Atsby Vermouth photograph courtesy Jennifer Mitchell Photography
Few micro distillers so far have experienced the market trajectory en-
joyed by Tito Beveridge, who turned his “one man distillery” in Austin,
TX, into a nationally recognized (and asked-for) vodka brand (called
Tito’s, of course). Another success story: Marko Karakasevic’s Charbay,
whose many flavored vodkas and other spirits appear in restaurants
owned by Mario Batali and other high-profile operators. So far, the
small distiller boom of the 2010s has been marked by a less ambitious,
more localized and sustainable financial path. Most small distillers
are still concentrating on building brand awareness, introducing their
products to consumers, restaurants and retailers, and generally spread-
ing the gospel of small and local when it comes to drinking.
Andrew Auwerda, president of Philadelphia Distilling, maker of
Bluecoat Gin, XXX Shine and other spirits, notes he’s lately been
seeing a higher level of acceptance from all levels of the industry.
“Distributors are creating selling teams to handle the small wares, and
most importantly retailers and consumers are picking up on the con-
cept after decades of buying only major suppliers,” he says.
But there are only so many hipsters drinking gin cocktails on any giv-
en night, even in Brooklyn, he laughingly notes, pointing out the current
challenge for the small distillers—getting more mainstream attention.
Expanding the market beyond the niche of craft cocktail bars is
uppermost in the minds of most small distillers, especially those weary
of driving around with a trunkload of samples, says Christian Krogstad
of Portland, Oregon’s House Spirits Distillery, source of Aviation Gin
and Krogstad Aquavit. “You can do a couple of thousand cases a year
with the cocktail community and small specialty retailers, but to get
beyond that you need to appeal to a larger audience,” he says.
“Most innovation in the U.S. spirits market
is happening in the craft industry. There are
a great many new products, new tastes and
new twists that give more to work with in
making cocktails, and more to discuss
with the customer.”
— Dave Pickerell, distiller and consultant
rules for retail
No matter how broad or deep a position a retailer takes
in spirits made by small distillers, three rules seem to
make the most sense:
The farm-to-table movement that sup-
ports local vendors has become a significant part of
the restaurant scene, and a farm-to-glass movement
has emerged as well. Locally sourced spirits have been
embraced in many restaurants. An easy first step would
be starting with local products that offer a regional con-
nection and rarity—two retail trends considered vibrant
these days. Look for distillers within 100 miles and
select from their products.
Sell by hand.
Whether in a cocktail or a 500ml
bottle, craft spirits don’t tend to be bargains, so informa-
tion and communication are essential to selling them
successfully. While the hard-core spirit enthusiast can be
counted on to look for the rare and unusual, the average
shopper inclined to experiment still needs help. Small
suppliers are not only happy to provide data sheets and
selling information, but are especially eager to participate
in-store presentations. In fact, it’s often the person who
actually makes or owns the brand who shows up.
Don’t be shy.
With little or no advertising, market-
ing or merchandising support, promoting small-distiller
products is up to the retailer. If there was ever a product
category that screamed out for handmade shelf talkers,
it’s the shiny new bottling from a micro distiller, espe-
cially if it’s local, but even if it’s just quirky. Turn small
into strength by playing up the community connection,
the colorful backstory, the origin of its name, or simply
the character that separates it from known brands. And
don’t be afraid to display it prominently—people appreci-
ate the new, the small, the unique.
Retailers looking to create a point of differentia-
tion will find craft distillery products can punch above
their weight. Christian Krogstad of House Spirits notes:
“Today’s customers are open to having new and positive
experiences, and if they try it and like it at your place, it
increases your credibility.”
Above: A single still was only piece of distilling equipment used for the first seven
years of Tito’s Handmade Vodka. Right: Aviation Gin coming off the bottling line.
Below: Founder Adam Ford spreads word of his Atsby’s New York vermouth.
call it a boomlet