Software for Distilleries: What Spirit-Makers Need to Know

As a response to the craft beer boom and the sheer number of breweries operating across the country, there are currently more tech companies working with brewery software than distillery software. There are overlaps in the basic needs of these two industries, and an increasing number of software developers are working to accommodate distillery operations too. However, there are significant distinctions between breweries and distilleries in terms of software needs to keep track of things like proof gallons, angel’s share/evaporation, and barrel aging. This has led to the development of highly specific software that is designed with the unique needs of distillers in mind.

Leading Distillery Software Companies

One prominent leader in the distillery software industry is Whiskey Resources, which offers a comprehensive suite of production, storage, and processing tools for distilleries, including grain-to-glass, contract manufacturers, and rectifiers. Whiskey Systems Online software provides tracking and reporting capabilities for craft distillery operations, thanks to tools vetted by 10 years of front-line distillery experience to save time and maximize efficiency. Beverage Master Magazine interviewed Donald Snyder, the founder and president of Whiskey Resources LLC and Whiskey Systems Online to learn more about the tools he created.

With a strong background in brewing and blending, ZymurTech, LLC created a barrel management system that solely deals with the processes specific to barrel aging. ZymurTech partners Sam Babikian and Brian Cockle told us how they actually started off developing a complete ERP system but ultimately decided to minimize their scope to focus on a pure barrel management solution instead. This approach is unique because it addresses the issue that many ERP systems don’t have an adequate barrel aging component since they’re primarily concerned with supply chain, accounting, and production matters.

We also connected with the software teams at HoochWare, ProcessPro, and Repsly to get a sense of what other software developers are doing in this industry. For example, Hoochware’s software solutions focus on record keeping to prevent compliance and management issues, inventory management, and simplified reporting. ProcessPro’s Distillery ERP software was created to help distilleries plan and manage production, ensure consistency and quality control, maintain record keeping and compliance, and keep costs down. And Repsly’s software is designed to increase transparency with customers, implement point-of-sale invoicing, and increase team accountability to improve service.

Stillhouse is another distillery management software company based in Westminster, Colorado that aims to handle inventory management, production tracking, TTB report filing, and employee action accountability. Meanwhile, ShipCompliant by Sovos offers software solutions for distributor reporting, registrations, and data visibility.

Software Options for Distilleries

Although every distillery’s needs are a bit unique, these are some of the most popular features being offered through distillery software right now:
• Operations Tracking
• Sales Tools / CRM
• Barrel Management
• Distiller’s Chalkboard
• Customer Pricing and Invoicing
• Issue and Track Purchase Orders
• Track Raw Material Inventory and Usage
• Business Development Tools
• Tour Scheduling
• Simplified TTB Reporting
• TTB Audit Preparation
• COGS and Cost/Proof Gallon Tracking
• Barrel Warehouse Management
• Distributor Reporting
• Registrations
• Data Visibility
• Managing Stock Holdings
• Mobile Forms
• Mobile CRM
• GPS Location Tracking
• Photo Capture
• Invoice Management
• Client Portal
• Appointment Scheduling
• Team Messaging and Billboard
• Time and Mileage Tracking
• Electronic Signature Capture

Uses and Benefits of Software in Distilleries
Donald Snyder of Whiskey Systems Online told Beverage Master Magazine, “The biggest software need for distilleries is a tool to quickly track everything that is done in the distillery from raw materials used to bottles shipped out the door, summarize the monthly data, and put all the numbers into the right boxes on the monthly TTB reports.” It is a significant challenge for distilleries of all sizes to stay in full compliance with the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), and this is where software really offers an advantage.

Small start-up distilleries often choose to build their own spreadsheets and use internal tracking systems. But this is a time-consuming and risky option that offers no guarantees that the TTB reports are completed correctly. Since filing inaccurate reports and not paying enough excise tax can result in interest accrual, penalties, or even being forced to shut down, software solutions can take the guesswork out of complying with federal regulations.

Whiskey Systems Online has modules and tools for distilleries at every stage of development. “We’ve got new business development and profit and loss forecasting tools for distillers in the planning phase, production tracking and reporting tools for small distilleries, and advanced cost accounting modules for larger, more established distilleries,” Snyder said.

With clients that manage just 70 barrels and others that manage thousands, ZymurTech developed Barret-IT to increase the visibility of what is happening in your oak cellar – nothing more, nothing less. “From the logistical aspects of receiving barrels, filling them, blending them, locating them, emptying them, and reusing or selling them off, can all be done with a few clicks,” Babikian and Cockle told Beverage Master Magazine.

“Our Quality Control module can be used to track different post fermentation/distillation data attributes and assures that only barrels of a certain quality go into the final product. The Scoring module can be used for group sensory analysis to help determine specific attributes or characteristic of each barrel. The data from these modules can then be used to help create a blended plan or a product release. The system not only tells you where your barrels are physically located but what’s been in them and what additions, if any, were added. It tracks the complete history of each barrel or as we say ‘who did what to it when and where.’”

Shawn Patrick, the founder and developer of HoochWare in Athens, Georgia, shared with us that most distilleries need accessible, reliable, accurate, and scalable solutions to meet their growing & stringent demands. HoochWare is being utilized by start-ups and also well-established distilleries in different parts of the world.

“We do find that if distilleries adopt a software solution early on, it allows them to see the true benefits,” Patrick said. “This is because our solution is designed for all the nuances of the management process, so it prevents the distillery’s day-to-day activities from getting out of hand. As they learn and perfect their craft of making great hooch, they also learn and perfect the art of managing it.”

A veteran full-stack software developer developed HoochWare, but it was directed by seasoned distillers who were in the trenches every day and understand what it takes to run a successful distillery.
“In the end, it’s our duty to help all size distilleries save time and money by placing the latest technologies directly in their hands,” Patrick said. “The easier it is to run the distilleries the more focus they can put into make good tasting artisan liquor.”

Kate Orbeck of ProcessPro told Beverage Master Magazine that distilleries look to her company because of their experience in batch process manufacturing. What they can offer distilleries is software solutions with inventory, traceability, regulatory and analytic needs. These solutions are best-suited for small and mid-sized distilleries that can scale from start-ups to well-established businesses.

“Businesses appreciate our holistic approach,” Orbeck explained. “We are a U.S.-based company and deliver under the ‘power of one’ mantra as we develop, sell, implement, and support our solutions. This is what companies are searching for, in that both the product and services are relevant to their industry rather than sacrificing one for the other.”
Distilleries come to Repsly in search of better visibility and control over the work their teams do in the field. Whether distilleries use field sales teams to get their spirits into bars and retailers, brand ambassadors to host in-store tastings, or field merchandising teams to win at retail, software can help everyone stay organized.

“Reps need a mobile app they can use to stay organized and do their job on the go,” explained Frank Brogie of Repsly. “Managers, on the other hand, typically want a solution that will help them track their reps’ activity, as well as report on it in real time. Repsly combines both of those needs in one simple solution.”

Unlike some of the other options available, Repsly uses social media paradigms to capture data and log activity in the field. This is done in a similar way to Tweeting or posting on Instagram. “For sales and marketing managers, what would set Repsly apart from other solutions are the reports Repsly automatically creates based on a team’s activity in the field,” Brogie said. “With just a glance, managers can see their entire team’s activity on the map, as well as any missed appointments, big sales, or other team achievements. When it comes time to develop strategy and set goals, managers can pull their entire team’s metrics in seconds.”

Challenges of Implementing
Software in Distilleries

But of course, implementing software into an existing distillery doesn’t come without its fair share of challenges. Snyder told us that the biggest challenge his company faces when transitioning distilleries onto the platform is when their previous system was reporting incorrectly, or not reporting at all.

“Whether they were using an internally built spreadsheet, a different commercially available system that was generating bad data, or if they weren’t using any system, we help distilleries clean up the mistakes of the past,” Snyder explained. “We can even come onsite to help amend incorrect past reports, get caught up on any underpayment of tax, and get on the right foot going forward.”

ZymurTech’s Babikian and Cockle say the biggest challenge in this industry is cultural. Most software implementations drive real process changes in the way businesses operate. The next hurdle after this is the learning curve, because even with good training materials and documentation, these things take time and require users to go in and start using the system. The partners also say that ERP systems have often been too costly for distillers to afford and that their rigid designs are not always customizable.

Patrick of HoochWare says that time is the biggest challenge that distilleries have faced while trying to implement software because both large and small distilleries have very little of it on their hands. Distilleries initially contact companies like this because they have an issue to solve but don’t have the time or resources to conquer it on their own.
“Most distilleries come to us with one major pain-point: how to fill out the complicated and time-consuming monthly TTB reports,” Patrick said.

This is because new distilleries need to navigate the three monthly-required reports, production, storage, and processing. But once distilleries get help with the reports and learn more about what software can do for them, they quickly realize that they need much more than just TTB reporting, such as help with inventory control, production management, purchasing, invoicing, and accounting.

Change management is the main challenge that has arisen when working with ProcessPro’s software.
“Companies implementing our solution must understand that modernizing their systems means changing habits, incorporating best practices and centralizing information is the key to meeting their goals of improving inventory management, reducing paperwork, lowering risk, creating meaningful analytics, and mobilizing both executives and production workers alike,” Orbeck said.

For Repsly, the biggest challenge they’ve seen is training reps on the mobile software and convincing them to buy into a new process. The company has tried to remedy this challenge by making the app familiar. Reps can simply download it, log in, and get to work.

“Features like comments, messaging, and checking-in at locations are immediately familiar to reps, making Repsly one of the easiest team management solutions a company can implement,” Brogie said.

Final Words of Advice

The general consensus from these industry experts is that software is becoming an essential tool for distilleries of all sizes and in all stages of operation. The software options available to distilleries today are greater than ever before and only getting more impressive by the year. It may take some trial and error to find a good fit, but in the end, there’s no place for manual spreadsheets and guesswork in the modern distilling business.

“Hands-on distillery management and actual TTB audit experience is the key to a successful, auditable [sic], and easy-to-use craft distillery management system,” advised Snyder. “If the CEO or founder of your distillery management solution or software doesn’t have any significant hands-on distillery management experience, it is time to find another system.”

Babikian and Cockle advise companies that unless they plan on writing the program themselves, they shouldn’t look for something that works exactly the way they think it should.

“Put together a list of features that is important to you and try to find one the hits most of what is on that list,” they recommend. “For the ones that are not on the list think about how you might be able to change or adapt your process to make it work. When you talk to software companies find out their response times for how quickly they can patch or update problems – no software is perfect, they all have bugs in there somewhere. Lastly, see how perceptive they are to adding functionality and future changes or new ideas. If your idea is one that would help other clients as well and make the overall application better that should be enough incentive for them to add it to their roadmap for a future release. I know Barrel-IT would not have the functionality or be where it is today had we not listened to our clients.”

Patrick’s final piece of advice was to “Find a software solution that makes sense to you and your team that conforms to your vision and meets your goals. Then adopt it early and stick to it.”

“The main piece of advice I’ve given distilleries is to truly understand their critical business needs and core objectives when selecting ERP software,” Orbeck said. “I’ve seen many projects miss this in the selection process and end up with a solution that didn’t align with their core objectives and ultimately resolved in a failed project.”

Brogie advises that when evaluating new software, don’t just compare on-the-box features, but consider culture and usability as well. Regardless of how many features a software system has, it’s not productive if a distillery has to waste time fighting with it instead of growing the business.

“Look for a software that instead empowers your team to spend more time doing what they love,” Brogie said. “At the end of the day, software that feels natural and noninvasive will do more for your business than one that dominates your time.”