On October 5, 2023
The process of opening a craft distillery and launching a spirits brand often feels like a long and difficult road. It’s especially intimidating if you’re going it alone and struggling to find the next step in your journey. A little advice from fellow distillers and spirits industry peers who’ve already explored how to start a liquor brand could help propel you to your destination.
As a liquor marketing company, we’ve provided beverage consulting services to a number of up-and-coming distilleries and spirits brands. We’ve spoken to distillers at all stages of running and operating a distillery. Many of them have excellent advice for those just setting out on the journey.
To help guide you on this path, we’ve gathered some of the best advice we’ve heard from spirits industry leaders. Scroll on to read it all.
Find Your People
Knowing someone who’s been down the road before can be a valuable asset when you initially step into the spirits industry. Many distillers pointed out to us that building relationships with experienced colleagues is not only beneficial but a smart career move. Better yet, convince them to mentor you and help guide you forward.
Aislin Henrickson shared this tip with us in a recent Women in Distilling blog post. “Find someone who’s been in the industry .. and get them to be your mentor,” she told us. “It’s really great to have somebody to bounce those ideas off of who may have been in the position before.”
Another distiller who thinks mentorship is an important part of growing in the industry is Susan Johnson of Denning’s Point Distillery. “I would look for mentorship … from somebody in the industry that could shuttle you through different parts of it,” she says, pointing to all the intricacies of setting up a distillery.
Ask for Help
A mentor helps with guidance but they may not always be there to answer every single question you have. Occasionally you may have to reach out to other colleagues and ask for help. Luckily many distillers have pointed out that the spirits industry is filled with peers who are more than willing to lend a helping hand.
Theresa Dark of Dark Mark Distillery recommended aspiring distillers shrug off any fears around asking for help. “Every distillery is willing to help,” she reveals. “It’s okay to ask for help.”
Sarah Lee of Black Frost Distilling shared a similar sentiment as someone who learned a lot by continually asking questions. “Ask all the questions that you can when you have the opportunity to do so,” she shares.
Celebrate the Wins
When you’re focused on the end goal of getting your new spirits business off the ground, it can be hard to recognize the small wins. They may not seem important when you still have so far to go but those little accomplishments could be the key to keeping you and your team moving forward.
Shirley Leigh-Wood Oakes of Mezcal Campante understood this concept very well and encouraged other distillers to recognize every step forward – no matter how big or small. “Just take a beat and just be like, ‘hey we did it,’” she suggests. “Still a long way to go, but yeah we did it.”
Work For Your Passion
Having a passion for craft beverage and fine spirits won’t magically get you where you want to be. You have to work toward building your distillery and setting up your business. Luckily if you are passionate about it, you’ll rarely have to drag yourself out of bed to do the work. Each day, you’ll clearly see your ultimate goal and get in gear to work hard.
For Brandy Pieper of Oregon Spirit Distillers, that’s a no-brainer. “I am a pretty firm believer that if you want to do something, you continue to put energy and time into it,” she says. “I hope it’s not harder than the person next to you, but it might be.”
Know Where You Want to Be
Passion is necessary to keep doing the work you need to do but it’s also important to have a clear understanding of what you want in your career. For instance, knowing what segment of the industry you’re most interested in can help you identify the steps you’ll need to excel. A focus on blending whiskey might require a different set of plans than one on crafting amaro. Essentially, narrow down your attention to that target and get really good at it.
In master blender Eboni Major’s case, it was liquid production that caught her attention. “Understand what it is that you want,” she advises. “Because to rise in the industry or to be seen as leaders, there are different ways to do it.”
Don’t Doubt Yourself
Obviously, you wouldn’t go down the path if you didn’t believe you couldn’t reach your destination. No matter what happens, don’t lose that confidence. Keep your head up and remember that you have the ability to accomplish whatever you put your mind to. And having that mindset could actually help you succeed even while you’re still learning.
Kerianne Krause of Beyond Distilling insists that speaking with confidence will establish your authority among your colleagues and your peers. “You’re more likely to be listened to,” she says. “And just because people are talking at you with confidence doesn’t mean what they’re saying is correct.
Moreso, Kerianne has a good reminder for all of us: “I think that any person going into an industry where it’s new, it’s okay to be the one learning, and it’s okay to … not know everything right off the bat.”
Wherever you are in your journey toward launching a distillery and spirits brand, take it from these distillers: you can do it! Just keep moving forward. And if you need a hand with any of this, we’re happy to help. Drop us a line to learn about our consulting services.