Keg Washing: Working Smarter to Conquer an Essential Brewery Task

kegs on conveyor belt going through wash machine

By: Cheryl Gray

Imagine a dried egg inside a frying pan. Then, imagine the bacteria that immediately begins to grow because you’ve left the problem to fester, and, well, you know the rest.

  The same premise holds true when cleaning the kegs for your brewery. If the job is not done properly, breweries are setting themselves up for all kinds of safety and hygiene problems, both inside and outside the keg. Ensuring that beer is safe to consume is not an option. It is a must.

  Beer products are very sensitive to any outside contamination. Even tiny traces of bacteria or other contaminants can ruin an entire batch of beer, costing breweries money in lost time, resources and, of course, product. 

  There are some key differences in cleaning the outside of a keg versus the inside. Cleaning the inside of a keg involves focusing on removing any beer residue, bacteria or contaminants. Success in this area can ensure that the beer dispensed maintains the quality its brewer intended and is safe to drink. A proper external cleaning, of course, guarantees the removal of any contamination or dirt that may be present on the outside surface of the keg.

  While properly cleaning beer kegs is not an impossible task, choosing the wrong cleaning apparatus can be costly on all fronts. If you choose kegs for your beer products, knowing how to protect your customers from contamination is the job of expert companies with solutions that can help. Many breweries are opting for automatic solutions to clean and sanitize their kegs.

  Fillmore Packaging Solutions, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, promises affordable solutions for keg washing designed for craft breweries of all sizes. Since owner Tony Saballa founded the company more than twenty years ago, it has focused on perfecting the mechanical side of production. Saballa says his company is all in when it comes to automatic keg washers.

  “We don’t offer manual keg washers since they typically require the same amount of labor and cost to construct as fully automated washers. We also have found that manual washers often have variable outputs with wash quality issues due to operator missteps and errors.

  Our keg washers are built to completely automate the washing process utilizing state-of-the-art UL certified electronics. Automation simplifies the washing process so brewers can apply their attention to other tasks.”

  Saballa adds that Fillmore’s keg washers are UL Certified and constructed to meet the UL508a safety code standards for the United States and Canada. The washers are constructed at the company’s St. Louis manufacturing facility.

  “We aim to deliver American-made automation that functions to the highest standards at a cost that is affordable for both startups and expanding breweries.”

  Saballa points out some major mistakes that brewers make when it comes to keg washing and how Fillmore can steer them in the right direction. One major error, Saballa says, is overdoing the cleaning process. He says that more is not better in the case of keg washing.

  “Here at Fillmore, we often find that brewers tend to over-concentrate their cleaning and sanitizing solutions, sometimes using double and triple the manufacturer recommended usage rates. More is not better. This increases the operational cost, and safety for the operator must also be taken into consideration. Other factors that exist are the accelerated wear on pumps, valves, seals and gaskets, which can lead to down time and costly repairs.”

  Saballa explains how Fillmore’s keg washers are built to operate on a special voltage and designed for different breweries of different sizes. 

  “This is important since most new breweries are not located in industrial zones. Single-phase machinery offers a solution for brewers operating in areas where three-phase power is inaccessible or installation would be cost-prohibitive.”

  Each Fillmore keg washer operates on either 120v or 220v AC and compressed air and is capable of handling advanced pressurized CO2. Equipped with an enhanced design and technologically advanced features, the semi-auto keg washers include a fully programmable interface designed for customized operation, high-capacity cleaning and advanced sanitizing for brewery kegs.

  Another company specializing in keg washers is Craftmaster Stainless, headquartered in Rancho Cordova, California. The company manufactures production equipment for multiple beverage industries, including beer, cider, wine, spirits and coffee. Its clients range from small craft brewers to large global producers. With more than two decades of experience in stainless steel fabrication, the company’s team has the capability to custom-design and build commercial beer brewing equipment.

  When it comes to cleaning kegs, Craftmaster Stainless offers the Keggernaut Semi-Automatic Keg Washer. The product features a Siemens interface that gives breweries full state-of-the-art touch control over temperature settings and wash cycle timing. 

  The Kerrernaut is equipped with dual cleaning stations designed to wash two kegs of any size.    It can clean up to 40 kegs an hour, contingent upon the length of the wash cycle. The user-friendly features allow the kegs to simply be inverted, automatically washed, sanitized and pressurized in minutes. This semi-auto beer keg cleaning equipment allows for a quick and easy option to increase productivity. 

  Craftmaster Stainless offers its customers lifetime support on all commercial brewing equipment. It also provides custom designs for its microbrewery clients. 

  Keg washers are also available from Alpha Brewing Operations. The company, headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, provides fully automated options for an entire brewery. Its automation options from breweries range from semi-auto to what the company calls its fully automated package. The works include features such as a large touchscreen interface and connectivity options with mobile devices.

  For keg washing, Alpha Brewing Operations offers a product called the Alpha “Wash Dog Junior.”  It is an affordable, compact, automatic version of the company’s larger and fully automatic counterpart. The “Junior” is still highly automated but requires manual coupling to kegs and comes in a smaller package. This smaller keg washer is designed to fit into the tight budgets and tight spaces of startups and small breweries.

  Keg washers are also available from international manufacturers, such as Comac, which has its headquarters in Italy. Comac has several varieties of external keg washers, capable of washing anywhere from 30 to more than 1,000 kegs per hour. Comac offers customized keg-washing solutions for breweries of all sizes.

  Comac’s most compact keg washer is only about six and a half feet long, including a single section and one track. The company touts it as an ideal option for hot or recycled water washing. There is a larger option that performs multiple tasks for keg washing, such as pre-washing with recycled water, washing with a caustic solution to remove hard-to-clean dirt and a final rinse with clean water.

  For larger production facilities, Comac offers a dual-track keg washer to boost cleaning capacity. Other features include easy and cost-effective maintenance, quick changeover ability and savings in water consumption. Other options available for large production lines include a separate skid for components, such as pumps, valves and heat exchangers to simplify cleaning and maintenance.

  Experts agree that keg washing, inside and out, protects the beer and the consumers who buy it. For breweries large and small, the task is an inevitable necessity made easier by automated machinery designed to make a mundane task easier to manage while increasing safeguards against cross-contamination.

Testing the (Still) Waters

By: Tod Stewart

A 30-year friendship solidified by a passion for whisky, a desire to put this passion into practise, and a determination to break new distilling ground in an environment where practically everything was against them – welcome to the story of Barry Bernstein and Barry Stein (affectionally known a “the two Barrys”) and the evolution of Ontario’s Still Waters Distillery. It’s a story that should inspire craft distillers around the world – and entrepreneurial types thinking about joining the ranks.

  Today, Still Waters Distillery continues to grow and its flagship – STALK&BARREL Canadian Whisky – should soon be available nationally across Canada, and plans are in the works to expand distribution into the US market. Beverage Master Magazine caught up with the Barrys to talk about past challenges, current successes, and future plans.

* BMBeverage Master Magazine

BM:  Initially, your venture involved importing whisky in bulk for blending. And, again, if my recollection is correct, you ran into some regulatory hurdles. Assuming I’m correct on both counts, can you elaborate a bit on this part of your past?

Barry Stein: Our initial venture, in 2005, was as an independent bottler of scotch for the Canadian market. We were importing single casks of scotch and bottling here in Canada. We were, at first, restricted to selling scotch in an “adulterated” fashion – by adding one per cent domestic whisky to comply with an obscure Canadian law. This meant we couldn’t call it scotch, which presented some marketing challenges. After much negotiation, we were able to finally get permission to bottle without blending, but that was short lived as the Scotch Whisky Association brought in rules that prohibited the bulk export of scotch for bottling purposes outside of Scotland.

BM: When did you decide to actually create a distillery? Though the regulatory landscape for small distillers has changed a bit over the years, what challenges did you face – both physically and regulatory – in setting up your operation?

Barry Bernstein: While struggling with our importing business, we were also seeing the growing small distillery industry in the US. It was clear that our importing business was not sustainable, with the regulatory restrictions, and we thought there was an opportunity to be the first craft distillery in Ontario and one of the first in Canada. We opened the doors to our distillery in 2009 after a great deal of work with the Canada Revenue Agency – CRA – on federal licensing.

BM: Where there issues with the CRA?

Barry Bernstein: The local CRA office had never seen a small scale distillery, and it required extensive documentation and due diligence. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario – AGCO – had rules that only allowed large distilleries to sell direct to the public, and the only sales channel available to us, The Liquor Control Board of Ontario – LCBO – hadn’t dealt with a small local spirits producer, and it gave us no preferential treatment, expecting the same from us as it would a large multinational brand. Our local municipality relied on building code regulations that only described large scale distilleries, which forced us to invest heavily in facility upgrades. At every level of government there were significant challenges, but the constant “you cannot do that” only strengthened our resolve. We were determined to prove everyone wrong.

BM: Was your aim always to make whisky, or were you interested in a broader range of spirits – or was it the case that you were more or less forced to produce other spirits until your whisky was legally old enough to be called whisky?

Barry Stein: When we started, our focus was on whisky. But, by Canadian law, that requires a minimum of three years maturation, so we made vodka as well. By virtue of being the first in Ontario, we also attracted attention from others looking to get into the business, and we did both contract distilling and bottling. This gave us an opportunity to make different vodkas, gins, whiskies, liqueurs, and so forth.

BM: Sounds like you certainly gave the various authorities pause to reconsider what could and couldn’t be done. Have things got any easier for craft distillers from a regulatory standpoint?

Barry Stein: The ability to sell direct, which didn’t exist when we started, was significant. There has been some small wins on the taxation front, but it is still very difficult to be profitable. For us, the most significant changes have been the growth of the industry. Everyone now understands what a craft distiller is, and it is a lot easier to make noise as a group than as an individual.

Barry Bernstein: Our biggest challenge is taxation, federally and provincially, that take the vast majority of the sale proceeds. Canadian excise rates for spirits are ridiculously high. We’d like to see reduced rates across the board, and special rates or graduated rates for small producers, similar to what is in the US – or even in Canada for wine and beer producers. Though small producers can now sell direct to the public – which took years of work to make happen – significant distribution can only occur through the government run liquor stores, and it remains a difficult sales channel for a small player.

BM: Would tapping into the export market help you bypass the stranglehold of Canadian liquor boards?

Barry Bernstein: My role at Still Waters Distillery is primarily new business development, and I can say there are plans being made as we speak to be launched in the USA, which we are very excited about. We should have more details on this later on this year. In the meantime, I think it’s important that we focus on core competencies, and that is making truly great tasting Canadian whisky. We have perfected the STALK&BARREL Canadian Whisky blend and this brand is gaining significant distribution, which includes Ontario, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Alberta. Hopefully STALK&BARREL will be nationally distributed across Canada the near future.

BM: It’s said there’s strength in numbers. Have you collaborated with other distilleries or joined any trade organizations that are pushing for things like excise parity?

Barry Stein: We founded the Ontario Craft Distillers Association and are a member of national organizations. These organizations are more directly helpful to our clients, the brand owners, but that indirectly helps us. The more our clients prosper, the better we do.

BM: Are there any plans to expand production facilities in the future, or perhaps change locations?

Barry Stein: Yes, although we are still working on a plan. We have been increasing our production capacity incrementally. Our space is very tight and is an ongoing challenge. We actually have three facilities (production, bonded storage and non-bonded storage) and are looking at consolidating in a single location. We expect to have some definite plans by the end of year.

BM: Can you give us a sneak peek as to what new SWD spirits may be in the works?

Barry Bernstein: I think right now we are focusing on the rebrand of STALK&BARREL Canadian Whisky. This brand is definitely getting noticed by whisky lovers and cocktail enthusiasts. STALK&BARREL Canadian Whisky is now the Official Canadian whisky of Golf Canada, so with the RBC Canadian Open in June, and CP Women’s Open in August, we are ramping up production to meet the anticipated demand.

  With the ongoing expansion of the Still Waters Distillery – and growing market for its balanced, warm, vanilla and butterscotch-tinged flagship STALK&BARREL Canadian Whisky, not to mention the Golf Canada partnership – the “two Barrys” appear to have hit a Canadian distilling hole-in-one.

Uncorking Accessibility:  Ensuring Your Website Complies with the ADA

By: Vanessa Ing, Farella Braun + Martel

In today’s digital age, having an online presence is crucial for businesses, including wineries, breweries, and other beverage companies. Accordingly, it’s essential to ensure that your beverage website meets federal standards for accessibility to avoid lawsuits and fines. In this article, we will help beverage companies understand how to comply with federal law and implement accessible features on their websites.

Why is web accessibility important?

In 1990, Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It prohibits businesses open to the public (otherwise known as “public accommodations”) from discriminating against people with disabilities in everyday activities. These everyday activities can include purchasing goods and services, or offering employment opportunities. 

In March 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice issued web accessibility guidance, reiterating that ensuring web accessibility for people with disabilities is a priority for the Department. Relying on the ADA’s prohibition against discrimination and its mandate to provide equal access, Department of Justice emphasized that the ADA’s requirements apply to all the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered on the web. The Department of Justice’s guidance was particularly timely given that many services moved online during the pandemic. 

In its guidance, the Department of Justice explained that people with disabilities navigate the web in different ways: for example, those with visual impairments might require a screen reader that reads aloud text to the audience.  Those with auditory impairments might require closed-captioning software, while those with impaired motor skills might require voice recognition software.  A website, therefore, should be compatible with the full range of such software. 

Is your beverage company a “public accommodation” business?

Public accommodations include businesses that sell goods and services, establishments serving food and drink, and places of recreation or public gathering.  Companies that sell drinks, wineries that offer a tasting room, or breweries that host events are all considered public accommodations.  Thus, those businesses’ websites must comply with the ADA by being accessible to people with disabilities.  

It is an open question whether beverage companies without a physical location open to the public must still have ADA-compliant websites. Some jurisdictions, like the Ninth Circuit (which has jurisdiction over Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington), have tied the necessity of ADA-compliant websites to the existence of a brick-and-mortar location (Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC). However, the Department of Justice, along with several federal circuit courts of appeals, has taken the position that even a public accommodation business without a physical location must have an ADA-compliant website.  

Given the increased prevalence of online-only services open to the public, it is very likely that litigation over the next few years may resolve this open question.  In the meantime, it is wise for beverage companies to take preventative caution and ensure that their websites are accessible.  

What are some website accessibility barriers?

To ensure ADA compliance, beverage companies must be aware of common website accessibility barriers.  These include poor color contrast, lack of descriptive text on images and videos, mouse-only navigation, and more.  By addressing these barriers, beverage companies can enhance the user experience for people with disabilities.

Six examples of website accessibility barriers highlighted in the DOJ’s accessibility guidance include:

  • Poor Color Contrast: Ensure sufficient color contrast between text and background to aid individuals with visual impairments or color blindness. Use color combinations that are easy to distinguish.
  • Use of Color Alone to Give Information:  Avoid using color alone to provide information.  Using color alone can be very disorienting for someone who is visually impaired or colorblind.  Someone who is colorblind might not be able to distinguish between shades of gray.  One solution might be to ensure that symbols conveying information are differently shaped.  
  • Lack of Descriptive Alternative Text for Images and Videos: Provide descriptive text (alt text) for images and videos, allowing screen readers to convey the information to visually impaired users. This makes your content more accessible and inclusive.
  • No Closed Captions on Videos: Include closed captions for videos to accommodate individuals with hearing impairments. Utilize manual or automatic captioning options and review the captions for accuracy.  Free options are available on the web.
  • Inaccessible Online Forms: Make online forms user-friendly for people with disabilities. Provide clear instructions before the form, ensure that a screen reader could recognize required fields and fields with special formatting, ensure keyboard-only navigation, use accessible labels for inputs, and display clear error messages.  Note that an image-based CAPTCHA is not a fully accessible way to secure your form; your CAPTCHA should offer users who are visually impaired an audio alternative.
  • Mouse-Only Navigation: Enable keyboard-only navigation on your website to assist individuals with motor skill impairments or those who cannot use a mouse or see a mouse pointer on the screen.  Make sure all interactive elements can be accessed using the tab, enter, spacebar, or arrow keys.  Use a “Skip to Main Content” link to ensure that users employing only a keyboard can easily navigate the website’s primary content. 

To implement these features, beverage companies should discuss accessibility concerns upfront with the web developer.  Beverage companies should keep in mind that posting a phone number on a website to call for assistance, as commonly utilized by businesses, does not sufficiently provide equal access to the website and the services or goods provided.

Who can sue beverage companies?

Non-compliance with ADA standards can lead to potential lawsuits.  Although some courts have held that a nexus must exist between a private plaintiff’s disability and the web accessibility barrier claimed, a private plaintiff may easily surf the web for websites that are inaccessible.  A private plaintiff may then file a lawsuit in federal court without first notifying the business.  Further, liability under the ADA is strict, which means that the intent of the business to comply is immaterial.  Thus, it is prudent for beverage companies to proactively address accessibility issues to avoid potential legal troubles.  

Private lawsuits under the ADA can result in injunctive relief (a court order to comply with the ADA) and attorney fees.  And in some states, like California, the state law version of the ADA may enable plaintiffs to demand monetary damages ($4,000 per violation of the ADA). 

Government involvement, while less frequent, is possible in cases involving national retailers.  If the Department of Justice observes a pattern or practice of discrimination, the Department will attempt to negotiate a settlement, and may bring suit on behalf of the United States. At stake are fines of up to $75,000 for the first ADA violation, and up to $150,000 for each subsequent violation.

What are the rules for website accessibility?

Although the ADA itself does not spell out the rules for website accessibility, several sources provide detailed rules that can aid beverage companies in building accessible websites. 

First, the ADA authorizes the Department of Justice to enforce the statute.  Accordingly, the Department develops and issues regulations explaining how businesses must comply.  Specifically, § 36.303 of the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations specifies that a public accommodation shall provide auxiliary aids and services when necessary to ensure effective communication with people with disabilities, and that a public accommodation should consult with people with disabilities whenever possible.  The Department also issues administrative guidance, such as its March 2022 guidance described above.  

Second, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities, provides detailed guidance concerning the display screen ratios, status indicators, audio signals, and other accessibility features. 

Third, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1), which were originally designed by a consortium of four universities, provide highly specific web accessibility guidelines grounded on the idea that information on the web must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.  These guidelines are widely referenced in court cases and settlements with the Department of Justice, as the guidelines address numerous aspects of web accessibility and offer three different levels of conformance (A, AA, AAA). Beverage companies can consult the WCAG 2.1 guidelines (including a customizable quick reference guide, at https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/quickref/) to ensure their websites meet ADA compliance. 

Looking Ahead

Web accessibility standards evolve over time, with updates being released periodically. Beverage companies should stay informed about changes and updates to ADA compliance regulations. For example, the WCAG 3.0 is scheduled for release in the latter half of 2023, further refining accessibility guidelines.

In sum, by understanding and identifying web accessibility barriers, and implementing necessary accessibility features, beverage companies can enhance user experiences and minimize the risk of legal repercussions. Embracing web accessibility is not only legally required but economically prudent in the long run, as it enables beverage companies to cater to a broad and varied audience, and demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity in the digital realm.

Vanessa Ing is a litigation associate with Farella Braun + Martel and can be reached at ving@fbm.com. Farella is a Northern California law firm representing corporate and private clients in sophisticated business and real estate transactions and complex commercial, civil and criminal litigation. The firm is headquartered in San Francisco with an office in the Napa Valley that is focused on the wine industry.

Financial Literacy Training

By: Kary at Beerbusinessfinance.com

Financial literacy is the ability to read and understand the most important numbers in your beer business.

Financial literacy training starts with practical and actionable ideas that you can use right away to improve financial results.

All of our financial training is for non-financial owners and managers.

Here’s how our financial literacy training works:

Quarterly financial meetings

You’re invited to join our beer wholesaler financial round-table meetings.

Network with peers, share best practices, and learn specific ways to improve financial results. Right away.

Library of wholesaler financial training courses

Access over a dozen wholesaler financial training courses.

Learn how to build your budget, build your key metrics dashboard, create (or update) your wholesaler business plan, and more.

Weekly beer wholesaler financial newsletter

Each week you’ll receive financial tools and resources straight to your inbox.

Examples of topics covered: Key drivers of wholesaler cash flow, sales growth strategies, cost cutting processes that work, and much more.

Beer wholesaler webinars, workshops and podcasts

Join our webinars and workshops (or watch the replays). This is your opportunity to hear from the best of the best in the beer industry.

Past topics: How to improve gross profit, beer wholesaler budgeting workshop, the latest technology and software.

Planning templates, models, and spreadsheets

We’ve got models to help you create your sales forecast, analyze gross profit, track cash flow, and much more.

If you’re ready to learn more about beer wholesaler cash flow, net operating income, and (wait for it…) EBITDA, now is the time to invest in your financial literacy training. 

Yours in financial literacy,

Kary

P.S. Interested in learning more about our beer business financial training programs? Book a time for a 15-minute talk. 

The Distillation, Maturation & Blending of Whiskey

Single Malt Whiskey Part 2

photo of whiskey glass half full on rock

By: Kris Bohm: Distillery Now Consulting, LLC  

Welcome to Part 2 of my article on the technical breakdown of the production of single malt whiskey. If you missed the first half of this article Technical Breakdown for Single Malt Whiskey Production, grab the last issue of Beverage Master Magazine, give it a read then come back right here to read the second half. Single Malt is an amazing, distilled spirit that is produced in countries all around the world and it can be made utilizing many different methods. This article will focus on a method of production employed throughout Scotland and also by some distilleries in the United States to produce single malt whiskey. We will discuss in depth one method on how this type of whiskey is distilled and matured. This half of the article focuses on the distillation, maturation and blending aspects of making malt whiskey and breaks down the steps of this classic method.

  Below we will breakdown the distillation method and expected production yields. With this data in hand we can explore barrels and barrel types, maturation times and expectations, then dive a bit into the process of blending barrels to reach a finished product of bottled whiskey. Let’s dive in and make some single malt!

  Single malt whiskey production from malted barley was first developed and refined in Scotland over several hundred years and the results of that production method produces some of the arguably finest malt whiskey in the world. For the purpose of this article we are breaking down step by step this classic method of whiskey making to better understand the processes that were developed by distillers who came before us. It is important to stress that malt whiskey flavor profiles can vary massively, when you taste a whiskey at one distillery versus another they rarely taste exactly the same. This is important to consider as there is no specific right or wrong flavor profile when it comes to single malt.

  In the first half of this article (In the December – January 2024 Beverage Master issue, page 42) we left off with a fermenter full of distillers beer made from malted barley, ready to be distilled into whiskey. In case you didn’t know, distillers beer is quite different from a beer made to be drunk as beer itself. Distillers beer does not have any hops added to it and is typically fermented rather fast. Distiller’s beer is usually only 3-7 days old when it is ready to be distilled. When a distiller’s beer has completed fermentation it is ready to be distilled immediately. At this time the beer is around 9% ABV. Some distillers have higher or lower ABV beer but 9% is a reasonable expectation. Now that our beer is done fermenting lets distill it.

  The beer is going to be pumped from the fermenter to a copper still where the beer will be heated up and the alcohol distilled out of it. The stills used for distilling single malt whiskey are batch stills that do not typically have any rectification plates or a dephlegmator. In the distilling process a distillery will employ multiple stills to complete the process of making whiskey. The still used for distilling the beer is referred to as a wash still. There is a second still used in a distillery for redistillation is called a spirit still . Both wash still and spirit still have a design that allows many flavors, oils congeners and character from the beer to carry over into the distillate. During the first distillation of the beer a rough unfinished product is produced called Low Wines Low Wines are the sum of all the alcohol distilled out of the beer along with some water, some oils and a ton of flavor. The distilled low wines are not a finished product as the concentration of alcohol is too low and the resulting distillate has too large of a concentration of water. To complete the distillation of the whiskey the low wines are put into the spirit still and redistilled. During this second distillation the heads and tails cuts are made which remove methanol and oils from the whiskey. The portion of the whiskey that is kept is often referred to as the hearts. This second distillation will yield a clear whiskey known as new make. New make will can be as strong as 75% ABV or as weak as 55% ABV. The new make is diluted with some water then put into barrels. Below is a chart that breaks down volume of distillation and expected yields from the distillation.

  The stills themselves employed in the process of distilling single malt whiskey plays a strong role in the influence of the flavor profile of the whiskey. In Scotland and in other whiskey producing countries, single malt whiskey is almost exclusively distilled in copper pot stills using the traditional batch distillation method. This method of distillation is intensive in both its use of energy and labor, but produces a flavor profile that is difficult to replicate using a more efficient  continuous column still for distillation. Because the flavor profile of malt whiskey produced through batch distillation is unique, distillers today still employ the traditional methods of batch distillation in making malt whiskey. Traditionally malt whiskey is twice distilled. One reason for this double distillation process is tied to flavor. There are many oils and congeners in distillers beer and in distilling whiskey more oils and congeners are carried over into the distilled whiskey when it is twice distilled in a pot. These oils and congeners play a large role of flavor in the finished mature spirit and are essential to create the complex flavor profile of single malt whiskey.

  Now that you have some freshly distilled new make whiskey it’s time to drink it! Just kidding, we have a few years to go before this whiskey is ready. It is time to put that whiskey in a barrel. One of the wonderful aspects of single malt production is the option to age the spirit in a multitude of different types of barrels. Unlike Bourbon and Rye Whiskey which can only be aged in charred new american oak, Single malt whiskey can be aged in new or used barrels from many places. Malt whiskey can be aged in sherry butts, wine casks, and used rum, tequila or bourbon barrels. The option to age whiskey in a variety of barrels and casks opens creative freedom for a distiller to add unique character to the distillate from the barrel. There are some distilleries that age their single malt in a variety of casks with some whiskey aging in new charred oak barrels and some aging in used barrels. Aging in a variety of barrels creates a diverse profile of whiskey in flavor and color which allows the folks blending the whiskey to have more flavor components to work with. The concentration of alcohol in a new make whiskey when it is put into the barrel is a bit stronger than the strength at which it is bottled. Entry proof is a big factor in maturation. Some folks will fill barrels with whiskey as strong as 62.5% alcohol by volume others will barrel at a much lower 50%. This difference of entry proof plays a strong role in the flavor components extracted from the barrel.

  The whiskey is now in your barrel so let’s hurry up and wait. The amount of time that a whiskey needs to spend in the barrel to fully mature can vary immensely depending on many factors. The biggest factor that determines the required amount of time a whiskey needs to spend in a barrel is the environment in which the barrel rests. In colder climates such as those found in the northern United States and in Scotland the maturation period is rather long for a whiskey to reach its fullest potential. This time period to reach maturation can exceed 10 years. When a barrel is stored in a warmer climate the required amount of time for full maturation of the spirit it’s quite a bit shorter. In places like Texas some distillers have found that single malt whiskey will fully mature in as little as 3 years. Determination as to whether or not a whiskey is fully matured is a hotly debated topic and is best left up to those who need to make the choice as to whether or not their whiskey is ready to be bottled. What flavors make a whiskey taste fully mature is tricky and it is important to point out that a 10 year whiskey aged in Minnesota will not taste the same as a 3 year whiskey from Texas.

  So now that you have tasted some of your aged whiskey from the barrels and the whiskey is tasting mature it is time to blend some barrels together to create a finished product. The process of tasting and selecting the barrels that will be blended together to make a finished product is just as important as the distillation process itself. No two barrels of whiskey will mature and taste exactly the same. Some barrels need more or less time and some whiskey within the barrels will develop different flavor profiles from its neighboring barrels even when those are often made from the exact same whiskey. It is critical to take the time to taste barrels and test out blending of different barrels. The purpose of this blending work is to create a blend that builds the best whiskey possible. This should be done before you start dumping barrels into a tank to bottle the whiskey. When two different barrels are blended together in a tank the resulting flavor profile can be different than the sum of the parts. Because blending will impact finished taste and aroma of  whiskey is of the utmost importance to test out blends before the barrels are actually married together. It is paramount to give time tasting and careful consideration to blending barrels to ensure the highest quality of a finished whiskey.

  There are so many steps and factors that culminate to produce the beautiful and complex spirit known as Single Malt Whiskey. I hope these two articles have helped to fill in some knowledge for those looking to leap into the endeavor of making Single Malt Whiskey. Single Malt Whiskey is one of the fastest growing whiskey categories in America and there is ample room in the market for new brands. If you are wanting to make Single Malt and not sure where to start shoot me an email and let’s connect.

  Author Kris Bohm is the Owner of Distillery Now Consulting. When Kris is not making whiskey you can find him riding his bicycle all around the world.

Women Preserve History While Creating Their Own   

photo of two women pouring whiskey into glasses

By: Cheryl Gray

They own distilleries, take charge of day-to-day operations and hold court as master distillers around the globe. We’re talking about women in the spirits industry, breaking barriers and making it possible for other women to do the same.

  In this largely male-dominated industry, there is an increasing number of women who have earned major roles, from building distilleries to creating the blends that put those distilleries on the map. Those blends are either passed on from generation to generation or come in the form of new taste sensations. All are designed to appeal to an unquenchable consumer demand for innovation and tradition.

woman in front of a beer bar

Victoria Eady Butler can speak with authority on both subjects. She is the great-great-granddaughter of Nathan “Nearest” Green, a former slave and the first-known African American master distiller who taught Jack Daniel – yes, that Jack Daniel—how to make the legendary Tennessee whiskey that bears the Jack Daniel’s brand name. Daniel would later hire Green to be his master distiller, a historical link between the two men widely acknowledged by Jack Daniel’s parent company, Brown-Forman.

  Five generations later, it is Eady Butler’s turn at making history. She is the first African American master blender for a major spirits brand, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, named after her great-great-grandfather. Eady Butler’s legacy is the foundation for award-winning bourbons and whiskeys branded by Nearest Green Distillery in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Since its brand launch in 2017 by founder and CEO Fawn Weaver, the company reports it has generated more than $100 million in sales, with products sold in all 50 states and 12 countries around the world.

  Eady Butler explains how Weaver brought her on as part of the company’s leadership team, first as the vice president of administration but soon thereafter, as its master blender.

  “I had no idea that this was down the road for me. Fawn Weaver, our CEO and founder, and I talked and she knew that I was considering retirement. Everything unfolded from that conversation. I retired from my previous career and started with Uncle Nearest within a few days. Now that I’m here, I fully get it. Whiskey truly is in my blood. To carry on a legacy that lay dormant for more than 160 years, it’s just unbelievable.” 

  Under the discerning palate of Eady Butler, the Uncle Nearest brand has won multiple industry awards while she has won consecutive top honors bestowed upon her by industry peers.

  “When our 1884 Small Batch launched in July 2019, the whiskey family took to it immediately and we started winning awards right out of the gate. So, I blended the second batch. The awards and accolades kept coming. Soon thereafter, I was elevated to master blender and have blended every batch since. Also, when I was named ‘Master Blender of the Year’ by the American Icons of Whisky Awards, I was the first female to ever earn the title.”

  Preserving the heritage surrounding one of Puerto Rico’s most famous exports, rum, is partly what drew Liza Cordero to the spirits industry. Cordero used her background as a chemical engineer to become master blender of the world-renowned Destilería Serrallés and oversee the distillation process of its Don Q rum, made in Puerto Rico for more than 150 years.

  Born in San Juan, Cordero knew early on that she wanted to be engaged in chemical engineering and was involved in both the petrochemical and biotechnology industries. She says that she found her true passion, though, in working with rums. For more than two decades, Cordera has been directly involved in the fermentation and distillation processes and is responsible for quality control at the landmark distillery. She describes how taking a chance turned into a rewarding new career.

  “The company was recruiting an assistant manager for the distillation and fermentation process area. As soon as I saw this, I did not hesitate to accept the challenge to work for the best distillery in Puerto Rico, which produces the best and most authentic Puerto Rican rum. In the 21 years that I have been working here, I can truly say that my decision was the right one!”

  Cordero describes her role at the distillery.

“I am the rum distillery master blender and work hand-in-hand with the First Maestra Ronera (Master Teacher), Silvia Santiago, who has been with the company for 50 years. I am responsible for developing Don Q products that follow today’s market trends, which can be enjoyed in cocktails and sipping rums, all while honoring Don Q’s origins. These products need to be different from others in the market, which we achieve by carefully selecting blends that will be part of our premium and flavored rums and choosing natural ingredients that will guarantee an outstanding tasting experience. In order for me to achieve what we want for rum aficionados, it is important to understand the differences among the aged rums that we have available. Each one has its own characteristic taste and aroma.”

  Cordero says her mentors include other women like Santiago, who have helped to guide her through the industry. The advice she gives to other women who want to enter the business is to the point.

  “Throughout my career, I have learned that in order to prove that women can equally execute and be involved in the same tasks and assignments that are performed by men, it’s important to employ your knowledge and experience, to prove your point and to take a position on matters. It is crucial that decisions are made based on something solid that can withstand any questions or critical analysis. They cannot be made based on opinions or personal points of views. It is in this way that women can earn respect, and that we get assigned to key decision teams and positions in organizations.”

  Valerie Colella is an award-winning single barrel specialist and national ambassador for Castle & Key Distillery. Most recently, Colella was recognized by the Bourbon Women Association as a finalist for the “2023 Brand Ambassador of The Year.”

  “As single barrel specialist, I help execute our single barrel program along with our very talented team in Frankfort, Kentucky, and I also have the pleasure of hosting our VIP industry and trade groups. As national brand ambassador, I help support our sales team across 24 markets by creating fun educational and pairing experiences for our partners and consumers.”

  Colella relocated to Kentucky after working in West Virginia at Smooth Ambler Distillery. Collela cites a key mentor who helped her to get her footing in the industry.

  “Most of my foundational understanding about what makes a craft distillery tick, I learned in my eight years from Smooth Ambler under head distiller John Little. He demanded a very high level of dedication and execution from all of us. He took great pride in the spirits we were producing in West Virginia, and so did we. Whether it was the retail or consumer-facing side of the business, distribution, sensory, analysis or branding strategy, he gave me so many opportunities to work really hard, learn and grow personally and professionally.”

  Collela points to women mentors that include Lisa Wicker, president and head distiller for Widow Jane of Brooklyn, New York, Sherri Carter, master blender and co-founder of Old Carter Whiskey Company based in Louisville, Kentucky and Jackie Zykan, former master taster for Brown Forman’s Old Forester and creator of the newly launched whiskey, Hidden Barn. Collela says the work these women have accomplished in blending and maturation inspires her.

  “When you’re navigating your own professional growth and you’re trying to find your footing or voice in a male-dominated industry, no one understands the challenges that come with being a woman in spirits except the ones who walked through the fire and helped pave that path. From Iron Root Republic to Milam & Greene and Uncle Nearest, so many ridiculously talented female master distillers, blenders and owner-operators are absolutely blazing all kinds of trails. It’s such an exciting time to draw inspiration from.”

  The number of women in the spirits industry keeps growing, Collela says, and the industry’s expansion requires new talent.

  “That being said, I think we’re going to see a diverse new generation of whiskey-makers, and spirit-blenders into the next decade. What we see across all aspects of the aged spirits industry is that there still continues to be an incredible demand for whiskey. There doesn’t seem to be a saturation point. NDP’s and distilleries keep on expanding, and there’s a whiskey for every palate. There’s not just the collector and the enthusiast anymore. Whiskey is becoming a multi- dimensional demographic.”

  Eady Butler of Nearest Green says that for women entering the business, tenacity is particularly important.

  “The key is to be committed, dedicated, eager to learn and put everything you hold dear into it. In addition, it’s imperative that you surround yourself with people who are knowledgeable, patient and in my case, willing to share their experiences and wisdom. The biggest thing is setting aside your fear of failure and just go for it.”   

Being Influential in the Beverage Industry

people around a table talking

By: Hanifa Sekandi

It’s no secret that influencer marketing is pivotal to your marketing strategy. Of course, brands can opt out and avoid it altogether. Many brands do not use influencer marketing to grow their business or notoriety.

  Understandably, there is pressure to conform to this new modern marketing norm. Initially, influencers were frowned upon. The idea of allocating thousands of dollars of your marketing budget to a niche food blog was unthinkable. It is still a marketing strategy that many struggle to wrap their minds around. Also, there is no guarantee that you will see an instant return on your investment. On the other side of the coin, there are benefits to influencer marketing. The proof is in the pudding when you look at brands that have found great success with influencer marketing. Overnight, these brands have become household names, expanding their reach to an untapped market.

  The popularity of the Stanley Cup is an example of an influencer’s ability to influence buying decisions. Not all influencer marketing successes are purposeful. Your brand may experience unexpected success from an unsolicited review from Bethenny Frankel! Your consumers’ buying power is more than just an increase in revenue. An honest review on social media or a write-up on a blog can be impactful.

  Hopefully, you have taken the time to build and create a noteworthy beverage. Aside from great packaging, is it a high-quality beverage? Does it measure up? Simply, does it taste good? Have you perfected the product? If you walk the aisles of a beer or liquor store, you will likely meet a fellow whiskey enthusiast or ale expert. The in-store influencer with first-hand experience trying your product is who you should appeal to first. Before social media, people were influenced by a friend of a friend. Word-of-mouth sold your product.

Building an Influencer Marketing Strategy

  Your why – why your brand is notable will be at the forefront of this strategy. It might be a good idea to have this visible at all times when devising any marketing strategy. It is easy to veer off your path if this is unclear. Why your beverage? Why are you so passionate about your product? Your why is your company’s mission statement. It will look different from your competitors, as it should. From here, brainstorm what kind of social media in the beverage sector is compelling. What draws you in? Depending on the size of your marketing team, write a list of marketing campaigns you have liked online that made you go out and buy the product. It does not have to be in the beverage industry. The main objective is to discern why this marketing campaign inspired you to purchase that item or beverage.

   People connect to things or products that draw meaning in their lives. A popular alcoholic beverage is more than just a good time for many people. It is also an imprint of a memory – a moment in time that reminds them of their wedding or a first date, a trip to Ireland or a celebration with friends and family. There is a reason why people fight over the best tequila and why just any tequila will never do. The same is true for those who enjoy a cold beer. Your influencer marketing strategy is not about numbers. It is about being impactful. The influencers you select to showcase your brand must align with your brand’s mission. It does not matter if they have one million followers if the stories they tell do not support your long-term goals.

Effective influencer marketing strategies require research. Once you have zeroed in on influencer campaigns that inspire your team, it is time to curate a list of influencers who create content that supports your vision. Influencers are storytellers. The storyteller for your beverage must get the story right. What does an effective influencer marketing strategy have?

●   Clear direction: Do you know who you are? Are you a botanical gin? If so, you should lean towards influencers who create content that supports a healthy lifestyle. Who thrive on creating content that is about finding alternatives for mainstream gins. An influencer who drinks organic alcohol will most likely create content that supports their lifestyle choice to consume clean beverages. Avoid the temptation to solicit a well-known influencer who does not create content that supports who you purport your brand to be. At the onset, this is a good idea. But remember, influencer marketing is not a one-and-done game.

●   What is your message? Influencers need to know every detail about your brand. Do not send your beverage to them and hope for the best. A marketing manager should spend time with them going over product education. A media deck should be available for reference during the campaign. Once you have provided the information, they should use their unique storytelling ability to convey the message to their audience. Generally, for experienced influencers, you will not need to approve their content before sharing. But when working with micro-influencers, review all content before it is shared. An influencer with experience will know that they should not deviate from brand messaging. A newer influencer may not be aware of industry protocols. You should not have any issues if you did your due diligence during strategic planning. Pre-approved content prevents brand inconsistencies.

Understanding Your Audience

  Now that you have selected your list of influencers to collaborate with, do not be afraid to audit your list. Do a deep dive into their storytelling style first. As tempting as it may be, ignore the numbers initially. Study all their content, from blogs to social media. If you spot more than five things that do not align with your brand, remove them from your influencer outreach plans. This does not mean that they are not great at what they do. It just means that they might not connect with your audience. Or, they may create content that does not support your brand mission statement.

  A thin line exists between having a successful influencer marketing campaign with the right influencer and tarnishing your brand with the wrong influencer. Celebrity chefs or food bloggers are often popular choices for beverage brands looking to dip their toes into this unpredictable marketing terrain. It is low risk and generally a good return on investment. The food and beverage sectors pair well together.

  Focusing your influencer marketing strategy on your targeted audience will help you express your desires if you work with a PR agency. Most influencers work through an agency, which can complicate the relationship since a third party is involved. Be clear. Do not get easily swayed. Some agencies represent other beverage brands and have strong influencer relationships. Some agencies are influencer-focused and manage a roster of talent. Your budget needs to account for the types of agencies you choose to work with if you do not contact the influencer directly.

  Agency fees should be included in your budget and separate from what an influencer would charge you. Ask your agency to illustrate influencer rates and agency fees clearly. Some agencies focus exclusively on food and beverage marketing. You are more likely to find an influencer with an audience you would like to reach if you work with a team that understands the importance of targeted marketing. They will ensure that you get the results you desire since they have an in-depth understanding of the beverage industry.

Hire In-House

  No one will know your product better than someone who works for your company. Hiring an in-house brand ambassador might be the right direction for your brewery. Did you know many influencers start blogging or social media channels to build an online portfolio? They do this to get recognition or a position at a reputable beverage or food company. Since experience matters, and there are few opportunities to build your resume, they create a portfolio of expertly curated marketing content. Hire an in-house content creator who understands your audience and has experience creating marketing content that appeals to them.

  Since they work exclusively for your brand, an   in-house content creator can develop a consistent online presence. Consider this to be a winning long-term marketing strategy. Another benefit is that food and beverage industry influencers have a big network of connections. As your in-house content development strategist, they can create content and work with other influencers on cross-promotion collaborations. In addition, it gives you free range to build multiple marketing campaigns without delays. Since your marketing team will work directly with them, there is no need to pre-approve content, thus giving you more control over how your brand is portrayed. While curating your influencer list, a quick LinkedIn or Muck Rack search will show you which influencers or bloggers are looking for work or offer freelance content development services.

Should You Opt Out of Influencer Marketing?

  If you are lucky, word of mouth and excellent product placement in-store is all you will need. If you are okay with slow growth and use other means to promote your beverage, then opt out. Influencer marketing is not for everyone and will not necessarily make your brand influential. It is a quick marketing tool. But it cannot be your only one.

  Before you delve into the world of influencer marketing to become the next influential beverage, make sure you are running a strategic marketing plan that will perform well on its own. Invest in in-house talent. A good marketing team may be all you need. When you decide to solicit the help of these industry gurus, you should feel confident in your beverage and the marketing materials you have implemented. Remember, influencer marketing is the bonus addition that can take you to new and unimaginable heights.

Standing on Shoulders

craft distillery facility

By: Donald Snyder

Ask any established craft distiller what they would have done differently and you will get a common answer, “How much time do you have?” For most new distillers starting from scratch in the last few years, it was a learn-as-you-go venture paved with blood, sweat, and tears. The promise of high margins in an exciting and rapidly growing industry with local laws now changing to be more “craft friendly”, the draw to join the liquor industry today is almost intoxicating. Today, new craft distillers are starting up following in the footsteps and standing on the shoulders of those who came before them to bring something new and unique to the market.

  There are over 800 active micro distillers in America and dozens more opening every month. Domestic and international consumers have developed a palette for unique distilled spirits and have not seemed to quench their thirst for all things different and local. If that wasn’t a big enough reason to join the party, there is now a wealth of resources available to get started without repeating the painful road paved by others.

  An aspiring distiller today does not need to look very hard to find resources to help them start up a new distillery. There are distillation classes across the country offering everything from a hands-on introduction to the distilling industry, chemistry-based fermentation and mashing lessons, blending and product development classes, to advanced distilling techniques classes for those looking to sharpen their craft. As a lecturer at both the Moonshine University in Louisville, KY and at the Six & Twenty Distilling class in Greenville, SC, I get to give people a taste of the industry before they decide to jump in with their hard earned money. Being able to touch, look, and feel for a few thousand dollars can be well worth it.

  Another hands-on and immersive way to learn about the spir  its business are the annual craft distillery conferences with break out informative sessions for all levels of experience. The American Distilling Institute (ADI) and the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) both have annual conferences where all the players in the industry converge to discuss current market trends and distillation issues of the day. For new players in the business, the biggest advantage of these conferences are the vendor booths which are a literal one-stop-shop for all the suppliers you will need to start a craft distillery. Imagine having every major glass bottle supplier, chiller and equipment vendor, grain sources, and even the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) all represented and able to answer your questions in one space. I hear the established craft distillers groan every year having had to research and hunt them all down one by one.

  However, even before an aspiring distiller books an air plane ticket to a conference or to a class, there are now vast repositories of information available on-line. There are several popular and active forums and blogs on-line with communities of distillers sharing their experiences and responding to questions. One of the most active is the ADI Forum where new and established distillers talk about the issues du jour and share techniques. There are active home distilling forums with resources as well but I’ll remind everyone that distilling spirits without a federal permit is currently against the law.

  Finally, once a person is ready to start a distillery, there are now a plethora of consultants with years of experience in the distilled spirits industry. There are consultants for every specialty, issue and budget. There are consultants like Richard Wolf of Wolf Consulting who can help prepare a solid business model including cash flow, cost of good sold (COGS) and profit projections to help articulate capital needs and find investors. Consultants like Jim McCoy, who retired from the TTB after 32 years, can help navigate the licensing, federal permitting, or audit headaches and assist with label or formula approval. Sherman Owen of Artisan Resources can help with developing a mash bill, fermenting, distilling, equipment sourcing and may other tactical operational issues. There are retired master distillers who worked for the large distilleries who can help teach the up and comers how to make a high quality product while leveraging their connections in the industry. Nancy Fraley of Fraley Nosing Services can help with blending and differentiating your product in a crowded market space. There are even “one-stop-shop” consultants who act like a general contractor that can walk a distillery from concept to reality while bringing in specialized consultants and network resources as needed.

  With all that said, even with all the incredible resources available, it can still be a hard and expensive road to travel. A typical new craft distillery will require hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and investment. Older buildings will need expensive renovations to be both visually appealing and up to local code to operate a still. A green field distillery built from scratch sized to expand could easily cost a half million dollars or more. For distilleries hoping to make an aged product such as a bourbon, they must prepare to spend a thousand dollars per barrel in raw materials, labor, and other conversion costs and see no return on that capital until it is dumped and bottled. Cash flow and operational reserves for a startup distillery can easily trip up even the best business model. It is possible to start a distillery on a “shoe string” budget, but it is a tough road to travel.

  If you are considering opening a craft distillery, know that there have never been more resources at your disposal. It is not an easy or cheap road to go down but the return can be big. Reach out to a local craft distiller, make a connection with a consultant for an introduction, or be an active participant on-line and you will be well armed to decide if your next business card will say Master Distiller.

Forecasting Business Plans in Uncertain Times

How to Plan for the Fiscal Future in 2024

a robot hand and a human hand both pointing to a dollar sign

By: Raj Tulshan, Loan Mantra

Over the past few years, small business owners have seen dramatic changes in the financial landscape, with an array of challenges and an uncertain future. Several years of global disruption have left small businesses on a rollercoaster ride, facing a global pandemic, supply chain disruptions and ongoing labor shortages. Recently, despite rising inflation and bank failures, small businesses experienced some good news, with cryptocurrency going mainstream, an increase in diverse small business owners, a rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the workplace and more. As we welcome 2024, let’s review a few highlights of 2023.

In 2023 small businesses reported becoming more optimistic, predicted a growth in revenue and planned to hire more staff in the coming year.  They anticipated making higher investments in their companies moving forward. What’s more, we saw an increase in diversity among small business owners, and a rise in the number of small businesses across the country, which account for an impressive 99.9% of the businesses in the U.S. 

While the economic outlook improved in 2023, there are no guarantees that 2024 will be the same. And, as the new year begins, many businesses remain hesitant about the road ahead. It’s human nature to want to predict the future – and in the business world, vital for owners to have a plan to move forward. The one constant is change. Financial service professionals can help business owners and leaders manage these economic and cultural shifts to stay adaptive and resilient during the coming year and for years to come. While no financial expert has a crystal ball, there are key factors that impact the fiscal future. Here are financial considerations for making business plans and strategies that will work today and tomorrow.

The Rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

AI and ML technologies are already being used in fraud detection and investment research in the Fintech industry. ChatGPT is a new tool that is generating interest in average consumers who have interacted with it out of curiosity. Chatbots are already augmenting customer-facing service roles, increasing speed and simplifying complex transactions. Personal finance, budgeting, operations and management apps are becoming integral for business owners who want to use business data to take control of revenue and meet financial goals. Adoption of these technologies and resulting changes present large business opportunities – and a quantum shift for the business over the long term.

Digital Payments and the Blockchain

As was seen during the pandemic, the shift to digital payments continues to accelerate. Further declines in cash usage will be seen with an upsurge in alternative payment methods, including cryptocurrencies. In 2023 we saw cryptocurrencies go mainstream as patrons used crypto to purchase goods and services, real estate and more. At the same time, governments worldwide are exploring cryptocurrency regulations.  In 2024, expect to see clearer guidelines and potentially greater acceptance of cryptocurrencies in mainstream finance. In addition, the standardization of one central currency may appear called the Central Bank Digital Currency or CBDC.

The CBDC has become a highly charged issue as adoption of it would be controlled by a central entity with likely ties to a social credit system for consumers. Consumer advocates warn that the use of this would put unfettered power and control in the hands of those controlling it. The World Economic Forum states that a CBDC would forever change the relationship between the public and their money with an end to private accounts and choice over what is purchased by individuals.  The WEF states their plans are to monitor every purchase made and eventually restrict what a person could spend their money on and when. This means proposing limitations on travel, dictating how much protein is consumed per week or even collecting carbon taxes directly from accounts without personal choices of the account holders. A CBDC account could be turned on and off at will, restricted based on that individual’s social behaviors, political leanings, religious belief systems and health choices (imposing mandatory experimental vaccines, for instance) and penalize those that don’t go along with centralized dictates.

Interest Rates and Inflation

High interest rates and inflation have a direct impact on those that seek commercial loans and how much funding is available. With an economic constriction, the availability of credit opportunities for business will lessen. As challenges mount, it will be more important to have a financial education. Financial literacy is gaining recognition as a crucial life skill. In 2024, there will be a growing emphasis on financial education, with schools, organizations and governments working to enhance people’s understanding of money management.

Redefining Retirement

The concept of retirement is evolving.  More individuals are opting for phased retirement or exploring flexible work options.  This trend will continue in 2024 as people seek purposeful post-retirement activities and income streams. People will also seek more control over their money in the coming year with the use of personal financial apps becoming integral for money management.  In 2024, expect these apps to offer more sophisticated features, from AI-driven budgeting to customized investment advice, empowering users to take control of their finances.

It’s also vital to note that in the wake of the upcoming election, social security and Medicare reform will be at the bottom of the United States government’s political to-do list. Alternatively, on October 31 2023, the White House announced a Retirement Security Rule, which legally protects consumers seeking financial guidance.

Sustainable investing is also gaining momentum.  Investors are seeking opportunities that align with their values, focusing on companies making a positive environmental and societal impact. In 2024, this trend will continue to grow as investors emphasize responsible investment choices.

Hitting the Debt Ceiling.

As the past year saw banks collapse, new debt ceiling highs and potential interruptions of government created anxiety and lack of confidence in political leaders. These actions will give rise to new bank systems, options and alternatives to banking. Decentralized Finance (defi) is also reshaping traditional banking and finance.  In 2024, we can anticipate more DeFi projects and platforms emerging, offering decentralized lending, borrowing and trading options.

Economists Predict Soft Landing

According to J.P. Morgan Wealth Management, Looking into 2024, strategists now expect that while the U.S. economy is likely to slow, it should avoid recession. The lower likelihood of a painful economic crash should help with financial decision making going into the new year. Other economists are skeptical that the U.S. can maintain economic growth with interest rates so high. The Conference Board predicts slow GDP growth slowing means a “shallow recession” in the first half of the year. The nonprofit research group said wage growth is slowing, pandemic savings are declining, and U.S. household debt is spiking.

At the same time the labor market is resilient heading into the new year. The unemployment rate has risen to just 3.8%, and the economy has averaged more than 250,000 jobs created per month over the past three months. The Federal Open Market Committee projects the U.S. unemployment rate will average a healthy 4.1% in 2024, still well below its long-term average of around 5.7%. The firm said softening consumption, coupled with rising interest rates, will also weigh on U.S. business investment in early 2024.

With these points in mind, plan for the coming year knowing that the ability to be flexible, adaptable and agile will be of significant benefit.

Raj Tulshan is founder and managing partner at www.loanmantra.com. Reach him via Linked-in at https://www.linkedin.com/in/tulshan/.

Hand Barrel Bourbon: Three Friends, One Idea and the Perfect Partnership

photo of 3 small hand barrel bottles in different colors

By Gerald Dlubala

We’ve all heard the phrase about loving it when a plan comes together. When it’s a plan that three friends come up and run with, we love it all the more. And that’s just what happened to Jim Hand, Scott Pirello and Beorn Brueckner, founding members of Hand Barrel Bourbon Company.

“It kind of started when I got recruited by Scott Pirello, a college friend, to play on a men’s softball team,” said Hand. “Scott was working on a project to make cool bottles for packaging. I thought it might be cool to make a whiskey bottle that resembles a real barrel and fill it with quality whiskey to sell. The initial idea was honestly as simple as that.”

Hand and Pirello were both fans of brown spirits and always considered the whiskey industry an exciting arena. They also believed that their bottle idea might just be good enough to attain what would become their first goal of surviving their first year in business. Well, they’ve not only reached that goal, which occurred the last week of October 2023, but they’ve done very well in their first year with an idea that admittedly seemed backward.

“Our approach was different, going from packaging first to the product inside,” said Hand. “But getting into the spirits market without some huge backing is tough. We brought in a third partner, Beorn Brueckner, who attended high school with Scott. Beorn was the GM of a bar in Boston during the pandemic and was now looking for something else. His industry experience fits in perfectly with what we needed, and he currently runs many operations within the company. Scott is our CEO and numbers guy. Additionally, Scott has an entrepreneurial background and experience starting and selling businesses. Without him, there would be no Hand Barrel Bourbon. He had the know-how to start this thing up and run with it. I come from a software sales background and now handle the sales and marketing aspects of the business. So, that’s the whole company, three friends and equal partners.”

Using Unique Packaging to Tell a Story

Hand tells Beverage Master Magazine that it came down to three friends getting together with an idea for a different and unique packaging idea and decided to put premium bourbon into it to sell to the public. Hand says that they knew they would run the risk of consumers thinking their bottle may just be a gimmick to sell their product. But the Hand Barrel Bourbon bottles are instead a motif, providing packaging that tells a story of what is inside the bottle. 

“We sell our single barrel, small batch in the white barrel bottle, signifying the unique minerals and deposits found in the Kentucky water,” said Hand. “Our double-oaked comes in a black, charred finish bottle, signifying the barrels and type of exposure the spirit encounters along its journey. These are specific ingredients and attributes to Kentucky bourbon whiskey, and we want to recognize, respect and make note of those attributes through our packaging.”

Partnering with the Right Contract Distiller is Key

After settling on the bottles, packaging, and message they wanted to send, the group had to find a contract distiller. Hand says they didn’t have the time or capital to start up and wait five or six years, so the search was on to find the best partner for them and their situation.

“We happened into Bardstown Bourbon Company in Bardstown, Kentucky,” said Hand. “We tried their products, looked at their facilities and met the people behind the brand. From that day forward, they became the perfect partner and our contract distillery. It really was a slam dunk for us, and we are now completely vertically integrated with them. They are a state-of-the-art distiller with the best column in the industry. It is our mash bill that we use, a 64-24-12 sweet mash recipe. It’s not the traditional higher corn content (70 to 78 percent) of many bourbons. We wanted to try something a little different. There aren’t as many high-rye mash bills out in the market. We come in at 105 proof, which we believe is the sweet spot for bourbon and the perfect place to land. And because our bottles are preprinted, we don’t deviate from that number. Our barrels age at Bardstown’s facilities, and we use their blending team and bottling line. Our responsibility is to provide the mashbill, the marketing and the cool bottles to package our product.”

Hand says its goal is to provide a bourbon experience that positively appeals to all the senses, including touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste.

“We want our bourbon to be a total experience,” said Hand. “It’s an excellent-tasting, authentic Kentucky bourbon whiskey wrapped in a unique bottle that consumers will proudly display in their home or on their bar.”

One of those unique bottles was a special-release camouflage bottle.

“All three of us have connections or ties to the military somehow,” said Hand. “The camouflage bottle was our first special release and offered us the opportunity to give back 10 percent of sales to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SWOF) to benefit families of our fallen Special Operators. We feel that anytime we can give back to one of our military organizations, it’s absolutely worth it. It was a huge success, and we’re looking into other partnership releases. We’re considering things like NCAA or professional sports teams as well as personalized bottles for special occasions”.

Hand says their bottles would make perfect gifts for weddings, groomsmen’s and bridesmaids’ gifts or to celebrate and commemorate special occasions for clubs, groups and organizations. He also mentioned single-barrel picks to make the occasion even more distinctive.

“The bottle is one thing we can change to meet our customer’s special occasion needs,” said Hand. “That’s our edge in the marketplace. You can really only stretch one mash bill about three different ways, ending in a small batch, single barrel and double-oaked, similar to what we did. But we can also change the bottle to create something unique, distinctive and special for our customers.”

Pinpoint Focus and Smart Decisions Will Shape the Future

“We’ve been in business and on shelves for over a year now,” said Hand. “We started in just two states, Massachusetts and Kentucky. We had a minimal release our first year, maybe 6,000 bottles, and sold out within the first two to three months. That was a testament to the acceptance of our idea and gave us the confidence to try to gain market share. We’ve since added 19 more states to our distribution areas and are looking toward expansion and continued growth. We’ve had talks with Canada, South Korea and Japan, who all have interest in our bottles.”

“You know, we have a potentially wide footprint with customized bottles,” said Hand. “It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also very daunting because we can go in many different directions. Since our path can go in so many different and diverse ways, we, especially as a small business, must focus on the best opportunities for us. If we have so much as a flop of 2,000 to 3,000 bottles, it would be very detrimental to us. We have to be careful about our choices and focus on what we need to do to build our business and gain customer commitment. We have to focus on who can commit to the best volumes early to get that extra volume and padding for us as a business. We’d love to eventually be able to do as little as six to 12 bottle orders for weddings or parties with names and dates, offering that custom gift for the guy or girl who has everything.”

Joining the Welcoming Community of Distilled Spirits

“The biggest surprise I’ve had along this journey is the general welcomeness of the bourbon industry. I mean, it really has been noticeable,” Hand said. “I was sitting with other bourbon reps trying to launch a market, and we were all sharing drinks, ideas and information. Unlike some other businesses, there weren’t any highly secretive behaviors or unwillingness to share our experiences. It helps everyone to grow with a better chance of success. This industry uniquely welcomes newcomers; everyone I’ve come into contact with has been willing to help and give quality advice. This industry is such a big piece of the overall spirits pie that we can all succeed. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, which is a truly refreshing and beneficial approach. Spirits consumers traditionally welcome variety. We love to build our bar cart with a variety of diverse brands. It’s just fun to build your display to share with friends, whether for a hobbyist or a serious collector. It’s a pretty straightforward sales approach.”

Displaying Products Together Boosts Sales

Hand tells Beverage Master Magazine that he learned a ton about the industry, which was expected. What sticks out for Hand and the other founders of Hand Barrel Bourbon is that along their path, they’ve noticed a distinct advantage to having all their products together on a shelf displayed as a suite or grouping. Because of their unique bottles and the meanings behind those bottles, when the products all stand together in unison on a shelf display, they combine to show and tell a story that ultimately leads to an increase in sales. Hand Barrel Bourbon’s sales are better when their products stand together, even if that means giving up less width on the shelf in return.

“When it comes down to it, we are just three friends who raised a little bit of money and came up with an idea that we thought was pretty cool, and we want to make an impact on the market with quality products that we are proud to offer, and that consumers are equally proud to own.”

Find more information on Hand Barrel Bourbon at www.handbarrel.com.