Insights & Trends
How to Build a Whisky Brand
The 90-minute digital session, moderated by whisky expert and journalist Becky Paskin, features a panel of entrepreneurs in a bare-all discussion about what it takes to launch a new brand in today’s whisky landscape.
Becky Paskin, founder, OurWhisky (host)
Heather Greene, CEO Provision Spirits
Chris Montana, founder & CEO Du Nord Spirits
Allison Parc, Founder, Brenne Whisky
Michael Vachon, co-founder, Maverick Drinks
Phil Thompson, co-founder, Dornoch Distillery
Simon Thompson, co-founder, Dornoch Distillery
With an introduction from Josh Wortman, Whiskey Portfolio Director for Distill Ventures
How to Build a Whisky Brand: The Key Findings
Over 500 whisky entrepreneurs and industry enthusiasts signed up for our recent webinar that discussed how you can build a successful whisky brand. Getting into the spirits business is hard, so for this event, we invited key industry leaders from both the UK & US to talk us through factors they consider key to their brand’s success.
Becky Paskin, whisky journalist and founder of OurWhisky, hosted the 90 minute session and was joined by Heather Green (CEO Provision Spirits), Chris Montana (founder & CEO of Du Nord spirits), Allison Parc (founder of Brenne Whisky), Michael Vachon (co-founder of Maverick Drinks) and Simon & Phil Thompson (founders of Dornoch Distillery).
Here, we’ve broken down some of the key findings into a set of core takeaways.
Identify and clearly set out your business intent
In a sentiment echoed by the rest of the panel, Allison Parc began by outlining the importance of having a clear business intent from the start. Whereas some brands want to focus on a smaller, artisanal image, others may have aspirations of becoming a household name. Heather Green noted that identifying these early and putting them in writing helps convey your brand message to distributors and investors while helping to avoid any unnecessary distractions.
Similarly, Allison recommended that anyone looking to enter the whisky market has their end goals clearly defined in a business plan. Knowing and understanding what you are working towards helps entrepreneurs and brand owners to make the right decisions at the right moments. For example, are you looking to build a legacy to pass down the generations, or are you looking to build a business to sell?
A clear and concise business plan streamlines your path to a successful whisky brand by helping you understand your mission and vision, as well as create a strong marketing strategy.
Play to your strengths, know your weaknesses and don’t be afraid to ask for help
This is a theme that ran through the discussion and can be applied to many different scenarios entrepreneurs will inevitably find themselves in. Despite having legal experience himself, when discussing licensing and legislation Chris Montana explained that there is no substitute for an expert in their field. In Du Nord’s case, the laws and regulations that vary across state lines in the US had caused issues that only a local legal team could handle.
Compliance with licensing and permits as well as adhering to industry regulations about product packaging and labeling can be tricky at times. This is why the logistics, rules and restrictions are better handled by experts in the field. Asking for guidance is a way to play to your strengths and find a solution to your weaknesses.
This can also be applied to other areas that, as a spirits business founder, you may not have experience in, such as PR or communications.
Figure out your niche and grow your community
Simon Thompson described how important fostering a community had been when they expanded from an award-winning whisky bar to one of the most exciting up-and-coming distilleries in Scotland. If you’re looking to build a brand that has a smaller, artisanal feel then cultivating a community of brand champions early on is vital to initial stage success.
However, even if the goal is a more commercial presence, community is still key. As Micheal Vachon pointed out “there is no silver bullet [for long-term success], but one really important thing is building a community around your brand”. An active (often online) community of like-minded people not only helps in the early stages of brand building but fosters longer-term success.
Follow your own path and surround yourself with people smarter than you
As Chris Montana explains, “if you’re the owner . . . then you’re the heartbeat of that brand, the moment that you stop being that and try to copy someone else [who was successful] is the moment you mess it up”. He then explains that once you know your path, augmenting with others who have better experience elsewhere is the key to growth.
Good entrepreneurship is all about surrounding yourself with like-minded people, experts in the drinks industry, who can guide you with their specalist advice. You can get some great insights into starting your own whisky brand from people that have done it before.
Ensure business plans are rock solid before chasing investment
When it comes to financing your whisky startup, you need to ensure your business plan is rock solid and that your business model will work. Whisky is a long-term business so demonstrating product quality, production capacity and value in the future is key.
It's important you can prove that your business plan will be fruitful, that customers will buy your product and that you will increase sales and revenue in the future. Remember that investors will want to know exactly when your whisky will be ready and, more importantly, when they can expect to see a return.
Linking back to points made about surrounding yourself with the right people, seeking expert advice on your business plan and cash flow forecasts is key to securing funding and building your own whiskey brand. As Simon Thompson pointed out, you should think outside the box when it comes to securing funding - traditional bank loans may not always be the way to go.
If you’re in the early stages of building a whisky brand then our new Pre-Accelerator could be for you. Designed to supercharge your business and get you ready for next-stage investment, this program has been designed to promote diversity within the industry and build the brands of ambitious, enthusiastic entrepreneurs.