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Mack says that consumers love getting something truly distinctive. “We get a really positive reaction from the members. They like it because it’s unique, you can’t find it on the shelf.”

THE NITTY-GRITTY Beginning a relationship with a retailer or distributor around a special release product can be initiated by either party: retailer/ distributor, or distiller. Taster’s Club says that it is frequently approached by distributors and distillers, but also approaches distilleries with which it has an existing relationship to design special releases from the ground up. First, contemplate whether or not the project is actually in your best interest. Does the retailer already sell your standard expression? If not, a special bottling might not be the right move. “A lot of retailers want that exclusive thing,” says Tad. “Sometimes a salesperson will ask us if we can do a single barrel and we ask them what they have from our regular product line. If they’ve never sold anything of ours, it’s not worth it. Why don’t you just sell the regular bottling then?” If you determine the project is in your best interest, it’s time to pick out the product. At Journeyman, they send any interested client a selection of four to seven samples, depending on how many barrels the client wants. “We try to pick barrels of varying size, different parts of the warehouse, and varying age points,” says Bill. “That gives the retailer or bar an opportunity to get some different pictures of the whiskey.” An alternative to sending samples is to bring one or more representatives from the distributor or retailer to your distillery to taste samples. This can generate some positive exposure, but it can also be very expensive, especially if you’re stuck footing the travel and lodging bills for those buyers. Not all buyers will expect to be hosted if they travel to your distillery, but many do, so make sure expectations are clear beforehand, and know that sending samples is a perfectly acceptable—and dramatically less expensive—way to do it. Once a particular barrel is selected, the distillery then needs to bottle the product and ship it to the client via its distributor. Proper labeling can be a sticking point. Stickers, hanger tags, and blank spots that let you hand-write the proof of a barrel-proof spirit were all cited as creative alternatives to getting a totally new label approved and printed. While distilleries will always need flagship products consumers can grow to love, private bottlings represent an enticing new channel for selling unusual or innovative expressions, and a way to deepen relationships with on-premise retailers, distributors, and off-premise retailers. So next time you’re tempted to tinker, maybe you won’t need to resist after all.

Margarett Waterbury is the managing editor of The Whiskey Wash and Edible Portland, and regularly contributes to other publications about food, drink, and agriculture. She was named the 2017 Alan Lodge Young Drinks Writer of the Year by Spirits Business Magazine. www.margarettwaterbury.com WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM  

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Artisan Spirit: Fall 2017  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.