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Interview: Luxco President And COO David Bratcher

May 7, 2018

St. Louis-based spirits marketer Luxco has been investing heavily on the infrastructure front. Earlier this year, the company opened its $35-million Lux Row Distillers whiskey facility in Bardstown, Kentucky, the new home for the Ezra Brooks, Rebel Yell, David Nicholson, and Blood Oath brands. Ezra Brooks and Rebel Yell rose 19% to 260,000 cases and 16% to 106,000 cases last year, respectively, according to Impact Databank. Luxco is also set to open a new Tequila distillery in Jalisco, Mexico, and it recently acquired a controlling interest in Derry, Ireland’s Niche Drinks for an undisclosed sum. The Niche Drinks deal included a site for a new Irish whiskey distillery, which will be the home of Luxco’s The Quiet Man brand. SND senior editor Christina Jelski recently spoke with Luxco president and COO David Bratcher to discuss the company’s forward-looking agenda.

SND: How does the new Lux Row distillery support Luxco’s Bourbon strategy?

Bratcher: Lux Row Distillers was a project two years in the making. It allows us to support our brands and control our own destiny. If you look at restaurant trends, a lot of it is about farm-to-table, and the same concept applies to Bourbon and Tequila. You have to control the liquid from the moment the corn or agave comes out of the ground until it’s in the bottle. That’s something that appeals to the consumer. We started producing Bourbon at Lux Row in mid-January, and we already have almost 3,000 barrels put up. The distillery is designed to produce up to 60,000 barrels a year, and we’ll do about 20,000 barrels in the first year.

SND: When will your Tequila distillery be up and running?

Bratcher: We’re hoping to bring the facility online by the early part of this summer. We’ll be producing all of our 100%-agave Tequilas there, primarily our Exotico and El Mayor brands. The initial capacity will be around 300,000 9-liter cases, but it definitely has room for expansion. We’ve made significant investments over the last three years in marketing both El Mayor and Exotico. We’ve seen tremendous success on Exotico in particular, with markets like Texas and Colorado seeing triple-digit growth. (Exotico was up 86% to 127,000 cases last year, according to Impact Databank.)

SND: With 100%-agave Tequilas still growing rapidly, is there an agave shortage on the horizon?

Bratcher: Blue Weber agave has been in somewhat short supply in Mexico, and the price has gone up significantly. (Agave prices have jumped from around 3.85 pesos ($0.20) per kilogram in 2016 to 22 pesos ($1.17) this year.) It’s something that’s been ongoing, and I think it will continue for the rest of 2018. We saw a similar situation back around 2000. We protect ourselves through strong relationships with our producers and agave growers.

SND: How will the Niche Brands acquisition enhance your Irish whiskey business?

Bratcher: Niche Brands has been a long-term partner. They produced our Saint Brendan’s Irish Cream for numerous years, and we also partnered on The Quiet Man whiskey, which we distribute in the U.S. in small quantities right now. They had started a craft distillery project in Derry, and we decided to do the acquisition with the plan of becoming a distiller in the Irish whiskey category. The building is all set, the equipment is ordered, and we’re hoping to have it completed in the next year and a half. It’ll be strictly for production of our brands, and The Quiet Man primarily.

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