Re-Opening After the Pandemic

By: Donald Snyder, President/Consultant, Time & Tasks

For the first time as an author, I hope this article does not age well. With a bit of luck, you are reading this article in a post pandemic world where these concerns are a thing of the past. That said, as I write this, the world is slowly recovering from a pandemic that had a devastating impact on the hospitality industry including craft distilleries large and small. As you begin to welcome visitors and bring back staff, here are some important and helpful tips when planning your reopening.

Advice from Distillers who have Re-opened

  Throughout the pandemic, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published fluid and ever-updating recommendations for operating a business to keep both employees and patrons safe. Suggestions like contactless payment, outdoor and reduced seating, staff and customer mask use, and social distancing were mandated to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread to keep businesses open, if only at a lower capacity. (

  However, the ultimate decision of whether a tasting room could re-open to the public was in the hands of local regulators. Every state had a different set of requirements for operating a business during the pandemic. Some states, like Florida, reopened and removed capacity limits very early in the pandemic as compared to New York City where most hospitality restrictions were not rescinded until the summer of 2021. Soon after the nation-wide lock down in the spring of 2020, some distilleries were able to re-open under various restrictions.

  Cardinal Spirits Distillery in Bloomington, IN was able to open in 2020 under pretty tight restrictions. The distillery opened for carryout bottle, food, and cocktail mixes only.  Additionally, they re-configured their front entry area into a curbside drive-by for order pickup. The state of Indiana did not permit cocktails-to-go so Cardinal Spirits developed hand labeled bottles of mixer kits that people could use to make cocktails at home. Using social media and on-line platforms, they maintained and increased customer engagement with distillery tours, cocktail classes, and even virtual tastings. They hope to fully re-open in Spring 2022 although they have recently re-opened their restaurant for in-distillery dining. Jeff Wuslich, co-founder and President of Cardinal Spirits, recalls his concerns with reopening. “We are most worried for our staff. We do not believe they should have to enforce mandates and safe behavior, but we know it will likely happen. It keeps me up at night. I believe that with our air circulation, safety protocols, and distancing we will all be safe, but I hate to think about our staff having to argue with customers.” Jeff offers this additional advice for distilleries thinking about their own re-opening. “Think of the customer and what experience you would like them to have. Then, work backward from there.” 

  Smooth Ambler Distillery in Maxwelton, WV was also impacted by COVID-19. At the beginning of pandemic, the entire distillery closed public-facing operations, including their gift shop and tours for about a month. During that time, they re-allocated their labor and resources into making hand sanitizer to be donated to front line workers across the country. Once they had a better understanding of the virus, they slowly reopened their production facility with a new set of rules that included social distancing, segregated teams, masks wearing, and frequent sanitization. Smooth Ambler’s continued priority is the safety of their employees and guests.

  They were cautious about reopening the tasting room. Many of their customers were from out of state so they initially re-opened to the public with curbside pickups only. A few months later, they opened with limited capacity and slowly increased indoor occupancy as the guidance from the state permitted. Masks, temperature checks, and hand sanitization were available for all guests. So far, the re-opening has been successful for Smooth Ambler as more and more people are beginning to travel again. Travis Hammond, Operations Manager of

  Smooth Ambler, cautions distillers not to be too hasty or rigid during their public reopening. “The past year has been very difficult on everyone – the best advice I can give to other distilleries that are about to reopen is to be patient and flexible.”

  Reopening slowly and cautiously with the appropriate safety protocols in place has given many distilleries across the country a beacon of hope that things can return to a sense of normalcy. However, even with the best precautions, there still can be issues. Asymptomatic employees and customers that spread the virus can be a serious risk to all parties involved. For those in the beverage industry, contracting COVID-19 can be especially dangerous as a possible long-term loss of taste and smell could impact a distiller’s ability to make and blend high quality spirits. In addition to transmission risks from reopening, there are also risks from patrons fighting required safety protocols.

  Golden Moon Distillery in Golden, Colorado experienced that firsthand when a customer refused to wear a mask and retaliated by shoving an employee. Physical altercations with employees about safety policies or verbally abusive customers are real risks that distillers need to consider when planning for a full or limited re-opening. Stephen Gould, Proprietor and Master Distiller of Golden Moon Distillery has made employee training a pivotal part of his re-opening plan. “We’ve coached our team members to be extremely polite and courteous when asking folks to wear masks. Our main concern is the safety of our staff and customers. Having said that, the one piece of advice I can give folks that are reopening is that they need to work hard to make both their staff and their customers feel safe.”

  Another consideration for reopening is how to deal with heavy foot traffic as people continue to feel more comfortable traveling. Large tourist areas like central Tennessee have many craft distilleries that offer tours, tastings, and spirits for every palate. Pigeon Forge, TN is in the gateway to Smoky Mountain National Park that sees over 10 million visitors per year. In the spring of 2020, when everything shut down, the owners of King’s Family Distillery in Pigeon Forge were understandably nervous. Like many distilleries, by taking advantage of small business loan programs and pivoting production to hand sanitizer for local consumption, they were able to stay afloat. Cara King, Owner of King’s Family Distillery, is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. “When our state began lifting restrictions in 2020, the people flooded back in.

  More than before, even. We took precautions, put up plexiglass, and welcomed the tourists, masks, and all. Our distillery has reached the other side of this epic world event bigger than we were before.”

Capital Investments and Infrastructure

  Safety protocols, standard operating procedures and thorough employee training are critical to a successful re-opening. However, some additional capital investment may be required. Dalkita, an engineering and architecture firm that assists distilleries with design, safety, and construction, was instrumental in helping businesses re-open.

  Colleen Moore, Director of Marketing & Operations for Dalkita, kept up to date with all the CDC recommendations, re-opening phases, and safety recommendations. Dalkita kept the distilling industry updated with recommended and required re-opening procedures via regular webinars and blog updates (

  The group quickly became aware that each state and jurisdiction had varying requirements for re-opening protocols, social distancing rules, seating capacity limits, and mask requirements.

  In terms of physical and capital improvements to the distillery’s public spaces, Colleen Moore from Dalkita has been advising distilleries what they should consider. “With COVID-19 in mind and trying to reduce the likelihood of a lockdown situation due to a highly communicable airborne disease from recurring, I would suggest upgrading ventilation inside buildings. Any feature that would increase the amount of outdoor air you can bring into a building such as window walls, roll-up glass garage doors, and new increased air handling units with better filtration media and filters.

  If cold, rainy, or snowy weather put a stop to your outdoor activities, consider adding flexible open courtyards or structures with roofs and no walls for use during inclement weather. Anything that can increase the health of the people using a facility is a good investment.”

  As I write the article, I fully acknowledge that regulations are still changing. I began writing this article in March of 2021 before the mass availability of COVID-19 vaccines while most distilleries were under 30-50% occupation and seating capacity. It is now July 2021. Some states are open 100% with no restrictions but the Delta variant is growing. The article will be published the Fall of 2021 and who knows how much the world will change by then.

  For distilleries reopening or increasing capacity in 2021 or early 2022, connect with local authorities for the latest restrictions. Make every effort to keep employees and guests safe. Then again, by the time you read this, hopefully the pandemic and social distancing will be just a distant memory as we all return to normal.

Legal Implications of Playing Music at Your Brewery

man in pirate hat

By: Tarah K. Remy, Dinsmore & Shohl, L.L.P.

Visiting a brewery is meant to be an experience, and customer engagement plays a large role in creating a great one. As the owner, you know your brews are unparalleled, and your goal is not only to share them, but to keep customers coming back. One way to do this is to establish an inviting atmosphere. In most cases, that involves music.

  Music and beer go way back. In 1800 B.C.E., the Sumerians composed the “Hymn to Ninkasi,” which served as not only a song of praise to their goddess of beer, but also as an ancient recipe for brewing.  So, it is safe to say when a customer walks into your brewery, they’ll expect to hear music playing over the loud speakers, or even to see a live band. However, there are serious intellectual property considerations every brewery must take into account when choosing music to create that perfect experience.

What the Copyright Act Protects

  As a general matter, the Copyright Act lays out the basic rights of a copyright owner. Among other things, it protects a songwriter’s and their publishers’ (the copyright holder) musical composition or written work, also known as a musical work. When a musical work is performed or broadcasted in a public space, the copyright holder is entitled to receive a performance royalty, which is the money paid to the copyright holder in exchange for the right to publicly perform their musical work.

Why Your Brewery Needs a Performance License to Play Music

  Copyright is a form of property, and once music is written down or recorded, it is copyrighted. The copyright holder is the owner of that copyright and is granted a performance right to the copyrighted materials. If you want to publicly perform a musical work, you need to pay a performance royalty to the copyright holder. The performance license acts as written permission to play a copyright holder’s musical work in a public space.

  Doing so without a performance license, (without legal permission) places your brewery at risk for litigation. Though the Copyright Act limits the award for copyright infringement to between $750 to $30,000, it is within the court’s discretion to award between $200 to $150,000, not including attorney’s fees and costs. Whether the court can increase or decrease the award depends on whether you knew you were violating copyright law. No matter the circumstance, if you violate copyright law, you will be required to pay, and the gamble of just how much is not worth the risk. Acquiring a license removes the guesswork and allows you to maintain control over your brewery’s finances.

When You Need to Consider Acquiring a Performance License

  You will need a performance license or permission from a copyright holder under at least the scenarios below:

1.  The musical work is played in your brewery using Spotify, Amazon music, Pandora, Apple Music, or any other streaming service. Though you are covered bunder your personal subscription to play music for yourself or in very small spaces, once you plug your device into a loud speaker to be played in a large space where a substantial number of people are present, this triggers the performance license requirement.

2.  The musical work is played in your brewery using CDs, records, or anything similar. Buying the CD or record does not count as obtaining a performance license. Once you decide to play your favorite CD or record inside your brewery to be heard by a substantial number of people, in most cases, you must obtain a performance license.

3.  A live band is hired to play covers of music originally written by a third party in your brewery. In this case, the venue, not the cover band, is required to acquire the performance license.. If you hire a band to play in your brewery and they plan to play covers, make sure your brewery has a performance license covering the songs on the band’s set list before hiring. Keep in mind, however, this generally does not apply if the band is playing music it has composed or is playing music in the public domain.

How to Obtain a Performance License

  Contact a Performance Rights Organization (PRO):  You can obtain a performance license through a Performance Rights Organization such as BMI , ASCAP, and SESAC. These entities function as middle men between the copyright holder and the entity acquiring the performance license. Given the rate at which music is played and experienced around the world, it is virtually impossible for copyright holders to keep track of performing rights. Acting as facilitators, PROs acquire rights from these copyright holders and grant a performance license covering their entire music set to businesses and requesting parties. So not only do PROs simplify the process for copyright holders to receive their performance royalties, but business owners no longer need to contact individual copyright holders to acquire performance licenses.

  Each PRO covers specific musical works by various copyright holders. By obtaining a performance license through just one PRO, you are limited to that PRO’s specific list of music. Be sure to review each list covered by each PRO to determine whether you need a license from one or all. You can also consider acquiring a blanket license that covers all three of the main PROs (BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC) to reduce the chance of potential copyright infringement claims from these organizations. A blanket license is convenient, as it likely covers a large list of music, which in turn reduces the need to carefully review a cover band’s set list and further gives you the freedom to stream music without a second thought.

  Sign Up for a Streaming Service Business Account:  Some streaming services, like Spotify and Pandora, offer business accounts. Simply by signing up and paying a subscription fee, business accounts provide access to fully licensed songs. Via their business platforms, these streaming services have obtained performance licenses from PROs on your behalf, and in most cases, they have performance licenses from more than one PRO, which broadens your music list options.

How much a Performance License will Cost

  The cost of obtaining a performance license through a PRO may vary depending on various factors, including how many breweries you have, the square footage of your brewery, your brewery’s customer capacity, how often music is played, whether the music is recorded or live, and more. The costs start at $500 and increase from there. Streaming service business account costs can be found directly on their websites, where they periodically provide discounts. At the end of the day, though obtaining a performance license may seem pricey or a low priority, the costs of arguing a copyright infringement claim are significantly higher. Budgeting in the cost of a performance license will save your brewery money in the long run.  Here is a link to help you learn more.

  Finally, keep in mind the Copyright Act covers exceptions to the performance license requirement, meaning it’s possible your brewery may not require a performance license. So before you sign up or register for anything, we always recommend reaching out to an attorney to review the performance license agreements and your circumstances. Additionally, if you are not sure whether your business meets the requirements, or whether your business might be exempt from the performance license requirement, for peace of mind, reach out to your attorney or the Dinsmore Beer, Wine and Spirits team. We are here to help!

Craft Malt with a Conscience

hands holding crushed crop

By: Erik Lars Myers

Sebastian Wolfrum, the German-born owner of Durham, North Carolina’s Epiphany Malt, wants to do the right thing.

  Wolfrum’s epiphany came in 2012, while he and his wife attended a meeting for local farmers about how they could get involved with North Carolina’s burgeoning craft beer industry. The problem, however, was that at the time, there were very few options for farmers to sell the crops they might grow. North Carolina’s one malt house at the time, Asheville’s Riverbend Malting, was still nascent and small. Wolfrum, drawing on his background in brewing and malting education at Ayinger Brewing near his hometown of Munich, and his experience at Natty Greene’s Brewing Company in Greensboro, North Carolina, started Epiphany Craft Malt in 2015.

  Epiphany has a lot of disadvantages to cope with, like any other small manufacturer, primarily driven by scale. They are tiny compared to national and international malt providers like Rahr, Briess or Weyermann, and they lack the economy of scale that allows them to produce high-quality malt at competitive prices. It is a trade-off that brewers must be willing to make when using a local maltster. You will pay more for the product—in some cases a lot more—but that money goes to support the local economy, and you are potentially buying a product with more of a local “terroir” or “maltoire.” In some cases, like Epiphany, it means supporting even more than just a local economy.

  Wolfrum says that evening out the environmental impact of the business is considerably more difficult at a small scale. Large maltsters have the personnel and resources to dedicate toward reducing a carbon footprint, but a three-person operation like his must find another way.

  Enter Indigo Agriculture, a company that provides farmers financial incentives to practice regenerative agriculture—a method of farming that improves soil health, builds ecosystem biodiversity and closes the “carbon cycle.” Wolfrum was first made aware of regenerative agriculture in his Ayinger days while working on their Regional Impact Study back in 2002.

  He describes farming as having essentially three modes:  The first he considers “the old way,” what he deems “exploitative.” In short, it involves farming a piece of land until all of the available nutrients are gone and extracted, then moving on to a new plot and beginning again.

  The second he deems “contemporary” or “conventional.” It is farming land and using additives or practices that maintain soil health, allowing the farmer to continue using the same plot each year without degeneration. Those practices may involve crop rotation or artificial soil additives to maintain soil health and keep it at the base level that the farmer needs. It might also take the form of supplemental fertilizers and nitrogen additives that take energy—and thus carbon—to produce and disseminate.

  The third is regenerative, an ethos that encourages building and improving soil health, increasing water retention and biodiversity and significantly reducing carbon emissions during farming and cleansing the atmosphere of CO2. Regenerative practices include implementing crop rotation and cover crops, no-till farming, reducing fertilizer and pesticide use and increasing soil biodiversity through compost additions and well-managed livestock grazing practices—ideally, many of those tactics working together in concert.

  It’s not really reinventing the farming wheel. These practices have been around for decades or longer, but using them together is the goal. Unfortunately, a commercial farmer doesn’t always have the financial incentive to invest in natural soil additions, plant a non-harvested cover crop in a field that could generate income or take the short-term risk of not using pesticides.

  Wolfrum was put in touch with Indigo Agriculture through Dogfish Head Brewery in Rehoboth, Delaware. A chance meeting at the Brewers’ Association Craft Brewers Conference had him talking with the lead brewer at Dogfish Head’s small-batch/brewpub facility, and they found their interests aligned. Together, they worked on a project released in September 2020, Dogfish Head’s “Re-Gen-Ale, the first traceably sourced beer to address climate change.” With the help of Indigo Agriculture’s grain marketplace, Dogfish Head purchased raw regeneratively farmed wheat, hops from several local farms on the East Coat and barley from Epiphany. In doing so, they created a traceably sourced beer with a small carbon footprint. Dogfish Head also committed to purchasing carbon credits to offset the production of brewing the beer.

  When Wolfrum learned about Indigo’s regenerative programs, he immediately got in touch with his local growers. In 2020, three of Epiphany’s farm sources began working with Indigo Agriculture, farming regeneratively to provide a carbon-neutral, or even carbon negative, source of barley for Epiphany’s malting operation. It hasn’t been a difficult sell. “Talking to these farmers, no matter where they are—in eastern North Carolina or Virginia—you don’t need to explain it to them. They live it. They know that it’s not going to get easier to grow anything without some work,” he says.

  Other farms they work with provide heirloom corn and rice as well. So far, it’s a small sliver of Epiphany’s output—in 2021, the entire crop of regeneratively farmed malt is spoken for by just two of his customers—but his plans do not end there.

  Wolfrum has started to build financial incentives for farmers into his own business plan, paying more per pound of grain to incentivize his farmers to add at least one regenerative practice into their operation. As Epiphany grows, he plans to create a contract with each grower that requires them to add regenerative farming practices into their operation but also ensures that they’re compensated for doing so. “We will pay for it,” he says, “We’re going to pay a little bit more because we expect you to do the right thing.”

  He hopes that he can also convince brewery and distillery partners to do their part to reduce their carbon footprint in freight and their day-to-day operations as well.

  According to Epiphany’s Three-Year Resilience Plan, in 2020, “each pound of malt produced by Epiphany produced 0.93 lbs of CO2,” so the company bought carbon credits to offset all 421 metric tons of CO2 produced, officially making Epiphany Craft Malt a carbon-neutral craft maltster.

  Epiphany’s virtuous cycle doesn’t end at carbon credits, however. In 2020, they started working with two farmers who grow heirloom and ancient grains—both corn and rice. Wolfrum recognizes, however, that some of these grains have complicated pasts.

  The origin of the heirloom corn that Epiphany sources can be traced back to Native American tribes of Virginia, and the heirloom rice was first brought to the Americas and flourished as part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. “If we want to help create beers that incorporate these grains,” Wolfrum says, “we have to turn our attention toward understanding the injustice at their roots.”

  Because of that, Epiphany donates a portion of the sales of each of these grains to appropriate organizations. For the corn, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, which helps to increase the representation of Native Americans in STEM. For the rice, Epiphany donates to a local charity, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

  “At the moment, it’s really small scale, and we’re not a very big player,” Wolfrum says. “Could I use those couple thousand dollars we spend on [incentives, carbon credits, and donations] for something else? Sure. But you have to start somewhere. That’s my perspective. It’s not perfect, but it’s the right thing to do.”

  Learn more about Epiphany Malting, the grain and malt they offer and read their Three-Year Resilience Plan at

  Learn more about Indigo Agriculture and its grain marketplace at

  Erik Lars Myers is an entrepreneur, author, professional brewer, and lover of beer. He currently works as an independent consultant in the brewing industry in Durham, NC where he strives toward innovation in fermentation through a wide variety of projects.

An Ingredient For Success: Adding a Business Coach to Your Craft Beverage Company

bartender preparing drinks

By: Chris Mulvaney, President, CMDS Marketing Agency

So, you think you have it all. A great product, niche location, rockstar staff … ultimate success will no doubt come knocking at your door to order one of your specials. Right?

Well, maybe.

  Hard truth. When it comes to craft beverage marketing and branding, making those delicious bevvies is only half the battle. Many craft beverage companies that failed also had a great product, perfect location, and an awesome staff. So … why did they fail?

  For one, planning. Part of a craft beverage business is, well, the business. And while that part may not taste quite as good, it’s still a huge part of running and scaling your company so that it thrives for years to come.

  Planning your craft beverage business takes into consideration some very important components. Branding is one of them. If you don’t have solid branding, then you’ll have a tough time standing out in today’s crowded craft drink market.

While there was a time that breweries and distilleries could succeed without strong branding, much has changed. Today, statistics show that a new brewery opens up almost every day. That means crazy competition, and as a result, you really need strict branding and positioning in order to stand out. Without that, even the best product can get lost in the mix and drown into a drain of obscurity.

The What, The How, and The Why

  Simon Sinek familiarized the concept of the “What,” the “How,” the “Why” in his book, “Start with Why.” The concept is about having three layers to your brand story.

  The “what” explains what your business is in simple terms (“My business offers locally produced cider”).  The “how” is how you do it (“we use on-site fermentation and locally-sourced apples”).

Unfortunately, while most craft beverage companies may be able to explain the “what” and the “how”, they tend to lag in the “why”. And the “why” is usually the most interesting part of the story because that is where the emotion comes in (“my partner and I both have celiac and were not able to enjoy a traditional brewery experience, so we wanted to offer a delicious beer alternative for gluten-sensitive customers and those who want something a bit different”).  The “Why” is key because it draws people in and creates a deep emotional connection, which is more compelling.

Your brand is the perception of your company by your customers. It is the heart of your message and it’s how your customers will portray you on social media. The emotional connection with your customers is what drives the purchase. It is your “why”.

  This is where it also gets tricky. You can’t forget about the product. Above all else, your customer has to like the taste of what you sell, so quality is also vital.

  Therefore, branding involves defining key concepts, creating emotional attachment, and differentiating yourself from your competition, all while keeping a great product offering. It can be a challenge to balance it just right, and that’s where a business coach comes in.

  Typically, business coaches are experienced entrepreneurs and business owners who then decide to use their talents for building and growing a business to help other business owners reach their goals.

  They can provide far more valuable and personalized advice than any found online. They are essential to success – and are used by most humans across the board in other areas, yet the same principle often fails to apply to a business’ growth.

Take sports or music. If an athlete wants to improve their skills, the best thing they can do is join a team with a great coach. Likewise, a musician will hire a teacher to help them reach rock star  heights.

  Essentially, having a business coach is like having a trusted coach or teacher, and they can prove essential to your brand’s ultimate success.

Why Every Craft Beverage Businesses Should Enlist a Business Coach

  In simple terms, business coaching is a process used to take a business from where it is now to where the business owner wants it to be.

If a business owner has tough questions or runs into problems along the way, their coach will be able to help them navigate their issues in the most effective way possible.

Getting Started

  A good business coach will ask you to list your core values and help you figure out what will make you stand out from your competition. Your customers have to understand your brand and concept to immerse themselves in the experience. You will also be asked how you would like to grow in a manner consistent with your brand.

  The hiring process should include a discovery period between yourself and the potential business coach to make sure you are both aligned and should include the following:

1.   Answer detailed focus questions so your business coach gains insight of what you want to accomplish.

2.   Review their coaching/consulting package thoroughly, so you’ll have a good idea of features, benefits, time alloted and pricing.

3.   Schedule a 20-30 minute discovery call to talk through the project and determine if you are a good fit to work together.

  A Business Coach should also address focus questions. These can include the following:

•    What do you need help with? Be as specific as possible about the problem you need to solve or opportunity you want to tackle.

•    What is the ideal outcome or result you want to achieve? What does it look like?

•    How urgent is this project? How important is it to tackle this (1 to 10)?

•    What’s your timeframe for this project/goal: 1) ASAP, 2) within the next few months, 3) sometime this year?

  In addition to evaluating strengths and weaknesses, it’s also important to define business goals. For some people, the goal is the freedom to do what they want. For others, it’s financial security. When setting goals, make sure they are specific, optimistic (but realistic), and offer both short- and long-term plans so you can evaluate your progress. 

  Throughout this entire process, business coaches serve as an invaluable source of personalized information and advice, providing business owners with specific industry navigation tools and assisting in setting attainable goals.

  Coaching Packages will reflect just how much time and assistance your business will need and a coach will work with you regarding budget and timelines.

A good business coach understands that exponential success does not happen overnight. That is where their coaching and development services come into play. A great thing about a business coach is that you can hire one at any stage and scenario of your business, whether you are just starting out, your business is struggling and you need a way to revive it, or you are an established name looking to take it to the next level. There will always be a need for a business coach to provide you with considerable entrepreneurial insights, expertise and innovative business ideas at any level. The benefits of having one cannot be overstated.

Large vs Smaller Businesses

  In many cases, the challenges and goals of small businesses may differ from those of large businesses.

  For example, a start-up brewery in a more localized setting, looking to attract more local customers, will have an entirely different set of goals and strategies than a large establishment that caters to multiple locations and ships on a large scale.

With that said, most business coaches will be experienced in working with small or large businesses since a big part of their job  is to learn as much as they can about each company and owner that they are working with, and developing a strategy that is uniquely suited to the specifics of each situation.

In other words, a high-quality business coach will likely be able to help you regardless of budget, company size or how large you want it to grow.

The Last Gulp

  The most important rule of self-evaluation and goal-setting is honesty. Going into business with your eyes wide open about your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes, and your ultimate goals lets you confront the decisions you’ll face with greater confidence and a greater chance of success.

  Look at the coaching experience through honest eyes and know that the purpose of a business coach is to make the life of the business owner less stressful and their business more successful, which in amongst itself is something to raise a glass to.

  If you need help on where to start, Chris Mulvaney has been providing Business Coaching Services to business owners and fellow entrepreneurs for over 15 years. His marketing agency, CMDS, can be a great compliment to these services. Feel free to reach out for a consultation and you will be put in the right direction by someone who can take your business to the next level of craft beverage success.

Best Practices: Beer Wholesaler Agreements

lone beer glass

By: Kary Shumway, Craft Brewery Financial Training

The wholesaler agreement can be a point of contention between breweries and wholesalers. Before any beer is delivered, the agreement must be reviewed, negotiated, and signed.

  The challenge with many agreements is that both parties want the terms to be in their favor. Breweries want options to get out of the agreement, and freedom to move their brand if the business relationship isn’t working.

  Wholesalers want the brewery to be committed to them indefinitely. From the wholesaler perspective, they invest millions or tens of millions, in infrastructure and want to be sure that brands stay on the trucks to pay for all the investment.

  Both parties want the advantage, but at a minimum, neither party wants to get taken advantage of in the agreement.

  With so much emphasis on the wholesaler agreement, what steps are you taking to ensure you get the best arrangement possible?

  Below are five steps you can take to improve your agreements, and contractual relationships.

Five Steps to a Better Agreement

1.   Seek first to understand (Basic agreement structure and terms)

2.   Know your state laws

3.   Do your research, ask questions, determine the wholesaler options

4.   Play a game you can win (Develop your own standard agreement)

5.   Self-Distribute (Enter into an agreement with yourself)

  Since we’re talking legal contracts, here is the important disclaimer: I’m not an attorney, and this is not legal advice. The guidance here should be used for informational purposes only.

Basic Agreement Structure and Terms

  As any business textbook will tell you, the primary purpose of agreement law is to enforce an agreement between parties. In this case, the parties are the wholesaler and craft brewery. For there to be an agreement, an agreement must exist, and the parties must have freely intended to be legally obligated. A breach occurs when one party breaks a big promise in the agreement.

  The requirements of a legally binding agreement are: 1) offer, 2) acceptance, 3) consideration, 4) obligations by parties, 5) competency and capacity, and 6) a written document.

  In other words, a wholesaler offers to distribute the beer of a craft brewery, and the brewery accepts. The brewery agrees to brew beer and sell it to the wholesaler. The wholesaler agrees to pay for it. The brewery is obligated to make a saleable product, and the wholesaler is obligated to sell it.

  Both brewery and wholesaler state they are competent and have the capacity to fulfill these obligations. All this is then wrapped up in a written agreement.

  The wholesaler agreement contains a variety of clauses and terms that you should understand: Trademarks, Terms of Sale, Assignment, Transfer, Ownership Changes, and Termination to name a few. A typical wholesaler agreement can be 20 pages in length and contain a dozen or more different clauses. It’s a lot to understand, but very important to do so.

  To begin, read over the agreements that you already have in place. Highlight any items that you don’t understand and start asking questions. What you don’t know can hurt you in a contract situation.

Know Your State Laws

  Thanks to the 21st amendment, we have 50 different sets of laws related to alcohol distribution. Many of those laws are difficult to understand and a giant bore to read. Get a lawyer and get a commonsense interpretation of what your state laws are. Specifically, know your rights and obligations.

  The Brewer’s Association does a nice job in summarizing the various state laws. However, the summary only scratches the surface of what you’ll need to know about the rules of engagement. Know the rules, use them to your advantage, and build them into an agreement that works best for your brewery.

  Agreements and State Laws: Agreements and state laws are often intertwined. There may be sections of the wholesaler agreement that refer to the applicable state laws. For example, ‘wholesaler or supplier may terminate this agreement in accordance with applicable state laws.’ An understanding of the state laws in combination with a working knowledge of agreement rules will give you a leg up when negotiating your wholesaler agreement.

  Lastly, there is a common assumption that the agreement really doesn’t matter that much because the state law will over-ride the agreement anyway. For instance, in a case where an agreement says one thing and the state law says another, the state law wins.

  I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve hired lawyers to deal with this issue. What I’ve found is that the question doesn’t have a clear answer. Bottom line – the agreement still matters.

Do Your Research

  When opening up new sales territories do your homework to find the best wholesaler partner. Talk to other craft breweries, talk to retail accounts (on and off premise), and of course meet with prospective wholesalers. Do your research to find your best match. There’s no point in learning about agreements and state laws if you wind up with a lousy partner.

  Many of the larger craft breweries hire consultants to conduct market research in advance of opening a new territory. The consultants talk to retailers, learn the nuances of the market, and find out who the best wholesaler is. Then they gather information and report back to the brewery with a recommendation.

  Key Questions to Ask Your Wholesaler:  You may not have the resources to hire a consultant, but you can do some leg work yourself. Below are sample questions to ask wholesalers during the research phase:

•    How do you assess opportunities for my brands at retail?

•    What is a recent example of a brand launch success?

•    What are the demographics and tourism of the market?

•    What is the pricing landscape?

•    What did you do for craft beer week?

•    Tell me about your draft line cleaning process and personnel. If line cleaning is not allowed by state law, ask what they do to ensure lines are cleaned (surveys, education) and to determine if they are cleaned (logs, vendor, and frequency of service)

  Invest the time upfront and do you research on your wholesaler options. An agreement helps define a partnership. It’s up to you to find the best wholesaler to partner with.

Play a Game You Can Win

  A wise friend once told me: “always write the agreement.” In other words, if there is an option, don’t let the other side present you with the agreement. Do it yourself.

  Writing the agreement ensures you have control over what gets included or excluded. It allows you to shape the language and create an agreement that works best for your brewery. Have your lawyer develop your own standard agreement. Talk with them about what’s important to include and what isn’t. Use your working knowledge of agreement law and state laws to shape an agreement that works.

  Use Your Leverage: When you meet with a wholesaler, simply present the document as a matter of fact: “This is our standard agreement.” They may negotiate certain points, or counter with their own standard agreement, but they might just sign what you give them.

  Many craft breweries have their own agreement these days, even the smaller guys. Craft breweries have leverage with wholesalers. If you have a brand that multiple wholesalers would like to have, they will make concessions on the terms of the agreement to ensure they get your brand.

  Recognize and understand where you have leverage and use it to your advantage. Develop your own standard agreement, include the terms you want, and insist that it is used to govern the wholesaler relationship.

Self-Distribute: Enter into an Agreement with Yourself

  Another option related to wholesaler agreements is to avoid them altogether and self-distribute your own beer. State laws will dictate whether you can do this, and what the guidelines are.

  There are many advantages of distributing your own beer: you keep the gross profit that normally goes to the wholesaler, you control where and how the brands are presented at retail, and you ensure the brands get 100% focus and attention. Despite best efforts, a wholesaler with hundreds of brands can’t possibly present your beer during every sales call. But you can.

  There are many challenges with self-distribution: increased capital costs for trucks and warehouse space, more people needed to sell and deliver the beer, and a new business model that you need to learn. Nothing wrong with learning, but it can be expensive.

  The fundamental question to ask is whether self-distribution can be profitable. To answer the question, check out the short guide on creating a financial pro forma for self-distribution. This will walk you through the steps of putting together your sales projections, expected margins, operating costs, and capital investments needed.

  Research your state distribution laws, do the financial analysis, and determine if self-distribution is the right move for your brewery.

Wrap Up

  The wholesaler agreement is important, and it’s important that you get it right. Understand the agreement terms and know the state laws. Do your research on the market and the wholesaler options. Create your own standard agreement and use your brand leverage to get the wholesaler to sign it. Lastly, explore whether a self-distribution option makes sense for your craft brewery.

  It’s up to you to find a great wholesaler partner. It’s up to you to ensure you have a good agreement that governs the relationship. Use the steps outlined here, talk to other craft breweries, and consult your attorney. A good wholesaler agreement is within your power to achieve. Now, go and get it.

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Lawson’s Finest Liquids: A Hophead’s Nirvana

lawson's finest liquids

By: Nan McCreary

In the small town of Waitsfield, Vermont, an iconic brewery looms large among visitors. It is Lawson’s Finest Liquids, producer of world-class IPAs and unique maple beers and, according to many, a benchmark for hoppy beers among the nation’s beer drinkers.

  “I’m a hophead,” owner Sean Lawson, along with his wife, Karen, told Beverage Master Magazine. “I’m a fan of hops in a big way.” This love of flavorful beers has been a driving force in Lawson’s life since he first started making homebrew as a college student at the University of Vermont. “In the beginning, I was making five gallons at a time,” Lawson said. “My friends loved it. I couldn’t make it fast enough.” 

  After graduation from college with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and a master’s degree in forestry, Lawson pursued a career as a scientist and outdoor educator but continued to hone his brewing skills. The art and the craft of making beer were in his genes.

  Finally, in 2008, with increasing demand for beer from his friends, Lawson and his wife, Karen, got a beer license and built a 280-square-foot nano-brewery in a shed next to their house. Lawson brewed his beer one barrel at a time, producing 31 gallons—or 10 cases of beer—all while keeping his day job. 

  “I worried that if I turned my hobby into a full-time job, it would end up being a drag, but the opposite happened,” he said. “It really sparked my passion. I loved coming up with new recipes, and I really enjoyed the whole process from start to finish. I would walk into the brewhouse and make things up as I went. I had a lot of ingredients, so I would look at what I had and say, ‘Umm, what do I want to brew today?’”

  As Lawson’s passion grew, so did his customer base. “From day one, we didn’t have enough beer to go around,” Lawson said. At the time, he was making a few maple-infused beers —this was Vermont, after all—but the core of his business was IPAs, which were flying off the shelves. In mid-2008, Lawson decided to quit his day job and make his “hobby” a full-time vocation. He expanded the brewery to a seven-barrel system, which he thought was a big leap but, in fact, still wasn’t enough to keep up with demand. 

  “The beer kept going away faster than I could make it,” Lawson told Beverage Master Magazine. “I could only do two batches a week because it was a small building, and I’d stuffed in as much equipment as I could.” 

  In the meantime, the accolades kept coming and coming and coming. In 2010, Lawson’s Finest Liquids became the smallest brewery ever to capture an award at the World Beer Cup, winning the Bronze medal with their Maple Tripple Ale in the specialty beer category, followed in 2012 by a Silver medal win and another Silver medal in 2016.  Lawson’s beers were also a big hit at the American Craft Beer Festival in Boston, the largest beer festival on the East Coast.

  “People were impressed with the quality and flavor of the beer,” Lawson said. “Skiers and tourists would come to Vermont, buy the beer and take it home and share with friends. ‘You gotta try this beer,’ they’d say.  There was a lot of ‘word of mouth’ success for our products.”

  All along, Lawson’s goal was to “produce beer of the highest quality with outstanding freshness.” Lawson strongly felt that to retain that freshness, the beer needed to be kept cold during the entire journey from the brewery to the customer.

  “When I started in 2008, it was a challenge to get the local distributor to keep it cool in the warehouse,” Lawson said. “But once the brand caught on, I made it a prerequisite: keep it cold in the warehouse, on the truck and while on display at the retailer.”

  Lawson’s persistence paid off. His “home run” beer was Double Sunshine, a double IPA packed with juicy, lush fruit character and herbal aromas with an 8% ABV. With the increased capacity of the seven-barrel brewery, this beer—and other specialty Lawson’s Finest Liquids—created a sensation in Vermont and throughout the Northeast, such a sensation that demand continued to get further ahead of supply. Clearly, Lawson needed to produce more beer. “I read about a brewery in Stratford, Connecticut—Two Roads Brewing Company—that offered contract services, so I decided to consider this option as a way to expand without investing in more equipment or employees,” he said. 

  From the beginning, Lawson was very particular about his requirements. His reputation was on the line, and he was adamant that this beer meet his and his fan’s expectations. “The first thing I wanted to know was if the chemistry of their water would meet my standards for making quality mash,” Lawson said. “As it turned out, the water they used for brewing was nearly identical to what we used in Vermont.”

  Lawson also wanted to differentiate this beer from what he brewed in Vermont, so he created Sip of Sunshine, inspired by Double Sunshine but lighter in color and easier on the palate, and still at 8% ABV. Expecting some trial and error in creating a new brew, everyone was surprised—and delighted—that the first two batches were hugely successful. They hadn’t even packaged the beer yet, so they sold it on draft. “It took off from day one,” Lawson said.

  Over the next three years, inspired by the continuing popularity of his beers, Lawson increased production at Two Roads, with its 100-barrel capacity, while making specialty beer at his brewery at home. He also began expanding his footprint with distribution in Vermont and Connecticut and eventually to Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey. Sales skyrocketed, and, ultimately, the Lawsons were able to realize the culmination of their original business plan: To build a large production facility of their own and have a taproom where they could welcome the public. In 2018, that “dream” became a reality when the Lawsons opened their 40-barrel facility and timber-framed taproom in Waitsfield, located in the heart of Vermont’s Mad River Valley. The taproom is open year-round and features 10 to 12 beers on tap, as well as a food program with an emphasis on local fare. Lawson’s Finest boasts 41 full-time and 17 part-time employees. That’s a far cry from the mom-and-pop operation that began in an outbuilding on their property.

  Today, after a 20-plus year journey, Lawson’s Finest Liquids is recognized as one of the best breweries in the Northeast, especially among hopheads. The brewery produces dozens of beers, some year-round and others as special releases. Year-round beers include the flagship Sip of Sunshine; the Super Session series, brewed with the same malt base and specialty malts but each brewed with a different single-hop variety; and Little Sip, a cousin to Sip of Sunshine but with 6% ABV. Sip of Sunshine and the rotating Super Session series are brewed at Two Roads, and the rest at the Waitsfield Brewery. Lawson keeps one barrel in his brewhouse for experimenting with new flavors. If he likes the beer, he will create small-batch productions on his original seven-barrel brewery. “We’re always looking for new flavors,” he said.  “That’s where we have our fun. These are specialty beers that are only available in the taproom.”

  While Lawson’s Finest Liquids has enjoyed phenomenal success, Sean and Karen have not forgotten one of the core values that inspired their journey—to give back to the local community and communities where they do business. “Even when we were very small, we’d give a portion of our proceeds to non-profit organizations here in the Mad River Valley or Central Vermont,” said Lawson. 

  Today, this mission is organized under their Social Impact Program. The SIP includes six initiatives that support healthy communities, food and economic securities, natural resource protection and sustainable recreation in the Green Mountains. One of these initiatives is a “no-tipping” policy that offers a living wage and generous benefits to all employees. In lieu of tips in the taproom, Lawson’s Finest Liquids invites guests to donate to the Sunshine Fund, the heart of SIP. 

  “It has been wildly successful, way beyond our dreams,” Lawson said. “In the first year, we raised over $380,000. Even with COVID, donations continued with our drive-thru retail store. From October 2018 to present, we have raised over $575,000 just through the Sunshine Fund.”

  In 2020, the Lawsons received the Outstanding Vermont Business award in recognition of the brewery’s employment growth, success in the marketplace, company expansion and community involvement. The award is sponsored by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and Vermont Business Magazine.

  As Lawson looks to the future, he said the plan is to “grow the business to thrive and not to sell.”  They hope to accomplish this by optimizing capacity and continuing the use of Two Roads to produce their flagship beers and Waitsfield for specialty releases. While they continue to increase points of distribution within the Northeast, there are no new market expansions planned in the near term. In the meantime, Lawson remains modest in his attitude toward his achievements.

  “A lot of people make great beer,” he told Beverage Master Magazine. “Why have I been successful compared to others? Maybe a sprinkle of magic.” That, and creating a nirvana for hopheads.

For more information on Lawson’s Finest Liquids, visit their website at

Exploring the Variety of Spirit-Based Canned Cocktails

4 assorted can cocktails

By: Becky Garrison

Over Memorial Day 2014, Bronya Shillo launched the Fishers Island Lemonade, a signature cocktail that originated at her family’s bar, The Pequot Inn, on Fishers Island, New York.  She refined their decades-old recipe and canned the premium distilled vodka, whiskey, lemon and honey cocktail. The drink is one of the first craft cocktails in a can, making Shillo and her brand a leader in the ready-to-drink market. Fast forward to 2021, and she’s expanded her portfolio to a full family of vodka and whiskey lemonade canned cocktails, as well as a fun and innovative frozen Fishers Island Lemonade spirit popsicle.

  Convenience remains the most touted selling point in the growing RTD market. According to Nielsen IQ, in 2019, annual sales in this segment were up 574%, and malt-based cocktails now account for $4.7 million in annual sales. Spirit and wine-based RTD cocktails are generally available in smaller packages; they’re also more established and generate larger sales—$62 million and $83 million in annual sales, respectively, according to the May 21, 2019, Nielsen IQ. One factor that may be influencing some of these sales from growing even higher is that in con-trol states such as Oregon, spirit-based cocktails can only be found in liquor stores instead of grocery stores in non-control states.

  In 2020, consumers in lockdown sought ways to savor their favorite spirit-based cocktails once enjoyed at a bar or restaurant. Establishments responded to this demand by offering cocktails-to-go. Depending upon state laws, these to-go packages contain all the ingredients needed to make a given establishment’s signature drinks or all the items sans the alcohol.

  This to-go trend looks to continue as the world opens up post-COVID, with customers looking for convenient ways to consume their favorite cocktails while on the go. Molly Troupe, Master Distiller for Portland-based Freeland Spirits, speaks to the appeal of canned cocktails. “Canned cocktails are great for those who like convenience and don’t want to make their own cocktails at home. Cans can go much easier than a bottle to the lake, on a hike or wherever adventure may take you.”

Carbonated Canned Cocktails

  The majority of spirit-based cocktails appear to be carbonated and designed for easy sipping with a low ABV. Ali Joseph, co-owner of Portland, Oregon’s Wild Roots, commented about their 2021 foray into the RTD market. “We always recommend simple two-ingredient cocktails to our fans and wanted to take that idea one step further. There’s nothing easier than cracking open a can.”

  According to Tuan Lee and Hope Ewing, co-founders of Los Angeles-based Vernet, they launched their line of sparkling craft cocktails when they observed the market was dominated by bulk spirits made with flavoring agents. Ewing said, “We really wanted to make something high-quality that we would drink ourselves. Tuan’s dream was to share his love for LA’s immigrant cultures through food and drink, and ready-to-drink cocktails felt like a great vehicle for this. We wanted to package in cans for convenience—being pool-friendly, beach-friendly and lightweight —and because aluminum is the most recyclable packaging around.” She added that their goals in producing these products were twofold. “We wanted to showcase the awesomeness of LA’s immigrant food cultures by using ingredients we loved from local farms and markets and to make something as complex and high-quality as I was used to making in craft cocktail bars.”

  Canned vodka cocktails like those produced by Wild Roots differentiate themselves by using natural ingredients instead of “natural” flavorings often found in canned vodka products. Wild Roots’ canned cocktails are made using their top-selling raspberry, blackberry/marionberry and peach spirits. They also added lemon to the lineup because they often use citrus in their Wild Roots cocktails. Spiritfruit is a ready-to-drink canned vodka soda made using all-natural ingredients, a splash of real fruit and five-times distilled corn-based vodka.

Gin & Tonic Canned Cocktails

  In the spirit-based RTD market, taste and innovation are already proving to be key market differentiators. Take, for example, the different ways three distillers produced a canned classic gin & tonic.

  Melissa and Lee Katrincic, co-founders and co-owners of Durham Distillery in Durham, North Carolina, launched their Conniption canned cocktails in 2018 and were among the first distilleries in the U.S. to add them.

  “We saw the increasing popularity of malt-based seltzers and with them mimicking cocktail flavors and/or names. We wanted to bring authentic, delicious spirits based cocktails in the convenience of a can,” Melissa Katrincic said. They chose rosé spritz, cucumber & vodka and gin & tonic because they found that these seasonable flavors are perfect for the warmer months in the southeast United States. Their gin & tonic emerged as the fan favorite.

  Durham’s canned cocktails must be prepared in large batches of approximately 5,000 cocktails. This process involves ensuring that the precise amount of ingredients are measured and pumped into their 450-gallon tanks, then mixed and carbonated. They have an automated canning line for getting the product into containers, whereas their spirits are hand bottled. The canning line is made of hundreds of working parts that are finely tuned but can sometimes be problematic if out of adjustment. Carbonated products can also be prone to “misbehaving,” leading to the final product being foamy or difficult to get into the cans at the right volume.

  Freeland Spirits added canned cocktails to their lineup following the success of the kegged ver-sion of their Gin and Rose Tonic, which they offered in their tasting room. They launched their canned version in 2019, followed in 2020 with the French 75. The latter is a collaboration made using women winemakers and distillers and features Freeland Gin, Chehalem Chardonnay, lemon and simple syrup.

  According to Troupe: “While canned cocktails add an additional step to spirits production, play-ing with carbonation levels and different cocktail ingredients is a lot of fun.” Also, stability is a more significant issue because these canned cocktails are lower-proof than their bottled spirits.

  As the makers of Aria Portland Dry Gin, Martin Ryan Distilling Company in Portland, Oregon, is known as a gin house. So rather than develop another product in a different spirit category, a G&T seemed like a natural extension of the Aria Portland Dry gin brand. Ryan Csansky used his background in the bar and restaurant industry to create an in-house tonic using a proprietary blend of lime, bergamot and lemongrass, hints of allspice, orris and star anise, a flavorful tonic that complements the classic London Dry style of Aria Gin. The result is a G&T canned cocktail made using all ingredients with chemicals or artificial sweeteners and one of the lowest sugar counts of any tonic on the market. Since a canning line is an expensive system to purchase, they work with a mobile canning company that brings their system and operating crew to them as needed.

Other Non-Carbonated Bartender Inspired Cocktails

  Drnxmyth, a collective of drink makers with a shared interest in bringing fresh craft cocktails to people everywhere, invented an ingenious bottling technology that, in their estimation, unlocks the freshest cocktails ever produced. Each drink created is a collaboration between them and a bartender, drink maker or drinksmith, who shares in the sales profits for this particular drink.

  The TTB licensed Drnxmyth’s factory to handle bulk spirits and fresh cold press juicing, batch-ing and filling. A patent-pending bottle separates the spirits from the fresh ingredients, since al-cohol alters the sensorial nature of juice and freshness over time. Then the drinks are pressurized at 85,000 psi, which brings the microbial count in the juice close to zero. After that process, the beverage will remain fresh for five months while refrigerated and unopened.

  Through his work in the music festival industry, Neal Cohen, co-founder of Atlanta-based Tip-Top Proper, saw demand growing for quality cocktails, though in his assessment, the category had yet to deliver the quality and convenience for classic, spirit-forward, non-carbonated cock-tails in high volumes. “We fantasized about creating a world-class cocktail in an easy-to-serve vessel, thinking maybe we could help solve a problem for venues, events, restaurants, bars, air-planes and regular folks at home on the couch. Eventually, we stopped fantasizing and started actually doing it,” Cohen said.

With that mindset, Tip Top Proper was founded in 2018, focusing first on the trifecta of bitters-forward, stirred, high-proof cocktails—Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Negroni. Next, they gravi-tated toward a “Shaken Line”—Margarita, Daiquiri and Bee’s Knees—all cocktails that allow for warm weather, outdoor consumption. Their products come in 100ml sizes, which Cohen said is the appropriate single-serve size for a cocktail.

  In 2016, The Perfect Cocktail began offering classic cocktails—Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Negroni—packaged in mini bags. Their “made in Italy” production process and functional and sustainable packaging are patented to ensure the best mix of convenience and flexibility.

  Alley 6 Craft Distilling in Healdsburg, California, first came out with their canned Old Fash-ioned in 2019 in response to consumer demand for a portable version of the drink made in their tasting room using rye whiskey or apple brandy and candy cap (mushroom) bitters. A bottle didn’t seem to fit their purposes when compared to a canned cocktail that could be enjoyed while on the go, traveling or adventuring.

  Oregon-based 503 Distilling offers their canned Mt. Hood Old Fashioned, a blend of their rye whiskey, hazelnut bitters and maple syrup. This canned cocktail follows their first release, the Wicked Mule, along with other offerings—Blood Orange Greyhound, La Vida Mocha, Five-O-Tea and Huckleberry Lemonade.

  For a Brazilian twist on the Old Fashioned, Novo Fogo is launching a Brazilian Old Fashioned Highball hybrid that features tropical flavors of orange and vanilla. Their initial foray into the canned cocktail market was their Sparkling Caipirinha, a canned version of Brazil’s national cocktail available in three flavors found across the Brazilian food and drink spectrum—lime, passion fruit and mango.

  Finally, for consumers looking to savor a hot, after-dinner hard coffee that’s easy to make, Cask and Kettle produces small-batch hard coffees in flavors such as Irish, Mint Patty, Hot Blonde or Mexican Coffee, and a Spiked Cider in a k-pod. The k-pods, packaged and distilled by Temper-ance Distilling in Temperance, Michigan, contain liquid distilled spirits, concentrated coffee and flavorings, and can be placed into any pod home brewing system or poured into hot or iced water.

Adding New Revenue Streams to Boost Your Distillery’s Bottom Line

stacks of empty cans

By: Gerald Dlubala

“Any craft beverage producer looking to develop their business to the point of allowing consumers to enjoy their product at home needs to ensure that their packaging choices can protect the product right up to the point of consumption,” said Steve Davis, Product Line Director, Metal Packaging for Industrial Physics. Industrial Physics is a global test and inspection partner providing first-class solutions to industries, including the beverage industry, to protect the integrity of brands and manufacturers across the globe.

  “The aluminum can is perfect for this because it’s light, chills the product quickly, protects it from the UV light, is robust, endlessly recyclable and offers great opportunities for the beverage owner to market and brand their product in their way,” said Davis. “Checking the packaging components before assembly and assuring the finished container is assembled correctly is where we come in. Our range of beverage can and end gauging solutions allow the user to check that the components supplied by the packaging manufacturers meet their required specifications. For example, our PAT 2100mk2 is a gauge that checks the opening ability of the beverage end. It mimics the customer pulling on the tab and checks that the force required to open the can is within specification and that the tab will stay properly attached while opening. After all, if you can’t open the packaging, you can’t taste the product inside.  Once the can is filled and sealed, our range of video seam monitors and X-ray seam inspection equipment allows the producer to check that the seaming operation is performing correctly and preserving the contents of the packaging as best as possible.”

  Industrial Physics includes a family of CMC-KUHNKE, Eagle Vision and Quality By Vision brands within their portfolio. Their expertise in designing and manufacturing quality control and assurance systems for the metal packaging industry has been relied upon for over 30 years and is unrivaled. Quality By Vision is proud to have invented the practice of using cameras to inspect the seams on beverage cans.

  “Checking the seam on a filled can is a fundamental requirement for any beverage producer to protect the packaging integrity,” said Davis. “It ensures that the cans and ends pass through the production process without issues. Our solutions offer an inspection methodology that minimizes operator influence and provides trusted results. In addition, the reliability of the gauges provides concise and consistent data, enabling the beverage producer to optimize their process, reduce waste and ensure that their product reaches the customer in the best condition possible.”

  Industrial Physics designs its products to be as maintenance-free as possible. For video seam monitors and similar dimensional gauges, all required is an annual calibration to original specifications. Seam saws need new blades periodically, depending on use.

“Basic must-haves are a simple set of gauges to check incoming packaging,” said Davis. “Things like a can height gauge and a flange width gauge are a good start, and for seam checks, you would need a video seam inspection gauge with our SEAMview inspection software. The SEAMview inspection software automatically takes seam measurements and stores the results, so if the producer receives a complaint or comes across an issue, they can go back and investigate the test results. This system is scalable and used by small craft producers up through the world’s largest beverage manufacturers. An ultimate solution for larger-scale producers is our XTS online, a completely autonomous gauge that uses X-rays to inspect the beverage can seam without any invasion of the packaging. It makes all the necessary measurements and returns the container to the line for sale.”

  Davis told Beverage Master Magazine that being involved with a beverage producer as a true partner is very important. “We’re always here to support our customers with the highest level of service. The products themselves are simple to use, portable (except for the XTS products), powered by any standard electrical source, and only require a day’s training to attain proficiency. Refresher courses are available either remotely or on-site with our support team.”

Volumetric & Level Fillers For Glass Bottle Packaging: XpressFill Systems LLC

  Johannes Kollhoff is the Director of Operations at XpressFill Systems LLC, designers and builders of quality, affordable bottling equipment for beverage producers worldwide. He recommends a Volumetric Bottle Filler for distillers that need to comply with TTB regulations.

  “Our volumetric filler controls the amount of fill with the use of a precise timer. The filler is calibrated to your specifications and is capable of repeatable, accurate fills regardless of inconsistencies in the bottle glass. We also provide high-proof volumetric fillers that replace flow path components with more resilient materials to ethanol. The high-proof version is used extensively for our distillery customers and fills levels within TTB requirements. Volumetric fillers are suitable for bottling a variety of different sizes, even down to 50ml bottles,” said Kollhoff. “The four-spout unit can fill approximately 450 [750ml] bottles an hour and be used for bottle conditioned kombucha, olive oil and many other liquids. Level fillers can be used for all products, including wine and distilled spirits as well. Level fillers are ideal if the fill height in the bottleneck is a concern for shelf presentation amid glass variations.”

  Kollhoff said that XpressFill’s level fillers control the amount of fill with a level sensor. When the liquid reaches the sensor, the filler automatically stops filling. The desired liquid level is set by adjusting the shelf’s height in 1/16-inch increments.

   “All XpressFill machines are semi-automatic, tabletop, stand-alone fillers that are portable and operate with regular 110v outlets,” said Kollhoff. “They should be placed and used in well-ventilated and non-hazardous areas. A gas purge option is available to reduce the exposure to oxygen for products that are sensitive to oxidation. Our fillers would not be compatible with liquids that contain large amounts of pulp or particulates, so if you have questionable products, we recommend sending samples of questionable products for testing.”

  The volumetric and level fillers have self-contained, self-priming pumps that draw liquid from any barrel or carboy. They are manufactured from high-quality, food-grade components, and the only recommended maintenance is routine cleaning after use. There is no reservoir. The liquid flows directly from your bulk container through the filler into the bottles. The machines are easy to learn and operate, but XpressFill recommends familiarizing yourself with the device by initially using water for a test run. XpressFill has excellent customer service, and if needed, you will be in touch with a technician that knows the machine inside and out within a couple of minutes.

  XpressFill also has customers who use a hot fill level filler to pack ready-to-drink cocktails, which has become somewhat of a trend. Trends happen for many reasons. Sometimes it’s as simple as a demand that goes unnoticed and is now coming to the surface. In an extreme case, it may take a pandemic to give life to a trend that most didn’t even know was available or necessary. When the pandemic took away the ability to enjoy your favorite drinks at your local venue, a trend was born out of necessity to keep doors open for craft beverage producers. The packaging and sales of ready-to-drink beverages and cocktails became the way for craft producers to stay viable and in touch with their customers. They didn’t know that the ability to package their product in that way would turn into a valuable and sustainable revenue stream that was not part of their original business plan.

Starting a Bar Program With Oktober Can Seamers

  “Canning has turned into a new revenue stream for those places that never considered it before,” said Dennis Grumm, CEO and lead engineer of Oktober Can Seamers. “The main thing that came out of the pandemic is that new drinks packaged in ready-to-drink cans translate into new revenue. It’s like the seltzer craze when it began about five years ago. Then, they were new and different, and now they’ve blown up. That’s what our can seamers can do for whatever beverage you come up with and want to put into a can.”

  The pandemic brought the reality and usefulness of to-go drinks to the forefront. It allowed craft beverage producers the ability to get their products out the door when no one was allowed in-house. Now, as things return to normal, canning beverages to go or for the ready-to-drink market is a legitimate income stream.

  “When we go to a business for a demo, we usually bring bloody marys and mimosas to demonstrate our can seamers,” said Grumm. “Clients are blown away by the wide range of uses of our can seamers and the new business opportunities that open up as a result of owning one. By now, everyone has seen the classic cocktails canned and displayed as ready-to-drink. Successful classic cocktails breed new and different ideas, so a distillery or pub owner can add their twist or trademark drink and can them for their customers. Variations on margaritas and rum punches have done well, but a beverage producer can literally can whatever concoction or unique product they can imagine. Of course, you, as a producer, have to be aware of things like fermentation that can alter taste after time and adhere to food and safety regulations such as drink-by, best-by, or expiration dates.”

  Getting started is as simple as purchasing an Oktober Can Seamer and getting the cans and ends, which they can provide. Oktober units are plug and play out of the box, and their website has all the video tutorials needed to be up and running in literally minutes.

  “You’re easily able to go from canning one type or style of beverage to another,” said Grumm, “Especially when using the same size of the can. Switching can size is no big deal and can be done in a few seconds, with a 15 to 20-minute changeover for a 32-ounce unit. The busier bars sometimes use two or more can seamers situated at different ends of their bar to help facilitate traffic behind the bar or to keep different setups more readily available for fast service.”

Why start a bar program with

Oktober Can Seamers?

  “Our units are specifically designed for use behind a bar,” said Grumm. “We’ve worked with and had discussions with enough people in the food and service industry that we know the importance of saving space, reducing traffic congestion, and keeping machines running. Equipment can’t break down. It has to save space, and it has to be easy to use, clean and service. That’s us. Our tech support is on top of all things, and our machines don’t break down. There are minimal parts that wear under normal use and are subsequently very easy to acquire and replace. As to the calibration, sure, we sell calibration kits separately, but honestly, they’re just not used. We’ve had units in operation for years over thousands and thousands of cans, and they simply don’t require a lot of specialized calibration. It either seams a can, or it doesn’t.”

  “Oktober is one of the only companies that have this type of can seamer available to beverage producers of all sizes,” said Grumm. “It’s incredibly reliable, inexpensive, and looks good behind a bar. It’s easy to learn, easy to use, and provides instant effects to the bottom line by producing immediate revenue that the bar or distillery owner didn’t even know was there. It’s just the sentiment that restaurants, bars and pubs can more easily sling ready-to-drink cocktails through the door by providing them in a can. The machine just does incredible work and brings with it an immediate additional revenue source. And we can handle your labeling needs as well. Most customers have a logo or can design in mind and can order their cans directly through our site. However, if they want a simple generic label or need help with images or design concepts, we have a team ready for help and order processing.”

  Additionally, Grumm told Beverage Master Magazine that Oktober Can Seamers is kicking around the idea of subscription services to make sure customers are never out of cans.

  “We ship fast, and we ship now,” said Grumm.  “And we are finalizing plans for a distribution center in Nevada to take care of our West Coast clients even better than we do currently.

Brewery Pumps: Boosting Productivity & Lowering the Bottom Line

2 man cleaning brewery pumps

By: Cheryl Gray 

Whether a small craft brewery or a large-scale operation, pumps play a vital role in making beer. While breweries large and small understand the invaluable relationship between pumps and products, such a capital investment begs the question, “Which pump is best?”  

  Pumps are used in breweries for a wide range of functions, from handling yeast to managing filtration to dispensing measured doses of additives. According to industry experts, the most popular pumps are the most versatile, meaning they can be used in multiple areas of a brewery operation. That math adds up to money spent that can result in a solid return on investment when it comes to improving a product, boosting productivity and lowering operating costs.     

  FLUX Pumps Corporation has spent 70 years being a global leader in making pumps used in virtually every industry, including craft brewing. Its six subsidiaries and a huge roster of distribution centers give FLUX the capability of servicing customers in more than 100 countries.    

  The company’s innovation streak began in 1950 when it earned a patent for the world’s first electric-powered drum pump. A year later, FLUX introduced the first explosion-proof drum pump designed to be used in hazardous areas. In the years since, FLUX has firmly established itself as a frontrunner in drum and container pumping technology. The company’s global headquarters and manufacturing plant is located in  Maulbronn, Germany. It also operates corporate offices in the United States, India, Thailand, France, United Kingdom and Belgium.  

  Glenn Mulligan is the President of FLUX. His product advice, he says, is the same for all craft breweries, no matter whether it is a start-up or an established operation.    

  “Whether a new or old facility, I would offer the same advice to both customer types: Product longevity and performance is critical. Performance keeps your process running efficiently, perhaps even helping to increase productivity by moving away from tasks operators had to complete by hand. Product longevity helps to keep operating expenses low, which increases the bottom line. When you are using a pump, which offers an overall cost of ownership second to none, you know you have the right equipment in place. Don’t let drum pumps become ‘throwaway’ equipment.” 

  Mulligan shares why FLUX products are a versatile choice for breweries:   

  “By default, the most popular products in the brewing industry are those which conform to sanitary and hygienic standards. Brewing customers need to meet the strict sanitary standards of food and beverage processors, but typically also need the flexibility to use their equipment in various areas of the facility. Simple product disassembly, assembly and cleaning are crucial to minimize downtime and increase productivity.  

  From versions that can handle thin, water-like products, to models which can pump honey, fruit purees and products as thick as peanut butter, FLUX has the solution you need. Some models can quickly and easily be broken down into two main components for cleaning. This allows a pump to be used in multiple areas of the facility.”   

  Mulligan cautions craft breweries against investing in pumps that may seem simple to operate and don’t cost much. What might be a bargain at first sight, he says, can quickly become a drain on finances as well as valuable production time.    

  “It is a common misconception that air-operated, double-diaphragm pumps are best suited in these applications due to their cheap costs and simple operating principle. However, these pumps can very quickly become expensive to maintain as well as run with compressed air. A recent brewing customer had purchased one of our units to move a fruit puree from 55-gallon drums into their process. They were using 1.5” air-operated, double-diaphragm pumps to transfer the puree, which would take about an hour to empty the drum. When they switched over to FLUX progressive cavity drum pump technology, this transfer time was shortened to under six minutes.” 

  Watson-Marlow Fluid Technology Group is another global leader in providing pumps to the craft brewing industry. The company, based in the United Kingdom with operations worldwide, was founded in 1956. It entered the United States market in 1991 by establishing Watson-Marlow, Inc. The company offers a broad range of peristaltic and sinusoidal pump products designed to handle nearly every pump requirement for every stage of brewing.    

  Among other features, the products boast a rapid cleaning time and simplicity of use. Watson-Marlow explains that by reducing CIP cycles, along with the amount of water and cleaning agents needed, its pump designs save breweries money over time.    

  Pumping brewer’s yeast is a tricky business. One wrong move can ruin the delicate yeast and, in turn, an entire batch of beer. That’s why a number of breweries are looking for the latest technology in pumps that offer features that provide, among other things, low shear and low pulsation, which experts say is ideal for transferring yeast. Watson- Marlow offers its MasoSine Certa 100 pump. The product is fully portable and mounted on a specially designed cart for easy transfer of yeast. Unlike more traditional pumps with rotors cutting through the fluid, Certa’s sinusoidal rotor gently moves fluid through the pump to significantly reduce shear. Russell Merritt is the company’s marketing manager. 

  “Certa sine pumps accurately dose the yeast while maintaining its quality. Certa pumps reduce shear damage to yeast cells by eliminating backflow seen with screw and lobe pumps. Also, with the high suction capability of the sine pump, even challenging yeast strains can be transferred at full capacity. Due to the virtually pulsation-free flow, the transfer rate at the yeast harvesting pump can be accurately controlled. Certa pumps can handle variable viscosities with ease, which means the yeast dosing process is under control regardless of the type of beer and yeast strain.” 

  Another key function of pumps in brewery operations is resolving wastewater, which is often injected with chemicals not environmentally friendly. As such, that wastewater has to be filtered and purified before it is discharged.  

  Blue-White Industries, Ltd., based in Huntington Beach, California, touts a solution through its Flex-Pro A2, a peristaltic chemical metering pump designed to tackle the kind of harsh chemicals found in brewery wastewater.    

  Among the company’s success stories in helping brewery clients achieve optimal wastewater treatment is California’s Stone Brewing, the ninth-largest craft brewery in the U.S. With brewery operations on both coasts, Stone Brewing celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. It recently installed four of the Flex-Pro A2 pumps. Blue-White says that the product’s ease of use and electronic features offer the kind of precise chemical metering that Stone needed to meet industry-standard wastewater purification requirements.    

  Carlsen & Associates, a family-owned business based in California’s Sonoma Valley, services wineries, distilleries and craft breweries. The company, founded in the 1980s by Jim Carlsen, is a manufacturer, fabricator and customer service enterprise with representatives covering all 50 states. Carlsen & Associates thrives on the industry knowledge base of its founder, whose background as a manager and electrician helped to distinguish the company’s products as those with precision and ease of use at the forefront of all design.   

  Jon Johnson, who has been with Carlsen & Associates for 24 years, is well-versed in the pump needs for brewery clients. He offers some recommendations from the company’s extensive product line, starting with the Waukesha 30, which features single o-ring seals for easy cleaning and replacement, stainless steel housing and rotors, along with 50-foot remote speed control.  Additional options include pressure, float and timer controls.   

  The  features a flow of up to 90 GPM, variable speed control, pressures up to 20 psi and auto cavitation correction. Options for this pump include float and timer controls as well as remote start and stop. Johnson says that both products rate high with craft brewery clients.   

  “For brewing, the Waukesha 30, for barrel work and transfer, is very popular. The Waukesha 2045 Centrifugal is primarily for transfers. A less expensive option for start-ups is the NDP-25 air diaphragm pump. Both will provide about 30 GPM of flow. The Waukesha 30 and the Centrifugal 2045 are electric and can be used in single or three-phase applications. The NDP-25 does require an air compressor to provide its power. For distilling applications only, the air pump can be used in the explosive environment. Please check your local codes for these restrictions. We also offer a full line of valves, fittings and hoses for either application.”  

  Time spent on research is one of the most critical investments for craft breweries when deciding which pump is best for any operation, large or small. Experts agree that a full consultation with an industry specialist is by far the wisest upfront investment that a brewery can make before any money is spent. This important step ensures that the brewery can fully assess pump needs for the long and short term and, with the help of an expert, can objectively navigate through the innumerable pump options on the market. It is the best way to look forward to a return on investment into an essential equipment item that should operate to maximize production efficiency and product quality. 

How to Choose the Right Closures for Your Beer or Spirits

By: Alyssa L. Ochs 

Creating drinkable products in large tanks is just one part of what it takes to run a successful craft beverage business. Brewers and distillers need to find effective, affordable and reliable ways to package their creations. That is where traditional and specialized closures come into play.  

  Choosing the right types of caps, corks and closures depends on a variety of factors. Fortunately, there are some excellent industry-specific products available to get the job done right. 

Overview of Beer Closures  

  There are many ways to seal a beer, depending on the type of container, the beer’s style or brewer’s preferences. Beer closures give your brand more character and can serve a decorative purpose in addition to a purely functional one. For example, for Belgian beer, hooded wires and Belgian beer corks are often used to give beers a traditional and unique appearance. These cork and cage closures set the product apart as a premium style while ensuring safety and freshness.  

  Other beer closures include aluminum closures commonly used for aluminum and glass beer bottles, wire bales for flip tops, plastic screw caps and shrink capsules. You might also choose oxygen-absorbing bottle caps with liners to reduce oxidation in the beer. Meanwhile, there are special screw caps commonly used for growlers. Crown caps are popular in the beer industry because they reduce oxygen egress and can either be twisted off or be pried off with a bottle opener.  

  Tecnocap LLC specializes in closures for the craft beverage market. It is a worldwide metal packaging manufacturer that produces metal closures for plastic containers and glass jars. It is also one of the largest producers of tinplate and aluminum closures and aluminum bottles for many well-known consumer brands.  

  “For the craft beer market, Tecnocap offers the 38/400 continuous thread closure for growlers and is bringing to market a new aluminum closure, similar to a crown, called SuperClosure,” said Richard A. Smith, Tecnocap’s marketing manager. 

  The SuperClosure goes beyond a standard closure. According to Smith, it requires less than half the pressure to apply and works with both twist-off and pry-off bottles. Also, the SuperClosure is made from aluminum, so rust is not an issue, and it can maintain an internal pressure of over 150 psi.   

  “The most significant advantages are to the consumer,” Smith said. “There are no sharp edges as found with a typical tinplate crown. The SuperClosure is comfortable when grasping it to open, and the removal torque is significantly less. The lower removal torque allows for a greater potential market, now including individuals who have difficulty manually opening a beer bottle. The SuperClosure is more costly than typical steel crowns, but the advantages that SuperClosure offers can more than offset the additional cost. If a bottler uses magnetism to hold their crown during capping, Tecnocap can potentially retrofit the cappers, at no cost to the filler, to allow the capper to use an aluminum closure.”   

Overview of Closures for Spirits  

  For craft spirits, there are specialty screw caps commonly used among distilleries to ensure that the contents stay fresh and secure inside the bottle or other type of container. Bar-top, roll-on and swing-top closures are frequently used for spirits. Jarred spirits commonly have tinplate and aluminum continuous thread screw cap closures.  

  Overall, materials for spirit closures range from aluminum to wood, plastic and other synthetic materials. Tasting corks are also an option, with a plastic top and cork base, for temporarily sealing liquor bottles between customer tastings at the distillery.  

  Screw-tops are uncomplicated, screwing on and off easily. Bar-top closures offer more decorative options that highlight a spirit’s brand and set the bottle apart from others on the retail shelf. Roll-on, pilfer-proof closures are tamper-evident to ensure extra security and protection. Swing-top closures are more commonly used for beer and specialty food products, such as olive oil, rather than spirits. 

  “For distilled spirits, Tecnocap offers multiple sizes of continuous thread closures and the Espritbonnet with both a standard and a tamper-evident version,” said Smith. 

  He said that with continuous thread closures, there is a wide range of sizes available with various liners to accommodate essentially any beverage. However, due to the pandemic, custom printed closures have an extended lead time, as has become the norm with many closure manufacturers.  

  Tecnocap’s Espritbonnet closures are designed specifically for sprits to provide a more attractive, upscale appearance. “The tall, reinforced profile was a requirement requested by a customer to eliminate crushing of the closure during application,” Smith said. “The cost of metal is usually more costly than plastic closures, and plastic is found to be the most common alternative to metal closures. However, plastic allows for little-to-no customization and has limitations on its recyclability. Metal can be recycled indefinitely without any loss of functional properties.”   

  O. Berk Kols Containers is another company that serves the craft distillery market and makes closures for spirit bottles. O. Berk has been in the packaging industry for over 100 years and serves various markets, including food and beverages, beauty and personal care, cannabis, healthcare and pharma, household and industrial.  

  Claire Schilling, account executive for O. Berk Kols Containers, told Beverage Master Magazine, “O. Berk Kols Containers offers an array of various bar-top cork closures with synthetic shanks, and we stock a black plastic top, a café brown wood top and a natural wood top cork in our warehouse in both 19.5mm and 22.5mm sizes.” These are commonly used closures in craft spirit distilleries and part of the extensive catalog offered by O. Berk. 

  Shilling told Beverage Master Magazine that choosing the right closure relates to how imperative it is to select the correct size to fit the bottleneck finish. “An 18.5mm neck finish requires a 19.5mm cork, and a 21.5mm neck finish requires a 22.5mm cork,” she said.  

Trends in Craft Beverage Closures  

  Although it may seem like beer and spirit closures serve a basic purpose, there have been innovations in this space during recent years. The needs of craft beverage producers are constantly changing, so equipment suppliers must stay in tune with current demands to be competitive and provide the best service. 

  Smith told Beverage Master Magazine that a notable trend in the craft beer market has to do with the severe shortage of cans available. Cans have been incredibly popular in this industry over the last few years; however, some breweries have turned their attention back to bottles due to can shortages. 

  “Tecnocap also manufactures aluminum beer bottles,” Smith said. “With the bottle and SuperClosure, Tecnocap can offer a complete aluminum package. The aluminum beer bottles can be produced in various sizes, providing the bottles in a single color or highly appealing graphics. The bottles can also be reused.”  

  Schilling said that the primary trend she has noticed is that “craft distillers like to choose corks that are keeping with their brand’s attributes for packaging.” 

Addressing the Issue of Leaks 

  By far, one of the most important issues concerning craft beverage closures is leaks and how to prevent them. Leaks are a significant issue for breweries and distilleries because of wasted product, messes and compromised quality.  

  “The best way to combat leakage would be to ensure the closure and container are compatible and provide a proper fit and that the correct liner is used for the process and the product being filled,” said Smith. “Tecnocap always encourages customers to test the package before placing it into production, and we can offer closures for testing.”   

Schilling said, “There are single-form corks made by manufacturers to counter the leakage issues caused when the cork tops separate from the shanks.” 

Choosing the Best Closures for Your Business  

  As you can see, there is more to closures than one might initially expect, primarily if you work in the craft beverage industry. Closure choices affect total expenditures, product quality and the perception of the brand.  

  However, closures are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to packaging beer and spirits. There are also decisions about bottle size, labels, screen printing, digital printing and other customizations. These components work together to give the packaging the desired look and feel, ultimately setting it up to be enjoyed and remembered with every sip.