How to Build Your Own Spirits Brand

Blog | by Norman Kay | 07.17.2015

The Spirits business is an entrepreneurial heaven plied with opportunity as well as a maze that must be navigated with a great sense of direction, discipline and forethought. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States it is estimated that overall sales of distilled spirits in the U.S. market is nearly $70 billion.

President and CEO Peter Cressy cited several key factors contributing to the industry’s continued growth:


A continued fascination with American Whiskeys in the U.S. and abroad


Innovation in flavors, especially in whiskeys


Premiumization across all spirits categories


Growth of small distillers fueling enthusiasm


I would add that the cocktail and mixology craze has stoked the experience for at-home entertaining, on-premise bars, restaurants & clubs, and at retail.


Bars and retail liquors are over-supplied with value and premium brands in every category. The huge brand owners and spirits marketers command practically all of the available space, supporting their brands with blanket marketing in all media formats. Adding to the competitive landscape is the influx of micro-distillers competing for a small share of the market.


If you are confident that you can bring something different, higher quality, greater value, or a disruptive element to the table I suggest you begin by deeply researching the sector, past and trending.


If you are intent on launching a product, begin by acknowledging why you want to venture down this competitive, capital intensive sector. What are your goals? What’s your Vision – final outcome? Are you modeling your future based on the buzz about a successful nascent brand or trendy market influencer or celebrity’s success?


Define your product: An aged based whiskey or rum, or a non time-factored product, i.e. vodka, etc. The ramifications are deep.


What’s your distinctive idea, your underlying strength, unique ingredient, or the compelling magnet?


Who represents your demographic?


You will have to source and negotiate production. Once your supply side is in place expect to test and re-test against your established criteria.


With professional guidance, establish an estimated overall program budget, capital requirements, cash flows and the personal financial assets you’re ready to commit over and above your investment partners.


I recommend early investigation into required licensing plus state & federal regulations.


Distribution can be a tactical nightmare for an independent micro-distiller. The large regional distributors work within our regulated 3 tier system: Brand owner / Marketer > Distributor > Retailer, and are vested with the major multi-product marketers. Unless you have a distinguished track record within the industry you will require a small specialty distributor to provide the focus and energy that a nascent brand requires.


You may consider assembling an experienced core team to make this happen, and you will also have to engage an experienced spirits design firm for brand identity, and packaging design.


You have an option. There are companies that provide a single resource solution for entrepreneurs with great ideas and proper funding. They provide a turn-key spirits development opportunity, as well as a menu for ideation, brand & package design, engineering and production.