Growing Your Distillery to Meet Demand

By: Kris Bohm: Distillery Now, LLC

Years ago, it all started with the dream of your own whiskey. Through meticulous planning, hard work, blood, sweat and tears your dream of a craft distillery became a reality. Then the real work began, with long days and nights of distilling. Barrels were filled with whiskey and tucked away to age. The whiskey aged and what came out of the barrels was not only delicious but loved by all those who tasted it. The distillery you dreamed of and built up is no longer in its infancy. The spirits of your distillery have been embraced by the public and sales growth is strong. Now here comes the harsh reality. The whiskey your distillery has created and the brand that you built up does not have enough supply to meet demand. The problem gets worse as your equipment is nearly maxed out, since you started with a small budget and limited equipment. With no immediate way to keep up with the demand for your whiskey, you stand at a crossroad where critical questions arise and important decisions must be made.

  How will you meet a demand for whiskey that greatly outstrips supply?

The good news is there are solutions that can allow your business to sustain the growth curve. We will take time to consider the problem in detail, by examining the routes others have taken to solve this exact problem. Some solutions presented here are simple and inexpensive, while other growth options are costly and complex. To help prepare you for the future, let’s break down production growth options with pros and cons of each option to help you find the optimal path to grow your business.

  Outsource Your Problem:  There are companies who produce spirits that are already aged, finished and ready to go in your bottles. Sourcing whiskey from another distillery is the most direct path to an abundance of ready to bottle spirits. Barrels of aged spirits can be obtained faster than producing them yourself and in large quantities. In some cases, distilleries will blend their whiskey with sourced whiskey to stretch their house made supply for the short term. Barrels of aged whiskey are often expensive per proof gallon, but this is certainly the quick route to continue to meet your growing demand.

  Is sourcing whiskey the right choice? If more whiskey is needed immediately, it is likely that sourcing is your only option.

Bringing in aged whiskey from another distillery is an immediate solution to fulfill the demand you worked so hard to create and certainly do not want to lose. Sourcing is the least expensive path forward worth considering. When it comes to cost, other than buying the whiskey, there is no requirement to spend money on equipment when you source whiskey.

  What is the downside to sourcing? Sourcing will require a change in label to disclose the use of sourced spirits.

Spirits from another distillery are unlikely to have identical flavor profile to spirits distilled by your distillery. This can be a challenge if your whiskey has a unique flavor profile.

Sourced spirits are not always received well by an increasingly aware consumer and furthermore may require changes to your marketing story to match the sourced spirits.

  Make More Whiskey: If there is room in your existing distillery to grow, producing more whiskey is often the most logical decision to meet growing demand. The addition of another still, or a stripping still, and more fermenters may be the best choice for you. An equipment addition can greatly increase your output. The decision to add equipment is often the first step a distillery will take to increase output. To grow in this way, a distillery must have additional capacity to add this equipment. Additional capacity is measured several different ways.

  First things first, do you have the space to grow? Additional space is needed to add the equipment, raw materials, and more barrels. A bigger still, more fermenters, and many more barrels of whiskey need to go somewhere and the space must be found first and foremost. The second constraint of additional capacity is heating and cooling. The boiler and chiller must have enough capacity to heat and cool the additional equipment, without overly stressing the equipment. If you have the additional capacity, let’s weigh  the pros and cons of going this route.

  Upside of Adding Production Capacity: The addition of new distilling equipment can greatly increase output of spirits produced daily. This allows you to continue producing your product from grain to glass, and maintains existing flavor profiles and processes to produce the exact spirits you are after. The addition of another still and fermenters is not nearly as expensive as an entirely new distillery build out, as long as the boiler and chiller have capacity for additional load.New equipment added to existing equipment can quickly increase output to work toward catching up with demand.

  Downside of Adding Production Capacity: The new still you add will be hungry and more spirits mean you need more raw materials. Increasing production will invariably increase operating expenses. This sharp increase in spending on raw materials, like grain and whiskey barrels, must be planned for in advance to ensure you have the capital to produce more spirits.Adding a new still will take months to procure, install, and get it up and running. This means it will be sometime before you are able to increase output. An extra still will certainly increase output, but may not be a big enough increase to meet demand in the coming years. This leads to a critical question one must carefully consider when planning to add capacity. Will this planned addition of equipment meet the expected demand in growth for the next 5 years?If the answer to this question is no then it is worth considering jumping into the big leagues of distilling whiskey with a continuous column still.

  Big Distillery Growth: For many distilleries that are making good spirits, they hit a ceiling rather quickly in their whiskey production that requires the consideration to build a new, larger facility to produce enough. If your distillery is on a growth track that many distilleries are currently seeing of +100% growth of sales year over year, the addition of another batch still may not meet your long term demand. Sales growth at this rate requires a massive jump in output of spirits that the addition of another still can not meet. You can look up to nearly any whiskey producer in America where their products are found nationwide and you will find they distill their spirits on a continuous column still. A continuous column still has a proof gallon output level that far exceeds the daily output of even the largest batch stills. There are many unique challenges that come with operating a continuous column still, but their capacity is massive in comparison to pot stills. If your distillery needs large production quantities to keep up with fast growing sales, a continuous column should be considered.

  The Mighty Continuous Still: The output of a single pass continuous still can easily produce seven hundred proof gallons of whiskey in 8 hours. Continuous column stills are extremely efficient and require less labor and energy cost per proof gallon produced. More proof gallons per pound of grain can be distilled on a continuous column still versus with a batch still as well. Distilleries running a continuous column often have excess capacity and can use that capacity to contract distill and create additional revenue streams. This means you have room to grow in your own production as needed.

  Downside of the Continuous: The manufacture, build out, and installation of a continuous column is a much more expensive project than the simple addition of a batch still. Producing large quantities of distilled spirits requires large amounts of raw materials and its downright expensive to operate. Distilling spirits on a continuous column requires an abundance of operating capital to purchase grain and barrels to keep the still running. When running a continuous column and producing dozens of barrels weekly, the need to store those barrels becomes a new challenge. A large barrel storage area or rickhouse is a must when planning to operate a continuous column.

  What is the Best Choice for You? First off, let’s take a moment and celebrate! You have built a successful distillery with growing demand. Hats off to you and your team as this is a massive accomplishment.

  Where to go from here is a daunting decision as the long term success of your business very well hinges on it. Careful planning and consideration is key here as you plan to make this critical decision. There are plenty of options and ways to go to create the opportunity for your distillery to grow. Long term strategic planning must be employed if the next stage of growth is going to work to support your business. If you are unsure which path is the right one for you, drop us a line and let’s talk about it.  Dream big and plan well for it.

  Kris Bohm runs Distillery Now Consulting and has helped oversee expansions for several distilleries. When he is not distilling Kris can be found racing cyclocross or defending his beer mile record.

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