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Whisky Advocate Panel Discusses Craft Spirits Category At Vinexpo New York

March 12, 2019

Whisky Advocate assembled a panel of experts from across the three-tier system to discuss craft spirits in the U.S. at last week’s Vinexpo New York. The panel, moderated by Whisky Advocate executive editor Jeffery Lindenmuth, included Paul Hletko, founder of Few Spirits; Monique Huston, Winebow’s national director of spirits; and Brett Pontoni, Binny’s Beverage Depot’s specialty spirits buyer.

While the panel agreed that there is no easy and precise definition for craft spirits, they asserted that consumers have formed their own opinions. “If people come in asking for craft, they are thinking scale,” said Pontoni. He added that independent ownership was another way his customers define craft. Huston observed that drinkers are drawn to brands with “authentic, artisanal, family” stories.

Two essential qualities, shared by successful craft brands, emerged through the discussion: quality and education. “Quality is the only thing that’s going to sell the second bottle,” said Huston. Distilleries that are committed to engaging distributors on the unique properties of their offerings will create a strong sales force that’s able and willing to go to bat for the brand, she added.

The panel also discussed the role of outside investment in the craft spirits world. Hletko said that only so much growth is possible before a brand needs outside investment. “The costs become gobsmackingly large” after a certain point, he said. Huston noted that such investments and acquisitions can be bittersweet for midsized distributors, who often lose valued clients that they’ve invested substantial resources in when craft brands are acquired by larger producers.—Shane English

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