Submitted by

SUBMITTED BY Sam Holloway ON Mon, 09/15/2014 - 00:00

Sam Holloway, Ph.D. - Crafting A Strategy

In January of 2014, I was asked to go to San Francisco and give a talk about the beer industry to University of Portland Alumni. We had a great venue at the law offices of Nixon Peabody, and a great host in UP Alum Greg Schopf. My University had figured out that if they serve beer and have a professor come talk about beer, a good crowd usually showed up. Plus, it happened to be the same night as the men’s basketball game against our rivals from Spokane, Gonzaga University. It was a great night, we had about 50 guests, talked a little beer business strategy, and the Pilots upset Gonzaga for a crucial home victory.

I’ll never forget that night because it was the first night a craft distillery approached me and asked if CRAFTINGASTRATEGY.COM applied to craft distilleries, too. A super nice guy from St. George Spirits (famous for Hangar One Vodka) approached me after my talk and invited me to come across the Bay to Alameda and take a tour. While I wasn’t able to take him up on his generous offer, it did start me on a path of discovery. I am still learning about distilleries, but I am continuing to think craft distilleries and craft breweries are quite similar when it comes to strategy.

My first validation that craft distillers could benefit from the same strategic thinking as craft brewers came when I met a spirits expert during a trip to Europe in June 2014. My family visited longtime friends, Victor and Jenny ten Wolde and their three lovely daughters. Victor is a commercial & marketing professional who has worked in the spirits industry for 15 years. He has had the honor to work on brands like Ketel One vodka, Johnnie Walker, Remy Martin, Campari, and the Diageo Classic Malt whisky portfolio (portfolio includes Lagavulin, Talisker and Oban among others), both in global business development and local marketing roles. The companies he has worked for range from relatively small family owned distilleries to globally operating industry leaders. Victor’s expertise includes strategy (portfolio, brand, pricing and distribution), financial analysis and plan execution.

Victor and I sat in his living room, drinking beers during an amazing World Cup Game where Holland scored five goals in a match against defending champion, Spain. Victor and his neighbors were screaming the whole night, in disbelief and joy at their national team. We didn’t know just how special of a tournament Holland would have, but we did get a chance to talk about the business of craft alcohol manufacturers. Victor, to his credit, was a bit skeptical at first. Like me, he didn’t want to give any advice unless he was sure he was right. As we talked, perhaps by about the third goal of the match by Holland, we realized many of these craft entrepreneurs share the same qualities. You can hear Victor and I recount this realization in a podcast by clicking here. Mind you, we waited a few weeks to record this, so we could sober up and so Victor could immerse himself in the CRAFTINGASTRATEGY.COM learning community. After his review of the website, Victor called me and was energized to help. We came up with the podcast idea because I wanted our member’s to hear the passion in Victor’s voice, and also the quiet confidence with which he gives advice about branding, strategy, sales and distribution. It confirmed my hunch that craft distilleries can benefit from our strategic wisdom.

Inspired by my conversations with Victor, I approached another contact in the craft distillery game, Lenny Gotter of Eastside Distilling in Portland, Oregon. I knew of Lenny from two sources, as a consumer of his great products like Below Deck Rum and Burnside Bourbon, and also from an international rum expert and friend of Lenny’s, Roger Patteson. Roger also happens to be the lucky guy who married my sister-in-law, Erica. Small world, indeed!!


I sat down with Lenny last week and discussed his successes and big plans for growth. We met in his new facility; a huge 41,000 square foot building that is going to completely change the game on distillery row in SE Portland, Oregon.


Credit: Portland Business Journal

With Lenny’s passion and expertise, I see a bright future for Eastside Distilling, his employees, and all of us who love his products. When I showed Lenny the CRAFTINGASTRATEGY.COM website, his eyes lit up. He said his growing distillery needed a common curriculum for professional development. I told Lenny how our current members were using the website, the podcasts, and the core curriculum to give employees the business sense and wisdom that Lenny has spent years learning on his own. I am proud to welcome Lenny and his employees to the CAS learning community. I am proud to welcome my new brother-in-law and rum expert, Roger Patteson into the CAS community. Their joining is another strong indication that craft breweries and distilleries may have even more in common.

As I continue to explore for links between the two business models, it is great to have distillery owners and experts in our learning community, sharing their challenges and wisdom with each other and with our craft brewery owners. We’ve got some great momentum, and our global community is making a difference in neighborhoods all over the world, one craft beer business, and (now) one craft distillery business at a time.