I wanna sell booze.
July 5, 2006 10:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm curious what it would take to make and sell a bottle of booze commercially. A new tequila or vodka for instance. What would it take to have my own bottle for sale in Albertson's (etc...) nationwide. I know Sammy Hagar wanted his own tequila and now has it, and I know some guy started Skyy vodka. Now, Sammy is clearly a $$$$$-onaire, and for all I know, so was the Skyy guy before he started. Does it take a million bucks? Or can I start small for $10,000? What kind of barriers to entry are there? Legality issues? Initial production? Production scalability? Any info would be appreciated.
posted by gummo to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You might want to contact Paul Kozub who is doing just what you want to do.
posted by plinth at 10:44 AM on July 5, 2006

A friend of mine tried for a couple of years to get a microdistillery off the ground in California, with a million-plus investment from a silent partner, but it didn't make it to market due to various bureaucratic hassles. Unfortunately I don't have more information than that right now, but if you don't get a lot of answers here, I might be able to get more details from him (presuming he feels like talking about it at all, which he may not).
posted by matildaben at 10:44 AM on July 5, 2006

First, where are you? Alcohol production is regulated heavily by state governments and the federal ATF.

There are a LOT of microdistilleries (following the microbrewery trend) springing up all over, but 99% of the regulatory stuff and nearly all of "is it possible?" will depend on your state government.
posted by SpecialK at 10:45 AM on July 5, 2006

Oh, and most of the microdistilleries that are successful have an outlet already -- a long-running bar that wants to produce it's own designer vodka, a brewpub that was already there. There's a Sake distillery in Portland, Oregon that's really only making it big after 10 years in the business now that they've gotten their Sake into a japanese food store chain. You still won't find it anywhere but Uwijamaya, though, and that's kinda harsh because it's good stuff.

Just like software business, you hear a lot about people that started and got successful... and nothing about the large majority that failed.
posted by SpecialK at 10:49 AM on July 5, 2006

Best answer: The first microdistillery in Texas: Tito's Vodka. I would recommend that you read Tito's story.

Another success here in Austin is Paula's Texas Orange. She garnered the second distiller's license in Texas, and if you can find her Orange liquer in your area, it sure as hell beats triple sec or cointreau for a margarita.
posted by mattbucher at 10:51 AM on July 5, 2006

First, where are you?

California, since his desired sales venue is the Albertson's supermarket chain.
(Does any other state allow hard liquor sales in a grocery store?)

posted by Rash at 11:24 AM on July 5, 2006

Your best bet might be to get with some distillery that makes a product you like, and swing a deal with them to produce something with your private label on it (either a custom product for you, or a slightly customized version of one of their main products). If you can swing that, you can at least reduce the initial capital outlay and bureaucratic hassles of building your own distillery to that required of their minimum order. You'll still need a buttload of money for advertising it, though, unless you're someone like Sammy Hagar who already has pull.
posted by kindall at 11:34 AM on July 5, 2006

rash--illinois does.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:39 AM on July 5, 2006

Rash, so do Hawaii and (I believe) Arizona. I wouldn't be surprised if it's more common than not.
posted by onalark at 11:49 AM on July 5, 2006

Ohio does.
posted by mmascolino at 11:52 AM on July 5, 2006

South Dakota does
posted by hatsix at 12:32 PM on July 5, 2006

Missouri does, which was weird as hell to me when I visited. Big list here; count is 24 from a few websites, so about half.

On-topic, being from a state with archaic liquor laws (CT), I have no idea. Maybe you could piggyback onto a brew-pub like a brewer would?
posted by cobaltnine at 12:52 PM on July 5, 2006

Response by poster: I'm in Arizona.
posted by gummo at 1:01 PM on July 5, 2006

If you are really committed to the idea of having your own name on a bottle, you're interested in branding. $1 million spent on just a regional branding campaign for a consumer product won't even get you forgotten (because before you can be forgotten, you'd have had to first be remembered, and that costs $100+ million in today's marketplace).

OTOH, if you're really, crazy interested in the liquor business, and want to build and operate small distilleries, market and distribute, and develop interesting product on a small scale, you don't necessarily need brand level investment.

Most of the governing factors you cite as interest points have a lot to do with the particulars of scale and initial product decisions. But in the distilled spirits business, $10K is still unrealistically low start up money, even for simple, private label distribution.

Wine, now, is the small cap guy's dream. For $10K, you can buy some bottles, some grape juice, some bottles and corks, a few small fermentation tanks, and print some bottle labels. Cork up a few dozen cases, give 'em away, and you could be the next Stormhoek.
posted by paulsc at 1:20 PM on July 5, 2006

You should call Ansley Coate. Seriously. He's awesome.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:37 PM on July 5, 2006

er, Ansley Coale, not Coate.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:38 PM on July 5, 2006

The NY Times food section had an article last week or the week before on microdistilleries in New York State. I don't have a premium membership, so I can't find it on their site to link to, but you may find it interesting.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:03 AM on July 6, 2006

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