Thursday, April 11, 2013

New Group, the American Craft Distillers Association, Is Announced

The existence of the new American Craft Distillers Association (ACDA) was announced on Tuesday, from Denver, Colorado, just four days after the conclusion of the American Distilling Institute's (ADI) annual conference in that same city.

In Tuesday's announcement, Rory Donovan, interim president of ACDA, explained that ACDA was formed "of, by, and for licensed craft distillers" in order to "promote and protect craft distilling in the United States."

It noted that craft distilling is a phenomenon that is sweeping the country. With more than 320 distilleries in existence and more on the way, products run the full gamut from brandy to bourbon, and all are gaining popularity with mixologists, restaurants, and consumers around the country.

According to Penn Jensen, ACDA executive director, "Our focus will be on brand building, public outreach, and legislative action on national and state levels to support the entrepreneur craft distillers everywhere in the U.S."

Officers and directors of the new organization are: President Rory Donovan, Peach Street Distillery; Vice President Ted Huber, Starlight Distillery; Secretary/Treasurer Brett Joyce, Rogue Brewing and Distilling; Ralph Erenzo, Tuthilltown Distillery; Lee Medoff, Bull Run Distillery; Tom Potter, NY Distilling Co.; Chip Tate, Balcones Distillery; Rick Wasmund, Copper Fox Distillery; Andrew Weber, Corsair Distillery; and (Ex Officio) David Pickerell, Oakview Consulting.  

The ACDA website is

The elephant in the room, of course, is the aforementioned ADI, which would seem to occupy most of the same space ACDA is claiming for itself. Penn Jensen, ACDA's new executive director, just retired from a similar position at ADI. Many of the new organization's directors have been active in ADI, some since its formation ten years ago. Huber Distillery, represented by ACDA Vice President Ted Huber, has been the site of many past ADI conferences. Unless the two groups differentiate, there's probably no need for both of them. The marketplace will decide who survives.

If you've read this far expecting to get the inside skinny, you're about to be disappointed. All will be revealed in the fullness of time, perhaps.


Anonymous said...

"Unless the two groups differentiate..." Agreed, but there is actually a great deal of differentiation. It might be subtle, unless you are on my side of the industry, but there is a large degree of differentiation.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Please elaborate. Specifically, if you take what ACDA wants to do out of ADI, what does ADI have left?

Wade said...

Hopefully the ACDA will require it's members to be actually distilleries and not potemkins or bulk whiskey sellers.

EllenJ said...

The American Distilling Institute was (and remains) primarily concerned with bringing craft/artisan distillers/brand-builders together to share their learnings and techniques in those fields. Most of these new, small distilleries had already pioneered in achieving licensed status on their own, before ever joining. ADI's committment to legislative fundraising and government lobbying on behalf of small distillers always existed, but was not the main focus.

ACDA, on the other hand, appears to be chiefly focused on just that issue. The dichotomy has been devicive for several years and seems to have reached a plateau that some of our favorite rock 'n roll bands would be quite familiar with. Namely, what happens when some band members want to continue playing bluesy, club-rockin' songs and others want to write rock operas. Just who's in charge here quickly becomes a major issue, and the case of ADI the answer was quite clear: Bill Owens IS the American Distilling Institute; it's sole proprietor. And Bill wasn't interested in spending the upwards of $300 per membership money on entertaining congressmen. Push came to shove, and some of the other principals, notably Pennfield Jensen, ADI's VP of operations, made good on their threat to leave and form a new organization. They were joined by others in ADI's inner circle, and the new ACDA was announced almost immediately after the 10th annual spirits conference & expo at the beginning of this month.

I have spoken to some of the principals involved and apparently the formation of the second organization does not equate to the dissolution of the first. Other than some of the staff and directors, most of the ADI membership is expected to remain ADI members, while some (mainly the more commercially-successful and expansion-conscious of them) will likely become members of both.

There is, of course, more here than meets the eye, and as an ADI member and personal friend of both Owens and Jensen, I am quite personally concerned. I will continue trying to delicately learn as much as I can -- and report as much as I should.

Anonymous said...

Gary said . . .

Disclaimer: I'm not terribly familiar with the mission of ADI, but assuming their efforts are proportionate to the industry at large - I would expect that the ACDA might differentiate itself by pushing more to do away with the three-tier system (believe you blogged on this last month). While that system is out-dated, wouldn't it benefit the major producers over the craft distillers by making it more difficult to get into markets? Even today some groups (such as KBD) don't offer products in some control states as it is too expensive to do so (basically having your product on consignment). Attacking such out-dated systems (and leveraging the story of how craft distillers represent "small businesses of America, the life-blood of the economy" - they may have more success (or at least have more drive) than the ADI.

Anonymous said...

Chuck - I'm the first "anonymous"...

The ADI has a strong focus on folks that are not DSPs - if you want to be a DSP, there are not many better places to go than the ADI. Want to be a vendor to folks that want to be a DSP, there's nowhere better to meet them.

You quote Rory "of, by, and for licensed craft distillers." That's the differentiation. The new group seeks to help folks who are actually distillers and have the issues of businesses.

I'm a proud member of both.

sam k said...

No one has yet made mention of the polarizing personality of ADI's Bill Owens. Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

I am among the disgruntled ADI members and have even discussed forming a different organization with people.
The issues raised about the ADI are not new. I agree with some of the posters above that the ADI has focused too much on new entrants. However, forming a new association is likely to make matters worse. We are dividing our industry. In addition, some of the ACDA members already have no place of being there - ex officio or not.

The "craft" distilling industry is divided enough as it is. We have the GNS-bottlers vs. the Vodka distillers, the craft sourced Whiskies vs small barrel programs, the poor quality vs. drinkable products. Craft distillers are not the happy family people like to portray.

It is also important to mention that most of the legislation affecting us is state legislation. Most states or regions have a distiller's guild.

Let's be honest, we can be members of ADI, DISCUS, ACDA, regional guilds, state guilds and so forth - but how much money and time are you willing to invest in each of them as a craft distiller? How are we going to make up for the money the ADI generates from non-distilleries through these conferences, magazine ads, sponsorships, memberships and so forth?

I am not the biggest fan of Bill Owens, but breaking with the ADI and him will likely have negative effects for all of us.