Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Why You Have Never Heard of Woodinville Whiskey Company

It was announced today that the Woodinville Whiskey Company of Woodinville, Washington, has been acquired by LVMH, the French luxury brands conglomerate.

Unless you live in the Pacific Northwest, you probably have never heard of this seven-year-old craft distillery run by Orlin Sorensen and Brett Carlile. That is because although their products are well-distributed in Washington, they are unavailable everywhere else. “Our goal is for our brand to have roots and be a significant factor in the American whiskey category in our region before we move outside,” says Sorensen.

Significant? How about competitive with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, an international brand owned by Brown-Forman. In Washington State, Woodinville's bourbon sells about as well as Woodford.

The bottle shown above, from 2013, was young but showed great promise. These days, their lead offerings are a house-made bourbon and rye aged for a minimum of five years in 53-gallon barrels. “These two products have been our goal since Brett (Carlile) and I started the distillery in 2010,” says Sorensen. “We always felt that if we could produce a truly handcrafted, quality product from grain to bottle of a mature age, and offer it at a reasonable price, the rest would take care of itself.”

Sorensen sees age as a competitive advantage. “The craft whiskey market is getting real crowded. A $50+ bottle of 6 month old whiskey is going to have a tough time against a 5 to 6 year old craft bourbon or rye at $40.”

As always seems to be the case when a craft distillery is acquired, the principal attraction for the buyer is a successful brand. Everything else follows that. Since Woodinville is a grain-to-glass operation, changes won't happen quickly. Sorensen and Carlile will continue to run things. 

Why do people sell? For many entrepreneurs, that is always the goal. For others, where the principals want to retain control of the business, and the new owners want them to, the incentive is release of capital. If everything you have is tied up in your business, it is a great relief to get some of it back, especially on generous terms. 

Diversification, you know.

In the case of whiskey, there are unique considerations. Because of aging and taxes, it takes a lot of capital to grow a whiskey-making business. The most successful new distilleries face the greatest challenge because they need so much capital to exploit their full potential. A rich partner that knows the business and has a proven track record of enhancing brand value is just about the perfect partner to have.

Woodinville did good.

ALSO: Susannah Skiver Barton does a great job covering this story on the Whisky Advocate Blog.


Derrick Mancini said...

I have always been impressed by Woodinville, both their products and business plan.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a cool company.

“The craft whiskey market is getting real crowded. A $50+ bottle of 6 month old whiskey is going to have a tough time against a 5 to 6 year old craft bourbon or rye at $40.”

I say: a $50+ bottle of MGP-sourced fake-craft young whiskey is going to have an even tougher time :)