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May 25, 2021

Fermented: The American Dream Is a Tough Road For Craft Spirts

 

Aaron and I, owners of Lucky Rock Wine Co., have always had an affinity for the underdog. Maybe that is because we’ve always been one. We are scrappers and we like a scrappy brand. I recently interviewed Josh Opatz, one of the founders at Young & Yonder Spirits. He seconded everything that we feel in the wine business. The American Dream is still a thing, but getting people to support you on your way has proved more and more difficult.

barrel tasting at Young & Yonder Craft Distillery

To get the party started, below are a couple of stats about the current alcohol industry.

Holy cow, that’s a lot of alcohol. On top of that, these numbers only account for distilleries and wineries- what about our beer producing buddies? Who drinks it all…? Well, you and I drink a lot of it. If we don’t, it sits on a shelf collecting dust until the brand goes out of business. Tough spot for small winery and distillery brands. You (the consumer of these adult beverages) want to support these small businesses, right? How do you trust them? How do you know your $40 liver pickling solution is going to be worth the money?

Well, you start by cutting through the marketing BS that the big companies throw at you. Spoiler alert: booze will not make you prettier when you drink it. You might look prettier to the person across from you (depending on their level of consumption), but that is temporary. Finding a brand that has a good story is great. If they can back it up with a great product… that is a win.

Lucky Rock Wine Co. (our brand) is based in Sonoma County. It is here that some of the world’s best wine, weed, food, booze and beer is created- we are truly lucky to live here. Because we are around so many great producers, we get to rub elbows with a lot of these small to medium sized business owners. Occasionally we find an especially cool brand like Young and Yonder Spirits, a local craft distillery. We hit them up to see if they wanted to work with us on some specialty cocktails (see it here) and film an episode showcasing some of our favorite Sonoma County Bartenders’ recipes using Lucky Rock’s wine and Young and Yonder’s spirits. It was a blast.

Check out the YouTube we did with Young and Yonder

Behind the scenes of our episode, we asked Josh Opatz, Founder of Young & Yonder, a few questions about his thoughts on the direction the spirits side of the alcohol world is going.

Read on for a highlight of the interview:

 Young & Yonder Craft Distillery Spirits

(Josh’s answers below are paraphrased)

Q: What are the biggest troubles that Young & Yonder has encountered thus far?

Josh: Permitting was a bit of a nightmare. I was hoping to have more local support, but zoning and permitting locally and federally has been rough.

Josh Opatz of Young & Yonder Spirits

Q: What have you been forced to learn that you didn’t expect?

Josh: When coming out of the shoot, I underestimated the amount of competition that would be out there. That along with the consolidation of distributors throughout the country has made it incredibly hard to get as much elbow room as I would have originally anticipated.

The golden rule lives on: He/she who has the money and connections in the business has a raging advantage, no matter how hard you grind or bust your ass.

Support Y/Y

Having a house of brands. We have moved from each spirit being a different brand to nearly all of them being labeled Young & Yonder in order to mitigate confusion.

We also underestimated our equipment needs. We are now in a space that is smaller than what is needed. Combine that with our permitting hurdles mentioned earlier. It causes us a lot of frustration.

Q: What separates Young & Yonder from the large brands?

Josh: Being a small brand allows us to be nimble and flexible. Nimble is essential. Also, sourcing of ingredients. The larger companies cannot find the high-quality ingredients that we can source. We are working on our “organic certification”, too. It might help set us apart, even if ever-so-slightly.

Q: What trends are you seeing in the business?

Josh: The market is so saturated that there are not enough consumers to buy all of the inventory that distilleries have or will produce. We expect to see a big washout of brands coming once their money has run out. I’m hoping that because Young & Yonder has such a solid business model that this only benefits us compared to the folks that were overly optimistic and unprepared for the reality of the industry.

Q: Any last things you would like to mention?

Josh: This business is tough, it’s exciting and fun, but it’s a serious business. If you want to enter it, do so with caution and don’t overestimate yourself.

Classic craft spirit cocktail

 

Suport Lucky Rock

We at Lucky Rock get this. We have been making wine as a brother duo for almost sixteen years. It has never once…not a single time, been easy. I guess that means we are either a little dumb for keeping on or we are a little in love with the business…TBD.

Long story short, being in the alcohol business is valiant and can be fun as hell, but also as rough as one-ply toilet paper. The fact that the small businesses have to struggle so much means that soon, many of them will be finding new jobs. All the while, many consumers won’t even notice while sipping on their mass-produced Grey Goose Martini. This has been the case in wine for a long time. A cleansing economic fire comes through periodically and cleans out all the weaker brands. Craft spirits are new to this level of saturation. Good luck to the unprepared. Give a little love to your local brands- they will love you back.

 


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