In the past couple of years, the way American whiskey is being sold has seen some changes. There are more people getting into the business and as they do, they look for ways to make their business unique and appealing to the consumer. These are what would have been called in the 19th century “rectifiers”. They do not own a distillery and purchase their distilled spirits from other companies with distilleries. There are three companies that are changing the way they sell whiskey that are companies to watch.
The first is Lost Lantern Independent Spirits. They are following a business plan that has been around in Scotland for years. They are going to distilleries, most artisan distilleries who do not have a huge distribution network, and purchasing barrels of whiskey. These barrels may be barrels of Bourbon, Rye or Malt whiskeys. Some of the barrels are being sold as single barrel products and some are being “vatted” with other barrels to create a flavor profile that they think will appeal to consumers. They are being very open about where their whiskey comes from and that is part of their business plan. They want to get barrels of really good whiskey from small distilleries and introduce this whiskey to a wider market. They make some money for themselves and the distillery selling the barrels and the artisan distillery gets some recognition outside their local market.
The next company is Rare Character Whiskey Co. Pablo Moix and Pete Nevenglosky have been in the bar and restaurant business for years and purchasing barrel picks for their bars for years. They have decided to do something similar to Lost Lantern Independent Spirits and sell barrel picks to a wider market. They are concentrating on what they consider “high end” barrels and selling them online. These whiskeys will not be available anywhere other than their online store. This does limit their market in that they can only sell to states that allow the shipping of alcohol into their state.
The third company changing the way they sell whiskey is Barrels and Billets. This company was formed by a group of investors that includes a member of the Hillerich family, of the Hillerich & Bradsby Baseball Bat fame. They have opened a store adjoining the baseball bat factory at 8th and Main, here in Louisville. What they have done is create a label and purchased barrels of whiskey. They then invite the consumer to come in, have a blending experience, and blend their own bottle of whiskey. They let the consumer pick samples from several barrels of whiskey and then experiment with mixing them to their liking with controlled measurements. The consumer writes down the amounts of each whiskey in their final choice and it is then used to create a 750ml bottle of that same formula. It is bottled and labeled with their brand name (to keep things legal) and then a personalized label is created for the bottle. This is an interesting concept. Several distilleries have done similar products, but it is whiskey from a single barrel without the blending aspect.
These three companies are changing the way whiskey is sold in America. They are not going to replace what we have had for decades, but instead, they are simply adding a new facet to the business. It will be interesting to see if these companies survive and thrive. If they do, then you can expect other companies to follow their lead. What they are doing is good for the business and the consumer. More options create more competition and competition is good for the whiskey industry.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller, Lost Lantern, and Barrels & Billets