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ReynoldsStrong

The next Craft Distillery to hang with the big boys?...

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Spade   
Spade
The one thing that's comparable between the craft brewers and the craft distillers - their product is pricier. With the former, you're generally getting a better product for that increase in price - making it more palatable for the consumer to pay more for that product and thus overall increasing the crafts' market share. With distillers? We can quibble about possible exceptions, but in general, you're not getting the bang for your buck. Beer drinkers who prefer craft beer are sticking with the crafts if they can afford it. Bourbon drinkers may try a craft product out of curiosity or the novelty, but it rarely becomes their "go-to".

I couldn't agree more with this. And, I think this ties in with earlier arguments that craft distillers should focus on doing things differently. While it seems at the moment none of these distillers are going to produce something that becomes a daily pour, they can make inroads by being distinct.

And I think this could mean a couple of things. As others have noted, it might mean a unique mashbill, or maybe finishing in barrels that have previously held something else. It could also mean marketing the product differently. One of the things I like about Smooth Ambler is they don't have any silly stories about "long lost recipes" or "accidentally spilling one barrel into another" or trying to convince me their whiskey is ready to go after a few months of aging. They're upfront about sourcing whiskey until their own is ready to sell. And that means I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and try their stuff when they think it's been in the barrel long enough. This doesn't guarantee I'll be a repeat customer, but it does mean I'd be willing to pay a little more for it than I otherwise would.

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Tony Santana   
Tony Santana
I couldn't agree more with this. And, I think this ties in with earlier arguments that craft distillers should focus on doing things differently. While it seems at the moment none of these distillers are going to produce something that becomes a daily pour, they can make inroads by being distinct.

And I think this could mean a couple of things. As others have noted, it might mean a unique mashbill, or maybe finishing in barrels that have previously held something else. It could also mean marketing the product differently. One of the things I like about Smooth Ambler is they don't have any silly stories about "long lost recipes" or "accidentally spilling one barrel into another" or trying to convince me their whiskey is ready to go after a few months of aging. They're upfront about sourcing whiskey until their own is ready to sell. And that means I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and try their stuff when they think it's been in the barrel long enough. This doesn't guarantee I'll be a repeat customer, but it does mean I'd be willing to pay a little more for it than I otherwise would.

And I'll agree right back at you. Integrity counts, at least amongst the enthusiasts. Otherwise, a different twist on things may be necessary. Angel's Envy seems to have found some success with that formula. Not their own distillate, but the finishing in port (for the bourbon) or rum casks (rye) gives a different taste profile that at least seems to have landed them on many liquor store shelves.

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Lepisto   
Lepisto

I think where craft distilleries can really differentiate themselves, albeit not related to the bourbon they produce, is in the distillery experience itself. Small operations are much more intimate, and if you take a tour, you can feel the difference. A tour with Willett is much different than the tour down the road at Heaven Hill. While at Willett, they said they had plans to build a rotunda for outdoor weddings, a bed and breakfast, and a cafe. I may not buy their bourbon, but if they offered country ham that cured in an angel share-filled warehouse, some biscuits and red eye gravy, or maybe some shrimp and grits, I'd be spending the night. That kind of experience is something the majors would have a hard time replicating in an authentic way. It is similar to "agri-tainment" that many family farms have been doing to supplement the income from their crops, or even the small wineries. Again, it doesn't make the bourbon better, but there is something romantic about it.

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The Black Tot   
The Black Tot

Willett and Smooth Ambler clearly come to my mind as some of the best "managers of cooperage" - those two houses can take the same distillate that comes out of large bulk sellers and coax wonderful results out of them. As we frequently discuss, depending on how you assess it (which of course nobody can for sure) is between 65-75% of the taste result.

Willett has been really lean and mean these past few years, expanding their warehousing. I haven't toured SA yet, but probably will within the year. I imagine they are doing the same.

I think the key to tussling with the big boys is having enough warehouses to create enough profile development variety to give you the best blending options. Therefore, I think rapid expansion of warehouse space is what to watch for in terms of who is going to get there.

At the same time, I think there is still room out there for someone who wants to custom order or even themselves manufacture some SW type thick-staved barrels and couple that with some wild-yeast unpressurized long fermentation.

Squire in particular has (I believe it was you) observed that the modern trend for a while now has been for the public to have a preference for cleaner and leaner styles of whiskey, while we at the gazebo mourn the richness of the older stuff.

But it's entirely possible that the lean and clean whiskeys which are now doing so well will lead a large mass of developing palates to eventually cry out en masse for the kind of rich old-style whiskeys of yesteryear.

I think Willett and SA are on this - Willett clearly knows their old whiskeys and certainly have enough of a reference barrel set to work from! We'll find out in a few more years what they've been distilling bourbon-wise, and what direction they're going with it. My fingers are crossed that it's old school richer style. I vaguely remember reading this was something they were mindful of. If so, they will probably be the largest producer with the head start producing a solid volume of that style.

I certainly hope SOMEONE is doing this! Because I'm not paying vintage prices.

Michter's WAS really exciting for me, but I have to admit they lost my patronage with how they handled crushing and gagging Bombergers recently. That was ugly. They seem to have no problem spinning their own marketing flights of fancy, but simultaneously want some rather sobering control of what is now some unfortunately-repressed history.

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squire   
squire

I think Willett is uniquely situated in the position of adding B&B, cafe, social function facilities and the like to their core business. Who here wouldn't want to stay in a B&B converted from a former whisky warehouse? Hell, the place would smell like home.

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cowdery   
cowdery

Keep your eye on New Riff and Limestone Branch. New Riff has a little more capacity than Willett. Limestone Branch is smaller but they are now owned by Luxco. Also Driftless Glen in Wisconsin (presently filling 40 to 50 fullsize barrels a week), Leopold Brothers in Denver, and Garrison Brothers in Texas.

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The Black Tot   
The Black Tot

I forgot about New Riff. I didn't realize that about their capacity. I have to check their place out next time I'm in that neighborhood.

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wadewood   
wadewood

The answer was Deep Eddy Vodka.

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kaiserhog   
kaiserhog

Rock Town produces wonderful bourbon. 

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flahute   
flahute
On 8/31/2015 at 9:00 PM, The Black Tot said:

I forgot about New Riff. I didn't realize that about their capacity. I have to check their place out next time I'm in that neighborhood.

Did you ever get there? I got a private tour and tasted some of their new make along with their bourbon at various steps in the aging process. I think they are going to have some good products 

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The Black Tot   
The Black Tot

I did not...yet.

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