What is your background? How did you get into distilling?
TP: “I got into distilling by way of brewing. I was the co-founder of Brooklyn Brewery in 1987 and I was chairman and CEO until 2004. I took some time off and in 2008 I got really excited about the craft spirits scene and joined with Allen Katz and my son Bill to start NY Distilling Company. I felt like the very positive energy around craft spirits reminded me of the early days of craft brewing and that’s what got me excited about launching in craft distilling.”
CP: “My background is in automotive. I was pursuing a career in custom car fabrication. A passion for absinthe is what inspired us to open a distillery. From there it was just a matter of learning.”
What are some of the similarities and differences you’ve found between craft beer and craft spirits?
TP: “Craft brewing in the 1980s was pioneer work. The retailers, distributors, and consumers didn’t really know or care about craft beer. It wasn’t like we were meeting a need; we were creating a need. It took a long time for the market to appreciate craft beer. And then it really started to take off. When I started working in the spirits scene, it seemed that craft spirits were at least 20 years behind. And I think craft spirits is catching up. There’s a lot of room to grow. But, one of the biggest differences is now there is a much better receptivity. Consumers, distributors, and retailers are much more interested and aware of the opportunities for local distilleries. And one of the reasons is that they’ve got the craft beer as a model.”
What are some of the challenges facing our industry?
TP: “It’s crucial for the little guys to legitimately own craft. The challenge is to create a tent that’s big enough to bring in as many independent companies as possible. Including traditional and radical innovative companies. The challenge is to have a large tent and to welcome everyone’s help but then also to have standards. And I think ACSA has struck a good balance so far by embracing the big tent but saying that we do have standards. It’s crucial to have transparency.”
CP: “Over saturation is one of the biggest challenges facing our industry. The rate at which people are entering the industry is much higher than the market share craft spirits have. This will result in some sort of a shakeout in the industry as some distilleries can’t sell enough to survive.”
How would a reduced FET impact your business?
TP: “It would be huge. I think it would be good for the industry as a whole, beyond just small distilleries. I think the industry will be healthier when the small guys are healthier. Specifically, for us, the amounts are pretty significant. It would represent a couple of hires right away, in production and in marketing.”
CP: “It would save us thousands of dollars a year and that can go towards expanding our barrel inventory, or pay our mortgage, and could allow us to hire another full time employee. We would probably opt for a full time salesman to help us grow and expand sales.”
How would you describe the craft spirits scene in New York City?
TP: “It’s fantastic. We benefit from being in the deepest, richest spirits market in the world. The bad part of that is it’s highly competitive. Every global company wants to do well in New York. On the other hand, you have an unbelievable richness of independent operators. People who don’t answer to corporate headquarters when picking out the menu. The craft spirits market has been pretty collegial and there’s a pretty positive camaraderie. All of us would like to be the most successful local distillery but I think we also all recognize that for better or worse we’re going to share reputation. The success of the category will definitely help us all.”
How would you describe the craft spirits scene in Wyoming?
CP: “Almost nonexistent. Wyoming is definitely a beer drinking state and the response to craft spirits has not been great so far. We have fans and there is a small population of people who are excited to see this happening but the vast majority just want to stick to their big brand beer and spirit and, for most, price is the determining factor for their choices. That being said we have grown to have quite a few new distilleries.”