Barrel-aging Beers & Spirits During a Global Pandemic

By: Becky Garrison

How did the events of this past year impact barrel-aging programs? Following are selected pro-files of those who manufacture barrel-aged products and the impact, if any, they experienced during 2020 regarding the production and marketing of their barrel-aged beers, bitters, ciders and spirits.

Copperworks Distilling Company, Seattle, Washington

  Copperworks Distilling Company’s philosophy is to showcase the flavor of specific malt strains from a specific farm of a specific growing season. They age and, in some cases, finish their whiskey in a variety of casks, both new and used, to create a bevy of whiskey flavors. By blend-ing a few casks, they can produce unique whiskeys for each release. They vary the cask parame-ters  – stave seasoning, toast, char, entry proof, warehouse conditions and years aging – and se-lect the barrels only when they reach the peak of deliciousness.

  According to co-founder Jason Parker, the challenges involved with this method of barrel-aging include investing in a product that can’t be sold for several years and not knowing what your ex-periments, plans and decisions will ultimately taste like for several years. They also lose between 5-7% per year through evaporation, widely known as the “angel’s share.”

  Copperworks sources all of their new barrels directly from cooperages. Before purchasing used barrels, they try to taste products that came from them. While sourcing barrels did not prove to be a challenge during Covid-19, Parker said there were challenges in staying socially distanced when dealing with deliveries and warehousing. “It made us slower, but we had nothing but time.”

  With breweries coming back online, Parker expects to have more opportunities to partner for barrel exchanges. “The flavor swaps are great!”

  During 2020, Copperworks produced more whiskey than in prior years. “With no tasting room customers, special events, classes, tours, competitions, conferences or other gatherings – all of which we miss terribly – and after making all the hand sanitizer we could, we simply focused exclusively on distilling, blending and bottling whiskey (and a few cask-finished gins).”

  Since they could not introduce themselves to new customers through bars, restaurants and their tasting room during Covid-19 shutdowns, they went online to introduce new releases via video blogs, virtual tours and tastings, direct emails and social media.

Ecliptic Brewing, Portland, Oregon

  Right after Ecliptic Brewing opened in Fall 2013, one of the first beers John Harris made was Orange Giant Barleywine, which went straight into barrels for a year. The beer debuted in 2014, and every year since, a new batch has been released.

According to Harris, barrel-aging is important to them. “We had a two-year drought where we could not lay down any barrels due to production demands. It has been great to get back to this again and get the creative process going more. We have many projects going right now!”

  In his estimation, adding the spirit of the wood barrel to the base beer is a real joy. “Seeing what the barrel does to the beer – whether it be a bourbon, rye, Sangiovese red wine, white wine – it’s all an experiment hoping for a good outcome. The downside is sometimes projects or individual barrels go south and need to be dumped.”

  Thankfully Covid-19 did not impact their barrel-aging program. Moving forward, they will con-tinue to use traditional spirit barrels but will be putting creative spins on the beer before releas-ing. “The market is looking for more than a bourbon-aged stout without any twists. 2021 will be fun!”

Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Oregon

  Deschutes Brewery’s barrel-aging program began in 2008 and currently consists of approximate-ly 800 barrels and six wood-aging vessels. These barrel-aged projects generally fall into one of two categories: beers aged in spirit barrels that are meant to highlight the spirit of choice, and mixed culture sour and wild beers that use neutral barrels as aging vessels.  This program fits in with their mission as a conduit to continually explore new expressions of beer using unique, high-quality ingredients.

  According to Ben Kehs, assistant Brewmaster and Barrel Master, Deschutes experienced some minor shipping delays and general uncertainty regarding freight times and costs during the pan-demic. “For wine barrel sourcing, we did find that some of our local suppliers were releasing fewer barrels from their programs as their sales were affected. The majority of volume for our barrel-aged products end up in a bottle instead of a keg, so we did not experience a big disruption with the shutdown of on-premise accounts, but the closure of our pubs made us look at expand-ing our direct-to-consumer business.”

Finnriver Farm & Cidery, Chimacum, Washington

  According to Andrew Byers, Head Cidermaker and co-owner, Finnriver Farm & Cidery’s barrel program allows them a pathway to a greater depth of expression, a treatise of tannins from fruit and wood and a place to bring it all together. “Like Finnriver, barrels are a place to weave the community fabric, a place to discuss origins – a place to reconnect people to the land that sus-tains them.”

  “To make phenomenal barreled cider, you need to start with phenomenal fruit, dynamic and healthy yeast and a vision of your finale,” Byers said. In his estimation, the micro-oxygenation of barrel time is the place to mellow harsh polyphenols and the opportunity to extract those pithy ellagic tannins from the oak.

  Finnriver seeks out barrels from regionally-based whiskey producers – historically High West, Woodinville Whiskey and now Bainbridge Organic Distilling – and purchases a small number of fresh whiskey barrels each year. Occasionally, neighbors will reach out with neutral wine barrels.

  Among the ongoing challenges they face is finding space to store the barrels and the time in-volved in monitoring their barrels. During the pandemic, they could not give customers draft pours. However, this lack of draft sales led to an increase in bottling and longer barrel-aging, as well as an increase in their club memberships.

Liberty Ciderworks, Spokane, Washington

  Rick Hastings, Liberty Ciderworks’ owner and cidermaker, pointed to the need to barrel-age ci-ders when using tannic, cider-specific varietals. “Most of the time, there’s a real benefit in allow-ing the type of micro-oxygenation barrels offer to occur versus aging in a stainless tank.”

  They use wheat whiskey, gin and bourbon barrels, mostly from Dry Fly Distillery, along with red wine barrels to extract flavors that compliment different apple varietals. They also use barrels as neutral containers.

  During Covid-19, their cider club and online sales grew. In particular, they found a heightened demand for their pommeau and have tripled production on that barrel-aged product. In a post-Covid world, Hastings hopes their online sales, which have given them access to global markets, will continue. “For us, barrels are an essential part of making what we produce, and if we’re able to grow connections with quality-minded consumers through technology, our barrel program will keep growing too,” he said.

pFriem Family Brewers, Hood River, Oregon

  The ethos of pFriem Family Brewer’s barrel-aged program is emblematic of their overall brew-ing style. Josh pFriem, Brewmaster and co-founder, said, “We take a historical approach and look at it through a modern, innovative and pFriem lens.”

  For their funky and mix-culture beers, they search out high-quality, primarily French, oak wine barrels, while they also work with a wide range of producers for their distiller beers.

  The biggest thing that impacted pFriem’s barrel-aged program during the pandemic was their inability to sell their beer on draft. Also, pre-pandemic, they were about to open their new barrel-aged facility in Cascade Locks, Oregon. Plans are still in place, and once opened, this space will enable the brewery to have separate areas for their mixed culture and clean spirit barrel-aged beers and a unique place for people to gather.

The Bitter Housewife, Portland, Oregon

  While they don’t have a formal barrel-aging program, The Bitter Housewife’s collaboration with Bull Run Distillery allows them to explore how barrel-aging changes bitters. As Genevieve Brazelton, co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer, said, “The result was quite tasty, and in-stead of being a one-off product, it’s now part of our stable of bitters.”

  The product demand is high enough to need more than a few barrels a year, so they currently source bourbon or whiskey barrels from four Portland area distilleries. It became more difficult to obtain barrels during the past year, though Brazelton is not sure this delay was due to Covid-19.

Wanderback Whiskey Company, Hood River, Oregon

  Wanderback Whiskey Company’s barrel-aged program includes new oak, aged naturally for at least two years and heated by coopers to create a heavily toasted, lightly charred inner surface. They also utilize previously used, yet still flavorful, barrels and previously used “neutral” casks with very little flavor remaining in the wood.

  According to co-owner Sasha Muir, the challenges of barrel-aging include casks that leak, wood that can vary in its flavor profile, variations in how the cooper heats the wood, the environment the barrels rest in and surrounding odors in the area of the casks.

  Wanderback Whiskey sources its barrels from several brokers around the country. As coopers were more than happy to provide barrels to them during Covid, they did not notice any signifi-cant changes over the last year. “Our program will likely remain the same once Covid has passed,” Muir said.

Westland Distillery, Seattle, Washington

  In Master Blender Shane Armstrong’s estimation, the arc of tradition, innovation and locality that guides Westland Distillery is reflected in their cask program, which includes the Scotch whisky stalwarts of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry and the new American oak familiar to the Bourbon industry. Their new oak casks are air-dried for a minimum of 18 months. For their Garry Oak casks, found exclusively in the Pacific Northwest, air drying time is a minimum of three years.

  “Our locality is reflected both in growing region and by relationships with local brewers, wine-makers, and cidermakers,” said Armstrong.

  For distillery manager Tyler Pederson, the challenges of producing barrel-aged spirits are that it’s expensive, time-consuming and logistically complex. He does not believe the pandemic had a heavy impact on the cooperage industry.

  “Our availability of new and used casks remains steady and should for years to come. We will also continue to grow and develop our partnerships across our region, sourcing casks from winemakers as well as from breweries through the Cask Exchange program,” Pederson said.

  When sourcing casks, Westland considers the provenance of the cask, the quality of the oak, the type of spirit that will be maturing and the length of time anticipated. In the case of re-used bar-rels, they also consider the quality of its previous contents and how long it matured the spirit, wine or beer. They also note the distance each barrel traveled when factoring the sustainability of their cask program.

Westward Whiskey, Seattle, Washington

  According to Christian Krogstad, Westward Whiskey’s founder and Master Distiller, they’ve reimagined single malt. “That spirit of creativity is paramount to everything that we do. For us, that means playing with different casks.”

  The majority of their new American oak lightly-charred barrels come from Kelvin Cooperage. They also play around with different wine and beer finishes using casks obtained from their brewing and winemaking friends throughout the Northwest. While their tasting room took a hit during Covid, once direct shipping was available throughout Oregon, they were able to sell some of their smaller Oregon- and distillery-only projects.

Black Bourbon Society

By: Nan McCreary

In an age when multiculturism is redefining America, it has become clear to many in the alcohol industry that, while African Americans are one of the leading consumers of premium liquors, distillers are late to the party when it comes to marketing to this demographic. And it costs them a sizable chunk of what researchers, such as the Nielson Company, say is the $1.2 trillion buying power of Black American consumers.

  One person who has observed this is entrepreneur Samara Davis, who, in 2016, founded the Black Bourbon Society to bridge the gap between the spirits industry and African American bourbon enthusiasts. 

  “At the time, I was producing some events with an agency in San Francisco and realized that a lot of marketing for events, especially in the spirits industry, were not necessarily catering to consumers of color,” Davis told Beverage Master Magazine.

  “I decided to create a group that represented a diverse audience and shows the brands what a diverse audience looked like. My idea was to produce events for this audience in partnership with the brands so both would benefit.”

  Today, after five short years, BBS has over 22,000 members worldwide who share their love of bourbon through social media platforms, brand-partnered events and exclusive excursions to distilleries.

  For Davis, bourbon was the natural choice for a connection with the spirits trade. “That’s what I was drinking at the time,” she said. “I love the bourbon industry. It’s so unique. It’s ‘America’s native spirit.’ It’s what we’re known for.” 

  To Davis, the logical way to make that connection was social media. “I was producing bourbon-related events in Oakland and building a following through email, and then I had a chance to move to Atlanta. I developed a new following here, so instead of doing double duty in the two cities, I set up a Facebook page to connect everyone.” 

  According to Davis, the page exploded. Friends invited friends, and their friends invited their friends. Today, the page boasts a dynamic membership that shares weekly online tastings, happy hours, educational seminars and a growing community of friendships.

  One key to the success of BBS is the partnership with bourbon distillers that Davis has created to bring the two groups together. “By working with brands, we provide genuine connections for them to engage with Black consumers and, at the same time, cultivate and educate our community,” she said.

  In the past, BBS has partnered with brands including Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Heaven Hill and Jim Beam, to name a few. Brands actively participate with BBS to plan events, send brand reps or multicultural experts to cities for local programs and, in the case of national events, provide people from national leadership to help create exclusive programs. “We work hand in hand to cultivate audiences so they can experience the brand’s portfolio and expression of their products in a unique way,” Davis said.

  Recently, the BBS held a Valentine’s Day pairing dinner at the Atlanta Intercontinental Hotel in cooperation with Woodford Reserve to feature the distillery’s Double Oaked Bourbon. The evening, the BBS’s first in-person event since the pandemic, was fashioned as a “date night” featuring a five-course pairing dinner, with each couple having their own table and even a cocktail kit where attendees could create their own concoction. “This was just one of the many examples of events we’ve had,” Davis said. “It was really well-received.”

  BBS offers a premium membership that includes access to enriched content on the Facebook page, discounts on events and trips and an invitation to the BBS signature event, the annual Bourbon Boule Labor Day weekend gathering in New Orleans. Membership is not limited to African Americans: It is open to all bourbon lovers who actively and enthusiastically support the cause of improving diversity within the spirits industry. BBS recruits volunteer brand ambassadors in select cities to help with networking events in the local market and engage members on social media. With Covid-19 restrictions easing, Davis anticipates that BBS will be hosting more live events, always following recommended safety protocols.

  “We have to be smart about it,” Davis told Beverage Master Magazine. “We can’t do everything we used to do five years ago. We have to keep it safe, which makes it more challenging, but I’m so happy to see some degree of normalcy returning.”

  Besides connecting Black bourbon consumers with spirits producers, BBS has created a nonprofit, Diversity Distilled, to help promote diversity and inclusion policies within corporations across the spirits industry. “Companies are very eager to work toward diversity,” Davis said. “They just don’t know how to go about it.”

  Diversity Distilled assists brands in recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce and creating inroads for employees to advance to leadership levels within the company. “This is where real change happens,” Davis said. “You have to change the corporate culture and mission.” 

  With her marketing skills as well as her contacts and knowledge of the spirits industry, Davis is a crucial player in fulfilling Diversity Distilled’s objectives, offering consulting, job placement assistance, training workshops, public speaking, and industry research.

  This year, to support Diversity Distilled, BBS created #TheBlackManhattan Project, a month-long hashtag campaign to raise awareness of Diversity Distilled and its objectives. The campaign, spotlighting the Black Manhattan, was launched during February for Black History Month in partnership with Mitcher’s Distillery and Branca USA, who committed $20,000 to the Diversity Distilled job placement program.

  The Black Manhattan Project challenged members to make Manhattans or variations with Mitcher’s rye or bourbon and Branca amaro products, which, as Davis said, “was a marriage of two brands to make the perfect cocktail.” The event featured a professional bartending competition highlighting African American bartenders, a series of virtual masterclasses and a virtual tour of the Michter’s Distillery. Winners of the bartender competition received cash prizes. BBS members also had an opportunity to make their own renditions of a Manhattan and show off their DIY cocktail skills during the BBS-tenders Showcase. The rounds of the competition are available on YouTube via the BBS Facebook page.

  To Davis, BBS is a win-win for everyone involved. “Brands have the opportunity to reach out to an untapped audience and are learning how to appropriately connect with consumers of color in a genuine manner without pandering,” she said. “At the same time, consumers are receiving one-on-one attention and one-on-one experiences that enable them to learn, love and develop loyalty in a way that resonates more deeply.”

  As Davis looks to the future, she hopes to expand her community of African American bourbon consumers and reach them through more online conversations with master distillers, distillery owners and brand ambassadors who will tell their stories and offer tastings. Regular features like Friday Happy Hours, Teachable Tidbits and Whisky Weekly have been big draws on the BBS Facebook page during the pandemic. These events continually attract hundreds of consumers who want to further develop their appreciation of bourbon and share fellowship with others. The biggest challenge, Davis said, is keeping up with the demand for new events and finding new and creative ways to push brand messaging so that one doesn’t sound just like the other. Davis, along with her husband and business partner, Armond Davis, and a small cadre of human relations personnel, is also going into “full action” with Diversity Distilled. 

  “We had a serious racial reckoning last year,” Davis told Beverage Master Magazine, “and the brands are feeling very pressed to get this right. They are incredibly open to what I’m saying to help them become more inclusive.”

  While Davis pursues her goals, she is focusing her work at a grassroots level. “Grassroots — it’s the story of my life,” she said. “Grassroots growth is organic; it happens slowly.  But it’s more genuine, and people are more invested.”

  And spirits — be it whiskey or wine or beer — will always have an invested audience. “Every industry has diversity issues,” Davis said, “but the spirits industry cares. It’s in your face. It’s colorful as a product; it’s engaging. With bourbon, it’s not who makes the best, but who you had it with. That’s what makes that bottle your favorite.”

  For Samara Davis and the Black Bourbon Society, “America’s Native Spirit” is, indeed, a universal language that is championing diversity and inclusivity in the spirits’ world.

For more information on Black Bourbon Society, visit www.blackbourbonsociety.com

Startup Distilleries: Advance Planning and Expert Guidance Make for a Smooth Ride

By: Cheryl Gray

Building out a new distillery evokes the same excitement as driving a brand-new car. Think gleaming exterior, masterful engineering, unique design and an owner’s manual – the latter being a solid strategic plan. These are the pistons of a powerful engine for distillery startups moving toward the on-ramp of the spirits industry.

VITOK Engineers

There are experts whose business it is to prevent distillery startups from stalling. VITOK Engineers is one. Headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, VITOK boasts more than 400 completed distillery projects across the globe, both new and refurbished.

Founded in 1967, VITOK combines the expertise of about 40 multi-disciplined engineers and designers. CJ Archer is Vice President of Marketing and is also a credentialed engineer certified to investigate fires and explosions. Archer says that startup distilleries can avoid surprises – and hits to their bank account – with careful planning.

“The first consideration in starting a distillery project is to determine the products you can sell, how to sell them and how much you can sell. How will you set your product apart from the crowd? Will you be selling purely onsite in your gift shop, selling regionally, nationally, internationally? This step usually requires some expertise from someone who has knowledge of distribution and marketing,” Archer says.

“Second, you’ll need to establish a business model. A distillery project generally requires very deep pockets. The design phase could last as much as a year, construction two years, and then maturation time for whiskeys can take several more years. How will you provide both construction and operating capital until you’re in the black? Some startups choose to distill white spirits initially to create an income stream. Others choose to purchase aged whiskeys and package them under their label. One can also distill products for others at bulk rates. Regardless, the business plan is your road map to financial success, but it has to be based on solid data.”

A good business plan won’t cut corners on reliable engineering and design, Archer says. “One critical feature of the business plan is the to determine the project capital costs. For this step, you’ll need an experienced process engineer, like VITOK. If the distillery is desired to attract tourists, you will also need a good architect.

“If so, both should be hired simultaneously, as they’ll need to work together to combine the most efficient operation with the desired visitor features. Experience allows the process engineer to quickly and accurately estimate the costs for distillation equipment, installation, piping, electrical and controls. Likewise, an experienced architect can estimate the building costs, including construction, HVAC, grounds/landscaping, fire safety, etc. Thus, the more experience with your project team, the less cost and more accuracy you’ll receive in your capital cost estimate. Once your costs are known, then it’s time to secure funding.”

Archer stresses that any project budget must include a line item for contingencies. “One important piece of advice from my two decades in this industry – never underestimate your budget contingency. Whenever you put a shovel into the ground, you never know what you’ll dig up. At project initiation, there are many unknowns, and these should be considered in the budget.”

He adds that startup distilleries cannot ignore safety costs. “Beverage distillation is an industrial process. As such, it has hazards that must be considered. Grain dust is explosive, and alcohol is flammable. There is also steam, compressed air, cleaning chemicals and OSHA considerations. With a good, experienced process engineer, the owner doesn’t have to worry about these items. The process engineer ensures that there are no surprises. Similarly, a good architect will design the facility to be both interesting and safe for visitors and distillery personnel alike.

“Another often overlooked factor is the need for quality project management. Your project will need a champion, and the best champions are certified by the Project Management Institute as Project Management Professionals.”

A well-rounded team includes mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineers to design the building systems. “You may also want specialists to design event spaces, artistic elements, or unique features,” says Archer. “The design phase is a very collaborative effort between the owner, architect and process engineer, so make sure that you’re comfortable with the team you choose. There are many who claim distillery experience, few who truly have it.”

Symbiont Science, Engineering and
Construction, Inc.

SYMBIONT SCIENCE, ENGINEERING AND CONSTRUCTION, INC., helps both start-up and high-capacity distilleries across North America and the Caribbean. Headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the company is celebrating its fourth decade as a leading full-service engineering, design-build, and construction firm. SYMBIONT’s team and their innovative engineering technologies for the spirits and beverage industry help distilleries achieve their environmental and sustainability goals. They prepare start-ups for potential expansion and scalability.

SYMBIONT tends to work with growing operations and larger facilities that typically have a bottleneck: waste stream pitfalls, planning, and other concerns that are necessary but not in the distillery’s realm of expertise. SYMBIONT provides a diverse team of engineering experts from virtually all fields to address those concerns. Start-up distilleries can benefit from SYMBIONT’S guidance with a broad range of services, such as facility planning, construction and fabrication, regulatory requirements, water conservation/reuse/reduction, waste byproduct management, waste-to-energy alternatives, utilities engineering for equipment integration and process design and controls systems.

SYMBIONT started working with distilleries due to the firm’s experience with very-unique, high-strength waste services as a qualified engineering consulting firm. High strength waste is a challenge throughout the spirits and beverage industry.

Joe Kolodzinski, Director, and Jeff VanVoorhis, Vice President, for SYMBIONT help distillery start-ups and other beverage manufacturers steer clear of expensive mistakes by guiding them to focus in on the big picture: long-term growth.

Many start-ups, Kolodzinski says, do not always consider the impact of non-equipment aspects to the bottom line. This includes a checklist involving environmental issues, space constraints, utility capacity as well as potential utility and building modifications. Kolodzinski says that with a little foresight, start-ups can avoid many missteps.

“A major misstep,” he says, “is in facility planning: either planning for a new facility or an addition to an existing facility. We understand the start-up process intimately and can help you identify the utilities you need. As a full-service engineering and construction firm, SYMBIONT works closely with you to take a project from concept to production and advises you on how decisions made at the front end of the project can have a significant impact on your facility’s operations.”

“Are you selecting your site based on distribution and foot traffic, or are you looking at available utilities? We have seen issues where the city in which the client was planning to put their plant did not have an infrastructure of sufficient size and capacity to handle their waste stream. This results in lots of costs upgrading city sewer lines and a low allowable limit of waste stream constituents. Find out if you are in a location that has a municipal treatment plant; understand the location of the site and whether the infrastructure is already in place or there would be costs associated with it. Sure, you need a certain amount of acreage, but you really need to understand all of the true costs.”

As raw ingredients enter the facility and go through the process from milling and cooking through fermenting and distillation, waste byproducts are a result. SYMBIONT knows how to address the challenges waste byproducts and stillage present. During the conceptual phases of a project, SYMBIONT evaluates site and location-specific alternatives to provide an optimized solution to handling waste byproducts.

“Not knowing how to handle waste byproducts and wastewater,” notes VanVoorhis, “is literally like pouring money down the drain.” He continues, “What are you going to do with them? Do the municipal utilities have capacity to accept your waste byproducts and wastewater? In some cases, they do not, which means you have to truck waste and that’s a significant, often unanticipated cost. Plan for your distillery’s wastewater/water management. Understand what’s required, the costs and the alternatives. Look at everything upfront and understand the big picture. We help you do this. We know common, and not-so-common mistakes, and advise you on how to avoid them. If your goals are set at zero waste, you can be a leader in water use. We’ve done work for facilities to go to zero liquid discharge (ZLD) and can efficiently develop that pathway for you.”

Additionally, having worked across North America and the Caribbean, SYMBIONT professionals understand and can explain how codes and regulations vary from location to location. Their compliance experts get involved during the planning stages to provide distilleries with an understanding of the local regulatory and compliance agencies that will govern the project. Kolodzinski says, “Our clients know early on what may drive design decisions and the related costs. SYMBIONT’S regulatory experts help you understand the applicable code requirements based on site and what agencies to work with for local regulatory and compliance agencies.”

From a destination standpoint, the location of the distillery may also be such that there are limitations in local qualified contractors to support the specialized installation needs. Kolodzinski explains, “Project costs will be impacted if a higher level of engineering support is required to oversee the installation and verify installation aligns with the design. Additionally, if qualified contractors are coming from outside the local area, the installation costs may increase due to additional travel and living costs.

When it comes to implementation of the project, start-up distilleries should look at the availability of qualified contractors in their locations. A higher level of oversight from the project engineering team may be needed if the contractors available do not have experience installing distillery systems.”

SYMBIONT has construction capabilities and construction leaders who have worked nationwide, in Canada, and in the Caribbean. They can assemble a pool of qualified contractors with whom the firm has experience. Contractors you can trust to provide the installation quality your project requires and deserves.

Müller Pot Stills

Among the most important expenses of a startup distillery is, of course, the still. Choosing the right one is about research and the reliability of information from someone who knows the industry.

Few know more about beginning a startup distillery than Frank Deiter, a master distiller who founded Okanagan Spirit in 2004, which is among the first craft distilleries established in British Columbia, Canada. These days, Deiter is a consultant for Müller Pot Stills and represents the company in North America.

Müller Pot Stills has clients spread across six continents in 51 countries. In business since 1929 with its manufacturing headquarters in Germany, the fourth-generation, family-owned company creates custom-made stills. Many consider the stills to be engineering marvels, formed by a combination of traditional craftsmanship and state-of-the-art technology. One thing that hasn’t changed is the company’s practice of fashioning stills using hammered copper. Deiter explains why this process distinguishes Müller Pot Stills from its competitors.

“The hammering of the copper increases the hardness of the copper; thus, the catalytic properties of the copper stay active way longer. Thus it will render nice smooth distilled products for a longer period of time between cleaning cycles.”

The stills feature patented design elements, including unique, advanced column technology. That, combined with a well-recognized aroma hat, distinguishes the brand from its competitors. The workmanship, Deiter says, is like no other.

“If it comes to distilling equipment, I want to sell only the best. And, there is no equivalent production facility to be found that is as good or better than the equipment coming from Müller in Germany.”

Aside from acquiring equipment and a physical plant, startup distilleries need legal advice to help navigate through numerous regulations, permits and other government requirements. There are state regulations and federal agencies to consider, including the Food and Drug Administration and Occupational Health and Safety Administration. CJ Archer may have said it best: “You cannot put a label on a bottle until the TTB has given its blessing.”

The Basics of Nitrogen and CO2 Use in Breweries & Distilleries

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

For many years, carbon dioxide has been used in brewing and distilling processes. Recently, some producers have switched from CO2 to nitrogen or use both CO2 and nitrogen because each has unique advantages. To help make the right choice for your operations, here are a few things to think about regarding the use of carbon dioxide and nitrogen for craft beverages.

Using CO2 in Breweries & Distilleries

  For brewing and distilling, beverage producers use CO2 to remove air and protect the product from oxidation. This ensures good taste, mouthfeel, quality and shelf stability. CO2 can be pumped into kegs and kept at pressure to carbonate beer and give it a foamy texture. CO2 is often transported as a cryogenic liquid, which requires trailers and railcars for transportation.

  Ken Hoffman, vice president of sales for Allcryo, Inc., told Beverage Master Magazine that the first factors his company considers for CO2 tanks are tank size and monthly use volumes. He also said to consider the proximity of the use site to the supply source. Based in Montgomery, Texas, Allcryo manufactures, refurbishes and services cryogenic tanks, CO2 tanks and related equipment.

  “With a refrigerated CO2 tank, you can have more storage than you might need because there is no loss of product,” Hoffman said. “It is important not to have an undersized tank, as the expense of additional delivery charges and the threat of run-outs is far more expensive than the savings of buying a smaller tank. It is also important to size for future growth.”

Using Nitrogen in Breweries & Distilleries

  Nitrogen serves some of the same purposes as CO2 in craft beverage production, such as protecting against oxygenation, extending shelf life and improving taste and aroma. Nitrogen is used in pressurized containers and can be incorporated before or after filling and before capping and seaming. For small breweries, nitrogen often comes in liquid form from gas distributors. For larger nitrogen needs, it can be transferred from a supply tank using vacuum-insulated piping.

  Vacuum Barrier Corporation is a cryogenic engineering company that manufactures vacuum jacketed piping and equipment for use in multiple industries, including breweries and distilleries.

  “Our Semiflex and Cobraflex vacuum jacketed piping are used to safely and efficiently transfer cryogenic liquid nitrogen. Our Nitrodoser systems are used for inerting or pressurizing containers and for nitrogenating beer and coffee,” Dana P. Muse, the international technical sales engineer for Vacuum Barrier Corporation, told Beverage Master Magazine.

  Allcryo also offers systems for liquid nitrogen, and Hoffman said that the primary application of their products is to strengthen thin-walled plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

Equipment Needed for CO2 and Nitrogen

  Specialized equipment is needed to facilitate the use of both CO2 and nitrogen in beer or spirits production.

  “The Vacuum Barrier Nitrodoser system drops a single dose of liquid nitrogen into the top of the container just before the cap or lid is applied,” Muse said. “The drop of liquid nitrogen is trapped inside the container, and as it evaporates and warms up, it expands, pressurizing the container.”

  Muse said that for pure spirits, a plastic bottle could benefit from some internal pressure to reduce jams on the filling line, improve stacking strength, improve storage efficiency and improve the product appearance.

  “We have also seen an increase in the market for pre-mixed cocktails in aluminum cans,” he said. “Carbonated cocktails, like a Cuba Libre or Moscow Mule, already have internal pressure created by the CO2. However, still cocktails, like a margarita or a screwdriver, in an aluminum can are extremely flimsy and easily crushed without internal pressure created by liquid nitrogen.”

  For breweries, liquid nitrogen has two different applications. On a canning line or a bottling line without a pre-evacuation system, a drop of liquid nitrogen into the empty container purges out oxygen and creates an inert atmosphere. This helps reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen in the beer to improve the shelf life. Liquid nitrogen is also used for nitrogenated beers in single-serve containers.

  “A drop of liquid nitrogen in the headspace will pressurize the container, and under the right conditions, the nitrogen will dissolve into the beer over time,” Muse said. “When the container is opened, the nitrogen will come out of solution and create the cascading bubbles and creamy foam that customers expect. However, in order to get the nitrogen to come out of solution quickly, either the container needs to have a ‘widget,’ or the consumer needs to be aware of how to ‘hard-pour’ the beverage. Without a widget or a hard pour, the nitrogen will not create the cascade or foam, and the beer will be flat.”

Tanks for CO2 and Nitrogen

  Breweries and distilleries can buy a new or refurbished foam insulated tank for their equipment. Allcryo’s refurbished tanks are a cost-effective solution that performs as well as new tanks because the refurbishment process comes with a warranty and includes all-new, two-part poly-foam insulation, paint, pipes and safety valves.

  “Typical cost savings on a refurbished tank over a new tank is between 20% and 30%,” said Hoffman. “If purchasing a new, refurbished or used vacuum jacketed tank, it is extremely important that the vacuum is sound and the tank is complete with refrigeration coils that afford the opportunity to add refrigeration if the vacuum becomes compromised. The coils are necessary to allow pressure control and avoid the possibility of high pressure and venting of CO2.”

  Both the foam insulated and vacuum jacketed tanks are offered by Allcryo and work well under most conditions, with the significant differences being cost, application and the installation site.

  “A vacuum jacketed tank does not require electricity, but the ability to control pressure in the tank is limited without an inner coil,” Hoffman said. “With a foam insulted tank, the refrigeration loop maintains the liquid CO2 in a constant pressure range. The system is set to automatically kick on when necessary, and the balance of the time is not running.”

  Concerning installation, Hoffman said that most vacuum jacketed tanks are vertical and require a substantial foundation. However, a horizontal tank might be more affordable if there is enough space available. 

Pros & Cons of CO2 and Nitrogen

  CO2 is the industry standard, which means that it is readily available and well-tested for craft beverage purposes. However, CO2 can be challenging and expensive to transport. Also, recent shortages of CO2 have slowed production for some beverage producers.

  Nitrogen offers a unique mouthfeel and smoothness because it is less soluble than CO2. Yet, it is not beneficial for hop-forward beers that are meant to have a bite to them rather than a creamy consistency. Nitrogen can be used for various applications, including cleaning, pressurizing and inerting. These applications make it a practical choice and cost-efficient since it is often cheaper than CO2, especially with onsite nitrogen generation. With onsite generation, a producer can be more efficient without waiting for a supplier’s delivery or wasting gas. It may also be a way to reduce the company’s carbon footprint since nitrogen releases fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

  Some beverage producers are using CO2 and nitrogen blends to meet their needs. However, no other substitutes have proven effective for these purposes at a cost-effective rate.

Safety Considerations for CO2 and Nitrogen

  Working with CO2 or nitrogen in any capacity can be dangerous without the proper training and safety protocols in place. Gas can collect at the bottom of tanks and spill out onto the floor to create hazards. Production facilities should have a gas detection system to alert workers to dangers or automatically activate ventilation systems. Preventative maintenance should include testing tanks for residue buildup and ensuring that gas supply lines do not have condensation or standing liquid inside. In-line filtration can be used to scrub away undesirable chemicals and moisture that collects during the production process.

  “Most people understand liquid nitrogen is cold enough to cause frostbite and cold burns if it directly contacts the skin,” Muse said. “Cryogenic gloves and face shields should be used anytime there is a risk of direct exposure to the liquid nitrogen.”

  Liquid nitrogen should only be used in a well-ventilated area, where it may be necessary to install oxygen monitors. Also, nitrogen expands to 700 times its original volume when it changes from a liquid to a gas.

  “We use this expansion to pressurize or purge out oxygen from containers, but if there is a nitrogen leak, it could eventually push all the air and oxygen out of an entire room,” Muse said. “If someone enters an area without enough oxygen, it can cause asphyxiation and death. Proper ventilation and oxygen monitors help minimize this risk.”

  Vacuum Barrier provides pressure relief valves at critical locations to eliminate the risk of over-pressurizing and prevent explosions. If too much liquid nitrogen becomes trapped inside a sealed volume, the expansion from liquid to gas could create enough pressure to explode. Relief valves must be set at the correct pressure, so if they must open, the gas escapes in an area away from people.

  “Vacuum Barrier works with each of our customers to ensure that any personnel working with or near our equipment will have the correct training for proper and safe handling of liquid nitrogen,” Muse said.

  “To help mitigate the risk of asphyxiation, it is very important to monitor the atmosphere in process areas to ensure that OSHA-mandated oxygen levels are maintained,” Hoffman from Allcryo said. He also suggested producers install alarm systems to constantly monitor the atmosphere and warn of dangerously low oxygen content.

  Both liquid CO2 and liquid nitrogen are stored at very low temperatures and can cause injury if not handled properly. “Allcryo can work with site safety personnel and assist in the design and installation of safety systems,” Hoffman said. “Allcryo can also provide input on foundation design to meet seismic and wind load requirements of the specific location and provide guidance on NFPA-adjacent exposure requirements, such as proximity to overhead electrical wires, sewer drains and vehicular traffic.”b

Expert Advice Goes a Long Way

  CO2 and nitrogen can be great choices for a brewery or distillery, depending on its specific needs and production level. When making this decision, make sure to communicate your needs and goals with your supplier to assess the risks and maintain top quality.

  Muse from Vacuum Barrier said that for anyone considering using liquid nitrogen for any reason, the most important thing to do is speak with an expert.

  “Certainly, talking with coworkers and associates in the industry who have experience with liquid nitrogen might provide some basic information, but they might also pass along some bad habits or incorrect assumptions,” Muse said. “Many people get frustrated when first trying to use liquid nitrogen and jump to the conclusion that it doesn’t work when in reality, they might just be using it incorrectly. Not only is this a waste of time and effort, but if not handled properly, there is a risk of injury.”

Craft Gluten-Free Beers and Spirits That Will Win Fans for All Occasions

By: Laura K. Allred, Ph.D., Regulatory Manager, Gluten Intolerance Group and Jeanne Reid, Marketing Manager, Gluten Intolerance Group

The desire to gather over good food and drink is a powerful urge for most people. For those who have adopted a gluten-free diet, finding ways to socialize is often complicated by the need for refreshments that don’t contain gluten. Members of the gluten-free community crave a sense of belonging and normalcy as much as anybody, but they don’t want to eat or drink anything that will make them sick. Makers of gluten-free craft beers and spirits can instill trust in consumers by following best practices for manufacturing gluten-free beverages, heeding recent changes in labeling requirements, and ensuring that their product is truly gluten-free.

The Gluten-Free Market for Alcoholic Beverages

  Along with the rest of the gluten-free market, which exhibits a compound annual growth rate of 9.2% and is projected to reach $43 billion by 2027, demand for alcoholic beverages that are gluten-free is growing. The growth in the gluten-free market is driven by rising rates of various forms of gluten sensitivity, in addition to increased diagnosis of celiac disease.

  While the market for gluten-free alcohol is comparable to that of other gluten-free products, consumers are particularly concerned about the safety of alcoholic beverages because so many of them are made from grains that contain gluten. Gluten-free consumers tend to be avid researchers who carefully read ingredient lists and doublecheck claims by visiting manufacturers’ websites. Given the choice, gluten-free consumers will always opt for products that are labeled gluten-free. What’s more, they’re often willing to pay more for a product that lives up to its gluten-free name.

Recent Rule Changes for Fermented and Distilled Beverages

  For people with celiac disease and other forms of gluten sensitivity, finding gluten-free products isn’t a dietary or wellness fad; it’s a requirement for remaining healthy and avoiding unpleasant physical symptoms. Brands getting into the gluten-free market need to understand that consumers with a medically prescribed diet will have more demands than the average consumer, and thus companies also need to go the extra mile to be transparent about their processes. You can reassure consumers by demonstrating you understand legal requirements for labeling gluten-free products, particularly recent rule changes by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

  In 2020, the FDA responded to growing awareness that ELISA tests used to identify gluten proteins in foods and beverages don’t reliably detect residual gluten in fermented products. To address the issue, the FDA passed a new rule that requires manufacturers to start with gluten-free ingredients if they want to label products as gluten-free. At the same time, the FDA ruled that distilled products made from grains containing gluten could be labeled as gluten-free because distillation removes gluten proteins from the finished product. Following the lead of the FDA, the TTB released a ruling that allows makers of distilled beverages to advertise and label those products as gluten-free—even if they are made with grains that contain gluten.

Fermentation vs. Distillation What’s Involved?

  To understand the rationale behind the FDA and TTB rulings, makers of craft beers and spirits need to be aware of the differences between fermentation and distillation. Typically, production of alcoholic beverages starts with fermentation. The fermentation process converts sugars into ethyl alcohol by breaking down substances like grain or potatoes through the introduction of yeasts, bacteria or other microorganisms. Beer usually starts with the fermentation of wheat or barley, two gluten-containing grains. Distilled spirits like whisky start with wheat or rye, while vodka can also be made with sugar cane or potatoes. Fermentation processes may break down some of the gluten proteins in beer or spirits, but it won’t remove all of them.

  Distillation involves the boiling and condensation of fermented products to separate particulates in a liquid. During the distillation process, fermented liquid is heated up in a still. Under high temperatures, the most volatile compounds like alcohol become gases that rise to the top, while the heavier, less volatile  compounds, including gluten, sink to the bottom. Once the alcohol is re-condensed and collected, the resulting product becomes protein- and gluten-free.

The Benefits of Third-Party Certification

  The safest bet for gluten-free consumers is to look for products that are labeled or certified as gluten-free. The benefits of certifying alcoholic beverages as gluten-free are many. According to FMI U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends, 29% of all shoppers look for certification claims on packaging for food and beverages—and this is particularly true for gluten-free consumers. These consumers look for brands that inspire confidence, which means that in addition to labeling products gluten-free, taking the step to get third-party certification, like that of the Gluten Intolerance Group’s Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO), goes a long way in building brand loyalty among the gluten-free community.

  For one leading producer of vodka, obtaining GFCO certification and prominently displaying the certification logo on a paper sleeve attached to their bottles has made their product the vodka of choice for gluten-free consumers, who are very brand loyal. For manufacturers, certifying alcoholic beverages can be a real differentiator and selling point in a booming market.

Best Practices for Producing Gluten-Free Beer and Spirits

  Producers of craft beers and spirits can capitalize on demand for gluten-free products, but it’s important for companies to follow the correct procedures for manufacturing these beverages. The process of producing gluten-free alcoholic beverages starts with sourcing gluten-free ingredients for products that are fermented but not distilled and ensuring that all gluten has been removed from products that are distilled. Manufacturers should also make sure their facilities are set up to avoid cross-contamination. One option is to produce alcohol in a dedicated gluten-free facility. While only 15 of the 8,000 breweries in the US are dedicated gluten-free facilities, this number has grown from just around three in 2016.

  However, using a dedicated facility to produce gluten-free beverages isn’t your only option. Provided you follow best practices for preventing cross-contamination, there is no reason you can’t produce gluten-free products in a non-dedicated facility. You will need to take extra precautions by cleaning and testing any shared equipment, and some certifications, like GFCO, recommend using dedicated gluten-free equipment on production lines, simply because the equipment used to distill alcohol can be difficult to take apart and clean thoroughly. On the other hand, if you’re doing small batch production and you can get inside your equipment to clean and swab it, you can use shared equipment. You just need to verify that you’ve removed all traces of gluten before you make your next gluten-free batch.

  As far as cleaning solutions go, you don’t need to spend top dollar on any specialty products. Standard soap and water will do. The important part of the process is swabbing to test for the presence of gluten or protein once you’ve cleaned your equipment. To demonstrate the effectiveness of your distillation process at removing proteins, GFCO recommends performing a lab procedure called an “amino acid analysis” that uses mass spectrometry to measure the amount of residual amino acids in distillates. A commercial lab can assist with the testing process, particularly for smaller distilleries that don’t have the equipment to conduct independent testing.

Things to Look Out for When Producing Gluten-Free Alcohol

  If you are not making a distilled product—if you are, say, brewing beer—you should start with higher quality grains and do a visual inspection once they enter your facility to ensure they really are gluten-free. You should also beware of advertising “gluten-removed” beer to gluten-free consumers. Gluten-removed beer is manufactured using wheat, rye, barley or some other common gluten grain, and then, after fermentation, is typically treated enzymatically in a way that makes the product test negative for gluten. However, because testing does not reliably detect the presence of all residual proteins that people with celiac disease react to, the TTB has ruled that only beer that starts with gluten-free grains can be labeled as gluten-free. If you want to produce a gluten-free product, another option is hard seltzer. Although many of these products start with malt, which is most commonly made from barley, hard seltzer can also be produced using sugar to create an inherently gluten-free product.

  Distillers of hard alcohol should also pay careful attention to any added flavorings: some of these ingredients include gluten and thus introduce the potential for cross-contamination. Manufacturers should also take care when using old barrels to season alcohol, because some of these barrels are sealed with wheat paste and may contain trace amounts of gluten.

  As the gluten-free market continues to grow, more consumers are seeking options for gluten-free alcoholic beverages and many are willing to pay a premium for products they know they can trust. Starting with quality ingredients, adopting best practices for cleaning and testing your equipment and obtaining third-party certification, like GFCO, are three ways you can assure consumers that your gluten-free product is safe for consumption. Take the right steps, and your gluten-free alcoholic beers and spirits can become the next must-have brand for any occasion.

  Laura K. Allred, Ph.D. is the regulatory manager for the Gluten Intolerance Group’s Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO). Allred’s experience includes a background in immunology and eight years of directing a food testing laboratory and test kit manufacturing operation. The GFCO certification logo is the symbol of trust for the gluten-free community, with more than 60,000 products certified worldwide.

  Jeanne Reid is the marketing manager for the nonprofit Gluten Intolerance Group. Reid is a marketing and advertising professional with 20 years in the retail, restaurant, and CPG industries as well as cause-related efforts. A difficult family battle with celiac disease was an eye-opener for Reid and provided an opportunity for her to gain extensive knowledge and expertise on the gluten-free market.

For more information, visit…www.gluten.org and www.gfco.org

The Best Approaches for Safety in the Brewery and Distillery

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

As a craft brewer or distiller, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of the beverage production process. After all, from securing supplies to marketing products and everything in between, there’s a lot to keep in order.

  Among the many competing demands, safety sometimes gets taken for granted or overlooked. However, it’s essential to always keep safety on the radar and on the minds of staff. Beverage producers can benefit from a little refresher on safety to protect their valuable workers while also maximizing efficiency and productivity.

Safety Hazards in Breweries & Distilleries

  Because of everything involved in the brewing and distilling processes, many things can go very right or very wrong depending on how operations are run. Various hazards exist in a beverage production facility that workers need to be aware of and trained to address.

  Injuries can occur due to lifting, pushing and carrying equipment or because of falls on slippery floors. Working at tall heights and on ladders can cause injuries, while clutter left behind on floors and in confined spaces can cause tripping. Carbon dioxide gas, boiling liquids, steam, hot surfaces and not being properly trained to use machinery pose hazards. Other causes for concern are flammable chemicals, broken glass and grain dust exposure. Meanwhile, repetitive movements without good ergonomic tools can put employees at risk, and high noise levels can cause ear damage.

  “All semi-finished and finished products are flammable, so proper engineering and procedural controls must be designed, installed and tested, and all staff trained on these controls and procedures,” said Rich Buoni, founding owner of Pennsylvania Distilling Company in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Distilling is a small distillery that produces grain-to-glass vodka, whiskey, rum and gin. Its location offers tasting flights, artisan cocktails, tours and bottle sales in a relaxed environment.

  “As a chemical engineer with significant global experience, it is my opinion that distillery stills should never be direct-fired, as that is simply too intrinsically unsafe regardless of how large the installed base may be,” he said. “Steam, preferably through a vessel jacket or coils, is the best and safest design, although other heating fluids, such as circulating nonflammable hot oil, are acceptable. Electric heating coils are also acceptable but less preferable for a number of reasons.”

  On the brewery side of things, Beverage Master Magazine connected with Chad Gunderson, the president, CEO and head of brewing operations at Half Brothers Brewing Company in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Half Brothers is a family-friendly craft brewery specializing in creating unique beers with innovative ingredients and techniques in a relaxed gathering spot with a taproom, kitchen, live music and local art.

  When asked about the most important safety concerns that brewery owners and employees should be aware of, Gunderson said that “how to properly handle cleaning chemicals, hot water, hose management and cleaning floors” are his top recommendations.

The Role of

Personal Protective Equipment

  Personal protective equipment is vital across many industries, including craft beverage production. Breweries and distilleries should ensure that employees wear the proper clothing and footwear to do their jobs safely and without distraction or hazards. Protection for the eyes, ears and hands should be worn when operating specialized pieces of machinery that can put the body at risk.

  PPE has played an even more significant role in the craft beverage industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on where a producer operates and what the ever-changing guidelines dictate, front-of-house staff members who interact with the general public may also need to utilize face masks, face shields, gloves, hand sanitizer and other sanitation measures.

Responsibilities of

Workers and Supervisors

  Ensuring that a brewery or distillery operates in a safe environment starts with good communication among everyone who works onsite. Owners and managers can begin this process by asking employees if they feel safe in the workplace and encouraging them to raise concerns about any potential hazards they have noticed in the facility.

  Buoni at Pennsylvania Distilling Company told Beverage Master Magazine that employee safety training is conducted by him directly. This includes testing equipment controls and safety procedures. 

  “Our safety checklist includes proper use of PPE, fire extinguishers, proper storage of products and chemicals, proper use of pumps and compressors, understanding of peripheral equipment including the steam boiler and chiller, use of any electrical equipment, grounding of tanks and pumps, food processing safety and how to lift objects like grain bags safely,” Buoni said.

  At Half Brothers Brewing, “Each new employee has an SOP manual and exam they must complete before working alone in the building and factory,” said Gunderson.

  The first places to look for safety hazards include the production facility and anywhere open to the public. But don’t forget about behind-the-scenes locations such as the shipping and receiving area or the bathrooms. A safety plan might include briefing delivery drivers and vendors about safety protocols unique to the facility.

Safety Tips for Brewers and Distillers

  Flooring-related slips, trips and falls are among the most critical safety concerns in a brewery or distillery. To ensure that the floors are safe to walk on, spills should be cleaned up as quickly as possible, relevant signage posted, and obstructions moved out of walkways. Obstructions include cords, boxes, bottles, cans and employees’ personal bags. Employees should wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes to protect themselves from broken glass, chemical spills and slippery surfaces.

  Chemical leaks, spills and handling are significant concerns for craft beverage producers because of how dangerous these substances can be when misused. Goggles, protective footwear and safety aprons can help prevent injuries due to chemical exposure. Make sure to clearly label hazardous materials, so employees know to avoid these products or use extra caution when handling them. Ensure proper ventilation in areas where chemicals are used, particularly in small spaces.

  Initial and ongoing safety training is important to prepare employees for potentially dangerous situations and common scenarios that could turn deadly without a moment’s notice. In smaller operations with just a few staff members, it might be necessary to cross-train all employees on the various safety procedures, so everyone is prepared to handle diverse tasks throughout the day. Being proactive with training is always preferable to training in response to an incident. In addition to how to safely use specialized equipment, it may also be beneficial to train employees on first aid, CPR and basic safety tips for seemingly simple tasks like opening boxes and stocking supplies.

  OSHA compliance is required of brewery and distillery owners in order to keep their licenses to operate. Laws and regulations in the alcohol industry frequently change, so producers should keep up with any updates. OSHA is known to show up unannounced to inspect and ensure that safety regulations are being followed. Some of the main things these inspectors look for are cluttered walkways, chemical storage and labeling, keg storage and written records that document training plans, hazard assessments and injury logs.

How to Keep Your

Staff and Customers Safe

  Safety in the brewery or distillery may seem like little more than common sense at first glance, but gentle reminders can go a long way in helping staff members remember what’s most important. Without suitable safety protocols in place, a beverage business could be subjected to extra inspections and incident investigations that disrupt normal operations and put the company at risk of fines or discipline.

  Buoni from Pennsylvania Distilling Company said that his best advice for a new distillery concerning safety is to ensure that they have a solid understanding of the distillation process from beginning to end. 

  “It’s critically important to know how the dots are connected rather than just taking somebody else’s recipe and making liquor,” he said. “Appropriate education is the best answer. For the tasting room, it is really very similar to any bar that serves alcohol to patrons. Having appropriately certified bartenders and servers is key. Staff must understand the uniqueness of a different license class so that all laws are followed.”

  Gunderson at Half Brothers Brewing Company recommends that brand-new breweries thoroughly research the proper chemical training, dosage, time and handling.

  “Clean beer starts at the source of cleaning SOPs,” he said.

  Keeping up with all of these safety requirements and regulations might feel like a hassle, but there’s no way around it if you want to run a reputable craft beverage business. By encouraging a proactive safety culture in your brewery or distillery, you will ultimately attract the types of employees and customers you want and need to stay in business while also letting people know that you honestly care about their health and safety.

Reverence Barrel Works: A Small Ontario Brewery with BIG IDEAS

By: Alyssa Andres

In the world of craft beer, trends abound. Styles of beer seem to become popular in waves – whether it’s fruity sours or ridiculously hoppy triple IPAs. When breweries catch on to a trend, they tend to ride with it. This results in a market saturated with similar offerings, while, somewhat ironically, it seems what many craft beer lovers are looking for is something new.

  While most breweries across North America are producing many of the same styles of beer and using similar brewing techniques, there is a small town brewery in Cambridge, Ontario, that is doing the opposite. Reverence Barrel Works has built itself on experimentation with the goal of producing small-batch craft beer full of personality.

  Reverence Barrel Works owners Brett Hunter and Matt Duimering always wanted to focus on two things: experimentation and quality. The two brewers started RBW in September 2019 after quitting their day jobs and quickly started playing around with different concepts for their beer. They’d both used traditional and non-traditional methods of brewing, incorporating slow-fermentation techniques, wild yeast strains and an array of different ingredients. They experimented with beer-wine hybrids, wild-foraged edibles and have even used gelatin in some of their beer. By playing with techniques and styles, RBW has managed to catch the attention of craft beer lovers across Ontario.

  The craft beer scene within Ontario is vast and spans across the entire province. There are microbreweries in some of the smallest towns in Ontario, and craft beer lovers will travel great distances to find the latest and greatest that breweries have to offer. Hunter and Duimering opened their brewery with this concept in mind. They knew if they had something on their roster that was a must-try, it would put their small brewery on the map for people touring the craft beer circuit.

  The release of Reverence Slrrp! Blue in December 2020 did just that. Hunter and Duimering created an 8% ABV, slightly soured blonde ale with the “natural flavor of blue” and the addition of gelatin, giving the beer a texture similar to unset jello. Although not something most people would care to drink every day, it was something that everyone wanted to try.

  “People drink with their eyes,” said Duimering. “When you’re scrolling through Instagram, you’re used to scrolling past a picture of beer, a picture of beer, and now there’s a picture of this blue beverage in front of you. You stop scrolling immediately.”

  Slrrp! Blue sold out quickly and was followed by Slrrp! Green and Slrrp! Red. The beers were something people felt they needed to try, and because they were produced in small batches, they sold out quickly after each release. Although successful, the Slrrp! series was more of a gimmick for Reverence to draw attention to the brewery. Their primary focus is on producing more traditional beers with a modern flair.

  Hunter and Duimering have experimented with a wide range of styles, from red wine barrel-aged sour red ales to maple barrel-aged pastry stouts. They use natural fermentation methods for their beer, so patience is a virtue when creating their products. Some beers take a few months to produce; others will stay in barrel for years. In the end, it’s all about quality and ingenuity.

  Since releasing their Slrrp! series, the brewers have gone on to partner with local wineries to create beer-wine hybrids using several grape varietals and brewing techniques. They chose to work with wineries that share their similar vision and values. They wanted to pair with like-minded people also focused on creating quality products that represent the region and reflect the unique terroir and climate of Ontario.

  Hunter and Duimering decided to source grapes from Traynor Family Vineyard in Prince Edward County, Ontario, for their beer-wine hybrid “Glou Glou Marquette.” The Traynor Vineyard is a small winery focused on sustainable permaculture, hand-harvesting their grapes and using natural, low intervention winemaking techniques. The brewers used Marquette grapes from the Traynor Vineyard and added them to a blend of golden sour ales. The beer spent five months in puncheons resting on the grapes, giving it a deep color and slight tannin. With rich flavors of red cherry and black raspberry, this hybrid beverage drinks more like a pét-nat wine than a traditional beer.

  Duimering said he loves working in this hybrid style that expresses the terroir and uses natural fermentation. “We don’t want to be pitching just wine yeast strains into our beer because I can go buy those commercial strains,” he said. “We want to work with people who are asking what is the native microflora? What is the flavor of Ontario? So whatever [yeast] is on the grapes, that’s what ferments them. We put that in our beer, and you get that terroir carrying over.”

  By incorporating wine into their beer, Reverence is appealing to a whole new demographic of drinkers. Being located close to wine country, it makes sense to utilize these ingredients and draw in wine lovers who are touring the area. Reverence has released several of these wine-beer hybrids, including a Chardonnay barrel-aged brett Saison aged on orange wine skins and a Flemish red ale aged for two months on Cabernet Franc skins. These beers are alive with personality and flavor, bringing the taste of the region to life.

  Located an hour west of Toronto, Reverence Barrel Works is not only surrounded by wine country but also by expansive farmland and sprawling forests. Naturally, Hunter and Duimering also gravitate to incorporating some of the region’s other fruit and flora into their beer. They’ve utilized wild foraged sumac to create their “Patience & Fruition Sumac,” a tequila barrel-aged golden sour with notes of lemon and raspberry. They are now awaiting warmer weather to incorporate other wild edibles into their recipes, including dandelion, for a natural bitterness.

  As a young brewery, the two brewers are continuing to experiment and expand. Many of their beers are extremely small batch and don’t make it onto their website or bottle shop. As a result, Reverence Barrel Works has started a “Barrel Club,” offering its members exclusive access to these limited edition beers. Each member receives 12 different beers a year not available to the public. Other benefits include access to pre-order unreleased beers and double bottle limits on limited edition beers. The Barrel Club allows RBW to showcase their most experimental beers as well as brews that would never be feasible to produce on a large scale due to cost and labor. They can also test their products this way and get a sense of what people like before producing large quantities. The club has been a great success for the brewery, with all 75 spots in the club selling out last year.

  Another reason RBW has been successful, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is the support from bottle shops that have opened across the province. Before the pandemic, restaurants in Ontario were not legally able to sell takeout alcohol at all. Since restaurants were forced to close for most of 2020 and now into 2021, the government amended that law, enabling restaurants to offer takeout beer, wine and even cocktails in sealed containers. Many restaurants have transformed their operation into full-fledged bottle shops, offering an array of craft beer from across Ontario made by small producers that are not available in regular liquor stores. These shops have helped get RBW’s beer into the hands of a community that would otherwise never get to try their products.

  In their own bottle shop, RBW does not offer tasting flights. Their beer is sold only by the can or bottle in order to encourage their customers to experience the full product. “I’m not a fan of speed dating,” Duimering said, “and I often find when people do flights, they’ll get a heavy stout and a light lager and a fruited sour and then some hoppy IPA, and it just wipes your palate. We want people to really get to know the beer and enjoy it more.”

  The bottom line for Reverence Barrel Works is quality. Duimering and Hunter want to do things right and ensure that when people taste their beer, it’s the best it can be. Whether it takes a few months or a couple of years to produce, they’re turning out unique products made with love and passion, and that is something craft beer lovers want.

  Consumers are starting to move away from what is trendy and looking for something different – something unique that tells a story and represents a person or a place. By going back to more traditional methods of production, using local ingredients and taking their time to create quality, small-batch beer, Reverence Barrel Works is able to capture the attention of their target audience and make a name for themselves in an otherwise extremely saturated market. They are definitely a brewery to take note of while exploring the flavors that Ontario craft beer has to offer.

Barrels & Racking:

Modern Systems, Historic Preservation and Refurbished Options Producing Optimal Results

By: Cheryl Gray

In 1879, distiller Frederick Stitzel patented a revolutionary method that put a new spin on how barrels for spirits and other crafted drinks are stored.

  Some 150 years later, the practice of racking barrels, also known as ricking, is an industry-standard. Placing barrels on their sides, rather than upright, and supporting them underneath with either timber or metal, increases air circulation and space.  Racking keeps pressure off barrel staves, a problem that Stitzel and other early distillers learned could result in losing a barrel’s precious contents through leakage.

Space to Breathe

  Western Square Industries, headquartered in Stockton, California, has been in business for 43 years and is among the global leaders in its field. The company originally catered to the agriculture and livestock industries, specializing in two main products, steel gates and corrals. Western Square Industries now manufactures a broad range of barrel racking systems for distillers, breweries, wineries, meaderies and cideries. It serves clients across the United States, with a significant client base in California, Texas and the Eastern U.S.  

  President and CEO Trygve Mikkelsen took over the company in 1993 and quickly recognized its potential in manufacturing barrel racks. Mikkelsen told Beverage Master Magazine about one of the company’s most popular barrel systems for distillers expanding their operations.

  “The Barrel Master is our most popular model for distilleries in growth since the user can mix and match sizes of barrels in a safe forklift-able stacking system. The Barrel Master can also be bought with the barrels sitting on wheels for easy rotation if desired. This is possible because there is no weight on each barrel.”

  The Barrel Master 30/53 allows barrels ranging in size from 30 to 53 gallons to be stored on the same rack. The rack-on-rack design allows barrels to be more visible and accessible. There is also the opportunity to stack barrels higher without compromising stability. An optional wheel design provides 180-degree barrel rotation in either direction. Unlike other systems, which are more like pallets between barrels and require a uniform barrel shape and size, Mikkelson said Barrel Master’s rack-on-rack function eliminates any barrel putting pressure on another below. The rack also features a storage-saving design in that it can be nested into a stack when empty.  The racking system is manufactured from stainless steel and is available in several color and coating options.

  Mikkelsen said breweries and distilleries also use his company’s seven-inch two-barrel racks and another product known as Big Foot. Sometimes, Mikkelsen said, full access is less important than space.  In that case, clients choose the company’s low-profile rack, known as two-barrel four-inch racks.

Tradition and Preservation

  While newly established distilleries may look to modern-day solutions for ricking, the name Brown-Forman evokes a history like no other, including that it is the only distillery company in the world to make its own barrels, which are stored in a range of distilleries, some with warehouses and barrel ricking systems dating back to the late 1800s.

  When a young Jack Daniel first learned the art of making whiskey under the tutelage of a soon-to-be ex-slave-turned-master-distiller, Nathan Nearest Green, neither could have imagined that the whiskey created would become synonymous with the tradition and preservation of some of the most historic distilleries in the world. Brown-Forman is the keeper of that tradition, in the form of four distilleries, three in Kentucky and, of course, the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Tennessee. 

  With some 130 years of warehouses spread across four distilleries, the barrel ricking found in any given Brown-Forman warehouse depends upon many variables. Chris Morris, Woodford Reserve Master Distiller for Brown-Forman, explained that while a modern distillery can install all one type of ricking, the historical distilleries of Brown-Forman have operated on a different premise.

  “The date of construction for the numerous warehouses at our distilleries ranges from 1890 through 2020.  Needless to say, this means we have many types of barrel rick material, from wood to metal. Within those two groups, we find different types of wood and metal in use over the years. That depends on the era an individual warehouse was constructed and who built it. We also have some palletized storage as well as floor dunnage. The Woodford Reserve Distillery, for example, has warehouses with wooden ricks and others with heavy iron rails. Woodford also has some palletized space and floor dunnage. 

  “While our ricks are made of various materials, they are all using the same design that was patented in 1879: the ‘open rick’ design. Now, this again will vary in length and height, based on the size of the warehouse. Some wide houses will have a rick that holds 31 barrels, while others may only hold 11 due to the narrow width of the house. Most of our warehouses have ricks that are ‘three high’ or have three tiers of ricks.  However, we do have one house that has ‘six high’ ricks. Still, the design doesn’t change.  When our cooperage makes a barrel for a distillery, like a Woodford Reserve specific barrel, it doesn’t know which warehouse it is going to be entered into, so that barrel has to fit in every warehouse’s ricks.”

  When it comes to proper storage, Morris said, some things never change. “The proper storage for a barrel in the rick is simple. Rick it with the bung in the 12 o’clock position to minimize leakage. If a barrel already has a leak, rick it with the leak point at 12 o’clock. Otherwise, it is the condition of the warehouse that is important, rather than how the barrel sits in the rick.  We want clean, dry conditions in the warehouse.”

  Morris also said that there is no need to rotate barrels if there is good inventory control, along with batching barrels together to make a consistent flavor profile. A barrel matures based upon warehouse temperatures and the length of time the barrel spends in the warehouse, not by how it sits.

  “There has been a tremendous amount of study conducted on the impact temperature has on the maturation process,” he said. “Brown-Forman has research papers that date back to the 1920’s – we operated during Prohibition under medicinal permit KY—3. Based on these many studies, we never allow our Kentucky warehouses to drop below 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. This requires that each of our warehouses be constructed with thick masonry walls so they can be heated as necessary. They will get as hot as they will in the summer because they can’t be cooled. Jack Daniels has ‘iron clad’ warehouses, so they can’t be heated and will, therefore, get cold in the winter. So, Brown-Forman matures its whiskies across a variety of maturation styles.”

Reusing Resources

  Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, is home to The Barrel Broker, co-owned by John and Kathleen Gill, who started the business 11 years ago in California. The company sources and supplies used barrels and racks for breweries, wineries and distilleries. While its clients are primarily in the Midwest, The Barrel Broker also has business overseas.  The company’s customer base prefers barrels freshly emptied and slightly wet. A lot of that barrel stock comes from bourbon distilleries which, by law, can only use a barrel once for bourbon.

  Accordingly, The Barrel Broker has some insight to share on how to store barrels and what its customers prefer when selecting used racks. John Gill, who has a background in the wine tourism industry and heads quality control for the company, said that for his clients, choosing a racking system really comes down to need, preference and budget.

  “Racks are designed to safely store barrels two wide and up to five stacks high while being able to be moved with a pallet jack or forklift. The seven-inch racks allow ample space to access the bungs while stacked for pulling samples or topping off.  We suggest used, refurbished or new two-barrel racks in three-to-seven-inch sizes.  We sell them all for barrels, 15 to 60 gallons.” 

  Gill agrees with other experts, such as Morris, who say that barrels don’t need to be rotated. He told Beverage Master Magazine that he also believes that keeping the proper temperature in a warehouse is key to a successful product outcome from any barrel.

  “Ideal for breweries is high humidity, 60% to 70%, and cool temperatures to minimize evaporation loss. Ideal for distilleries is a continuous change of temperatures and humidity to achieve complex flavors and complexity in barrel-aged spirits.”

  Price and preference dictate what racking systems a brewery or distillery may choose. However, experts agree that controlling warehouse temperature, avoiding undue pressure on barrels, and keeping tabs on inventory control produce the best results.  Whether wood or metal, racking is a matter of knowing what will stack up as the best outcome for the product inside a barrel.

Mixology Mishaps:

How To Turn Negative Online Reviews into Successful Sales

By: Chris Mulvaney, President (CMDS)

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never …hurt us? Wait, never mind.  In the craft beverage industry, words can do damage, especially online where your reputation is always one Google search away.

  Facebook, Yelp, and Google are the three most-trusted review sources for local searches.  Reviews on these sites matter.  The way that your business treats a negative review can tell your customers a lot about you.  So, if you do happen to receive one, you need to act fast.

And while you are no doubt used to handling the difficult customer in person, social review channels are open for all to see, and negative comments can reflect poorly on your craft brand and, ultimately, cost you sales — right?  Well, yes and no.

  Yes, if you don’t manage your negative comments properly, then it could be bad news for your revenue stream. However, there are ways to offset negative reviews. And, if you respond the right way, you can turn those negative comments around and avoid having a damaging social media mishap.

  In fact, you can leverage them to actually improve your conversion rates, “boost” your sales, and ultimately create success for your craft beverage brand.

Create a Game Plan

  Before you take any action on a review, you should always have a game plan in place. That way, your social media presence remains consistent across all review platforms.

  Look at it this way: think of each negative review as an opportunity to show your customers that you care.

  Here are some game plan directives to put into place:

1.  Don’t Ignore Them or Be Defensive:  Hearing someone criticize your business hurts. It can be tempting to close your browser every time you read a bad review, or, even worse, to respond with a cutting retort, but burying your head in the sand or exhibiting online “road rage” isn’t going to solve anything. Instead, come up with the right response. Address them by name. Humanizing your approach will demonstrate your brand ethics. Make sure that you remain genuine. Don’t answer with an auto-reply. Take the time to actually investigate each issue. Don’t debate the validity of their statements, argue, or respond in an aggressive or combative way, even if you don’t agree. Arguing with a dissatisfied client online makes their original complaint seem more valid, and worse, it never makes you look good.

       Instead, thank the reviewer for their feedback and offer a sincere apology for their experience. You don’t have to take responsibility, but do show empathy.

2.  Respond as Quickly as Possible: It is vital to respond to negative comments as quickly as you can.  Doing this will give you a better chance to salvage those bad reviews. Each minute matters on social media because everyone has real-time access to it.

       To help you manage your social media responses in a timely manner, it’s best to hire an agency. They can assist with implementing tools so you are alerted in real-time whenever you receive a comment on one of your channels. You can quickly resolve any issues and prevent significant customer loss.

3.  Really Make the Effort to Solve the Problem: Making something right will also show potential customers that you are completely committed to ensuring satisfaction.

       In addition, many reviewers will go back and post their experience if it turns into a positive one, and every positive review takes the sting out of a negative one. Highlight these experiences so customers see that you care about the outcome.

4. Keep it Real:  An imperfect, but pretty strong rating appears much more believable to customers than having a perfect record. Unblemished reviews can look “fake” and more untrustworthy than their blemished counterparts. In a nutshell, negative reviews provide some honest feedback on your craft beverage product or service and can mix in nicely with the positive commentary.

Leverage Other Business’s Negative Experiences

  As the saying goes, a person who learns from other people’s mistakes is a wise person. And leveraging other people’s negative experiences can offer many benefits.

  Learning from others by doing your research helps you avoid the same obstacles.

  For instance, here are some top online customer complaints about various craft beverage establishments swirling around social media right now:

●    Place not open as advertised/Website not updated/Hours not listed.

●    Want a bigger pour for the price.

●    Employees are rude/non-compliant with safety.

●    Tour was longer than it stated.

●    Not clear about rules (kids, food, etc).

●    Not enough offerings/limited selection.

●    No Flight Layout (for breweries).

  All of these comments boil down to the same two issues: Online presence and customer communication.

  You know what takes to manage your business and your inventory. And, with the popularity of craft beverage businesses, there is a steady stream of new customers. Some patrons, used to a different type of establishment, or ones who are simply impatient when it comes to being served at a busy place, offer a different level of frustration.

  To counteract this, make sure you take notice of negative reviews from similar businesses to limit having the same thing happen to you.

  Here are some counter-acting responses to the above examples:

●   Always keep your website and hours of operation updated. Do you require reservations or are you first come, first serve? Do your hours change with the seasons? Close for private parties? Planning these updates in advance and keeping your business information up to date ensures you do not get disgruntled customers who are more likely to chalk up their “bad” experience through a negative review.

●   Be CLEAR with your pricing, online and in person. Be transparent about promotions and their start/end dates. State whether sales tax is or is not included. Be open about the size of your pour. Being transparent can avoid any unwelcome surprises.

●   Train your employees in the art of customer service. While you know there will be times when it will get busy and your staff may get pulled in different directions, the customer should always be treated in kind.  Consider security cameras to give peace of mind to both the customer and the staff so that any situation can have an objective eye.

●   Be aware of the most up-to-date safety and cleanliness measures. Make sure your business adheres to them to keep everyone as safe as possible all round.

●   If you provide tours, state when your tours begin and finish. If they can be more lax, state that too. Make sure this is stated online and in person.

●   Let your customer be prepared before they come to your business on what your rules are by posting them and in your place of business. Do you have a food menu or do you use a trusted vendor? Are kids allowed? Is there an “Adults-Only” area? Tasting rules? Your menu and offerings should be clearly stated online and in person. Make sure to keep this updated. Are you a brewery with a flight menu? Let them know either way. Some things cannot be avoided (such as running out of a flavor or not being able to offer growlers) … try to keep up on this as much as possible. Mention it on social or display it on a board at your business.

  You will always have to take the good with the bad, but the more you know, the more you can prepare for.

  It’s True: Those Bad reviews Can Actually Improve Your Sales. Believe it or not, bad reviews have the power to improve your sales and conversion rates, too.

  As previously mentioned, if your business gets only positive reviews, consumers might question whether those reviews are legitimate.

  Since nobody is perfect, having a healthy mix of both positive and negative reviews will help customers view your business as more trustworthy. Most customers actually expect negative reviews on your site, and if they don’t see them, they think your reviews are fabricated.

  And, when there are negative reviews mixed in with the positive ones, that reduced skepticism will add to your brand’s authenticity.

  For that reason, it’s important not to delete your negative comments on your social channels because they can actually work in your favor by making the positive comments that much more credible.

The Last Gulp

To recap:

●   Create a uniformed GAMEPLAN.

●   Use other competitors’ negative review experiences to improve your brand strategy.

●   Leverage negative comments to drive beverage sales and conversion rates.

  That’s why it’s important to hire the right agency to manage your online presence with these initiatives and more. Doing so ensures that you uphold a valuable asset – your business’s reputation, without taking away from your valuable time.

  All in all, your social media strategy in how you respond to negative comments can flip the unsatisfactory customer experience on its head, turning them into positive sentiments and increased sales, resulting in the happy sound of clinking glasses.

  Chris Mulvaney is a business developer, entrepreneur, and an award-winning creative marketing strategist. His extensive professional background includes working with some of the world’s leading brands – and personally helping clients refine their corporate vision and generate the kind of eye-popping results that too many companies only dream about. Visit… cmdsonline.com

2021 Beverage Trends

By: Tracey L. Kelley

No producer wants to feel like their business is simply dictated by trends and not backed by individual vision and a solid plan. However, if 2020 taught us anything, it’s to be strategic, targeted and, most of all, flexible.

  To understand what consumers want in 2021 and beyond, Beverage Master Magazine gathered some trend data and talked with Holly McHugh, marketing associate for Imbibe, a beverage development company focused on the formulation, customization and commercialization of cutting-edge beverage products that provide a “bolt-on R&D function” for companies without R&D or that need to expand in this area.

So—What’s New?

  Taking stock of the past year and establishing aspects of revision is still a personal and professional journey. Still, maybe some of these indicators will resonate as either extensions of current practices or sparks of innovation.

People are Eager for To-go and Online Options

  “The pandemic changed the way we shop, socialize, entertain and more,” McHugh said. “This created a need for CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands to offer products that provide an escape from the mundane but can be enjoyed at home.”

  In December 2020, Forbes reported that “total eCommerce penetration experienced 10 years of growth March through May 2020.” It cited research from IWSR that stressed “online sales of alcohol in the U.S. alone are expected to grow by more than 80%” in 2021. The IWSR analysis indicated that “beverage alcohol eCommerce value grew by 42% in 2020,” and the forecast is that the U.S. will overtake China “as the world’s largest beverage alcohol e-Commerce market by the end of 2021.”

  Quite simply, customers are fond of the convenience and expanse of options online ordering provides. In major and secondary market areas, consumers use platforms like Drizly to browse various selections and receive their purchases within 60 minutes. Many local producers also have access to DoorDash and other delivery services, regulations permitting. “Ghost bars” — extensions of virtual or cloud bars or restaurants often accessed only through third-party delivery services — also saw an increase in consumer interest as producers found new ways to lower overhead but expand product offerings and brand awareness.

  Do-it-yourself kits, mixology classes, premium bar selections, unusual or over-the-top experimental selections and other experienced-based offerings continue to drive consumer interest in 2021. They also still desire personal connections with makers.

Non-standard Products Continue to Rise

  Hard seltzer, cider, tea, kombucha and beer tap into consumers’ desire to balance healthy libations with beverage-driven exploration.

  For example, pandemic purchases of hard seltzer, in particular, rose significantly in 2020, moving beyond previous limitations of seasonality, and there’s no stopping point yet. Nielsen reported that “Hard seltzer-correlated ready-to-drink cocktails drove $120 million in U.S. off-premise sales in the 52-week period ending June 2020, while growing at a 127% rate compared with the previous year.” That growth, Nielsen states, “opened the doors to an even broader array of new and bolder flavor options accompanying the base liquid, and it’s allowing manufacturers to expand the limits of what ‘hard seltzer’ means.”

  Zero-proof spirits, especially those enhanced with adaptogens – herbal substances that promote wellness – botanicals and CBD also have growth potential.

  As regulations shift, CBD- and even THC-infused products are positioned for a meteoric rise, according to a 2020 report by Grant View Research. “The global cannabis beverages market size is expected to reach USD 2.8 Billion by 2025 at a CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) of 17.8 percent.” While some consumers might opt for THC’s “therapeutic effects along with the euphoria it provides,” Grant View Research indicated, people consider CBD products differently.

  “Lack of psychoactive effect in the CBD drinks is widening its scope for usage of the drinks in medical purposes. Many consumers are considering CBD drinks as a wellness and anti-inflammatory products, such as kombucha, a probiotic drink. This drink can potentially be used for treating chronic pain, anxiety, substance use disorders and central nervous system diseases. These factors are expected to boost the adoption of the product, resulting in the growth of the segment,” the report outlined.

Health is Front and Center

  “Since the onset of the pandemic, improving physical and mental health has become a top priority for consumers,” McHugh said. Imbibe’s trendspotting indicated a sharp uptick in non-alcoholic wellness beverages and other forms of “permissible indulgence.” While this doesn’t seem to align with alcohol initially, it presents opportunities to consider communications and branding that acknowledge aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

  Spirit-forward classics, which celebrated resurgence in 2020, aren’t slowing down in the new year and might provide another way to acknowledge the balance of responsible consumption that focuses on taste and experience.

  Combating stress with beverages, otherwise known as mood boosters, that allow for clarity, relaxation and sleep is another trend for 2021, similarly to non-traditional offerings.

There’s a Greater Awareness of Ethical Practices and Cultural Appropriation

  In addition to a greater interest in immunity and mood-boosting beverages, McHugh said there’s an increased demand for global products and flavors — with a caveat.

  While culinary tourism is at a high, panelists at Bar Convent Brooklyn last fall stressed that consumers would continue to share dollars and social media influence with businesses that are more progressive when addressing workplace inequalities, sexism, racism and other societal concerns. They want inclusion and diversity, but from the originators. For example, tiki bars are replaced with nautical or tropical themes; an introduction to popular new tequila includes cultural history from someone in the Latinx community; and a closer examination of whether the producers’ table includes people of color and women, especially when it involves other rising spirit trends such as sake, soju, South American spirits and Japanese whiskey.

Value and Safety Still Prevail

  While this really isn’t a surprise, it’s simply a reminder that we can’t move into what was once normal just yet.

  “Economic uncertainty created demand for value, which we anticipate will be evident through increased sales in multi-use and multi-pack products and private label innovation,” McHugh said. “Safety is something we always think about in the industry in the sense that we don’t want to sell a product that could be dangerous to the consumer, but concern about safety has been heightened by the pandemic. Consumers are purchasing groceries online now more than ever, paying closer attention to product packaging and checking what safety precautions food service establishments are taking before eating out or ordering in.”