Tell us what motivated you to get involved as an ACSA board member?
I was tricked into joining by an old friend, Tom Mooney.
Aside from making FET reduction permanent, what do you see as some of the board’s big priorities over the next couple of years?
We’re overdue for a contraction in the craft distilling space—similar to craft beer in the ’90s. The number of distilleries and their offerings are exploding at the same time that the number of spirits distributors and retailers are shrinking. Tasting room income and the FET reduction have given our members some room to breathe but that’s not going to keep all of us going forever. Something has to give and I fear that that something will be many of our members’ livelihoods. My priority for the board is to prepare the craft distilling community as best as possible for this coming challenge.
What are the best ACSA strategies for engaging with members and reaching out to potential new members?
Helping our community to prosper makes the most sense to me. For new members, this encompasses avoiding dumb and dangerous mistakes. For the more seasoned folk, working through growth issues.
How can ACSA members and prospective members get more involved with the organization?
We’re a community above all, so start making friends and spending quality time with your peers. The interactions made possible by ACSA through conferences, seminars and judgings, among others, give all members a number of ways to get involved. Of course, there’s also volunteering to help run the joint!
What are the big craft spirits trends that you see in the next couple of years?
Approachable innovation is on top of my list. Everyone from the trade to the public wants something different…but not too weird. In many ways, I feel that this is one of our core obligations to our customers—to push the envelope a bit and paint a landscape with flavor and aroma that no one has ever seen.
How do you see the market for organic spirits evolving?
It’s definitely growing by leaps and bounds, driven partly by more affordable and available ingredients and partly by public interest. At the same time, I think that some producers are ignoring the elephant in the room. While many pursue organics for its clean, healthy vibe, they gloss over one of its core benefits—quality. We didn’t start out making organic spirits in 2004 and only switched in 2008 because we could get more flavor and aroma out of organically grown ingredients. For Greenbar Distillery, organics is equal measures better flavor and a better planet.
What are the challenges involved with producing organic products?
We faced three main challenges—administration, selection and costs. First, when we took the distillery organic, for instance, we adopted the guidelines of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMT) to satisfy the requirements of USDA certification. That was fairly heavy lifting for us 10 years ago to build “big company” systems for tracking, operating and reporting. Second, not surprisingly, not every ingredient is available through an organic farm, which is sad sometimes when we want to use a particular wild crafted ingredient. But we’ve learned to be extra creative in producing unique flavor profiles by combining commonly available ingredients in uncommon ways. The final challenge, cost, is getting a bit less of a challenge. When we started, for instance, we were paying up to 50 percent more for organic ingredients. Today, because of their increasing popularity and our growing scale, the disparity is a little easier on our and our customers’ pocketbooks.
What are the dynamics of the L.A. spirits market and how do they differ/compare with other cities?
L.A. is a unique place to build a spirits brand. Its size, year-round access to fresh produce and ever-changing cultural landscape are exciting and inspiring, especially to non-traditionalists like us. At the same time, because the city attracts lots of new residents, we don’t have a strong sense of home-town pride and the de facto support for local fare that goes with it. This has forced us to try harder than we’d have to otherwise to become an interesting and useful brand—something that’s come in handy for us beyond L.A. The city is also a fertile proving ground for spirits brands testing new ideas and spending heavily to see if they’ll bear fruit. We experience this as constant headwind and pricing pressure, which, in turn, has forced us to become a very efficient shop so we can offer our customers not only interesting and useful products but price them competitively.