No one likes paying too much in taxes. In this post we’ll review an idea to use an outside service to reduce one of your tax obligations: the dreaded, and ever-increasing property tax.
Property tax is calculated by multiplying the tax rate by the assessed value of the property – land and buildings. For breweries, this can be a sizable expense.
Both the property tax rate and the assessed value change on a regular basis. Some years the rate goes up and the assessment goes down. In other years it’s just the opposite – the rate goes down and the assessment goes up.
The one thing that doesn’t change is that the total tax bill always goes up.
The process to assess the value of a property is subjective at best. Assessors will use comparable property sales and other metrics to gauge value, but rarely are two properties alike. Therefore, the value assigned to our properties is an approximation, an estimate, a best guess.
So, why not hire your own consultant to make a better estimate?
That’s what we did and the result was a savings of $20,000 per year on our tax bill.
The firm of DuCharme, McMillen and Associates guided us through the process, took up very little of our time, and saved us a lot of money in taxes.
DMA performs Assessment Reviews to identify opportunities for reducing real and personal property tax assessments. DMA’s comprehensive review is customized to your specific needs, and we focus on reducing both current and past assessments.
Our property tax professionals will review your entire portfolio of properties or individual properties of concern to you. Both real and personal property tax assessments are scrutinized to determine the accuracy of the data used by the taxing authority, valuation issues, state-specific treatment of property, and overlooked exemptions.
We communicate the results of each property’s review and, with your approval, take all necessary steps to implement the assessment reduction strategies available, including refund recovery. DMA’s property tax professionals have generated billions of dollars in real and personal property tax savings for our clients, many of which pertain to the beverage and bottling industry. We are leaders in identifying industry-specific issues having an impact on value.
Our property tax professionals have reviewed thousands of assessments in nearly every jurisdiction. DMA’s national scope and jurisdictional expertise means our clients realize the maximum benefit available.
If you’re interested in following in our footsteps, reach out to the folks at DMA. There are other firms that do similar work, but we had a good experience with these guys.
No one likes paying too much in taxes. Check out this idea and reduce property taxes in your beer business today.
Starting up a new beverage alcohol business is hard. Whether making beer, wine, or spirits, the challenges are daunting and upfront costs are huge. No one takes the leap to start a new business knowing it will fail, but many of them will. Based on industry data, up to 40% of new beverage alcohol businesses fail. To create a successful business, there is a common question that arises during the planning phase of launching a new beverage alcohol business.
What is the difference between asuccessful business and one that fails?
This massively important question should be answered early on for a new business. In doing so, key strategies will be defined for the business from the beginning as it ventures forward. In the following paragraphs, you will find not only the answer to this question, but also a further analysis of successful business practices.
Defining Success: Let’s take a moment to define and measure success in a beverage alcohol business. This definition applies whether in a brewery, winery, or a distillery. These measurements of success will allow us to look closer at the internal workings of the business. As you look closer you will find common traits among nearly every business that is successful. For the sake of this article we will narrowly define success using the specific individual metrics of profitability, sustainability and velocity.
Profitability: The first key metric and measurement of success is profitability. A business must either be profitable, or at a minimum near self-sustaining, with revenue covering the cost of operating the business. Achieving profitability is one of the biggest metrics that defines success. Reaching profitability is essential, as every successful business must be self-sustaining after a certain amount of time. If a business is not profitable for too long of time, it is almost certain to fail.
Sustainability: A successful business must be sustainable in the capacity to produce the products it intends to sell. To clarify, we do not mean sustainability from an environmental impact or energy usage standpoint. Sustainability in this model means the ability to sustain and meet demand for products through growth. For a business model to be sustainable the equipment must have the capacity to grow and meet new demand as the company grows. The reason this metric is so essential is that most businesses must grow to reach profitability. If your business cannot sustain growth it most likely can not grow to become profitable.
Velocity: A business needs to have regular sales to provide consistent revenue for the business. Velocity is a measurement of how quickly your business is turning raw materials into finished goods and selling those goods. High velocity of product means there will be more consistent cash flow for the business. As product velocity increases it is followed by increases in revenue and often economies of scale. Both of which help a business become successful.
Tripod Business Model: Most businesses achieve some of these measures of success, but not too many will achieve them all. Among those who do succeed in meeting all three, there is a common thread that these successful businesses share. They will usually have three separate divisions that perform distinct business activities. These three divisions are production, sales, and marketing. This concept we will refer to as the tripod business model. If the top of a tripod is a successful beverage alcohol business as measured by our success metrics, then there almost always exists these three divisions in the business that make up equally important legs that hold up the business. If you remove any of the three legs, it only leaves the business on two unstable legs, and in time the business will fall and is likely to fail. It is easy to take this observation and call it as incorrect, but if one was to look closely at established successful beverage alcohol businesses they would find truth in this observation.
When a sizable amount of time and resources are heavily invested into sales and marketing, the business has a strong probability that it will flourish. Often the business will flourish so strongly that production will often feel constrained in the resources it needs to meet the demand of the business. This is the correct way to invest time, financial resources and manpower to grow. If too many resources are dedicated to production in most instances production will have far too much capacity and there will not be enough demand for product to keep production running near its capacity.
Now that we have defined some measures of success and the business practices that support them, let’s look closer at the three practices that hold up a successful beverage alcohol business, through the lens of a distillery.
SALES: Sales is essential and paramount to the success of nearly any business that has a product they sell. It can be the easier path for a new distillery to focus on their production with a plan to only sell spirits through a tasting room or cocktail lounge that is part of the distillery. A business plan like this can work, but it has a low ceiling that will often restrict a distillery from growing to a successful level. Real sales of considerable volume come from a distillery selling products in the same market as its competitors. This means working to sell spirits in liquor stores, bars, restaurants and other venues. In this market there is immense competition. The only way to compete in the larger spirits market is by investing into sales. This means having people working for your business who are full time employees whose job is to pull your spirits through the market and drive sales.
MARKETING: Marketing is the driving force that directly links to the success of sales. Marketing can come in a multitude of forms, some obvious and some not so obvious. Public facing platforms, such as social media, websites, billboards, magazines, newspapers, and influencers are all forms of marketing in action. The more a consumer or target consumer encounters a brand, the higher the chance that the consumer will buy your brand. Without an active marketing plan in place, consumers will quickly lose sight of your brand. A strong marketing plan and the person or people to continually implement, monitor, and drive a marketing plan is paramount to achieving success. Marketing is the key difference that will take a brand to the next level and keep pulling it up from there. Although it can be easy to not put an emphasis on channeling resources to marketing, it would be a mistake to do so. Many businesses have launched with little to no resources committed to marketing. Often these launches feel successful, but by our measurements are in fact not truly successful. Oftentimes the business will get going and be selling some amounts of product but in most instances a lack of marketing will cause a business to plateau quickly.
PRODUCTION: This practice of manufacturing is easy to give too much focus in the business of distilling. Whether you are distilling whiskey from scratch or bottling sourced spirits, the production part of this business is extremely important. While production is absolutely paramount to the business, this does not mean that the bulk of resources the business has should be invested into the production of spirits, nor the labor or equipment to produce the spirits. If the bulk of resources go towards production thus starving sales and marketing, there will invariably be a lack of sales to cover the costs of production. Now the manufacturing of distilled spirits is in no way inexpensive. Considerable resources have to go to production for it to function. We are trying to urge you to consider all resources the business has and properly allocate them to all three practices.
The battle between the practices: If you ask most folks who work in this industry, whether they work in sales, marketing, or production, they will all likely tell you that their business function is the most important to the success of the business. To be fair, all these folks can probably make a reasonably sound argument to support that statement. It is normal that there is some friction between all three practices because they all have unique functions and priorities that often do not align with one another. For a business to be successful, production, sales, and marketing must work together to achieve the goals of the business. When common goals are shared it is much easier for each part of the business to work in harmony.
By: Louis J. Terminello, Esq. and Bradley Berkman, Esq
No party enters a contract with the expectation that its terms will be unfavorable to them. Having drafted innumerable agreements of all sorts, including beverage alcohol distribution agreements, we have learned that the underlying principle for successful contract negotiations and drafting is fairness. Put another way, the rights and duties of the contracting parties must be clear on the face of the agreement and the detriment or consequences to the non-performing party are clearly stated and actionable. Brewers and their distributors are no exception. Each has their own expectations and definitions of success.
Generally, for the brewer it’s to gain points of distribution at on and off premise venues with the goal of obtaining volume expectations. For the distributor it is to see the long terms benefits of their distribution efforts within its assigned territory. Distributors generally want a long-term relationship where they know their upfront efforts and costs will come back to them when any given brand attains a level of organic or self-sustained sales success. Brewers beware, however. Within the context of an ideal equitable agreement lies the malt-beverage franchise statute. These laws tend to favor the beer wholesaler and are superior in affect to any agreement executed between the parties. Many established brewers are aware of these statutes but many new brewers and brand owners are not. The purpose of this article is to introduce the new brewer and/or brand owner to franchise law basics and offer a few contract drafting suggestions that they can pass on to their contract lawyers that ultimately will create a brand success story that will benefit all parties to the agreement.
The Beer Franchise Law – the Basics
First, virtually every state has codified the concept of “franchise” into law. An informal and unscientific survey reveals that only three (3) states in the U.S. do not have beer franchise laws on their books. As a brewer, it’s best to assume, without research, that the new wholesaler you’re considering appointing has the benefit of the law and to negotiate any distribution agreement with that in mind. By now, you’re likely wondering what these laws are.
The National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) rightfully states that that these laws are creatures of the 21st Amendment which grants the states the rights to regulate the distribution and sale of beverage alcohol within their borders. NBWA on its website states that these laws provide a number of positive regulatory contributions including providing consumers with beer choices by promoting the availability of diverse products, they allow brewers access to the marketplace while preserving the distributors’ independence and act as a public safeguard by requiring responsible sales through the three-tier system. These benefits indeed may be true.
But a closer look at the beer franchise laws also reveal that many statutory mandated provisions arguably benefit and favor the wholesaler operation and makes cancellation or termination of any brewer/distributor agreement an overwhelmingly difficult task for the brewer/brand owner. Broadly speaking, many beer franchise laws contain the following common elements:
• Franchise agreements can be made either orally or written.
• Franchise agreements appoint the distributor as the exclusive seller within an assigned territory and take effect at the time of first shipment by the brewer to distributor.
• A franchise agreement can only be terminated or cancelled on a showing of good cause and by the showing of a material breach by a party. Almost always, the brewer bears the burden of the showing of material breach by the distributor.
• Notice procedures and the timing of the same are explicitly stated in the statute(s) and must be complied with. Put another way, the brewer must notify the distributor that they are not performing according to the terms of the agreement.
• Opportunities to cure must be provided by brewer to distributors in accordance with the statutory timeframes.
• Buyout provisions and formulas to calculate brand buy-back are often included should the brewer desire to regain control over the brand.
The above provides the reader with a basic framework of a franchise law. Given that these authors concentrate their legal efforts in Florida, a closer look at the Florida franchise law follows and provides a good example of some of the language that a brewer will likely see in the laws of other states. Florida codifies its franchise law in Florida statute 563.022. That statute is entitled “Relations between beer distributors and manufacturers.” Florida Statute 563.022 is lengthy indeed with over twenty-one (21) parts. To address each part and its subparts exceed this publication’s length requirements for this article. As a caveat, though, to the brewer/brand owner reader, the statute is detailed, carefully drafted and will be relied upon by the courts of Florida in any breach of contract case likely brought by a distributor as Plaintiff and brewer as Defendant. A summary of the key points of the statute are offered below with an emphasis placed on unfair practices by the brewer/brand owner (supplier) and the grounds and procedures for terminating the distribution agreement.
Florida Statute 563.022
• “Franchise” means a contract or agreement, either expressed or implied, whether oral or written, for a definite or indefinite period of time in which a manufacturer grants to a beer distributor the right to purchase, resell, and distribute any brand or brands offered by the manufacturer.
• Any person who enters into agreement with beer distributors in Florida is subject to this section.
• It shall be deemed a violation by supplier to:
o Coerce or compel distributor to accept product they have not voluntarily ordered.
o For supplier not to deliver reasonable quantities within a reasonable time after receiving a distributors order.
o Coerce or compel or attempt to coerce or compel, a beer distributor to enter into any agreement (written or oral) supplementary to a franchise agreement by the threat of cancelling the franchise agreement.
o To fix or maintain the price at which a distributor must resell the beer.
• DISTRIBUTOR’S RESIGNATION, CANCELLATION, TERMINATION, FAILURE TO RENEW, OR REFUSAL TO CONTINUE. Notwithstanding any agreement a manufacturer shall not cause a distributor to resign from an agreement, or cancel, terminate, fail to renew, or refuse to continue under an agreement unless the manufacturer has complied with all of the following:
o Has satisfied the applicable notice requirements.
o Has acted in good faith.
o Has good cause for the cancellation, termination, nonrenewal, discontinuance, or forced resignation. Good cause is defined as all the below occurring:
• There is a failure by the distributor to comply with a provision of the agreement which is both reasonable and of material significance to the business relationship between the distributor and the manufacturer.
• The manufacturer first acquired knowledge of the failure described in paragraph (a) not more than 18 months before the date notification was given.
• The distributor was given written notice by the manufacturer of failure to comply with the agreement.
• The distributor was afforded a reasonable opportunity to assert good faith efforts to comply with the agreement within the time limits provided for.
• The distributor has been afforded 30 days in which to submit a plan of corrective action to comply with the agreement and an additional 90 days to cure such noncompliance in accordance with the plan or to sell his or her distributorship consistent with the provisions of this section.
• BURDEN OF PROOF.—For each termination, cancellation, nonrenewal, or discontinuance, the manufacturer shall have the burden of showing that it has acted in good faith, that the notice requirements under this section have been complied with, and that there was good cause for the termination, cancellation, nonrenewal, or discontinuance.
• The manufacturer shall furnish written notice of the termination, cancellation, nonrenewal, or discontinuance of an agreement to the distributor not less than 90 days before the effective date of the termination, cancellation, nonrenewal, or discontinuance; in no event shall the contractual term of any such franchise or selling agreement expire without the written consent of the beer distributor involved prior to the expiration of at least 90 days following such written notice. The notice shall be by certified mail and shall contain all of the following:
o A statement of intention to terminate, cancel, not renew, or discontinue the agreement.
o A statement of the reason for the termination, cancellation, nonrenewal, or discontinuance.
o The date on which the termination, cancellation, nonrenewal, or discontinuance takes effect.
General Applicability, Takeaways and Contract Drafting Suggestions
Although the above is specific to Florida, hopefully it provides the reader with a bit more knowledge concerning these franchise statutes. Once again, many of the concepts codified in Florida law can also be found in similar laws of other states. An essential term in the Florida law that will likely be found in the franchise laws of other states is “Good Cause.” A showing of good cause must be made by the brewer to terminate or cancel a distribution agreement with a wholesaler. In Florida all the elements noted above (see the italicized language) must be present to show good cause. Another essential element which will guide the next part of our discussion is this:
“There is a failure by the distributor to comply with a provision of the agreement which is both reasonable and of material significance to the business relationship between the distributor and the manufacturer.”
For the brewer, brand owner or manufacturer, it is elemental that the agreement contains provisions which are both reasonable and of material significance, which if breached and all other requirements are adhered to, may provide them with legally defensible grounds for termination or cancellation of the agreement. Many times distributors try to avoid the inclusion of material terms for obvious reasons by handing over boilerplate agreements for consideration by the brewer. These boilerplate agreements may look reasonable on their face but almost always lack “teeth” and rely solely on the statutory language that overwhelmingly favors the distributor. But the smart brewer’s attorney will include reasonable material terms such as volume or points of distribution goals over a stated time period. Such material terms may be as simple as stating that the distributor must sell 100,000 cases for the first twelve months from the effective date of an agreement or establishing points of distribution by stating, as a rudimentary example, the distributor will achieve 75 placements (defining “placements” in a reasonable manner) in the first three months of the agreement and another 75 placements in the second three month period. As a contract drafting suggestion it is important to state that if the distributor fails to meet these goals these will be treated by the Parties as a material breach.
The above recommendations are provided as suggestions only and are not intended as legal advice. The point of this article is to arm the new brewer with useful information so they may level the playing field to a limited degree with their wholesaler partners at the start of the sales and distribution relationship. After all, the goal is to draft a fair agreement for all parties with the reasonable expectations of all are clearly stated. As a final caveat, beer wholesalers are powerful actors on the state stage. It is of paramount importance that the new brewer hire an experienced alcohol beverage attorney to assist in negotiations and contract drafting.
Is commercial real estate making a comeback in the hospitality industry? After several extremely disruptive years of a global pandemic – and the resulting lockdowns, inflation, supply chain disruptions, and staffing shortages – is the future finally brighter for hospitality and real estate? Is it time to invest in more bars and restaurants – and if so, where exactly should you invest and when do you know if it is the right time?
Investing in real estate is a major, long-term commitment requiring careful consideration. Business owners must do their homework before signing a real estate contract, thinking about a host of factors, including the building’s location, the economy, zoning laws, the projected value of the property, and its expected appreciation over the coming years.
Location is a huge factor. Is the property you’re considering in a good spot that will attract customers? Is the property attractive, in a safe, high-traffic location? Is the community vibrant and growing, with a history of economic stability? Is there easy access with ample parking, or is there a subway or bus stop nearby? What’s the neighborhood like? Is there considerable competition in your space, with tons of other bars and restaurants nearby? Is the neighborhood hungry (pardon the pun) for your type of establishment? Are the demographics right for your type of business? For instance, a heavy metal-themed bar might not flourish in a neighborhood with an older demographic.
Despite major difficulties in 2020 and 2021, the hospitality and commercial real estate industries are finally in growth phases again, and this growth is likely to continue in 2022. Some things to consider include:
People are going out again. Demand for in-person goods and services is rising again, as people want to eat at restaurants and go out for some beers. This pent-up demand is good for commercial real estate – and the bars, restaurants, and other businesses that occupy these buildings.
Hospitality is rebounding. Now that the worst of the pandemic is (hopefully) behind us, business and leisure travel will start increasing again, and people will be dining out more frequently. The growing travel demand means hotels, restaurants, and bars may take on renovation and expansion projects that stalled during COVID. And, increasingly, hospitality business owners will invest in real estate to house their bars and restaurants.
Secondary markets are growing. The evolution of remote and hybrid work means many employers and employees are moving out of high-rent cities into smaller markets that are more cost-effective. Recently, people have been leaving big, expensive cities like New York in droves, in favor of smaller, more affordable markets like Nashville and Tampa. If you’re thinking of opening a bar – or expanding your brand to new markets – consider these geographies.
Operators are opting for building ownership. Some restaurant and bar brands are opting to own real estate rather than leasing. When leasing, the building owner is making money, regardless of whether your business is profitable. However, when you own the property, you’ll be building equity regardless of how your business is performing. Many restaurateurs and bar owners are choosing to buy instead of lease because it makes more financial sense over the long term. If you’re the property owner, you won’t have to worry about surprise rent increases. You also won’t need to abide by your landlord’s rules, giving you more freedom with your business and your property.
Add new revenue streams to boost profitability. With labor shortages impacting the operating hours (and bottom lines) of hospitality businesses, restaurants and bars have realized the importance of having multiple revenue streams to increase profitability, especially if they’re working to cover the cost of their mortgage. Some brands are selling their own beers online or selling branded merchandise at their brick-and-mortar location and online. While people are finally coming back to dine and drink in-person, it’s wise to have additional revenue streams to keep a steady stream of revenue flowing – and so you can cover your mortgage and property taxes if you’re the building owner.
If you’re financially able to swing it, buying property for your bar or restaurant can be a wise move. As experts predict that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, it looks like the hospitality and commercial real estate industries are poised for a rebound. If you’re thinking about a real estate investment for your hospitality business, be thoughtful and consider the decision carefully before signing the contract.
About the Author:
Neeraj (Raj) Tulshan is the Founder and Managing Member of Loan Mantra, a financial advisory firm with best-in-class and proprietary fintech, BLUE (“Borrower Lender Underwriting Environment”). Loan Mantra, Powered by BLUE, is next-level finance: a one-stop-shop for business borrowers to secure traditional, SBA or MCA financing from trusted lenders in a secure, collaborative, and transparent platform. Clients turn to Raj because they know he will always pick up the phone and offer unparalleled financial counsel in a remarkably human—even friendly—way.
About Loan Mantra
Loan Mantra is a financial services company designed to serve small and medium businesses with offices in New Jersey, Charleston, SC and New York. At Loan Mantra your success is our success. This means that our attention, purpose, and intention are all focused on you, our client. We are your ally to overcome obstacles, bringing peace through uncertain times to achieve your highest goals and aspirations. Your friendly, responsive agent will listen respectfully, and service your account actively through one of three locations in the US. We speak your language whether it’s English, Spanish, Hindi, Bengal, Hospitality, Laundry or Manicure, let us help you today.Connect with us at…www.loanmantra.com or 855.700.BLUE (2583)
It’s not easy to make a beverage brand succeed. The marketing must be just right, including packaging, positioning, and placement of ads. Securing distribution is another step; hitting your sales numbers starts with getting your product in stores. Even when those two are achieved, brands still need to find a customer base that will adopt them, sharing their enthusiasm and spreading the word about their products.
In 2022, beverage brands that want to be successful can add another task to their to-do list: providing same-day delivery. Consumers, responding in large part to the stay-in-place culture that was inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, have come to expect that most any item can be delivered to their door in a matter of hours, if not minutes. This is true of everything from bandages to burgers to big screen TVs. And it definitely includes beverages. When a customer realizes that they don’t have the beer they want for the cookout or decides a nice bottle of wine would go well with tonight’s dinner, they are looking more and more to same-day delivery options.
The Current State of Same-day Delivery
For beverage brands that want to meet the same-day delivery expectation, there are a handful of delivery services that can help them. Looking at the reviews for those companies, however, reveals they leave quite a bit to be desired for the brand that is concerned about providing service that consistently inspires glowing reviews.
Forbes recently ran an article rating alcohol delivery services. At the top of its list was Drizly, which is an online platform that allows users to get alcohol delivered from local retailers. Drizly promises delivery in less than 60 minutes and the “biggest selection for on-demand alcohol in the history of ever.”
Forbes rated Drizly as the “Best Alcohol Delivery Service Overall,” but reviews show it to be hit or miss. According to the consumer review website Trustpilot, Drizly needs to do some work to become a five-star service. While 39 percent of the reviews described Drizly as “excellent,” 46 percent labeled it “bad.” The most frequent complaints from users focused on delivery times and fees that could be improved.
Minibar is an online alcohol delivery platform that Forbes rated as “Best Quick Alcohol Delivery Service.” According to user reviews submitted to the online review site Influenster, Minibar provides better than four-star service, but still struggles in some areas, such as providing reliable ETA info.
If you are ordering alcohol with a takeout food order, Forbes says DoorDash is your best option. But users are not kind to DoorDash in their ratings on Trustpilot or Reviews.io.
The Issues That MakeSame-day Delivery Challenging
What is keeping these companies from achieving consistently reliable delivery service? Anar Mammadov, CEO of Senpex, has some ideas. Senpex is a logistics company that provides safe and reliable on-demand pickup and delivery services for a wide range of companies, including beverage companies. Central to the service that Senpex provides is an AI-powered engine that ensures all of the delivery factors are considered and routes are optimized.
“There are a lot of factors that need to be considered if you are going to provide delivery in a timely, professional way,” explains Anar. “These include the volume of product, which dictates the size of the delivery vehicle needed, as well as traffic and other road conditions. When you have multiple drivers making multiple deliveries, it gets exponentially more difficult to plan. At Senpex, we rely on our route optimization algorithm to make sure that deliveries are possible and profitable.”
Sen has some experience in making deliveries. Having worked with more than 3,000 corporate clients, Senpex has more than 500,000 successful deliveries and a 98 percent customer satisfaction rate. And thanks to the help of AI, it is able to achieve that for as little as $7 per delivery stop.
Anar also highlights the need for reliable in-house logistics that simplify the delivery process by bringing inventory, ordering, and fulfillment together. In addition to partnering with companies to provide a delivery team, Senpex also offers its logistics platform as a SaaS solution for companies that want to increase the efficiency of their own delivery teams.
“Having your own delivery fleet is not enough to meet same-day delivery expectations,” Anar explains. “You need sophisticated logistics that convert delivery details into optimized delivery routes. The platform needs to keep drivers updated in real-time to make sure that deliveries are not delayed. Being able to stay on top of ETAs allows you streamline deliveries and keep customers informed.”
In its own operations, Senpex has found it essential to have an AI-empowered dispatch management tool that also provides drivers with an app to track and verify the delivery process.
“Customers have a lot of expectations when it comes to same-day delivery, regardless of what the product is,” Anar explains. “They want safe and transparent delivery, competitive pricing, and instant real-time status updates. And they want it all to be managed by a professional delivery team. Businesses that can’t meet these expectations are risking their reputations.”
Navigating the Risks Associated withSame-day Delivery
So what does all of this mean for beverage companies who are contemplating providing same-day delivery. The bottom line is that it is risky. There is a huge potential for craft beverage makers to grow their following through alcohol delivery, as the financial services platform Square recently reported. However, a bad delivery process can come across as a bad brand.
Is there a solution? The answer may be found in a delivery system that provides a brand with more control than what is typically available through a generalized delivery service like DoorDash. Professional delivery services like Senpex exist to take your delivery to the next level.
In addition to providing you with the tools that you need to do delivery well, a professional delivery service can also help you to scale that aspect of your business. They give you access to a large fleet while only requiring you to pay for the deliveries that you need. As the demand for delivery grows, you have additional drivers at the ready.
As you explore the possibilities that are available, here are a few things you will want to consider.
Work with Drivers WhoKnow Your Business
Delivering alcohol is not like delivering anything else. Several states have laws that regulate it. Before committing to working with a delivery service, make sure that they can provide drivers that comply with all applicable laws. In other words, choose a professional service that vets its drivers. Let them do the HR work for you.
Also, make sure that the delivery service has the type of vehicles that are needed to facilitate your deliveries. Not only should they have refrigerated vehicles when that is necessary, but they should also have the right size vehicle. Vehicles that are too small will not be able to handle the load. But vehicles that are too big will often cost you more than you need to be paying. Ensuring that the right vehicle is available is one of the functions of route optimization.
Work with Companies WhoUnderstand Delivery Logistics
Whether you are partnering with a delivery company to utilize their drivers or simply taking advantage of their delivery logistics platform to optimize the efforts of your own delivery team, there are some things you should look for. For example, look for a platform that integrates with your existing ERP system. If you truly want to take advantage of delivery automation, it is better to avoid working with multiple systems.
Dispatch management functionality should include tools that allow for real-time fleet tracking. This includes automatic status updates, electronic proof of delivery, and secure driver chat through simple and intuitive apps that are native to both iOS and Android.
One often overlooked element of logistics optimization is deliveries that are managed by regular drivers on regular routes. Regular drivers know what to expect from both the route and the delivery destination, making them more capable of delivering the type of experience that will lead to repeat business. A company with a lot of driver turnover will not be the best option for businesses that want to provide a consistent customer experience.
Finally, tools that empower route optimization are critical to success. Last mile delivery is one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today. It takes the most time, it costs the most money, and it serves as the key point of contact between the customer and the brand. It should be a top priority for any delivery service with which you choose to work.
Overall, same-day delivery provides another revenue stream that beverage businesses should seriously consider tapping. The market clearly exists, even if the price that consumers are willing to pay has yet to be firmly established. Now is the time to explore the options that are available to create a system that can be profitable and provide a positive customer experience.
It’s an exciting time for craft distillers, for sure,” said Kris Wangelin, manager and distiller at Square One Brewery and Distillery in St Louis, Missouri. “When you see what’s currently happening in craft distilling, it’s easy to believe that distilling is on the cusp of some amazing breakthroughs, comparable to craft brewing a few years ago. A big part of the anticipated breakthroughs includes the ability and willingness to experiment by combining and mixing available yeast strains, then playing around with the fermentation times. As a result, the distilled spirits consumer will benefit with new choices and innovations in taste profiles that will ultimately lead the way to unique cocktail creations.”
Wangelin tells Beverage Master Magazine that, unlike before, today’s craft distillers have a mindset that doesn’t limit the available yeast strain choices they can choose to use in their distilling process. Rather than sticking to the traditional distiller’s yeast options, more progressive-minded distillers have a mindset that revolves around the simple question of, why not? With this type of inclusive thought process comes more significant occurrences and acceptance of crossover in the yeast strains used in both brewing and distilling. For example, there’s now more intermingling of strains previously considered only distiller’s or brewer’s yeast. In addition, craft spirits producers are open to experimenting with producing new flavor profiles and combinations that feature different depths and twists from the more traditional spirit profiles that consumers recognize.
“Yeast strains are not strictly divided into distilling and brewing anymore,” said Wangelin. “Now, it’s more about experimentation and differentiation rather than passing on a particular strain or idea because it hasn’t been done. Now we’re excited to try it to see what happens. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes it’s a fail and sometimes we find that a particular flavor profile can be a good fit for something other than initially intended. But every time we try, we hone the specifics for future distilling success. We know spirits consumers generally have a favorite, go-to spirit profile, which becomes their home point when comparing other spirits. Still, we know they are willing to venture out to see what new flavor profiles may be trending and what possibilities are out there, and ultimately, it’s the consumer that will determine if our efforts are successful.”
“And today’s spirits consumers also want to know the distiller and the product origins more intimately and personally,” said Wangelin. “A great way to differentiate our products from competitors is to remain as locally-based as possible with ingredients, yeast-driven flavor profiles and all related suppliers. Promoting our product this way makes everything more personal for our consumers. They see us vested in the community and then feel the same level of support by drinking our products.
Additionally, the availability of any distinctive yeast strains offers us a way to create our own niche and become known as the place to go for that unique flavor profile or mash bill. When that specificity includes being from a local market or our own grain supply, as some are doing here in the Midwest, the consumer gets to see where our spirits start, making for a great story.”
In the future, Wangelin sees the yeast providers experimenting more with different yeast strains and combinations to offer even more unique and varied flavor profile choices. It’s becoming common for yeast suppliers to ask a distiller what flavor profile they would like to produce rather than telling the distiller what’s available. Then the yeast supplier gets to work on developing and propagating new strains to meet the distiller’s desires. Why not?
Seek Experience and Results When Choosing a Yeast Supplier
“In the alcohol business, taste rules,” said Dr. Pat Heist, co-founder, co-owner and CSO of Ferm Solutions and Wilderness Trail Distillery. “And when talking about yeast use in distilling, we know that some yeasts remain traditionally great performers, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for experimentation.”
Ferm Solutions is a leading research, product development, engineering and technical service provider to the ethanol and distilled spirits industries. They offer a two-day, 16-hour functional fermentation class that focuses on different fermentation levels using the same yeast strain.
“Using 10 flasks with the same mash, we can achieve 10 different and very distinguishable results with only minor or minimal changes in the process,” said Dr. Heist. “Evaluations on those flasks reveal the easily recognizable and different attributes and developing trends due to those minor process changes.
The difference in aromas is very distinguishable at the fermentation level. Ferm Solutions has done an excellent job identifying and selecting those yeast strains that perform best at the beer level. Once the beer is distilled, picking out those differences becomes more challenging because they’re now more subtle and enshrouded in higher alcohol content. After aging in a barrel, it becomes even more difficult and sometimes near impossible to differentiate the individual strains, especially with using and reusing barrels that may have held different spirits or alcohols.”
“For new or inexperienced distillers, the main thing to remember is that a quality distilling yeast will always make a good distillate, whether you’re talking whiskey, bourbon, rum or other spirits,” said Dr. Heist. “That’s the starting point. First and foremost, craft distillers must focus on making the best product they can make. As much as they may want to venture into experimentation and try out new ideas, it’s always best to stick to a traditional plan and mash bill at the onset. Then, once they get experience in producing a great product, they can look at things like fermentation times and what the yield differences are when choosing to experiment and make changes to their proven production parameters.”
Dr. Heist tells Beverage Master Magazine that the innovation and difference a distiller is looking for in their product isn’t always just a product of a new or unique flavor profile. It can also result from being in a unique locale or having a natural geographic advantage.
“Maybe you’re producing your spirits in a region known for a specific strain of corn or other grain,” said Dr. Heist. “Use that to your advantage in spirits production and marketing plan. You’re a local spirits producer supporting your local makers and community. It’s a win-win situation.”
Additionally, Dr. Heist believes that a distiller should choose a yeast supplier and producer with quality experience backed by round-the-clock technical support featuring someone that will pick up the phone when you call.
“We at Ferm Solutions know that a problem needs to be addressed now, not only during standard office hours. We started a craft distillery just eight short years ago and are now the 14th largest bourbon producer in the world, so I like to think that we know what it takes to succeed in this business.”
Whether Staying Traditional Or Experimenting, Focused Yeast Management is Critical
“Yeast is a wily customer,” said Brent Elliott, Master Distiller at Four Roses Distillery. “It will find a way to flourish under many conditions, so here at Four Roses, we are mindful of possible contaminations or mutations by remaining extremely careful in our strain storage, use and management. Any little change in that yeast strain could change your flavor profile. Even if you think the change is minimal, it’s still there.”
Four Roses uses five main yeast strains, the same ones they’ve used from their beginnings. These strains provide flavor profiles that include delicate fruit, rich fruit, herbal notes, slight spice and floral essence. Elliott tells Beverage Master Magazine that they haven’t wavered from those strains and are never more than one step away from the original mother strain, which is kept frozen until needed for propagation and the next batch.”
“We frequently and consistently refresh and genetically test our yeast to maintain quality and authenticity,” said Elliott. “We propagate in-house, refreshing weekly if needed. It is one of the most tedious tasks we perform, but it’s also one of the most important and demands the most focus to maintain our quality and flavor profile.”
Elliott said that the production of yeast compounds is a vital and tedious part of distilling, whether using single or multiple strains to produce and develop different flavors for your spirits. Of course, yields are essential, but when it comes down to it, yeast strains and their use are all about the desired flavor profile.
“As a producer, you look at all the variables, including how high of an ABV beer is produced before distilling and the different flavors produced at different temperatures,” said Elliott. “The effects become very obvious when you approach it in analytical ways. For example, taste-testing distillate after different yeast strains like ours allows you to detect each unique flavor added through that yeast strain. It’s pretty cool that you think you can taste notes of a certain flavor profile with a distilled spirit, and then through testing, analytical processes and experimentation, you actually narrow down that implied flavor to a specific strain and get definitive reasons for experiencing that flavor. For example, our floral strain produces more phenol alcohol than other yeast strains, resulting in rose oil compounds that undoubtedly give you that floral note you get when enjoying our product. There’s a direct correlation.”
Four Roses uses White Labs out of San Diego for most of its yeast products. White Labs has an inclusive catalog from which to choose yeast strains depending on your distilling goals. For example, a distiller can choose the traditional and more predictable yeast strains that have historically been successful or decide to experiment with the non-traditional strains. Another option is for spirits producers to provide their mash bill for customized yeast strains to be developed that fit into their distilling visions.
“There really is a whole world of possibilities when it comes to choosing and using different yeast strains,” said Elliott. “When Seagrams owned us, we had a massive research department with over 350 yeast strains, each with unique details and characteristics. Now, especially with micro-distilling, those producers have a better path and more availability to experiment, innovate and produce new flavor combinations and spirits profiles.”
Starting a brewery or distillery can typically cost anywhere from $250,000 to $2 million, which is a lot of money to raise if you’re starting your new endeavor from scratch. Craft beverage businesses often need money from outside sources to launch and continue operations, and one potential source to look into is grant money.
Grants can be hard to come by in this industry, but they do exist and can be worth the time and effort of applying for a sizable sum of no-strings-attached cash. If your brewery or distillery is looking for funding to get off the ground, keep going or make an expansion, a grant may be precisely what you need to achieve your goals.
Common Needs and Financing Options
There are many reasons a craft beverage business might seek grant money, such as upgrading a brewing or distilling system, building or expanding a taproom or increasing production capabilities. Grants can also be helpful if you are looking to hire more staff, invest in more eco-friendly approaches or save a struggling business from having to close its doors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the food and beverage industry saw an increase in grant opportunities to help brewers and distillers stay in business despite public gathering restrictions and government-mandated closures. However, those opportunities were somewhat short-lived and not intended to sustain these types of businesses long-term.
However, grants are just one of the many ways a brewery or distillery might support itself during challenging times. It is possible to solicit donations or loans from family and friends, tap into savings accounts, apply for a Small Business Association loan or connect with professional investors for funding. Mainvest is an example of a specialized investment platform for professional craft brewers. At the same time, crowdfunding campaigns are still popular options for businesses with good outreach skills and a solid social media following. Yet grants are a preferred source of funding in many instances because they do not require repayment but likely just a follow-up report in the future to prove that grantees are putting the funds to good use.
Examples of Craft BeverageGrant Opportunities
Grantmakers typically make their awards in cycles that occur once or twice yearly. The opportunities are ever-changing, so it is up to brewery and distillery owners to keep up with what is available and the relevant deadlines. Some funders offer grants annually, while others are more responsive to urgent needs and step up to help during times of emergency.
For example, the Washington Department of Agriculture Relief and Recovery Grant for Wineries, Meaderies, Breweries, Cideries and Distilleries was a response to COVID-19 and intended to support businesses disrupted by the pandemic because they primarily rely on in-person sales. The money for these $15,000 grants came from a Disaster Response Account managed by the State of Washington Office of Financial Management. Aside from government organizations, some corporations award grants in this industry as part of a commitment to the local community. Yelp recently awarded $25 million in total relief to support independent and local restaurant and nightlife businesses impacted by COVID-19, Amazon started a $5 million Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund to help small businesses in Seattle with fewer than 50 employees or less than $7 million in annual revenue and Facebook launched its Small Business Grants Program that awarded $100 million in grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 small businesses in over 30 countries. The Restaurants Act was part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and allowed alcoholic beverage trade groups to specifically include tasting and tap rooms in the definition of establishments that were eligible for grants.
However, one of the best grantmakers to know is the Brewers Association, which regularly awards Craft Beer Research and Service Grants with priorities that include hop and barley research, draught beer quality studies, sustainability-related projects, supply chain programs and applied research opportunities. In a recent year, the Brewers Association awarded 13 of these grants, totaling nearly $400,000. The Brewers Association also awards Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mini-Grants to support a more well-rounded and welcoming craft beverage industry through media productions, educational trainings and special events.
Meanwhile, breweries and distilleries may benefit from the USDA grant program that the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service administers and that supports research projects to improve marketing, transportation and distributed-related services. The USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant Program is an opportunity for farmers that grow products for distilleries in rural parts of the U.S.
Also, on the distillery side of things, there is the Spirit Hub Independent Distillery Preservation Fund that supports independent distillers and the American Distilling Institute Distilling Research Grant. The Kentucky Distillers’ Association Lifting Spirits Foundation and the Nearest & Jack Advancement Initiative offer additional spirit-related funding and resources.
Early in 2022, the Michigan Craft Beverage Council recommended $335,000 in grant funding for 13 projects related to research and education to advance the efforts for craft beer, spirits, hard cider and wine. The council’s priorities included climate change impacts, pest and disease management, sustainable water use, wastewater discharge projects, new hop varieties and soil health. Meanwhile, Bottleshare Grant Programs has provided emergency assistance to the craft beverage industry for at least 29 breweries, six state guilds and 175 individuals. Bottle Share Inc. is a charitable organization founded by Christopher Glenn and based in Kennesaw, Georgia that supports industry workers and businesses facing adversity and hardship. Other resources to bookmark for potential funding needs in the future are the Michael Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling and the Pink Boots Society New Mexico State University Course for Brewing & Distilling in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Pros and Cons of Grant Funding
Many breweries and distilleries are unaware of grant opportunities that exist due to limited promotion and public awareness but could very well be eligible to submit an application. Yet there are benefits to seeking a grant rather than pursuing other funding avenues. First, grants do not have to be repaid, which is a significant advantage over applying for a loan. However, grant applications can be time-consuming, and eventually getting the money in hand can take a substantial amount of time. Grants don’t typically cover overhead, indirect and administrative costs, yet each opportunity is unique and may focus on a specific project or equipment upgrade. There are not nearly as many grant opportunities in the craft beverage industry compared to the nonprofit sector. But applying for grants can get your business onto the radar of major corporations and foundations, thereby boosting your networking power with local community leaders and influencers.
Some of the biggest names to know for brewery and distillery grants are the Brewers Association, distilling associations like the American Craft Spirits Association and American Distilling Institute and the USDA. State departments of agriculture and restaurant organizations also provide grant funding for the industry, as well as private donors who have personal interests in craft beverages and major corporations with a commitment to niche philanthropy.
Applying for a Brewing or Distilling Grant
A basic internet search can lead you to current and open grant opportunities for breweries and distilleries, although the funding pool is limited, and the competition can be tough. Craft beverage producers should consider getting involved with industry associations and subscribing to publications and mailing lists to be among the first to know about grant opportunities and deadlines.
Aside from funding in response to disasters and emergencies, one of the biggest trends in craft beverage grantmaking is encouraging diversity. These grants often help educate and employ women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community in this industry. Promoting sustainability and eco-friendly practices is another current funding trend among grantmakers that care about craft beer and spirits.
Although some grants have rolling deadlines and chances to apply at any time of the year, most opportunities have a series of established dates that require applicants to pay close attention. Look into the times when grant deadlines occur before your business even needs funding, just for informational purposes, and mark deadlines on a calendar in case an unexpected need should arise.
If your business is eligible for a grant, read the guidelines closely, including the best ways to contact the funder for follow-up after you submit your materials. As you review grant proposal guidelines, important details to pay attention to include the budget year dates, duration of funding, funding policies and submission process. Use online applications whenever possible to expedite your application, and be specific in your application concerning the project budget and how you will meet measurable goals. In many instances, it is best to introduce your business and an initial description of what you need to a funder before submitting any official paperwork, either by telephone call, general inquiry email or by scheduling an in-person meeting. And if your business is fortunate enough to secure a grant, keep up with reporting requirements in good faith to set yourself up for potential support in the future if and when you might need it.
Grants are just one piece of the puzzle to keep a brewery or distillery operational and successful, but they are oftentimes an underutilized asset that might be just what you need to get by or take a new direction with your beverage business.
Long dominated by men, the spirits industry is attracting a growing number of females, not just as entry-level employees but as master blenders, tasters, distillers and even as owners. One of these new rising stars on the scene is Devin Walden, who was recently named the master distiller at Tropical Distillers in Miami.
Walden, a native of Kentucky, was not looking for a career path in the spirits industry when she took a job as a temporary employee on the bottling line at Woodford Reserve Distillery, a small-batch bourbon distillery in her home state. “I was a tattoo artist, had a second job bartending, then took on a third job at Woodford. My plan was just to stay long enough until I had built up my tattoo business,” Walden told Beverage Master Magazine. “I didn’t know much about a distillery, but I immediately fell in love with the whole process. I was fascinated by it.” In fact, Walden was so enthusiastic about distilling that she set out on a quest to learn the trade from the ground up, eventually becoming Woodford’s first female distillery operator. “This experience gave me a true appreciation and love for the industry, and I ran with it,” Walden explained. She was 24 years old at the time.
After three years at Woodford, Walden accepted a position with Total Wine & More in Lexington, KY so she could learn the retail side of the business. She also served on judging panels of various wine and spirits competitions, such as the American Craft Spirits Association Competition and USA Spirits Ratings. “My position at Woodford Reserve helped set up a framework for the technical and production skills I needed while my position at Total Wine and the judging experiences were great for learning what’s important to consumers and what they’re looking for,” Walden said. “In this industry, it’s valuable to understand both the production and the marketing side of the business.”
And that’s exactly what Tropical Distillers was looking for in a master distiller when they announced plans to open a distillery in Miami in 2021. “Total Wine had transferred me to Florida, and while here, I started missing being in production,” Walden remembered. “That’s where I thrive, and that’s what I’m passionate about. When I came across the Tropical Distillers opportunity, I was happy to jump on board.”
With Walden at the helm of the distillery operations, Tropical Distillers recently celebrated its grand opening as the only distillery in the city of Miami. Located in the heart of the up-and-coming Allapattah neighborhood, the distillery offers “a one-of-a-kind premium experience just steps away from the famous Wynwood Arts District.” Currently, the distillery produces the company’s signature brand J.F. Haden’s Craft Liqueurs, known as America’s Craft Liqueur Company™, and nationally recognized for its mango liqueur and citrus liqueur.
Tropical Distillers also plans to create its own brand of spirits, including vodka, rum, whiskey, gin and agave, which will be offered in the tasting room and with cocktails at the bar.
For Walden, teaming up with a completely new operation is both an exciting opportunity and a challenge. “I have a good foundation from my earlier experiences, but working on the ground floor at a start-up facility has introduced me to new aspects of the business,” she said. “My role starting out has been to focus on things like permits, equipment and sourcing materials like glass and ingredients. This side is new to me, but it’s a great learning opportunity.” Once production is in full swing, Walden will oversee and handle the small-batch production process of J.F. Haden’s Craft Liqueurs and the Tropical Distillers’ new line of spirits.
The role of master distiller is not one that Walden expected to have. “The position traditionally is handed down from generation to generation within families, or sometimes it’s an intern or apprentice role,” she told Beverage Master Magazine. “It’s not an easy title to come by. I was lucky, I was in the right place at the right time with the right skills.” While Walden initially came to the job solely with her work experience and a self-taught education, she subsequently enrolled in the Distillation, Wine and Brewing Studies program at the University of Kentucky. “For the longest time, you could only learn the trade by working in a distillery,” she added, “but now there are more schools and organizations offering classes and education.”
In a brief four years (she is 28 years old now), Walden feels she has gone from one extreme to the other in her distilling career. “The processes at Woodford were very regimented, but here I have more leeway,” she said. “I’ll always keep my framework from Woodford, but now I get to see where I can push it creatively.” Walden’s goal is to craft unique products that are not like what everyone is making. This means experimenting with different factors, such as proof, formulas, distillation, aging and filtering for making spirits. It also means recognizing the uniqueness of flavored liqueurs and finding ways to make them innovative while staying authentic to their flavors and ensuring high-quality products exclusively from their distillery.
Walden describes her job as “cross-functional,” where she takes on many roles. “One day I could be distilling, another day coming up with new formulas,” she said. “Here, there is a little more variation than at a bourbon distillery because we have so many different products and can experiment with more ingredients.” Creating new formulas for liqueurs is a lengthy process that involves a lot of trial and error, using different ingredients and altering the proof and sugar content. “Working with the array of products we make is definitely different but very exciting,” she added.
To Walden, landing the job as master distiller offers a unique opportunity to engage in multiple facets of the spirits business. “The role of master distiller is great because while you’re the lead distiller, you’re also an ambassador for the company, so you have some involvement with marketing and branding. For me, making products and coming up with new products is what I really love to do, but at the same time, you have to consider what other people like. So, also being involved in that side helps me better understand what our customers like and are looking for. It is the best of both worlds.”
Clearly, Walden can count herself among the up-and-coming female trailblazers in the spirits world. But it hasn’t always been easy. In her journey from complete novice to master distiller, Walden has had to overcome prejudices because she was so young and also female. “There was a time when people doubted me and my abilities and intelligence,” she reflected. “Sometimes, I felt out of place, and I wondered if I was the right fit for the job. Yes, I had to prove myself. And yes, I had to be my own cheerleader sometimes. But I’m blessed to say that I’ve also had a lot of great mentors and support from people who wanted me to succeed.” While Walden acknowledged that there is still some resistance to females entering distillery roles, she believes that women who came before her have helped break down barriers. “Today, there are more and more distilleries that are giving lead roles to women, not just master distiller, blender or taster roles, so the number of females in the industry is definitely increasing,” she added. “I think we’ll see more of this as long as organizations maintain diversity as a priority when building a team.”
No doubt, we’ll be hearing more about Walden as Tropical Distillers launches new products and becomes a go-to destination for tourists and locals alike. The 8,000-square-foot space features a full distillery, bottling line, in-house cannery and a tasting room decorated with colorful vintage wallpaper and old-school Florida, tropical touches throughout the space. Also, the distillery boasts a gift shop with branded merchandise, premium tastings, cocktail classes and behind-the-scenes tours. Between Devin Walden’s talent and history and Tropical Distillers’ splashy new digs and premium products, this new partnership offers a shiny new star in the spirits industry. Stay tuned for more.
Knowing precisely how to clean and sanitize a barrel means avoiding certain disasters, save time and protect the product. Cutting corners means inviting contamination, a surefire way to destroy an otherwise saleable product. By contrast, proper cleaning and sanitizing ensure a pristine, bacteria-free barrel, which means the product inside is safe from unwanted microorganisms and undesirable flavors. At the same time, the barrel enjoys a longer life. Experts say that maintaining barrels through proper cleaning and sanitizing also contributes to avoiding leaks, another costly product loss.
Since barrels are one of the most expensive beverage production costs, it pays to know companies that understand their unique cleaning and sanitizing requirements. Among them is California-based STEAMERICAS, whose Optima Steamer™ was born out of a unique process of reimagining old technology. Company owner Yujin Anderson touts the multiple benefits of that innovation.
“The Optima Steamer™ was born over 15 years ago when we saw the need for a machine that generated much less waste water runoff than a typical pressure washer. We saw the hot water pressure washer market audience who had trouble with wastewater runoff and identified that dry steam machines were mostly only available in the residential or professional size or performance level that can’t keep up with continuous all-day use.
My father, who was a marine boiler engineer, basically altered a commercial/industrial-sized pressure washer and retrofitted it with a patented dry steam boiler to give customers who asked for hot water pressure washers that are compatible with winter usage. The Optima Steamer™ is a revolutionary machine that increases water temperature beyond the 212 degrees Fahrenheit boiling point to create saturated and super-heated steam with minimal preheating time. The result is a highly effective, sanitizing methodology that destroys harmful microorganisms and reduces water usage from an average of three to four gallons a minute to 0.08 gallons without introducing any chemicals.”
Anderson explains that people oftentimes confuse cleaning a barrel with sanitizing it. However, there is, she says, a definite difference.
“Sanitizing and cleaning are two different processes. While you can measure cleaning results with naked eyes, you can’t with sanitizing. Hence, you may easily skip the sanitizing process. This is a big mistake. Barrels, especially, have pores, and microorganisms unaddressed can spread beyond the surface level, which is very challenging to remove.
For sanitizing, you can introduce a choice of chemicals (including chlorine, acid and ozone) that dissolve in water and have the liquid in contact with the barrel’s interior surface. However, the recent trend is to avoid chemical treatment to avoid altering the taste and quality of the product.
Dry steam is undoubtedly the most effective way to control microorganisms on most materials, especially barrel staves. Steam generators can reduce both water (steam uses only one to two gallons per barrel) and energy use, and they are helpful for general cleaning in addition to barrel cleaning. Dry steam is saturated steam, where over 97 percent of the water has been converted into a gas, rather than wet steam or boiling water like plant steam.”
Anderson describes how dry steam goes beyond the surface interior of a barrel to destroy harmful bacteria that the naked eye can’t see.
“Dry steam penetrates into the pores of barrels to kill pathogens, like Brettanomyces, Zygosaccharomyces and other microorganisms, even those that can survive water heated to 160 degrees. For example, most brewers use sanitization of some sort, but some brewers aren’t taking advantage of implementing a dry-steam method. Instead, many use plant steam, which is unsaturated wet steam or technically a liquid. Plant steam doesn’t reach lethal temperatures to kill bacteria inside barrels. Dry steam penetrates a quarter-inch deep into wood pores. It penetrates deeper than hot water or chemicals and with better efficiency at removing sediments deposited in the pores.”
Anderson adds that the dry steam method deployed by the Optima Steamer™ also saves time and money.
“Barrels can be in dry storage or wet storage. Both involve sulfur dioxide in the form of gas (dry) or diluted in water (wet). After storage, barrels should be rinsed, rehydrated (swelled), checked for leaks and drained before use. Using water, the rehydration process takes 60 gallons of water and 48-plus hours. Dry steam can shorten this process down to under 30 minutes and one to two gallons of water. Best of all, rehydration and sanitizing happen at the same time with dry steam.”
Being in California means that STEAMERICAS is near wine country, where the company found its initial clients. Breweries and soft drink companies followed. Anderson says that dry
steam offers distinct solutions for each client.
“The biggest selling point of dry steam may be different for each clientele. For example, for distillers and craft brewers, the main reason for dry steam is to rehydrate barrels, vats and foeders as quickly and efficiently as possible. For winemakers, controlling unwanted microorganisms, such as Brettanomyces, is the biggest reason they may introduce dry steam to their facility. For larger facilities, typically saving time while the food safety standards are met is the most important.”
Many companies that source barrels for clients also recommend dry steam as a preferred method of sanitizing their products. One of them is Northeast Barrel Company, located in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, northwest of Philadelphia. The barrel-sourcing company has a second showroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, serving its West Coast customers. Its product line includes previously used barrels and racks, bungs, foeders, tanks and even barrels used exclusively for decor.
While most of its wine barrels are sourced from wineries throughout California, Northeast Barrel Company travels around the globe sourcing other craft beverage barrels previously containing whiskies, tequilas, bourbons, rums, mezcals and brandies from countries that include Mexico, Nicaragua, Spain, Portugal and Jamaica, to name a few. Since the barrels have been previously used and have housed all sorts of beverages, the importance of properly cleaning and sanitizing them is tantamount to the company’s existing and prospective clients. Co-owner Pat Tramontano says that dry steam is the way to go.
“We have a dry steam generator that we use on our barrels. The generator pressurizes the barrels with steam. This not only kills any present bacteria but allows us to check for leaks. It is an excellent tool, and I recommend it to anyone in the beverage industry with a large-scale barrel program.”
Black Swan Cooperage is a family-owned barrel-making enterprise located in Northern
Minnesota and founded in 2009. The company creates hand-crafted barrels for distilleries, breweries and wineries across the United States. Black Swan Cooperage makes its custom barrels in a variety of sizes, ranging from five gallons to 53 gallons, with multiple charging and toasting levels. The cooperage also promotes its barrels as having staves that are the largest patented surface area of any staves currently available.
Co-founder and owner Heidi Korb learned the business of crafting barrels from her father, Russ Karusch, a master cooper. Among those lessons is how to properly clean and sanitize barrels.
“Ideally, if you can plan for your barrels to not ever sit empty, you will have fewer problems. However, this is likely not realistic for all. If you properly clean your barrel between uses, this will dramatically increase the life of your barrel. If a barrel is well kept, it can be used indefinitely. It will eventually no longer add flavor but will still be good to hold and age spirits. If a barrel is not properly stored and kept clean, it can go sour and start to grow mold. Once this happens, usually no amount of cleaning and sanitizing can save it.”
In short, those who create, source, clean and sanitize barrels agree that shortcuts do not lead to a long life for one of the most expensive costs in craft beverage production. Rather, those shortcuts can destroy not only the barrel but the entire contents inside. Experts say that a clean and sanitized barrel is best achieved with dry steam, a growing industry standard used to ensure that barrels are absent from the destructive microorganisms that can escape any other cleaning and sanitizing method.
Quiz for distillers: Legally speaking, what percentage of rye grain needs to go into the mash bill of a Canadian “rye” whisky? C’mon, don’t be shy…take a guess? If you are a distiller of rye whisky in the United States, at least 51 percent of your bill better be rye. So, in Canada, where “rye whisky” is the whisky, it’s gotta be at least that, right? Probably way more. Like, even 100 percent. Right? The answer is: None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis.
A Canadian whisky can call itself “rye” without having even passed close to the rye fields of western Canada. This likely drives many Canadian whisky aficionados (not to mention craft whisky distillers) bonkers. As it should. It’s akin to discovering your tuna sub sandwich actually contains very little – if any – tuna. (Sorry, have you heard this already?) “So what,” you ask, “is the deal?”
Well, the deal is a rather simple one. Canadian whisky was originally largely wheat-based. At some point (possibly a couple of hundred years ago), it was discovered that rye had more to offer in terms of character and flavor, and gradually more and more rye found its way into the mash mix. Although the amount of rye rarely exceeded about 10 percent (if that), even small amounts yielded a tastier spirit. Even as the shift from wheat as the main grain moved to corn, the term “rye whisky” became synonymous with “Canadian whisky.” This is why you can, legally, have a Canadian rye whisky made from 100 percent corn. To an extent, “rye whisky” has come to denote more of a category than an accurate reflection of pedigree.
The fact that there isn’t more consternation over this situation reflects the “if it ain’t broke, don’t bother fixing it” attitude that may have, at some point, permeated the Canadian whisky industry.
This is indeed a bizarre situation, but in a way, it’s not surprising. The Canadian whisky industry – for the past who-knows-how-long – had chugged along more or less under the radar of whisky drinkers around the world. This isn’t to say Canadian whisky hasn’t always been popular domestically and internationally. There are legions of stories (some probably accurate) of the flourishing underground (or in some cases, underwater) whisky trade between Canada and the Prohibition-era United States, a trade that hasn’t really ebbed since things became legal. According to the Distillers Council of the US, some 18.69 million nine-liter cases worth around $2.2 billion went south in 2020. Canada also exports its whisky to over 160 countries globally. Yet, like all things Canadian in general, Canadian whisky distillers kept a low profile and seemed content to maintain the status quo. There were, of course, a few exceptions.
About 20 years ago (give or take), Corby distillery (one of the “big boys” of the Canadian distillery scene) launched a trio of innovative whiskies under the Canadian Whisky Guild banner. These included Gooderham & Worts, Pike Creek and Lot 40. They were beautifully packaged, connoisseur-level ryes. And they turned out to be spectacular flops. This had nothing to do with the quality of the products and everything to do with consumers who just weren’t willing to take a chance on what could only be seen as radical new products. All three disappeared from provincial liquor board shelves shortly after being placed there. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and Lot 40 is now consistently available and consistently held in high esteem by whisky experts. Why did this shift happen?
In hopes of getting an answer, I tracked down Davin De Kergommeaux (not always an easy task). De Kergommeaux is – among other things – the author of a few books, one being Canadian Whisky: The New Portable Expert (first and second editions) and generally regarded as the authority on Canadian whisky. He sees it as a spinoff of the renewed interest in brown spirits (don’t ask where that interest came from; maybe the blandness of vodka was starting to bore people).
“As connoisseurs got to know scotch and bourbon, they began to look elsewhere for new experiences,” De Kergommeaux maintains. “Japan was first off the mark with really great whiskies, and now India, Taiwan and others have followed. As connoisseurs began to discover Canadian whisky, the Canadian distillers leaped in with both feet, turning out one new high-end whisky after another. [Canada is now] a new treasure trove for the refined palate.”
“We also have to acknowledge the Forty Creek factor. John K. Hall and his Forty Creek whiskies have become known around the world for their consistently high quality. In just a decade, Hall [became] the face of Canadian whisky worldwide, and connoisseurs globally now devise the most ingenious means to get bottles of his whisky. They also began to wonder, ‘If Forty Creek is so great, is there more where this came from?’ and I can only respond, ‘Yes, most certainly.’”
Forty Creek Distillery is but one of the many micro- to mid-sized distilleries that have sprung up across Canada since the early 1990s. Today there are some 300 craft operations scattered among the provinces and territories. And while this has certainly expanded the variety of Canadian whiskies being produced, finding them is a bit of an issue.
Most micro-distilleries have micro-outputs (relatively speaking). Also, the amount of excise levied on Canadian distillers by the federal government (or, in the words of Spirits Canada – essentially an industry lobby group – the “antiquated and jobs killing alcohol excise duty structure”) makes for a less-than-level playing field when it comes to competing with imported spirits. In terms of Canadian whisky, the “big eight” distillers account for the bulk (95 percent or so) of total production.
That being said, the consumer and critical accolades bestowed on some of Canada’s smaller distillers have certainly proved to the larger players that resting on their laurels is not a particularly effective growth strategy. In a short period of time, a few of Canada’s biggest whisky names have released some truly exceptional drams.
A few years back, the venerable Crown Royal brand released the Crown Royal Northern Harvest
Rye. It created something of a sensation when Jim Murray awarded its Jim Murray’s World Whisky of the Year 2016. Upon its release, I saw a sight I’d never seen before (and likely won’t ever again): average Canadian consumers walking out of provincial liquor stores with full cases of Canadian whisky. Trucks with shipments destined for south-of-the-border sales were diverted back home in an attempt to keep up with domestic demand. The same expression took home Murray’s Canadian Whisky of the Year for 2016, 2017 and 2018.
“I’m surprised not to hear more about Canadian Club because they also have some wonderful whiskies,” says De Kergommeaux, referencing another iconic Canadian brand. “The Chronicles range, of course, and also the 100 percent rye, which is the fruitiest all-rye whisky I have tasted anywhere.” (The Chronicles range he refers to are exceptionally mature – 41, 42, 43 and 44-year-old, limited-release expressions that are largely corn-based. I’ve had the pleasure of tasting every release and can attest to their astonishing complexity.)
Calgary-based Alberta Distillers Limited is another “big gun” that has made some unique inroads over the course of its history. It specializes (and always has) in 100 percent rye whiskies, fermented using proprietary house-cultivated enzymes and distilled in Canada’s largest pot still. Its flagship Alberta Premium brand has always been the flag-bearer for 100 percent Canadian rye. More recently, the brand’s limited age-dated expressions (20, 25, 30, and 40-year-old) and cask strength releases have taken rye whisky to a new level.
Though I haven’t tried a huge range of Canadian micro-distilled whiskies, I can say that the ones I have – including those from Okanagan Spirits in British Columbia, Kinsip, Dillons and the aforementioned Forty Creek in Ontario – have been first-rate. The Glenora Distillery on the east coast (perhaps the original Canadian micro-distillery) breaks with Canadian tradition, crafting its whiskies from malted barley. The result is a sort of unique Canadian/Scottish hybrid, which may sound a bit odd…until you try, say, its Glen Breton Rare 19-Year-Old.
Fantastic stuff. (Okanagan Spirits also produces a single malt under its Laird of Fintry label – definitely worth checking out if you can find it.)
What I’ve talked about here over the past 1,400 or so words barely speaks to the exciting new developments emerging on the Canadian whisky scene. When I asked De Kergommeaux what new projects in the industry particularly caught his attention, he provided me with a list long enough to cause me severe word count overage if I were to print it. Suffice to say, if the Canadian whisky sector has been a bit of a sleeping giant for the past little while, it is now wide awake…and hungrily looking to expand its reach. Stay tuned for more on Canadian whisky – and Canadian distillers in general – in upcoming editions of Beverage Master Magazine.