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Craft Distillers Find Shelf Space At Retail, Even Amid A Rising Tide Of New Distribution

September 13, 2013

Craft distillers will only be viable if they can find placement at retail. So far, most retailers across the nation appear willing to expand their whisky assortments to make way for craft brands, just as they’ve done with craft beer.

In Nashville, the single-store Midtown Wine & Spirits is stocking an array of products from Corsair Distillery of Nashville and Prichard’s Distillery of Kelso, Tennessee, along with plenty of other brands. The Corsair Triple Smoke retails at $40 a 750-ml. and is a strong seller.

“We get a lot of tourists in Nashville, people who want to buy something local,” says Midtown’s Mark Vergili, noting that Kentucky small-batch names such as Blanton’s and Basil Hayden haven’t been pre-empted by craft brands at all. “Six months ago we built in two new big shelves just to hold new craft products,” Vergili explains. “We’re finding that both craft and the whiskey category as a whole are growing very nicely right now. We’ll just have to be creative in our displays to find room for everything.”

At the single-store Zipp’s Liquors in Minneapolis, spirits buyer Patrick Orlopp declares that craft whiskey “is exploding right now, and American whiskey overall is going off the charts.” Orlopp stocks the Border Straight Bourbon from 45th Parallel Spirits in nearby New Richmond, Wisconsin, retailing at $48. “That’s a high price for a product that people haven’t heard of,” Orlopp concedes. “But that’s why hand-selling of craft whiskies is essential. You have to tell the story behind the whiskey to get people’s attention.”

Madison, Wisconsin-based Death’s Door Distillery, meanwhile, has gone national. “We’re even placing our products in Costco in Wisconsin,” says Death’s Door founder Brian Ellison, who plans to export the company’s whiskey to England and Singapore starting this fall.

Most observers liken the category to craft beer around the late 1990s, when craft brewers were striving for wider acceptance. “Plenty of distilleries want to go beyond their local and regional markets in terms of distribution,” observes Penn Jensen, executive director of the American Craft Distillers Association. “They’ll have to claw their way into new markets, but the good retailers and distributors are realizing that these craft products represent very high-margin sales.”

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