How to Start a Whiskey Brand: a Step-by-Step Guide – Andrew Albert

Why you should listen to me: I build brands (two, specifically). I also work for Venture for America full-time. I have insights that may or may not be valuable.

 

Writing has always been quite cathartic for me. Like most self-proclaimed philosophers (or at least those that accumulated enough college credits to call themselves such), I can’t help but analyze every waking thing. Writing is always an easy release valve for me. 

 

Think, write, forget. Repeat. 

 

This marked much of my time as a VFA Fellow – then something happened. I did what most Fellows try and do. I built something. Building is a much better release. 

 

What did I build?

 

[insert sales pitch]

 

(One day, in a separate piece, I’ll address my beef with the founder-rapidfire-first-date questions. But not here. Not now)

 

I started River Basin Distillery and Exclave Spirits to tell two distinct, deeply intertwined stories. 

 

River Basin Distillery centers the importance of the city of New Orleans to the history of craft cocktails. Sazerac, Vieux Carre, La Louisiane. All of which were made with rye whiskey. Yeah, I know about the cognac. My partners and I realized that despite how integral New Orleans is to cocktails (hell, the largest industry event is held in the city. Or was. #covid) there are few brands that centralize this fact. We launched River Basin to change that. 

 

Exclave Spirits is a bit broader. 

 

Exclave Spirits pays homage to the lost stories and contributions of Black people who have advanced distilled spirits. Black has been synonymous with ‘cool’ for a long time, but now it’s time to write our story. Exclave eschews what has been previously written. Opting instead for autonomy over our narratives. One that embraces pain and celebrates victory. A celebration of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. A Blackness that is vibrant, triumphant, and liberated.

 

I am Black. I am from New Orleans. 

 

Why did I build them?

 

Storytelling is important. Narratives mean more than we’d like, and there aren’t many industries that blur the line between storytelling and product selling, like spirits. 

 

Perhaps it’s because I am a Black New Orleanian, but I am cognizant of the fact that life is layered. People are complex and everyone deserves to see themselves in the brands they purchase. This is not some unique insight I have, I’m sure there’s a consumer report that lays it out. I’m not saying I’m special, but I do have a voice and I don’t need permission to tell stories. 

 

Who am I kidding – I did this because I like whiskey and I’m too egotistical to not drink what I produce.

 

Why me?

 

You know, I have rewritten this section a few different times for several reasons. The biggest of which is that self-reflection is hard for me to do. However, there are three phases that illustrate how I arrived at this point.

 

Phase 1

 

This phase is where you were introduced to my writings. I was working at a high-growth org doing everything from FP&A, product marketing, board decks, office design. I did it all. Sure, that experience gave me the vocabulary and context needed to start something. More importantly, it gave me the confidence that there’s a game being played. After realizing that it becomes quite easy (at least in theory, not execution) to enter the game. 

 

Phase 2

 

Phase 2 is where I believe I am currently. Figuring out how to juggle. How to delegate. How to say no. How to pause. How to go. 

 

Phase 1 indicated to me there’s a game, and this current phase is where I see how much I can get the rules to bend to my will. It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time. As a wise man once said, I am cautiously optimistic. 

 

Phase 3

 

TBD. Feel free to join me as I document this all. 

 

How did I build them?

 

If you think I’m going to tell you how to create award-winning whiskey labels, one of which launched during a global pandemic, then you’ve got another thing coming. 

 

Subscribe to my patreon.

 

Hit me on Clubhouse.

 

Send me some bitcoin.

 

That game ain’t free. But, I’ll write more. 

 

Why you shouldn’t listen to me: You just wasted your time while I tried to be clever, which likely came off as overly condescending and sarcastic. Also, I still don’t get the oxford comma. I just throw them in when the vibe feels right.

 

Andrew Albert is a sazerac connoisseur, burgeoning culinary critic, weekend mechanic, and a native New Orleanian. As the Venture For America New Orleans Community Director he’s excited to continue growing the VFA footprint. Read more from his Brand Macgyver blog on Medium, and visit River Basin Distillery & Exclave Spirits online and on Instagram.

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