Buying New or Used Equipment & How to Decide

By: Kris Bohm, Owner of Distillery Now Consulting

When it comes to starting a distillery or a brewery it takes money to make it happen. In most cases it can literally take millions. The cost of the equipment is a big chunk of the cost required to start up a beverage alcohol business. Most folks who start a business will buy all new equipment. An alternative to the high price tag and long lead times of new equipment is to buy used equipment. When it comes to buying used equipment there can be many hidden costs and problems that come with what outwardly appears to be an excellent deal. By seeking to understand the hidden costs and potential problems that come with used equipment you may just uncover the perfect opportunity to land a deal on the equipment you need to start your business. Our aim is to help you avoid falling into the proverbial used equipment money pit. Let’s look through key considerations of buying used equipment and explore its potential.

  There are many reasons for wanting to buy used equipment instead of new equipment for a brewery or distillery. Lead time is a strong factor that drives folks to look at used equipment. In 2022 there have been massive disruptions to supply chains across many industries. Beverage manufacturing equipment is certainly one of them. For many manufacturers of equipment they now have lead times of well over a year. That means from the time you put a deposit on equipment to that equipment being delivered will almost certainly be beyond 12 months.

The opportunity to buy used equipment and take possession of it quickly has become an attractive option as a result. The downside here is that used equipment is in high demand these days and as a result the price on used equipment has gone up.

  There are many factors to consider when looking at used equipment. Age and condition are the two that are most important. As equipment gets older it can sometimes become hard to source replacement and repair parts. In some instances replacement parts do not exist and will need to be manufactured or redesigned which can be costly. The key here is to be diligent. Take some time to talk with the manufacturer and ask if they are available and willing  to continue to support the equipment they built. Here is an example of a situation where this occurred.

  There was an equipment manufacturer (who will not be named) but we will call them Acme in this example. Acme Company built equipment that looked great but their engineering and quality of manufacturing was shoddy. Acme went out of business only several years after opening due to lawsuits from equipment buyers.  A person new to the industry bought some equipment from Acme second hand that was still in crates unused. The buyer quickly bought the new and unused equipment from a 3rd party seller at what appeared to be a good price but did not do any research. Acme is no longer in business, and buying replacement parts for the equipment is impossible. When the time came to assemble and start the equipment there were many missing parts. To make it worse the equipment needed major repairs just to function as parts of the equipment were not operable. For the folks who bought this equipment, they had to spend lots of money and time to have custom work done just to make the equipment function. The repairs and replacement parts were so costly that the buyer would have spent less money on new equipment from a reputable manufacturer. 

  If the equipment comes with automation and controls the age of the equipment is critical to consider. Some older equipment does not age well and can in fact be more outdated than an 8 track cassette player. This is not to say that old controls or automation will not work, but there is a strong chance they can break and become unrepairable. If the used equipment is decommissioned and sitting in a warehouse it may not be possible to test the controls. If the controls cannot be repaired they may likely need to be replaced. The cost of replacement can eat up the money saved from buying used in the first place. Furthermore the cost of parts on older controls can sometimes be astronomical. The best way to test this before buying it is to buy equipment that is currently operational and can be tested.

  An important consideration is the cost of relocation. The cost of taking possession of the used equipment can vary hugely from one opportunity to the next. In most cases the equipment can be removed quickly and cleanly in the hands of skilled tradesmen. Most of the time there is room to disassemble and remove the equipment and also a door that allows for easy removal. In some instances this is not that case. There are some facilities that are literally built up around the equipment. In most cases continuous column stills in distilleries are installed via crane. In these cases removal of the equipment can be quite costly and require extensive building demolition and heavy equipment to carefully extract the equipment from a building. In one instance we saw a distillery in which the column for vodka distillation was encased in a metal and glass shaft. To remove the column required extensive demolition and a crane to extract the column from the building. After reviewing a plan and considering the value of the column we found that the cost of removal and relocation was going to negate any savings from the lower cost of the used equipment. This instance was one in which the buyer backed out of the purchase after investigating the cost of relocating the equipment.

  A common question asked by those buying used equipment is why are they selling it. The owner of the equipment can be selling it for a multitude of reasons, and it is an excellent question to ask. It is common for a business to outgrow its equipment capacity and sell its equipment to make room for larger equipment. Sometimes a business is closing permanently and is selling its equipment to liquidate the business. New entrants to the industry often ask how it works to buy used equipment. The transaction of buying used equipment is straightforward.  The seller of the equipment and the potential buyer connect and work to meet an agreed upon price and terms on purchasing the equipment. The agreement will often include a written contract that stipulates what equipment is being sold, how much time is there for the equipment to be removed, timeframe for deposit and payments, details on process of decommissioning and costs associated. If the buyer of the equipment is unsure of how to approach this process it is wise to hire a group or consultant to assist with this process. Typically a 3rd party will handle the disassembly, crating and relocation of the equipment. The process of decommissioning and relocation definitely has a cost so it is important to consider this in the overall cost of purchase.

  There are many factors to be considered here before buying used equipment. Although there are stories of bad deals, there are many more stories of success. In some instances, we have seen and helped folks save tons of money through buying used equipment. We hope you will give careful consideration when buying used equipment. If you are unsure whether or not to buy used equipment, it is best to bring in a professional to aid in your assessment of a potential purchase.

Retaining Loyal Customers

By: David Wachs, CEO of Handwrytten

Nearly every industry has been impacted by rising prices. While the price of craft beer, hard seltzer, and cider has not risen nearly as quickly as gasoline or groceries, prices have gone up. In addition to ongoing shipping delays and labor shortages, rising prices for grain and fertilizer after Russia’s war against Ukraine is intensifying price increases. Restaurant prices have had the largest gains since the 1980s, also reflecting higher costs for food and workers. As consumers become more discretionary with their spending, they have been paying more attention to prices across brands and have even been willing to ditch brands they have been loyal to for years to spend less whether they are enjoying a beverage at home or at a restaurant.

  Retaining loyal customers and recapturing their purchasing power once their budget can afford it or prices return to lower levels is reliant on brands having open and transparent communication with customers during inflation. While no one enjoys paying more for goods and services, it is something everyone is being impacted by, creating a universal understanding and acceptance that prices must go up. However, that does not mean that customers will be amenable to drastic or sudden price jumps, increases that seem out of alignment with competitors, or higher prices that appear to last longer than necessary.

  Most marketing and sales experts would agree that customer retention is more cost-effective for a business than new customer acquisition. As consumers and businesses watch their discretionary spending and cut back on perceived extras, savvy companies will invest more effort into maintaining positive relationships to protect their bottom lines. However, receiving an email, text message or phone call may be the last thing a customer wants. 

  They might also be the last thing a customer pays attention to. The amount of promotional email the average person receives on a daily basis can be overwhelming. Not to mention that many email services now allow users to filter emails considered to be promotional into folders where they may never be seen, let alone opened and read. Text messages from unknown numbers typically stir feelings of suspicion. An unexpected text message might even be viewed as a smishing scam trying to steal personal information. A handwritten note is entirely different, it invokes curiosity versus fear or annoyance.  

  Nothing says “pay attention” like a personalized handwritten note. No one flips past or does not see a handwritten envelope in their mailbox. These stand out from everything else that was delivered. Recipients wonder what could be inside and while envelopes that look like bills or advertisements and graphic postcards are set to the side, handwritten envelopes are usually opened immediately. The attention-grabbing nature of a handwritten envelope provides an instant advantage that even the biggest and most prevalent direct mail marketers cannot overcome.  

  Spending hours writing notes by hand can be prohibitive, especially for businesses that have been struggling to hire, so consider hiring a robot to pick up a pen and do the writing instead. Handwritten envelopes have been found to have a 300% greater open rate than standard envelopes. And handwritten marketing has response rates 7-21x greater than printed mail, with a return on investment 3-7x greater than print. Some companies have even found that retention rates are 50% higher for customers who receive a handwritten thank you note.  

  The value of sending a handwritten note is enhanced by integrations with CRM systems that automate the process of when to send a note to a customer and what message to include. For example, a brewer can automate notes to send to customers on the anniversary of their joining a loyalty program, when there are special deals or limited time offerings, events taking place at local tasting rooms, or on other special occasions like customers’ birthdays. 

  A handwritten note could even be used to explain to customers why price increases are happening. While an end consumer might have heard that the cost of fertilizer has gone up, that there is an aluminum can shortage, and that labor costs are rising, that does not mean the will think of these things when they are standing in the refrigerated section at the grocery store or ordering from a menu at a restaurant. In that decision-making moment, brewers do not want to be a faceless corporation that is raising prices to take advantage of a consumer. A more advantageous situation would be to be the brewer who sent a handwritten note thanking that customer for remaining loyal to the brand, when possible, despite price increases that were necessary for x, y and z reasons. Reminding customers of the people behind the production scenes of their favorite beverage and explaining the challenges being face humanize the situation and remind customers that everyone is in this together.

  Not all of the information a brewer may want to communicate to customers could be explained in one card, but that tool could be the gateway inviting a customer to visit a landing page that breaks down the need for price increases. Instead of just skirting the issue with a message from the founder, dive into the issue. Profile employees who go to great lengths to get to work on a daily basis and highlight the increased cost for them to put gasoline in their vehicles. Explain the challenges being faced by farmers who have had to pay more for diesel to run farm equipment, on top of fertilizer costs that rose 80% in 2021 and another 30% or more in 2022. Provide insights into the costs of operating the brewery and how higher energy bills might be impacting the bottom line. Knowing they why and how behind price increases will certainly not help retain or win over every customer but making the effort could be the difference-maker for some people. And if others cannot afford to continue buying while prices remain high, the good intentions of a brewer’s transparency could be what brings that customer back sooner or wins them over from another brand once prices are reduced. Especially if they feel a brand that they were fans of in the past took advantage of the situation and turned inflation into “greed-flation”.

  In addition to providing insight to customers about why price increases are happening, invite and give them the opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions. Ensure that customers have multiple avenues to contact a customer service representative at the company and that feedback and answers are provided in a timely manner. Allowing customers to provide feedback makes them feel more invested in the brand and can help build stronger relationships that can withstand difficult times.

  By offering customers opportunities to provide feedback via the company website, email, or social media channels, brands can have more control over their ability to monitor and respond to the feedback they are receiving compared to customers leaving feedback and reviews on public forums or other social channels that are more difficult to track and can damage reputation. Responding to customer feedback is just as important as asking them to provide it.

   Customers will feel more valued, appreciated, and heard by a company that thanks them for supporting the brand. And if feedback is negative, a brand might be able to win over a new customer while impressing those that are already loyal by listening and maybe even implementing change based on customers’ opinions. This makes customers feel that their feedback did not go to waste and was important. Building a feedback loop with customers creates more of a community, can help with customer retention, and is what brands that last the tests of time get right. Imagine getting a thank you note from a brand because of a review left on a website or commentary posted on a social media channel. Most customers would be amazed that a brand would care enough to go to that effort and would remember it.

  There is no quick fix to help businesses recover from pandemic complications and now inflation. How deeply inflation will impact consumer spending habits remains to be seen. Identifying ways to recruit and retain employees as costs increase and labor shortages persist will take creativity and new approaches. As brewers develop solutions and evolve to thrive in the post-pandemic era, the need for effective communications will not diminish. After two years of a seemingly never-ending stream of new problems, making the most of upcoming opportunities will be critical to making 2022 as successful as possible.

CO2 Struggles Breed Innovative Practices & Alternative Gas Use

By: Gerald Dlubala

Shortages, surcharges and sketchy availability: that’s not what any craft brewer, distiller or winemaker wants to hear about their supply stream. Yet that’s the reality that many brewers have been, and still are, living with after the pandemic played havoc with CO2 (carbon dioxide) availability.

  The lack of regular, planned delivery and variable costs and surcharges of CO2 has brewers looking at ways to cut their costs or amount of usage of CO2, including replacing CO2 with nitrogen in some capacity. Nitrogen is readily available and an inert gas that does not typically   react with its surroundings, so there’s no worry of adverse reactions with the brewed products.

Reducing and Replacing CO2 Use

  Matt Malloy is the founder and CEO of Dorchester Brewing in Boston, Massachusetts, a contract partner brewery usually brewing for and partnering with 12 to 15 breweries at any given time. When facing a 75 percent reduction in planned CO2 deliveries from their supplier, Malloy knew it was time to look into new and alternative ways to keep his taphouse and brewery producing, especially as he is responsible for brewing beer for his partner breweries.

  “We’ve long had a great relationship with our gas supplier,” said Malloy. “But this became a serious issue for us. We are a contract brewer for others, so production and quality are always our absolute priorities. We adhere to strict best practices with the required equipment for our industry and have to perform at a certain expected level. We have a bulk CO2 tank but couldn’t get the supplies necessary to keep us going, so we had to start looking at other options and even other suppliers than we had previously. We began by looking at where we use CO2 in our production. (Like other brewers, they found it in use virtually everywhere in their process.) We decided that the 25 percent supply we could get would go towards the most needed tasks. Then we would look for alternative solutions for other tasks that would cut the CO2 usage or, in some instances, replace the need for CO2 altogether with a better, more economical option. In our research and testing (Dorchester Brewing has a full-time quality control and testing lab), we found that we could initially replace CO2 with nitrogen in our canning, seaming and kegging operations. Additional notable savings came from using it to purge our two 60-bbl and one 120-bbl brite tanks. It was pretty much a one-for-one swap between CO2 and nitrogen. Our gas supplier helped with suggestions, and we were able to use our current piping systems by installing T-valves for switching use to liquid nitrogen supply, vaporizers and dewars when needed. We also found that cleaning under pressure used less gas than cleaning in place. All of these changes were made incrementally, using slow and steady testing to ensure that using nitrogen in place of CO2 did not compromise the quality of the beer in any one step of change.”

  Malloy told Beverage Master Magazine that one very effective thing he and his brewers started doing is incorporating the German method of Spunding in their brewing process, using special valves attached to your tanks. Spunding literally means bunging, and the old German technique is making a comeback and something that Malloy says every craft brewer should at least try. It involves carefully monitoring the present gravity and sealing off the tank after the initial, aggressive fermentation stages have been completed. Once the wort ferments to near the targeted final gravity and orifices are closed off, you set the Spunding valve on the tank to your desired hold pressure setting. The valve’s attached gauge monitors PSI levels, and any levels above your set pressure tell the variable pressure relief valve to open automatically and release pressure down to the preset level when the valve will once again close. Spunding traps the naturally occurring CO2 created during fermentation so that it absorbs into the wort as it turns into beer. When done correctly, a brewer ends up with a perfectly carbonated beer ready for packaging and a decreased need for additional purchased CO2.

  “Right from the start, we reduced our CO2 needs by 30 percent,” said Malloy. “Spunding saves us money, but I also believe it makes better beer. There is an increased sense of quality with better aroma components. We are making better beer, with less cost and more flexibility.”

  Malloy encourages brewers to initially consider ways to save on and reduce CO2 usage before blindly transitioning everything to nitrogen.

“As brewers, we have to be super nimble and flexible in our thinking,” said Malloy. “Here at Dorchester Brewing, we’ve looked at and studied every step in our brewing and production process. As a result, we now see some of the duties that traditionally call for CO2 use, like purging and blowing down, as valid ways to use nitrogen instead and save money.”

  Malloy says that Spunding, combined with an intense review of brewery practices, has gotten their facility down to a 50 percent reduction in the amount of CO2 they would typically require, but he’s not stopping there. He is currently testing nitrogen use in his can seamers and fillers. As a result, he expects to reduce his CO2 deliveries from once a week to once a month, resulting in even more savings.

  Nitrogen offers a way to create your own gas supply or have a less costly bulk option. Onsite nitrogen generators provide nitrogen on demand and, depending on use, can pay for themselves in a short time, sometimes within the same year. Cryogenic bulk tanks offer an onsite nitrogen supply with fewer deliveries, and dewars are available for more minor production needs.

Innovation Leads to a Change in Philosophy and Brewery Practices

  “Spunding and nitrogen use have changed how we approach brewing, but those practices have also built a new philosophy within our brewery,” said Malloy. “We are always looking to improve, and now we see a change in behavior within our team. We’ve changed cleaning protocols and team behavior. Our team now sees value in every pound of gas used. Each pound used is sacred, and this type of thinking breeds innovation. We’ve used these protocols with all our brews, with no issues, differences or deficiencies noticed.”

  Malloy says that these changes help production, but just as significantly, they also add up to reduced costs for brewers. The cost savings in buying bulk is significant, with some breweries paying up to eight times as much for supply as Dorchester Brewing.

  “I would recommend that craft brewers first look at all of their production tasks in detail and, where applicable, incorporate the Spunding valves in their process,” said Malloy. “The upfront cost would be that of the valves, but the savings resulting from Spunding can be significant. Getting caught short can cause irreparable harm as a craft brewer, so you should also work with your gas supplier to investigate and research the possibilities of using nitrogen for as many practices as possible. It’s a win-win situation for both of you.”

  Malloy is invested in the brewing community and is willing to discuss his experiences and help to show other craft brewers how they can start reducing costs through Spunding, nitrogen use or both in their brewery, pub or taproom. In addition, Dorchester Brewing offers free lid seaming checks and DO (dissolved oxygen) testing for area brewers.

Reusing Produced CO2 Through Carbon Capture: Earthly Labs

  Due to the nature of the brewing process, breweries produce large amounts of CO2. With CO2 supplies being in such short and erratic supply, plus variable pricing structures, it may make sense for breweries to consider recapturing some of that produced CO2 for their use. Earthly Labs, a division of Chart Industries, is at the forefront of CO2 capture technology, manufacturing plug-and-play carbon capture units that enable a brewery start capturing and using their own produced CO2 within one day of installation.

  The Earthly Labs CO2 capture technology is designed to capture CO2 waste from smaller sources that ultimately make up more than half of all CO2 emissions. For breweries specifically, this translates to allowing brewers to capture their own produced CO2 and subsequently purify it to food-grade gas for reuse in the packaging and carbonating processes.

  Using recaptured CO2 for your beer immediately allows a brewer to reduce CO2 purchases and the associated delivery fees and surcharges. Additionally, peace of mind comes with decreasing worries and making an environmentally conscious decision to increase sustainability. Earthly Labs compares the capture and reuse of CO2 to brewers or distillers disposing of spent grain because it is also a way to become more sustainable while also simultaneously benefitting your brewery’s bottom line.

  Amy George, founder and CEO of Earthly Labs, says that while distilleries and wineries don’t have the amount of need that breweries have, they are also in the early stages of showing interest. Distilleries are continuously looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, with some having plans featuring net zero carbon futures. Wineries are also exploring ways to capture and reuse CO2 onsite to help with tank purging or carbonation needs for specific products.

  George says that their CO2 capture units are about the size of a double-door refrigerator and can be running and capturing gas the next day after installation if the brewery is producing gas. Training is straightforward, taking one to two days. After that, the brewery employees will be fully able to use the system under the oversight of the Earthly Labs team. Additional support is always available, including the possibility of remote monitoring. Return on investment timetables varies by producer, based on the amount of gas captured versus what a craft producer would have to pay for supply, surcharges, frequency of delivery, and more. As the price of CO2 rises, the return-on-investment timeline shortens, but on average, the client can expect the units to pay for themselves within two to three years.

  Earthly Lab’s units are currently in use by breweries and craft producers of all sizes, but George says that the sweet spot for their workhorse unit, the CiCi ® (Oak), is for producers in the 5,000 to 20,000 bbl range. They can accommodate smaller producers with their CiCi ® (Teak) units, and larger producers will benefit from their CiCi ® (Elm) units.

  George believes the complex, ongoing supply and delivery conditions will ultimately lead breweries to explore ways to remain viable and become more efficient in their operations. This includes capturing the CO2 waste for reuse that would typically be released into the environment and looking at replacement alternatives for CO2 within production operations. 

  Earthly Labs works to accommodate all producers, including offering a winery leasing program to provide flexibility during harvest seasons and to help eliminate the upfront expenditure by spreading payments into more manageable monthly programs. Additionally, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act also allows for tax credits for these types of purchases.

  Chart Industries CO2 storage solutions and partner networks offer opportunities to turn waste streams into value for businesses while reducing environmental impact. Chart also partners with buyers and distributors to help sell excess CO2 to other partners in the exchange ecosystem. The ultimate goal is to reduce as many emissions as possible to help achieve overall climate goals.

Customizing Beverages the Easy Way

By: Angelo Coletta, CEO – Zakeke

Enabling customers to customize their purchases is a quick and easy way to expand into new markets and boost profits. Some distilleries and craft brewers are beginning to take advantage of this innovative approach to scale their businesses. For example, Silent Pool Distillers increased their orders fivefold in 2020 in part with the help of product customization.

  Possibilities abound for other distillers and craft brewers to do the same. Moreover, it’s easier to enable customization than most business owners think. Today’s product customizers offer automated processes that reduce the required amount of attention and manual labor to little or nothing.

What is Product Customization?

  Product customization allows customers to change the visual appearance of products according to their own individual needs and desires. Sellers empower consumers to build their own unique products, perhaps by adding their names or those of others. Depending on the specific product and customization service, customers may also be able to add photographs or longer messages of their own writing. In a sense, the product becomes a canvas for them to create upon.

  Some of the beer, wine, and spirits industry’s biggest names allow their bottles to be customized, offering proof of concept. Tito’s Vodka and Hennessy VS Cognac bottles can be etched, and a large selection of bottles can be engraved, including Don Julio tequila, Woodford Reserve bourbon, and Dom Perignon champagne. Other makers, such as Maker’s Mark, Jameson, and Jack Daniel’s, offer bespoke labels. Silent Pool Distillers does this for four of their distinctive gins.

  A wide range of items can be customized, including purses, jewelry, keychains, apparel, towels, and bedding. There are even services that customize things you wouldn’t expect, like USB drives, coffee sleeves, drinking straws, bobbleheads, and — believe it or not — cookies or cakes.

Why Enable Product Customization

  The answer is simple: product customization improves the bottom line. According to a 2019 Tech Clarity survey of 285 companies that offer customization, 71 percent listed increased sales as one of its benefits. More than 50 percent pointed to differentiation and higher margins. Thirty-five percent nodded toward customization’s “cool factor,” and 34 percent said they experienced higher close rates. Forty-two percent indicated that offering customization had become a necessity in their industry to stay competitive.

  Product customization elevates profitability for a number of reasons. First, customers are willing to pay more for customized products. According to Bain & Company, they will reach into their wallets to the tune of 20 percent more than the uncustomized version. This means manufacturers who customize can set higher prices. Meanwhile, they don’t incur new costs, since automated processes minimize the work required. While customers may only purchase a single customized item or a small lot, these sales are a painless way for the business to expand, and they do add up.

  Secondly, product customization encourages customer loyalty. The same Bain & Company report also found that, “customers who had customized a product online engaged more with the company. They visited its website more frequently, stayed on the page longer and were more loyal to the brand.”

  Happy customers can result in repeat business and referrals to their friends and family. The ability to customize sets a business apart, distinguishing it from competitors in the eyes of consumers.

  If that wasn’t already enough, Bain reported lower rates of return for customized products than for their mass-produced counterparts. When customers take ownership of the look and feel of their purchase, they tend to be more satisfied with the outcome and less likely to change their minds.

  All of this adds up to increased sales and a better business.

Why Customers Love Customization

  Customization appeals to customers for many reasons. Part of the draw is that it makes customers feel special. They are willing to invest their time and effort into creating a unique product that is tailored to their own tastes and exacting requirements. Since they are the ones who determine what the final product looks like, it is sure to please them.

  Another reason is that customization provides customers with a sense of control, that all-too-scarce commodity in today’s hectic, stressful, and sometimes overwhelming world. They are in the driver’s seat throughout the process. This is one element of their lives that they can impose their will upon and be confident of receiving gratification.

  It can also be just plain fun. For instance, Silent Pool Distillery’s user-friendly website steps prospective customers through the creation process. After clicking on the option to personalize their gin, they are taken to a new web page with four varieties that may be customized: Original Juniper, English Garden, Fresh Grapefruit, and Spiced Pepper. When customers click on the name of the flavor they want to purchase, a new page comes up with the product’s specifications.

  Beneath the “Add to Cart” button, a “Customize” option takes customers to an interactive interface where they design their bottle’s label. A large button with an upward-pointing arrow invites them to upload photographs of themselves, their loved ones, pets, or places special to them. Alternatively, they may choose from a library of 140 million stock photos arranged by helpful categories like “Business & Finance,” “Sport & Extreme,” or “Travel and Vacations.”

  Next to the upload arrow is a button that allows clients to add text to the label, giving it a special name or writing warm messages to recipients. Customers can change the font size, make the text bold, position it anywhere from top to bottom, center the words, or align them to the left or right. They can even bend the letters along a curve of their own making. Magnifying glass icons allow them to zoom in to view fine details or zoom out to gauge the overall look.

  If a given component starts to mess up the label, then the customer can delete it. If the whole design ends up being a disaster, they can reset the label with the click of a button and start over.

  The result is a unique, bespoke bottle of high-quality, sustainable gin that’s perfect for gift-giving on birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, as well as for celebrations, bachelor and bachelorette parties, showers, and weddings.

  Throughout the process, customers delight in the knowledge that they are putting together a one-of-a-kind present. Surprise is guaranteed: No matter how hard the recipient might try to guess what’s coming, they will never be able to guess what this gift is going to look like. Connection also seems assured — people tend to react positively to seeing their own name on an item, which often translates to feeling good about the person who gave it to them.

No Hassle Customization for Sellers

  Savvy distillers and craft brewers are understandably wary about adding a new feature to their already complex businesses. The last thing sellers want is to labor over a single item. Luckily, those days are over. Today’s customization services integrate with business’s existing websites and simplify the customization process itself.

  Take the case of Silent Pool Distillers. The distillery got their start offline, producing artisanal spirits with local ingredients in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a nationally protected landscape in the United Kingdom. To take advantage of online sales, they built an online storefront on the e-commerce platform BigCommerce. Thus, the distillery was well positioned when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, closing pubs and restaurants in droves. The spurt in online shopping boosted their sales to new levels.

  When the business sought a way to start customizing their products, they wanted a service that would integrate with BigCommerce and not force them to reinvent their online shop. They chose Zakeke, a visual commerce platform that works seamlessly with not only BigCommerce, but also many other ecommerce platforms, including Shopify, Etsy, Wix and WooCommerce. It can also employ an application programming interface (API) for integration if needed.

  Silent Pool Distillers installed Zakeke’s software and configured its easy-to-use “plug and play” system. In the context of information technology, “plug and play” means software that does not require users to understand programming or make any adjustments. Instead, it is designed to work well immediately from the moment it is brought to life.

  After this initial setup, the distillery’s preexisting online shop gave customers access to Zakeke’s cloud-based platform for designing their own labels for certain products. Since the process is automated, this personalization happens without requiring attention from the seller. Once an order is placed, all employees at Silent Pool Distillers need to do is download the customer’s file, print it out, and attach it to an appropriate bottle.

  By equipping the Silent Pool Distillery to offer bespoke labels on their bottles, Zakeke boosted their sales while allowing the distillers to remain focused on what they do best: making high-quality spirits.

The Power of Personalization

  Today’s customers increasingly expect the ability to personalize their products. A 2020 report by Dassault Systèmes and CITE Research found that 83 percent of consumers “expect products or services to adapt [to their individual specifications] in a matter of moments or hours.”

  The future belongs to businesses who can meet this challenge. Local distilleries and craft breweries stand to gain by incorporating customization, just like the big names in the industry. Branching out in this direction enabled Silent Pool Distillers to capture a valuable new market segment and increase sales even during the dark days of the pandemic.

  The power of personalization helps retailers please long-standing customers and attract new ones. That’s why distilleries and craft brewers of all kinds should consider adding product customization.

What to Do if EIDL Payments Become Due

By: Raj Tulshan, Founder of Loan Mantra

Restaurants, bars and other businesses within the hospitality industry were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, restaurant industry sales in 2021 were down a staggering $65 billion from 2019’s pre-pandemic levels. During shut-downs, quarantines, social distancing and other pandemic-related disruptions, many hospitality businesses struggled or shut down, including 90,000 restaurant locations that temporarily or permanently closed because of COVID.

  During the pandemic, bars were forced to reduce capacity limits, negatively impacting their profitability. Reopening after quarantine was expensive, requiring costly adaptations, including air filtration systems, plexiglass dividers, equipment for touchless transactions, cleaning and sanitation supplies and personal protective equipment for staff.

  Hospitality businesses – like companies across many industries – also struggled with employee shortages, supply chain issues and soaring inflation.

  This “perfect storm” of unprecedented challenges led four million small businesses to take out $390 billion in loans through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. The EIDL was part of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and US Treasury as an expanded part of The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act.

  Although the loan payments were deferred for two years, they’ve still been accruing interest until the first EIDL payment was due.

  Many small business owners have questions and concerns about the repayment process. The timing is not ideal, as many businesses – including restaurants, bars, hotels, and other hospitality venues – need funds to prepare for holiday sales and events.

If you took out an EIDL loan, here are some valuable tips to act:

      Contact:  Business owners can contact their local district legislators by calling, e-mailing, or writing letters to express concern. Loanmantra.com has put together a tool kit with:

        A sample form letter, an e-mail draft, a phone script and phone numbers to save time. Unsure of who a district representative may be? Find them here.

      Share:  There’s strength in numbers, so share this message with other businesses, business networks, chambers of commerce, businesses in the same area, associations and like groups.

      Reach out: Talk to people every day for the “sphere of influence” to gain community support.

      Ask for help: Don’t be afraid to ask for help when and where it’s needed.

Also, here are some valuable repayment tips:

      The loans won’t be forgiven:  Unlike the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), EIDL loans won’t be forgiven and need to be repaid. All Economic Injury Disaster Loan recipients received an email from The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) with the subject line: Important EIDL Reminder, which contains important information regarding your EIDL account setup and payment.

      Set up a repayment schedule:  Payments were deferred for the first two years, during which, interest accrued. Now, business owners must start making their monthly payments on their due date, which is determined by the “Effective Date” noted on your business’s promissory note.

        Another payment can seem overwhelming stressful given inflation, staffing and supply-related pressures. Don’t look at the big picture. Instead, think about the incremental payments today as steps in the right direction. Set a calendar reminder or appointment to make this payment every month so you will stay ahead of schedule.

      EIDL loans must be paid via a special platform: There are two separate platforms you will need to access your loan information and pay your loan balance.

        First, Capital Access Financial System (CAFS) maintains your EIDL & PPP loan information. This includes your original balance, interest, accrued interest balance, etc. To obtain the EIDL loan information for your business, please select ‘EIDL’ and then ‘borrower search’ from the menu options. When registering on the CAFS website, carefully follow each step. There is no room for error when using this system, so be thorough and accurate when inputting your information.

        Secondly, pay.gov allows businesses to input their bank information and to set up recurring payments online. Inside your profile, choose ‘Make an SBA 1201 Borrower Payment’ as the menu option. While registering on pay.gov may be simpler than registering on CAFS, it is not easy to change bank account information after you begin your loan payments.

      Use the right number:  Keep in mind that your SBA loan number is different than your EIDL loan number. This information can be found on the top of the second page of the promissory note.

      EIDL loans accrued interest:  Many business owners received their first EIDL loan in early 2020 and a second EIDL loan in 2021. For many borrowers, that means interest has been accruing for more than 24 months, with additional interest accruing for more than 16 months. Borrowers are responsible for paying back the loan plus all accrued interest.

      This type of loan program has ended:  The COVID-19 EIDL program is not accepting new applications, increase requests, or reconsideration.

  Business owners should focus on what they do best: Run the business and do it well. That’s why Loan Mantra is providing advocacy tools for business owners on  loanmantra.com so they can be empowered to take action and have the latest information to make the best decisions.

  Small businesses have been the backbone of the US economy and deserve fair economic terms and transparency. Loan Mantra is here as a resource to serve companies of all sizes and types during both good and turbulent times.

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

  Small business owners identify two obstacles to their success: access to capital and financial education. Loan Mantra removes these hurdles so business owners can spend more time actually building their business.

For more information visit their website…www.loanmantra.com

The Rise of Aquavit in the United States  

By: Becky Garrison

The word aquavit derives from the Latin word aqua vitae meaning “water of life,” a testament to the belief held by early distillers that alcohol infused with herbs was a healing spirit. Also known as aquavite, akvavit, akevitt or snaps, this national spirit of Sweden, Norway and Denmark represents an integral part of Scandinavian culture.

  A typical Nordic household has a bottle of aquavit in the refrigerator or freezer, which is brought out during festive gatherings like Christmas and Midsummer celebrations. Also, aquavit functions as a digestif in helping to digest rich food.

  Traditionally, Scandinavians shout skol (also skål) while maintaining eye contact as they down a shot of aquavit. Supposedly, this custom stems from the Viking sensibility of keeping one’s eye on others, even during a celebration to avoid potential threats. As a testament to aquavit’s celebratory role, the Historical Museum of Wine & Spirits in Stockholm, Sweden, currently lists over 200 drinking songs dedicated to aquavit, with new ones created each year.

  Families without means often made aquavit at home, similar to distilling Prohibition-era gin in the United States. While these homemade brews tended to leave a very bitter aftertaste, aquavits produced by licensed distillers elevated this spirit considerably.

  Commercially produced aquavit tends to range in ABV from 40 to 45 percent, with most aquavit classified as Taffel Aquavit. This term refers to aquavit that is either entirely unaged or aged in spent casks that impart nearly no character. Aquavit found in other parts of Scandinavia use a base consisting of clear, grain-neutral spirits, though Norwegians often distill theirs with potatoes as a base. Also, Norwegian aquavit is usually aged in barrels.

The Birth of Aquavit Distilled in the United States

  Until recently, Scandinavians in the United States wishing to replicate these Nordic traditions had to rely on imported aquavit. The most popular imports available in the United States were Aalborg (Denmark), Linie (Norway) and O.P. Anderson (Sweden).

  The first instance of aquavit produced in the United States can be traced to Christian Krogstad, founder of House Spirits and Westward Whiskey in Portland, Oregon. As his family is Norwegian, he grew up with the foods and drinks of Norway and a particular fondness for aquavit. As Krogstad reflects, “The caraway in aquavit is particularly good as a palate-cleanser if you have oily fish, like mackerel or pickled herring.”

  Since aquavit is such a niche category, Krogstad focused his efforts on distilling gin while waiting for his American single malt whiskey to mature. However, distribution issues in 2006 prevented aquavit from being imported to the U.S. in time for the holiday season. So, he decided to produce some aquavit, which he made using a neutral corn spirit. He then maturated the botanicals and redistilled it.

  His aquavit was kept at the distillery for marketing uses with no intention of selling or distributing this spirit commercially. But he discovered that whenever “cool kid” bartenders visited the distillery and sampled the aquavit, they indicated an interest in using this spirit at their bars.

  So in 2007, he made a label for his aquavit and started selling Krogstad Aquavit. Even though House Spirits took a minority investment in Westward Whiskey from Diageo, he still retains full ownership of his aquavit. Recently, he added Krogstad Gamle Aquavit, barrel-aged in French oak pinot noir barrels from various Oregon wineries. Currently, this is available in about 42 states and online, with approximately 1,000 nine-liter cases sold per year.

The Growth of U.S.-Based Aquavit  

  Initially, the TTB’s Distilled Spirits Beverage Alcohol Manual (BAM) specified that only spirits possessing the flavor of caraway could be labeled aquavit. After receiving correspondence from an aquavit producer, which explained that Norwegian law allows aquavit to retain the flavor of caraway, dill or both, they amended the entry for “aquavit” on pages 4-13 to read: “A caraway and/or dill flavored distilled spirits product.”

  This loose definition has allowed for experimentation among distillers in producing an aquavit that maintains the Scandinavian character of the spirit but has characteristics unique to that particular distillery.

Aimsir Distilling Co. (Portland, OR)

  According to co-founder Christine Hopkins, aquavit production emerged as their distiller’s passion project. “We learned a lot about aquavit together, and we got to try a bunch of aquavits, as my co-founder and husband, Steve, and I knew nothing about this specialty spirit.”

  Their aquavit is made with the same neutral grain spirit used for their gin and vodka, which Hopkins describes as very caraway but balanced with fennel, star anise, a lot of citrus and a little bit of lavender. Most of their aquavit cocktails have been very summer-inspired, following the success of their Nordic Summer, a drink that includes aquavit, lime and Aperol. 

Long Road Distillers (Grand Rapids, MI)

  While most distillers purchase their neutral-grain spirit for their aquavit, co-owner Jon O’Connor proclaims they craft all their small batch spirits from scratch using local ingredients. Around 2015, they distilled about 100 pints of aquavit as a passion project. But after sending off a bottle to the Denver International Spirits Competition, where they tied for Best of Show with a $200 bottle of scotch, they felt they were on to something. “We just kept sending it off to these big spirits completions, and it just kept winning all these awards,” O’Connor states.

  They use red winter wheat for their base spirits, adding a mixture of dill seed, fresh dill and caraway seeds along with curcumin, star anise, fennel and cinnamon. This recipe is also used in the Old Aquavit, which is barrel-aged in used whiskey barrels.

Norden Aquavit (Chelsea, MI)

  As a bartender, Robyn Cleveland, co-founder and distiller, explored making cocktails using unique ingredients. He fell in love with aquavit through a Danish childhood friend and his wife, who is half-Swedish. Cleveland created a brand focused on aquavit’s rich traditions with approachability and versatility as a cocktail ingredient at the fore. Cleveland says, “Aquavit’s potential was relatively untested outside areas with larger Scandinavian strongholds. It’s exciting to share the spirit with an ever-growing audience.” 

  At 45 percent ABV, their citrus-forward flagship, Original Taffel Style, embraces both caraway and dill along with clementine, coriander, angelica, orris, juniper, clary sage, staghorn sumac and anise. Also, they produce an American Oak Reserve using the same botanicals that have been aged for a minimum of 12 months in previously used rye casks.

Spirits of French Lick (West Baden Springs, IN)

  As a distiller and distillation historian, aquavit has always sparked head alchemist Alan Bishop’s interest. He opines, “Aquavit can trace its roots under various names back to the Aquavitae Treatises of the 1400s to1600s. It has deep connections to Sparagyic medicine, so three of my major interests were piqued: alchemy, history and complex botanical distillations.

  Bishop notes they push coriander and caraway to the forefront of their aquavit, with a small amount of juniper and some floral and citrus elements. Their base distillate is a blend of both neutral and 100 percent oat whiskey spirits, which Bishop states provide mouthfeel, aroma and perceived sweetness.

  Production of their Aquavit requires the production of three separate products. This involves high-proof corn ethanol and 100 percent oat whiskey, both taken through the full distillation steps. Then there is the blending, hand-mashing of various botanical elements, heat-up digestion period and 24-hour maceration. What follows is the distillation of the finished product and heavy cleaning of the equipment, which is shared with other products. 

Tattersall Distilling (Minneapolis, MN)

  When Tattersall Distilling began distilling in 2015, aquavit was one of the first spirits they made. “I have Swedish heritage, and my business partner has Norwegian heritage. So being up in Minnesota and given our backgrounds, we felt we had us an opportunity to make something unique that interested us,” Jon Kreidler, co-founder and chief officer, opines.

  Their aquavit is caraway- and rye-forward with a base of organic, corn-based spirits. While Kreidler is aware some U.S. distillers use cumin in their aquavit, he discovered this use is due to a translation error from Swedish to English. Instead, he prefers to use 20 locally sourced botanicals, many of which are also present in their gin.

  After customers expressed interest in their Tiki-style cocktails, they decided to bottle a coconut-infused version of their aquavit. “The citrus and pineapple create some very interesting notes when mixed with the caraway,” Kreidler notes.

Vikre Distillery (Duluth, MN)

  As a Norwegian and American dual citizen, Emily Vikre grew up with a cultural understanding of aquavit as a celebratory spirit. Her aquavit starts with organic, Minnesota corn that she either distills herself or augments with Minnesota, organic spirits. Next, she combines direct and vapor infusions with 12 organic botanicals, including caraway. Also, she produces aged aquavit with used cognac casks. “These casks shift the flavors of how the botanical come through,” Vikre reflects.

Marketing Aquavit in the United States   

  According to distillers, the biggest challenge in marketing aquavit is that most consumers don’t know what aquavit is. When Hopkins markets aquavit at a farmer’s market and other public events, she educates potential consumers by calling it a Scandinavian-style gin. “Aquavit is very similar to gin, but the botanicals are different. As they already have the vocabulary for gin, using this descriptive term allows them to transition from gin to aquavit.”

  Also, Vikre observes how some people think they won’t like aquavit as they don’t care for caraway or dill. This is especially true if they had a bad experience with an aquavit that was too caraway-forward. Cleveland adds that some Scandinavians need to be convinced that the poor quality aquavit of their youth does not represent the craft aquavit on the market today.

  Vikre classifies her customers into two types. First are the people who wear Norwegian sweaters and celebrate the Scandinavian holidays. The number of people who fit this description varies according to the number of Scandinavians living in that particular region.

  The second group is a growing collection of consumers interested in pushing the boundaries of craft cocktails. Within the cocktail culture, aquavit is emerging as a substitute for gin or vodka by those bartenders looking to offer a unique drink to their clientele. In particular, the caraway lends a tangy bite to a bloody Mary. Other cocktail recipes referenced by these distillers that can be made with aquavit include aquavit and tonic, banana daiquiri, dirty martini, eggnog, gimlet, julep with rye whiskey, mai tai, Manhattan, negroni, old fashioned and Tom Collins.

  Select Scandinavian festivals held across the country from New Jersey to Portland, Oregon offer opportunities to embrace the Nordic culture. While some festivals are alcohol-free, others, like ScanFair held this year on December 11 and 12, 2022 in Portland, Oregon, include aquavit among their festive offerings. Shawn MacArthur, festival and fundraising events manager, opines, “Having aquavit at ScanFair is one of the many ways attendees can get a taste of a Nordic Christmas market! Along with food, shopping and activities, it’s the perfect way to kick off the holidays.”

  Also, in 2012, Jacob Grier, co-author of Raising the Bar (Chronicle Books, November 2022), hosted Aquavit Week at Metrovino in Portland, where he served as the bar manager. He wanted to share his enthusiasm for the spirit and highlight its use in cocktails. Since then, it has grown into an annual tradition, with a range of citywide events and an opening party featuring a wide selection of aquavit, aquavit cocktails and Scandinavian fare hosted by Broder, a Portland-based Swedish restaurant. As the state opens up post-COVID, Grier hopes to relaunch Aquavit Week in January or February 2023.

Luca Mariano Distillery

Bottling Family Values, Tradition & History

Mariano Viola was a man of many talents, including making pasta, winemaking, distilling whiskey and brandy and gardening. He shared these talents with his family, dreaming that one day, they would have a successful life and a lasting legacy in the United States. That dream started to materialize in 2010 in the garage of his grandson, Francesco S. Viola. Francesco was distilling whiskey in his garage as a hobby, using the methods he learned under the guidance of his grandfather. Then, in 2013, he was encouraged to obtain a federal basic permit officially licensing him to produce bourbon. When he received that permit on the last day of 2013, the Luca Mariano Distillery, LLC, was established, named in recognition of Francesco Viola’s son and grandfather. The dream and vision materialized further when the small garage distillery grew to become known as a producer of supreme, small-batch Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, the foundation of the Luca Mariano distillery in Danville, Kentucky, distillers of bourbon and ryes aged no less than four years.

  While his distilled bourbon and rye were still young, Viola partnered with an established distillery in Kentucky to produce a young whiskey. But a test launch of 60 cases proved unacceptable to Viola’s standards and further intensified his focus and desire to create only high-quality Kentucky straight bourbon and straight rye whiskey. To start building the needed inventory, Luca Mariano Distillery partnered with another distillery to produce 240 barrels for aging in 2015. The following year brought another 240 barrels into the stock, with 480 added the year after, in 2017. Luca Mariano Distillery added 750 barrels in 2018 and 1000 more in 2019, the same year that Viola was preparing to release his Old Americana Bourbon and his Luca Mariano Rye Whiskey. It was time for Viola to find a permanent location for his distillery legacy.

  “It had to be perfect for his vision,” said Jennifer Brandt, master blender for Luca Mariano Distillery. “Francesco wants to operate a premium destination distillery that combines his family values, bourbon history, and the qualities of life recognized and cherished in Italy, a place where friends and family can visit, enjoy great food and drink, and listen to beautiful music without feeling rushed. It had to be a property that can host memorable events with great experiences, not simply a place that offered the traditional tastings and gift shops. And more importantly, it had to honor his family and lifestyle values along with the bourbon tradition.”

  With the help of realtor Dan Campbell, Viola found that property in Danville, Kentucky, a 557-acre historic site rich in distilling and moonshining history. It is also home to the William Crow house, built in the 1770s and recognized as the oldest stone house and the oldest free-standing house in the state of Kentucky.

  “It was in shambles,” said Brandt. “Some of the stones were collapsing in on themselves, but there are now plans to restore the historic home to its original condition. Also on the property is a silo made famous by a local moonshiner named Guy Jones. He was a barnstormer that also found his plane and flying skills useful to fly his moonshine that he distilled in the on-site silo, to his customers. As a barnstormer by trade, being able to land his plane directly in the fields became a convenient way to peddle his shine.”

  Jones’ meticulous and detailed moonshining methods gave him notoriety and set him apart from other moonshiners at that time. Luca Mariano Distillery uses a similar process in its distilling methods, including detailed and constant attention. Restoration will also take place on the underground tunnel system that was in place for the moonshiners to have an escape route when necessary, as well as all of the buildings on the property to restore them to their natural and historically accurate state.

Viola is committed to using only the finest ingredients in his farm-to-bottle philosophy, and when he can do that locally, all the better. Viola promotes Kentucky as having some of the best distilling grains available and passionate farmers that share his determination and drive.

  “The property is also a fully functioning farm,” said Brandt. “Luca Mariano Distillery grows its own corn and wheat, farmed by the talented and well-known local farmers of Caverndale Farms. Barley and rye are best suited for cooler climates, so we choose to have them grown elsewhere. All our oak barrels are aged for 18 months before being assembled and expertly charred to a number four char for our use by Independent Stave Company.”

  Luca Mariano Distillery just broke ground on the property for a new craft distillery to be completed next year, in 2023. Original plans called for a larger footprint, but barrel shortages called for a smaller design now, with plans for a larger distillery in the future. The craft distillery will feature an 18-inch column, while the larger distillery will house three 36-inch columns. When the larger distillery begins production, the smaller craft distillery will remain in place for small-batch distilling and experimental or test batches.

  “Our rickhouses are uniquely designed as well,” said Brandt. “After a lot of research, a state-of-the-art, custom-designed rickhouse was constructed called a “Torta A Tre” or three-layered cake, with three floors on levels one and two with the third level remaining as an attic-type space. The idea behind this design is that smaller, three-floor rickhouses are best to age the barrels while removing the need for rotation. Floors one through three on the bottom level hold 13 barrels on each side. As you go up the cake tiers, floors four through six on the second level hold seven barrels on each side. The seventh floor is attic space, and this last tier allows the proper airflow to push through and penetrate the entire rickhouse.”

  Viola’s future building plans include 13 “Torta A Tre” rickhouses on the distillery property. The first completed rickhouse is named the Dan Campbell Rickhouse, after the real estate broker that worked tirelessly to help Viola acquire this unique property. Being ever thankful to Campbell, Viola dedicated his first signature rickhouse to him.

  In addition to a larger distillery footprint with corresponding rickhouses, Viola plans to make his Danville property a visitor’s paradise. His plans include a coffee shop, restaurants, a chocolate shop and a rooftop bar providing amazing panoramic farm views. Boutique hotel rooms are positioned on the second floor of these buildings so families and friends can stay a little longer to enjoy all of the amenities his distillery will offer. In addition, a music pavilion will be a centerpiece for visitors to stay and get together to enjoy great food, music and bourbon while creating lasting memories. Brandt estimates this development only to take up about 15 percent of the total property acreage.

The Goods

  Luca Mariano Distillery first released Old Americana Bourbon and Luca Mariano Rye Whiskey in 2019. “The Old Americana name pays homage to the American Dream,” said Brandt. “The Luca Mariano name is crafted for his son and grandfather. In 2020, we released our Luca Mariano Single Barrel Bourbon with a strong vanilla and caramel nose and a limited-edition Francesco S. Viola Single Barrel Bourbon with a mild cherry and brown sugar nose. Our Gianna Lorén Single Barrel Rye is named after the owner’s daughter and is a tribute and honor to all women in the distilling industry. It is a three-year, wheated bourbon.”

  Luca Mariano Distillery’s Old Americana Rye is a five-year, 5bbl, 89-proof offering. The Luca Mariano bourbon and rye are both seven-year, 103-proof, and the Gianna Lorén Rye is a six-year, 97-proof perfectly balanced blend of rye spiciness and rich, sweet, green apple, chocolate and brown sugar. Viola’s signature line boasts a seven-year, 113-proof bourbon.

  A distinguishing aspect of the Lucas Mariano Distillery brand is the inclusiveness and connectivity of music within their distillery operations. Their individual batches have correlating playlists performed by The Old Americana Band. Often those tracks offer insight into the batch creation or backstory. Other performances may provide insights into family history and traditions, distillery history and information, or additional backstories related to that particular batch or time. The Old Americana Band also provides distillery-sponsored music and entertainment at promotional events. It features a rotation of professional voices ranging from American Idol contestants to well-known Nashville music celebrities. A complete list and batch-numbered selections are available on the Luca Mariano website, along with videos of important moments.

  Viola is also in the process of producing his own signature recipe, which will have bourbon and scotch notes but without the peat flavor. Current plans are for a once-a-year release on his birthday, which coincidentally occurs on the anniversary of prohibition. Eventually, as the new distillery comes to fruition and production ramps up, he hopes to have this signature recipe offered year-round, along with unique blends and selections that will honor and keep alive the history and people of the property, including William Crow and Guy Jones.

  To help his vision become a reality, Viola hired industry veteran David Phillips as his master distiller, charged with overseeing all distillery operations from the current groundbreaking through distillery completion and startup. Phillips adds tremendous industry knowledge to the Luca Mariano vision through 18 years of experience with two of Kentucky’s leading distilleries. Trained under Jim Beam’s Master Distillers Jerry Dalton and Fred Noe, as well as under his mentor Larry Walker, Phillips previously led operations at the Clermont and Booker Noe distilleries. He also worked as Team Lead for Bulleitt Bourbon Distillery, responsible for all distilling and dry house operations.

  Until the completion of further construction, the Luca Mariano Distillery has limited public access and is only open to those customers and clients that have arranged for custom barrel picks.

  You can learn more about and follow Viola’s vision and the progress of Luca Mariano Distillery at https://www.lucamariano.com

https://www.lucamariano.com

The Role of Virtual Tastings in a Post-Pandemic World

 By: Alyssa L. Ochs

The COVID-19 pandemic affected all aspects of life in 2020, from how we received medical care to how we dined at restaurants, shopped at stores and even enjoyed our favorite craft beers and spirits. In past years, craft beverage enthusiasts planned entire road trips and even flew to other countries to experience what the best brewers and distillers of the world had to offer. But during the COVID era, producers were forced to switch gears and consider offering virtual tastings as one of the many ways to stay in business due to restrictions and shutdowns.

We heard a lot about virtual beer, wine and spirit tastings during the height of the pandemic, but those conversations have dwindled as business picked back up as usual. Yet there still may be a place for virtual tasting experiences in today’s craft beverage industry, just as long as producers can evolve with the times and reestablish the relevance of this service among the mix of in-person offerings and events.

What Are Virtual Tastings?

  Virtual tastings are a relatively new concept, and many people don’t consider trying them because they don’t understand what they are. Virtual tastings are immersive, alcohol-themed experiences you can enjoy from the comfort of your home. Many of them require breweries and distilleries to ship boxes to households with sample-size portions, materials to read and opportunities for online engagement.

  During the COVID-19 shutdowns, some beverage producers turned to virtual tastings as a way to keep their customer base engaged and stay afloat as profits declined. But even during times of normal business operations, virtual tastings can be used to celebrate birthdays at home and corporate events in an office. Beyond the confines of a physical tasting room, there are also opportunities for virtual tastings at team-building activities, couples’ date nights and social gatherings to help local groups get to know each other.

Types of Virtual Tastings

  Some breweries and distilleries have created virtual tasting packages with beverage and food pairings to entice customers’ attention, particularly when in-person tastings were not an option. Recently, we have seen cooking kits emerge with alcoholic beverage samples and opportunities to participate in live online events.

  Other virtual tastings experiences involve sending a few bottles or cans of products to consumers with exclusive online access to an hour-long video call with a brewery or distillery representative. There have also been question-and-answer sessions offered with brewers and distillers, beverage judging sheets provided so consumers can rate and pick their favorites and seasonal experiences that highlight fall and winter brews, for example. To further capitalize on virtual tasting experiences, producers can offer the option of purchasing branded merchandise, such as hoodies and beanies, as part of a shipped package for an additional, discounted cost.

Benefits of Virtual Tastings

  During the pandemic times, the benefits of virtual tastings were evident because of the lack of other tasting options allowed and available. Virtual tastings enabled beverage fans to support struggling producers during difficult times while still feeling like part of the beer and spirits community.

  But even now, there are some significant benefits of virtual tastings that are worth considering for the months and years ahead. If marketed well, these socially distanced offerings can help breweries and distilleries reach new customers outside their home region who may not ever travel to the actual tasting room. During the winter cold and flu season, when COVID-19 cases tend to increase, virtual tastings appeal to some consumers as a safer and healthier alternative. If a tasting package includes printed materials that are informational and fun to read, there are opportunities here to help consumers better understand a beverage brand and its products. Since these packages can be designed around different interests and price points, they can offer something for everyone, from the casual drinker to the true connoisseur.

Challenges of Virtual Tastings

  Yet many challenges come with putting together virtual tasting packages, first and foremost, their relevance and value. Beverage producers must make these types of delivery/online tastings worth the cost and add value consumers wouldn’t necessarily get by visiting the establishment in person. There has been declining demand for these services lately and less internal dedication to marketing them since people are willing to travel more and crave a return to normalcy in the outside world.

  Meanwhile, some breweries and distilleries have been unsure of what to charge for virtual tastings. The average cost for this service is between $50 and $200, depending on how much product is shipped and other perks offered. For the virtual tasting industry to be sustainable, more effort will need to be directed to packaging and shipping beverages, which is a significant pivot from the previous experience of many beverage operations. There also need to be staff members who are tech-savvy and trained in how to plan and lead online events, as well as handle the inevitable technology glitches that so commonly occur during video calls and group chats.

Creative Ideas for Virtual Tastings

  If virtual beer and spirit tastings will survive as a side gig in the craft beverage industry, now is the time to get creative with offerings, pricing and perks. If this is something that a brewery or distillery owner is interested in getting involved with, it might be worth hiring a company or consultant specializing in virtual experiences instead of handling all aspects internally. At a minimum, it is worth researching examples of successful virtual tastings and perhaps even reaching out for a discussion or collaboration. Denver Microbrew Tour, City Brew Tours and Common Space Brewery are a few of the many groups that have excelled in this space. Other examples to learn from include Brews Less Traveled, Sierra Nevada Brewery, Fullsteam Brewery and the Sommelier Company.

  One idea to consider for future virtual tastings is to make the experience customizable for certain types of products, such as whiskey, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Promotions for the service can be centered on the benefits of receiving miniature versions of spirits so that consumers can try samples before committing to full-bottle purchases. Celebrity promoters and social media influencers may be able to help revive the virtual tasting industry if breweries and distilleries make the right connections. Also, the virtual tasting experience can be enhanced by social media participation and through educational lessons about mixology and beer-brewing.

The Outlook for Future Virtual Tastings

  At least for now, it seems that most craft beverage producers, including Fullsteam Brewery, have stopped offering virtual tastings since the lifting of COVID restrictions. With people feeling increasingly comfortable going out in public and preferring in-person experiences to virtual ones, there are significant challenges for the virtual tasting industry right now, but not insurmountable ones.

  Winter is an ideal season to revive virtual offerings because of the predicted increases in COVID-19 and flu cases. This is also an ideal time of the year for virtual options for holiday gift ideas, because of cold weather that keeps some people indoors and potentially more difficult travel with snowy conditions.

  While we don’t anticipate virtual tastings ever replacing the actual experience of drinking onsite, they could be offered as an add-on opportunity for consumers to get even more involved with their favorite beverage companies. During the holiday season, these types of tastings can take the guesswork out of planning gatherings at home with a fun activity as the party theme. As the weather warms up, forward-thinking producers may be able to expand virtual tastings to virtual festival events and online education about beer and spirits. This could lead to more formal training in the craft beverage industry and perhaps even address the staffing shortages still so prevalent in so many places around the country. Yet, in the short term, these shortages may also prevent breweries and distilleries from having the labor resources to dedicate to the tech side of beverage marketing in the first place.

  If you are interested in getting more involved in the world of virtual craft beverage tastings, you should know that this market is far from saturated, and there are openings for growth. Emerging, niche companies could assist with the production and execution of virtual experiences as a service to breweries and distilleries that do not have the time, expertise or staffing to do so themselves. But for now, these types of tastings will primarily be carried out by individual breweries and distilleries that are large enough, have ample staff and enough time and resources to expand their offerings to an online audience. If successful, those offerings could be models for an expanded online industry in the future.

  As a small sampling for inspiration, here are some resources to check out and virtual tasting ideas to consider:

•    The Drunken Grape has a team of sommeliers and offers interactive tastings, niche event planning and execution for private parties, wine and beer dinners, and weddings/corporate/charitable events.

•    Book a beer expert for your event through City Brew Tours.

•    Bourbon & Banter offers whiskey tastings for corporate events.

•    Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery is still hosting virtual experiences upon request.

Keeping an Eye on the End Game

Precision in Bottling and Canning for Craft Breweries

By: Cheryl Gray

Savvy craft brewers want problem solvers on their team, especially when it comes to bottling and canning products. 

Industry experts specializing in bottling and canning needs for breweries tout the equipment and technology to handle these tasks for operations of any size.

  One of those experts is XpressFill Systems, a long-established player whose clients, the company says, know to expect cost-saving innovations from its products and solid customer service, particularly after the point of sale. California-based XpressFill was founded in 2007 and began with the idea of solving a dilemma for small-scale wineries stuck with trying to bottle their wines by hand. It continues to service the wine industry, which surrounds the company’s facilities in San Luis Obispo.

  Today, XpressFill manufactures bottle- and can-filling systems in its San Luis Obispo plant, using top-quality components made exclusively in the United States. Its fillers come in several models, including volumetric, level fill and carbonated technology. With affordability, compact design and ease of use among its top priorities, the company continues forging ahead with new ideas to keep pace with customer needs in real-time.  

  The XFW200C is XpressFill’s latest addition to the line of filling products. Its weight-sensing technology is designed to ensure accurate fill volumes that will hit their mark every time. The importance of this precision, of course, is to avoid spills and underfills, which cost valuable production time and loss of product. 

  Rod Silver leads the company’s Sales and Marketing Division. He describes how the XFW200C is ideal for 12-ounce to 16-ounce cans. An industrial-grade touchscreen display allows the user to enter the desired weight and the technology installed keeps track of how much product fills the can. A larger flow path gives the user access to a smooth fill along with the flexibility of filling containers with almost any product of choice, including those with some level of particulates, such as flakes or small seeds. In addition to processing beer, kombucha, juice and RTD mixtures are among some of the other options.

  Twin Monkeys Beverage Systems, based in Denver, Colorado, is the brainchild of Josh Van Riper and Brian LeFevre. Their attention-grabbing moniker, along with the duo’s business model of customer-focused design, has earned Twin Monkeys a global presence in the craft brewing industry, with customers throughout North and South America, Europe, Australia, Africa and Asia.

  Both Van Riper and LeFevre have engineering backgrounds. They are focused on designing the kind of automated canning systems that didn’t exist when Van Riper was brewing craft beer.

  “I started a brewery and quickly found there were not good options for buying automated canning machines for craft breweries then (2013),”Van Riper said. “I got Brian to come to the brewery to discuss this opportunity and we then started Twin Monkeys to make affordable, high-quality automated canning systems for packaging beverages. We’ve grown to a 30-person company in a 14,000-square-foot facility, and we have over 500 canning machines strewn around the planet. I’m an automation engineer who does mostly controls engineering and mechanical concepts. Brian is a mechanical engineer. Between the two of us, we can design automated equipment from the ground up.”

  Twin Monkeys Brewing Systems offers a full range of can-fill-and-seam machines. The company offers craft brewers automation options that provide access to in-house, integrated canning lines equipped with three critical functions.

  “We are singularly focused on canning machines that do three things: fill cans, put lids on cans and seal cans. We rely on other expert companies to do things like labeling, depalletization and brewing, and we want to just perfect the three things we do over and over. We’re also creating a new customer service paradigm to provide easier and more efficient access to our knowledge for our customers.”

  Van Riper says that customer service extends to helping clients integrate their systems with a wide range of accessories.  

  “Although we only make canning machines, we consider ourselves to be systems integrators and that means we sell and support a wider range of equipment,” he said. “This provides more of a one-stop-shop model for customers to lean on us for a variety of their equipment needs. We plant 50 trees for every machine we sell, and in 2021 we became carbon neutral. We do serious work, but don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

  The process of canning and bottling craft beer also entails protecting the integrity of the product before it hits the market. That’s the role of Industrial Physics, which brands itself as the world’s leading test and inspection corporation. Armed with a global network of technical and support teams, the company’s 75-year history in quality control has guided the testing and inspection experience for some of the largest beverage corporations in the industry.

  Industrial Physics has a presence in 75 countries, with manufacturing facilities in 13 locations. Through its vast portfolio of more than a dozen testing and inspection brands, including CMC-KUHNKE, Quality By Vision, Steinfurth, Eagle Vision and TQC Sheen, test and inspection solutions are deployed to ensure premium quality control for beverage packaging, materials and products. At the same time, the company assures clients of personalized solutions for their product needs. 

  Whether a small start-up or a global name in the brewing industry, Industrial Physics says its

Testing and inspection solutions cater to every need and budget. Steve Davis, global product line director at industrial physics, has more than 20 years of engineering experience. He leads a team of experts who ensure that the equipment provided by Industrial Physics does its job.

  “When you’re dealing with bottles, cans and metal packaging, you’ll need reliable inspection machines to ensure the quality of your drinks,” Davis said. “With Industrial Physics, you’ll improve the efficiency of your processes and improve your product, saving yourself time and money and, ultimately, you’ll keep your customers happier. Through our leading brands, including CMC KUHNKE, Quality by Vision and Eagle Vision Systems, we’ve helped thousands of beverage fillers and breweries to taste success.”

  Davis went on to say, “From seam inspection and metal can testing to an inline inspection of empty and filled containers, our devices offer unmatched innovation and help you meet your quality needs. We protect the integrity of some of the biggest brands on the planet, as well as hundreds of emerging brands and everything in between. But how do we do this? By providing first-class test and inspection machines and products that check the quality of your packaging, materials and coatings.”

  Davis provides an example.  “Let’s take seam inspection. Our CMC-KUHNKE Auto XTS is a state-of-the-art, fully automated seam inspection solution. There’s nothing like it in the world, and it has the power to completely revolutionize seam solutions for your production line. We also have a wealth of smaller solutions to fit different needs and budgets.”

  The company offers instruments designed to provide functions that include double seam inspection, non-destructive seam inspection, bottle, keg and can vision inspection, abrasion testing and headspace and dissolved oxygen testing. Customer service, Davis adds, is a priority at every point of the client experience.

  “We understand that being fast, efficient and truly reliable is critical when it comes to servicing the instruments that keep your business running. And that’s why we’ve established a global network of dedicated service specialists to ensure you have an expert ready and waiting at a nearby location who can offer you support.

  Wherever you are in the world, our experts are on hand to support your needs, whatever they may be. We know that having the right people ready to help is critical. It’s critical to delivering quality and speedy service that ensures your instruments can get up and running as quickly as possible. From installation to calibration, repair and preventative maintenance, we’ve got you covered.

  We’re also passionate about being there for our customers in a more holistic way. We don’t just provide products. We’re there as a true partner. We have a wealth of solutions available across the beverage space, from metal packaging to bottles, our instruments test across an incredibly vast range of applications for many different manufacturing and laboratory needs.”

  Canning and bottling craft beer is a process that engages the expertise of filling, packaging and protecting products. Selecting the partner for one or more of these steps is not only based on budget but also depends upon which companies can accommodate the individualized needs of a craft brewery, no matter the size. Another important factor, experts say, is which company will stay with a brewery for the long run, ensuring that it can accommodate growth while not compromising on quality control. 

Pioneering Spirit

By: Tod Stewart

The warm afternoon sun is making late-September feel like mid-August. I’m here at Dillon’s Distillery with one of its pre-bottled Manhattans in hand. Sure, the busy Queen Elizabeth Way highway – a stone’s throw away – is adding some traffic noise to the serenity of the whole experience, but I can live with it. I mean, I’d rather be near the highway with a drink than on it, given how traffic can turn this whole stretch of the Toronto-Niagara pipeline into vehicular sludge.

  Located in Beamsville, Ontario, about a half hour’s drive (depending on the aforementioned road conditions) from Niagara Falls, Pure Spirits Distilling Corporation – aka Dillon’s Distillery (established in 2012) – is one of Canada’s pioneering small batch distilleries. Founded by Geoff Dillon and his father, Peter (both of whom hold degrees in biochemistry), the distillery appears to follow a philosophy that is both focused and fun…and guided by a real passion for distilling.

  “I grew up with a father who was passionate about single malt scotch whiskies,” confesses Geoff Dillon. “When it was time for me to go to university, I decided to follow in his footsteps by studying biochemistry. During my studies I fell deeply in love with the art and science of distillation. Brewing and winemaking were one thing, but when it came to distilling, I discovered that the possibilities were endless.”

  Like many distillers in Canada, Dillon was intrigued by the concept of creating an authentic Canadian rye whisky (i.e., one actually made from rye). But by Canadian law, whisky needs to be aged a minimum of three years, so, as with many other distillers, Dillon kept the wheels on by diversifying its portfolio…and it would appear there’s nary a spirit he hasn’t taken a run at.

  “We’re big into the experimentation side of things, so there’s always new spirits going into bottles,” Dillon enthuses. And rather than operating in a self-contained bubble when it comes to measuring the success of this experimentation, Dillon relies on external input.

  “We have a program at Dillon’s called the ‘Sipping Society,’” Dillon explains. “Through this program we bring together a group of like-minded spirit connoisseurs who have a chance to trial some of our innovations before they hit the shelves.”

  Of course, being a small pioneering entity in a world inhabited by much bigger players introduced a number of challenges to overcome. These included dealing with not only punitive taxation rates (since they lightened somewhat in Ontario, but still not to the extent as in a few other provinces) but some rather odd rules that were in place at the time Dillon’s was getting underway.

  “You needed to have a larger-than-5,000-liter pot still to be allowed to open an onsite distillery retail store,” Dillon recalls. In Ontario, if we didn’t have that, we would have had only one channel to sell into.” Dillon’s team came up with a pretty clever workaround. Having a 5,000 liter still in addition to separate mash tanks would have been a prohibitively costly and space-hogging affair. So, in cooperation with the German company, Carl GmbH, the world’s first 8,000-liter hybrid mash tank/pot still was developed to save space and money while eliminating the need for separate components.

  However, distilling requires more than just equipment. It takes dedicated and knowledgeable staff.

  “Building a team who believed in the concept and vision was our priority,” Dillon recounts. “We are in this incredible area of Niagara, which is not just surrounded by wineries and breweries, but winemaking and brewing education programs. There is a local distillation program at the Niagara College, where we are able to pull some of the most knowledgeable people from the beer, wine and spirits industry. Once we had a foundation of strong and passionate people, we had to determine what we were going to make and how we would source the ingredients.” To that end, Dillon availed himself of local ingredients largely supplied by local farmers.

  “It has always been a priority for us to work with local farmers,” he reveals. “I feel very lucky we made Niagara our home. We are surrounded by our farming community that grows fresh ingredients for us so we can make the best and most unique spirits.”

  Besides developing a close bond with the farming community to source local ingredients, Dillon’s stays clear of any artificial flavors. “So, if it’s a year when yields are lower or something didn’t grow, it can limit our production,” Dillon admits, adding, “We can’t make peach schnapps unless we can get our hands on the right peaches.”

  When it comes to actual production, Dillon’s “keeps things simple.”

  Dillon reveals that every spirit “…is made from one of two bases: rye grain or grapes. We work with a handful of local grape-growers to grow enough wine grapes annually to make our Unfiltered Gin 22 and our grape-based vodka. This grape base gives a unique viscosity and mouthfeel to the spirits that only grapes can provide. Just about every other spirit we produce comes from rye grain, grown locally by our friends in Brant County, about an hour’s drive west of the distillery.”

  “For flavoured spirits like strawberry gin, we begin with our rye base then finish by macerating fresh, ripe strawberries grown by our neighbors across the street,” he said. “We do something similar for our other fruit spirits, like peach schnapps, cherry gin or even the walnut amaro.”

  The garden in front of the distillery that began life to supply the ingredients for Dillon’s absinthe has grown over the past decade and now supplies botanicals to a number of spirits, ranging from lavender to hot peppers.

  Even the barrels Dillon uses for maturation are unique. While some ex-bourbon barrels are used, other casks are made by a local cooper. “He makes them just for us,” Dillon reveals. “We pick the trees, and then they are made locally just up the road.”

  Besides small-batch distillates, Dillon’s crafts an ever-growing range of premixed cocktails with the assistance of, in Dillon’s words, “…some superstar bartenders that work exclusively for us. They help us make unique, delicious and proper cocktails.” There’s also a mind-boggling range of bitters, with flavors ranging from rhubarb to wormwood, fennel and ginger. “At Dillon’s, we are all about cocktails,” Dillon maintains. “Most cocktails have some form of bitters in them. From the very first day we opened our doors, we knew bitters needed to play a big component in what we are doing.”

  Definitely a man with a vision, Dillon has watched  the distilling landscape evolve around him, with his distillery being at the forefront of many positive changes. The evolution has been rapid over the decade that Dillon’s has been in business, to the point where Ontario has 45 such establishments, with that number continuing to grow. If you factor in “contract” or “virtual distillers,” that number swells to over 150. He also has plans to introduce a handful of new products to market, including melon gin, a seven-year-old single-cask rye, a cask strength rye and, as of this November, the return of a brandy made from local grapes. 

  Distillers and spirit aficionados south of the border might consider visiting their northern neighbor and drop into Dillon’s for a professionally made cocktail or a spirit sampling. I was fortunate enough to try the following:

  Dillon’s Niagara Peach Schnapps (Batch 4, 24% ABV):  Lighter, drier and more natural tasting than what you’d typically find, with subtle, fresh peach aromas, a clean, balanced palate and a long finish.

  Dillon’s Cherry (Batch 28, 35% ABV):  A gin base infused with local cherries, then lightly sweetened. A distinctly juniper-scented gin base isn’t overpowered by the additional aromas of sour cherry/black cherry. The slight bitterness of the fruit harmonizes well with the sweetness/spice of the base spirit. Try in a cherry G&T or a French martini.

  Dillon’s Single Grain “Three Oaks” Rye Whisky (Batch 20, 43% ABV):  Geoff Dillon’s dream was to create an authentic Canadian rye whisky, and he’s done so admirably here. Made from a mash bill of 100 percent Ontario rye and aged (as the name suggests) in a combination of new Ontario oak, new American oak and first-fill bourbon barrels, it shows classic, spicy/dusty rye on the nose, with a hint of dried citrus peel. Warm, round and balanced in the mouth, with layers of fruity/spicy rye, vanilla and caramel, it’s quite gentle while remaining elegant and complex.

  Nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake is a quaint little town that’s definitely worth visiting. In fact, stay for a few days for some winery/distillery/brewery visits, great food, interesting shopping options and beautiful scenery. I’d highly recommend making the 124 on Queen Hotel and Spa your base because it has great amenities and is close to everything – like Treadwell, a can’t-fail choice for local “farm-to-table” cuisine and an outstanding local/international wine selection. Although “authentic Italian” has come to mean many things, Ruffino’s Pasta Bar & Grill is definitely your place if you’re looking for the real deal. Formerly the acclaimed Stone Road Grille, it was reimagined (due to COVID, of course) as something a bit less formal, but every bit as enticing. It’s about a 15-minute walk from 124 on Queen (though the walk home might be a bit slower).

  Cheers, and I hope to see you up this way soon!