It’s a tricky situation. While these
locally produced products have an unde-
niable appeal to consumers looking for
authenticity and more connection with
what they eat and drink, retailers are
faced with a problem: already swamped
with line extensions and well-supported
new products, they have precious little
room for more.
But the restaurant business is now
mostly a zero sum game, say distillers, as
so many new niche producers are ramp-
ing up efforts and trying to get placement.
The next step is focusing on retail.
Those that do decide to take a po-
sition in small-distiller wares find they
can provide a great business advantage.
“We’ve put in probably a couple hundred
small distiller products in the past few
years, because there’s a tremendous in-
terest in them,” says Burt Notarius, man-
aging director of one of the country’s
largest retailers, Premier Wine & Spirits
in Amherst, NY.
The argument for taking on craft
spirits is perhaps best made by Dave
Pickerell, former Maker’s Mark dis-
tiller who now runs his own consult-
ing firm, working on projects including
Hillrock Estate Distillery. “Most in-
novation 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. Ad-
ditionally, it gives the opportunity to
address the trends of sustainability and
buy local when they feature craft spir-
its made locally.”
And those who’ve been in the
field for a while are aware that for
retailers, the flood of new products
from both major and minor suppliers
require support. “Retailers want to
know, if they put your spirits on their
shelves or create new space for you,
that people will come in looking for
them,” says Krogstad.
Call them craft. Call them micro. Call
them artisanal. By any name, the small
practitioners bring to the business an
oversized sense of personality. Faced with
tough odds, the little guys (and gals) are
making things work by starting with and
sticking to their unique angles.
Consider, for instance, Bloomery
Plantation Distillery, a “farm-fresh fruit
cordial” specialist that celebrated their
first anniversary in September 2012. In-
spired by the Italian tradition of limoncel-
lo, Baltimorean Linda Losey set up shop
just over the Maryland border in Charles
Town, WV. Why there? One reason: le-
gal freedom—it’s easier to have a tasting
room and to source fruit more flexibly
than in neighboring states. It also helped
that she found a fixer-upper property with
colorful history (the site of an 1840s log
cabin that was once slave quarters
the first ironworks west of the Blue Ridge
Mountains). What she calls “cellos”—
Cremma Lemma, Lemon Ice, Raspberry
Limoncello and more—have snagged
awards in international competitions.
Then there is Ransom Spirits, based
in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Founded
by Tad Seestedt in 1997 “with a small life
savings and a fistful of credit cards,” the
distillery did not even have a permanent
home until 2004 (then it moved again
in 2008). Ransom spirits are aggressively
different from mainstream counterparts.
WhipperSnapper Whiskey, for example,
combines techniques used to make bour-
bon, Scotch, Irish whiskey
corenwyn. They also distill grappa from
Gewürztraminer pomace; vodka de-
signed to taste like its barley base; and
two gins (one amber-colored).
A natural advantage of distilling
over other types alcoholic beverage
production is flexibility, both in terms
of raw materials and final iteration.
Re:Find Distillery, in Paso Robles, was
spun-off by Villicana Winery founders
Alex and Monica Villicana when they
got the idea of re-purposing the free-run
“saignée” bled off from their red wine
grapes before fermentation. This other-
wise discarded raw material makes their
distillate like philosophical opposite of
grappa (which utilizes what is left over
fermentation). The resulting spirit,
technically brandy, is then left neutral or
infused with botanicals.
And in the happy ending (or new be-
ginning) department, Re:Find’s unique,
sustainable spirits recently landed a spot
in Southern Wine & Spirits’ statewide
California portfolio—perhaps a harbin-
ger of bigger and better things to come
for small distillers everywhere.
Above: Re:Find Distillery founders Alex and
Monica Villicana. Right: Ransom Spirits collection.
Below: Bloomery Plantation Distillery features a
greenhoused lemon grove and a main building
that includes planks from boats that once ran
moonshine by river into Virginia and Maryland.