating for an aesthetic of surprise.” ■

Labels Come to Life For all the impact that digital technology has had on our lives, most consumer packaging has remained untouched by these advances. That may be about to change in the next few years as the cost of implementing options like AR, NFC and OLED continue to drop. AR was recently used to popular effect by the wine brand 19 Crimes. Users were able to hover their cell phones over the labels and watch the characters come to life and tell their stories. Craft distillers have many stories to tell and


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Sales & Marketing

A MARRIAGE OF EQUALS Here’s how distilleries can develop successful co-branding partnerships. BY KATE BERNOT

Much has been written about millennial and Generation Z preferences for artisan goods those consumers perceive as authentic and high-quality. Small distilleries already cater to those desires with the spirits they produce, but co-branding partnerships offer a way to extend a distillery’s brand into other goods attractive to those customers: coffee, hot sauces, craft beer, pickles and more. Partnering with a food company, coffee roaster or syrup producer on licensed products potentially introduces new customers to a distillery, shows a business’s commitment to working with other artisans and possibly generates an additional revenue stream. In short, it allows a distillery to access untapped

retail opportunities. “I think as a distillery and selling spirits, we are so restricted on where our product can actually be shown. [Co-branding] is always an opportunity to showcase your brand in retailers that you normally can’t get into,” says Patrick Donovan, VP of operations for Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, Washington, which has partnered with both craft breweries and a local coffee roaster on co-branded products. “I don’t think we can do enough of it, to be honest.” Looking for a Partner The most fundamental choices in launching such a partnership concern the end product and the company that makes it. Not all co-

branding partnerships are a success: Jeremy Elliott, president and co-owner of Smugglers’ Notch Distillery in Jeffersonville, Vermont, says he’s still sitting on three cases of skateboards the distillery produced in conjunction with a skate company years ago. The skateboards, apparently, weren’t a hit. “Collaboration is great, but make sure you cater to what the consumer wants,” he advises. “You have to find the right connection with the right product that your demographic will buy.” Smugglers’ Notch has had much greater success in its partnership with Walker’s Vermont Pure Maple Syrup, which ages maple syrup its used bourbon, rum and rye barrels.

“You have to find the right connection with the right product that your demographic will buy.” —Jeremy Elliott of Smugglers’ Notch Distillery


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Elliott says it’s a perfect partnership because the syrup is locally produced and is a product tourists and taproom visitors immediately associate with Vermont. It’s also easy for the distillery’s staff to sample the syrups in the tasting room, telling the story of Craig Walker and his maple syrup farm in nearby Underhill, Vermont. A Smugglers’ Notch collaboration with a local pickle company, which uses the distillery’s vodka and gin in its brine, has also been a hit. Elliott credits the high-quality products as well as the cooperative spirit of small business owners for creating such financially successful partnerships. “Whenever I bring someone into our fold, they have to support our brand as well. I don’t bring anything in that’s not branded [with our name and logo]. If they want to be a partner with me, they have to push both companies.” That push can come from social media, from staffed samplings at farmers markets, or from both parties carrying the product in their retail locations. Because a co-branding partnership is ideally a relationship rather than just a transaction, it’s crucial for distilleries to know and trust their partners. “It really comes to down to quality craftsmanship and passion, those are the key drivers,” says Rhonda Kallman, founder and CEO of Boston Harbor Distilling in Dorchester, Massachusetts, who has co-branding partnerships with Boston Beer Co. and Sudberry Chocolates, among others. “But if they have great social media presence or the appetite to do some on-site collaborations and help each other grow and make people aware of our unique products, then that’s a home run.” How to Structure a Co-branding Agreement Some distilleries prefer an informal handshake agreement for small co-branding products, but Donovan says he’s learned that even when those have the best intentions, the informality can cause headaches down the road. “Sometimes the more lax you play it, the more stressful it actually becomes,” he says. “You have to have some sort of agreement and make sure everyone’s on the same page. The last thing you want to do is get to the end product and there’s no clear expectation of what’s going to happen.” For Dry Fly’s Cask & Release series, the distillery ages spirits in barrels that previously aged beer from local breweries—and before that, previously aged Dry Fly’s spirits. The distillery signs a licensing agreement with the brewery, allowing both companies to use


each others’ logos and names for labelling and promotional purposes. There’s also the understanding that a brewery partner will keep all proceeds from the sale of its barrelaged beers, and Dry Fly will keep all proceeds from the sale of its Cask & Release spirits. As an added incentive, Dry Fly does often sell its barrels to the brewery at a “very discounted fee,” essentially a barrel rental cost. In its partnership with Idaho-based Doma Coffee Roasters, Dry Fly sells the roaster its barrels which are used to age green (unroasted) coffee beans. Dry Fly also makes a whiskey aged on Doma coffee beans; sometimes, the distillery will do a straight trade of barrels for beans. Donovan notes that Dry Fly has an exclusive agreement with the roaster; it’s been approached by other coffee companies but has pledged to sell its barrels only to Doma. Kallman agrees that trading materials—es-

pecially bourbon barrels, which breweries can legally only use once—is a logical way to keep costs down in co-branding partnerships. “The collaboration is just artisan to artisan. There’s quite a bit of the good old barter system going on,” she says. In its best forms, co-branding marries the work of two committed companies, each contributing what it does best. Those partnerships are often formed organically, when it’s clear that a project could benefit both parties. Once that underlying trust is established, the rest is just details. “The right partner is someone you can trust, who has integrity, and who has enough financial backing that if you launch a collaborative project, they can actually support it,” Ellliott says. “Co-branding is an extra exposure for my brand, an extra way to get into the consumers’ heads and for them to recognize what the heck we’re about.” ■

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distribution & Logistics

SOFT SELLERS Brand ambassadors can be excellent assets for craft spirits companies, as long as they approach their role with certain considerations in mind. BY ANDREW KAPLAN

“I can’t tell you how often I get asked by people, ‘what do you actually do?’ says Kirsten “Kitty” Amann, the Boston-based brand ambassador for Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey. Amann hits on a good point. The role of a brand ambassador has changed over time and often depends on the company. Large, established brands, for example, tend to use them as social media influencers, educators and event organizers, while smaller and nascent craft spirits brands with tighter budgets view them more as salespeople with a deep knowledge and passion about their brand. “Brand ambassadors are a cost-effective way to have representation of your brand in-market without investing in a full-time employee,” says Kate Palmer, founder and president of Hearts + Tales Beverage Co., Sausalito, California, which specializes in sales and marketing of artisanal brands. “Sometimes, they even share their time with other brands.” And yet, many brand ambassadors tend to be bartenders who take on this new role despite having little if any experience in sales. As a result, when they come out from behind the bar to represent a brand—or from whatever their “day job” happens to be—they often find themselves in foreign territory. This can especially be true when it comes to navigating the relationship with the distributor’s sales reps. In many cases, they will be working closely with the distributor’s reps in the field, often carrying out much the sales role minus the actual job of fulfilling the order. With two people carrying out much the same role in all-important accounts, does the potential exist for problems? The bad news is experts say there is the potential for missteps. The good news, however, is that with a careful strategy these problems can often be avoided. What Works and What Doesn’t Those who have successfully carried out the role of brand ambassador for craft spirits brands say that being aware of the overall situation in the marketplace is vital to navi-

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gating the relationship with the distributor’s representatives. “Most of the reps usually have long days and have all kinds of things that they’ve been asked to go to at night on the supplier side, so they’re busy,” says Amann. “So, I always try to keep that in mind.” Amann, along with Erin Hayes, who wears two hats as director of sales and also brand ambassador for Westward Whiskey of Portland, Oregon, view their relationships with their distributors very much as partnerships. Amann, for example, will often devote her time to accounts she knows her distributor has been trying to get into. “I will go to bars where they’ve been trying to build a relationship but just haven’t been able to get in,” she says. “That’s something that certainly I view as the job of the supplier. To help them out.” She continues: “I have had situations where I’ve been able to leverage a personal relationship to help a rep kind of get in the door and do more business. That always feels good. Because they’re out there trying to open the doors every single day for us.” Hayes agrees, saying she views her relationship with Westward’s distributors “as more of a partnership. We try to work with our distributors as much as we can. We try to educate the distributors. My philosophy across the board is that hospitality in our industry extends far beyond the bar and the restaurant. And kindness and a willingness to work together is really, really important for the success of any brand.” And such generosity can go both ways. Nicolas Palazzi, owner of PM Spirits, an import-distribution company in Brooklyn, New York, says he is happy to assist the supplier’s brand ambassadors in any way he can. “Working on a daily basis with someone dedicated to helping us sell more product of a specific brand, that person becomes a little bit part of the team,” he says. “The ambassador is here to have the brand sell more product. If the brand sells more product, we sell more product. So, we want to work hand-in-hand so we can achieve the same goal.”

Finding just the right level of communication with the distributor is key for a brand ambassador, says industry consultant Robin Robinson, who teaches a seminar “How to Build a Better Brand Ambassador.” “Calling on an account and working a deal with an account and not telling the distributor what you did and then dumping that in their lap, that’s a fatal flaw,” Robinson says. “Lack of commu-

“The ambassador is here to have the brand sell more product. If the brand sells more product, we sell more product. So, we want to work hand-in-hand so we can achieve the same goal.” —Nicolas Palazzi of PM Spirits

Nicolas Palazzi


nication, lack of respect, lack of understanding where the boundaries are.” Robinson also says scheduling a tasting and not letting the rep know or calling them at the last minute for more bottles is another big mistake. “It’s really about maintaining a professional approach out there,” he says. “Overcommunication is the key. Overcommunicate, but don’t make a pest of yourself. If you take it from a distributor’s perspective, they’ve got an entire book of brands, an entire book of people like you out there. They’ve got to manage every one of them. And every one of them is sending them an email every day about some little thing. You can’t do that.” Adds Amann, who also works as an industry consultant: “I try to think of it as these people are working in these accounts every single week. And obviously, I’m not the only brand that they have. So, just trying to be respectful. And that’s usually how I coach the people when we’re doing training for the other brands that I help on—understanding that you might be coming into a place with your objectives and your goals and that’s fine, that’s amazing and it’s fantastic that you’re doing the work, but there might be other things at play that you might not be aware of. They may have already been working with other brands and you kind of have to be respectful of the distributor in that regard.” Such professionalism also extends to the responsibility of the supplier to train their brand ambassadors before they get out into the field. “I personally believe that there’s a lot of responsibility on the brand owners to educate the brand ambassadors about best practices and pricing,” says Palmer. “If the brand ambassadors don’t thoroughly understand pricing you’ve got to create just a one-sheeter approved by the distributor that they can leave behind—just here’s the basic information about the brand I represent, here’s the wholesaler, here’s how to place the order.” And Palazzi even takes it one step further, stressing the need for craft distilleries to really consider the right person for the job of brand ambassador in the first place. “The first question is how do you hire the right human being for that job and I think that’s really tough,” he says. “There seems to be some misconceptions about what are the qualities that are going to make a successful brand ambassador. That person should be a sales person. But, selling without selling. Like the good kind of sales person. Not the cheap suits. But being cool.” ■


Kirsten “Kitty” Amann, an ambassador for Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey

Erin Hayes of Westward Whiskey

Kate Palmer of Hearts + Tales Beverage Co.

Robin Robinson

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Human Resources

SAFETY STANDARDS Tips and Insights on Maintaining OSHA Compliance for Distillers For startup distilleries and established distilling companies alike, maintaining a safe environment is a must. While the rules and regulations set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are just the beginning when it comes to workplace safety, they set a baseline of standards that all distilleries should follow. Kevin Yurt, the manager of safety and OSHA compliance and an OSHA authorized instructor at Industrial Safety and Training Services (ISTS) in Louisville, Kentucky, recently shared some insights on OSHA compliance. ACSA: Why is OSHA compliance so important for distilleries? Kevin Yurt: Increasing popularity of bourbon, whiskey and spirits has put a spotlight on the distillery industry as a whole, and in return the likelihood of a compliance visit from OSHA increases, as well. Compliance is the law, whether it be federal, state or local agencies. The penalty for a serious violation is $13,494, so it can be costly to not follow the regulations. In addition to monetary consequences, not following OSHA rules/regulations can lead to a poor safety culture, resulting in injuries and illnesses for distillery employees. When you walk into a distillery, what are you immediately looking for as it relates to OSHA compliance? In the safety field, there is what we call “low hanging fruit” as it relates to OSHA compliance. This would include items such as: improper housekeeping; lack of organization; fire extinguishers not being maintained properly; lack of personal protective equipment in hazardous areas; mislabeling of onsite chemicals; no daily inspection on forklift; electrical exposures; and more. These are just the tip of the iceberg, but you can usually tell within about 15 minutes if a facility focuses on their OSHA compliance. There are certainly industryspecific compliance concerns as well, such as combustible dust, transferring of flammable liquids, the use of chemicals in the sanitation process for fermentation/cooking—these are just a few examples.

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What types of OSHA violations or general safety oversights do you most commonly see in distilleries? And how can those be avoided or prevented? Specifically: Improper Confined Space Entry procedures; lack of Lockout Tagout in the bottling and processing areas; and no grounding or bonding procedures when transferring product. On top of the industry-specific concerns, a lot of the violations and oversight we see in the industry do go back to that low hanging fruit. Simple, easy-to-fix things that an audit can find within a day’s time. Prevention of these really boils down to understanding what OSHA requires in the first place. I would highly recommend professional development for at least one manager in every facility. ISTS has designed a 16-hour distillery-specific safety course that will be offered to all distilleries nationwide at our new facility outside of Louisville later in 2020. We are really excited about that; we see a need for continuing education in the craft spirits industry. There are a lot of other options as well, like taking an OSHA 10 or 30 course, using software for assistance with internal auditing, or exploring OSHA’s website for free resources to get the ball rolling. A mixture of education, technology and utilization of resources is the way to avoid and prevent compliance issues and accidents. We see that distilleries want to be safe, and they want to ensure compliance, but often need some simple guidance to get started in the right direction. For a distillery that has never had a visit from OSHA, what should they expect? This is very dependent on the type of inspection being conducted, but let’s take a general scheduled inspection (random) for this question. OSHA has a streamlined process, that takes place similarly all over the country, that inspectors follow. They will arrive on site, state who they are with and ask for a safety representative or someone who is responsible for the compliance at the facility. Once allowed in, the process looks like this: 1. Opening Conference: Officer will identify scope and type of inspection, review recordkeeping, and meet with the

representatives to give more details on their job for the day or days ahead at the site. 2. Inspection Process: Tour the facility looking for hazards/violations, interview employees, collect photos and data, and in some cases take samples or measurements. 3. Closing Conference: Discussion about potential violations of the standards, and sometimes establish abatement dates for correction. 4. Results: When an inspector finds violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards, OSHA may issue citations and fines. OSHA must issue a citation and proposed penalty within six months of the violation’s occurrence. Overall, OSHA is trying to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for all employees, so it’s highly recommended to work well with them if they do show up on site. Is it common for OSHA to make unexpected inspections, or do they typically occur after an incident has taken place? If it’s the latter, why should distilleries still strive to be prepared at any time? There are approximately 2,100 inspectors nationally that have jurisdiction over 7 million worksites, and they focus on the most hazardous workplaces. OSHA has laid out its inspection priorities nicely: 1. Imminent Danger Situations: Hazards that could lead to death or serious injury. 2. Severe Injury and Illnesses: Employers must report work-related fatalities within 8 hours, and in-patient hospitalizations, amputations or losses of an eye within 24 hours. 3. Worker Complaints 4 Referrals 5. Targeted Inspections: Inspections aimed at high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries/illness. 6. Follow-up Inspections To answer the question if OSHA has the resources to perform General Scheduled inspections they will, but that is not their top


“We always say that it doesn’t matter if OSHA makes a visit or not, your employees deserve to work in the safest, cleanest, and healthiest environment possible.” —Kevin Yurt of ISTS

priority. Most of the time it will be in the event that an incident has occurred, and they are following that up. We always say that it doesn’t matter if OSHA makes a visit or not, your employees deserve to work in the safest, cleanest and healthiest environment possible. Over the years we have found that a company that provides a safe workplace will see improvements in production as well. What advice would you give to a distillery owner just before OSHA knocks on the door? Make sure that your recordkeeping, written policies and training are up to date. Do not try to hide anything, and work with the


compliance officer because they ultimately decide the fate of the visit. How does a company like ISTS help a distillery stay in compliance with OSHA? I can’t speak for other consulting companies, but I know at ISTS we have developed a compliance system that is specific to distilleries. We provide auditing, safety manuals (written policies), training, noise studies, LOTO procedures, and many more services that will ensure when OSHA arrives that the distillery is prepared. I think the best part about our relationships with our current distillery clients is just them being able to bounce ideas, and ask questions anytime.

Is OSHA just the beginning? What are some other ways that distilleries can ensure the safety of their employees and visitors? OSHA compliance is the beginning. We have always said that, but it’s very necessary to get a baseline. There are some things that they don’t require that companies do anyway to improve safety culture and provide a better workplace for their employees. Developing a good new hire safety orientation process is incredibly important, training all members of the distillery on first aid and CPR is another way, and providing professional development in the safety area of the business are just some simple ways that can help a company protect employees and visitors. ■

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Where Science Meets Art Yeasts, Nutrients, and Process Aids

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Š 2019

closing time


On-Premise 20%

Off-Premise 80%


Source: Nielsen

Wine 17.5% Spirits 35.4%

Premium Nightclub 2%

Premium Bar 7%

“Groceraunt” 7%

Game/Experiential Bar 7%

Airport Bar 7%

Stadium 11%

Brew Pub/Tap Room 14%

Casino 16%

Neighborhood Bar 22%

Fine Dining Restaurant 23%

Beer 47.1%

Sports Bar 28%

Polished Casual Restaurant 33%

Independently Owned Restaurant 38%

Casual Dining Chain 55%



* Percent of respondents who visited channel in 3 months immediately prior to survey Source: Nielsen CGA


Spirits continue to steadily gain share, primarily at the expense of beer. In 20 years, spirits’ share of alcohol has grown from 27.6% to 35.4%, a gain of 7.8 share points. Beer share has declined steadily during that period, while wine has grown slightly, but has been mostly flat over the past several years. Source: BW166 & Nielsen

O C TO BER 20 1 9

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