Beverage Startups

America‘s Most Award Winning Small Batch Distillery

America‘s Most Award Winning Small Batch DistilleryThe beverage market in United States is filled with interesting alcoholic brands. Crater Lake Vodka and Gin are perfect examples of high-quality products produced by Bendistillery. The Oregon-based craft distillery has over 20 years of experience in producing award-winning spirits. Today, I have the opportunity to talk to Alan Dietrich, CEO of Bendistillery and Edina native.

How did the story of Bendistillery begin?

Bendistillery was founded in 1996 by Jim Bendis, he had the thought of making gin from juniper that grows wild in Central Oregon. This idea led to creating a line of high-end, handcrafted distilled spirits, much like the craft beers and family wineries that are so common in Oregon. His first products were a gin (made from the handpicked, wild juniper berries that gave him the original idea) and vodka.

Bendistillery is a small batch distillery. What are the main spirit lines your distillery produces?

Gin and vodka have been the foundation of the distillery, but in recent years our rye whiskey and flavord vodkas have grown in popularity.

Hazelnut, Espresso, Pepper or even Sweet Ginger infused vodka sounds very interesting. Do you think consumers are looking for more innovative alternatives? 

America‘s Most Award Winning Small Batch DistilleryI think the flavored vodka fad has passed – particularily with respect to the whips, fruit loop and other candy-like flavors. But we are still finding a demand for certain flavored vodkas, especially if there is a story behind them and a great cocktail to enjoy them in. Examples are our Pepper Vodka and our NW Berry Vodka. Like all of our flavored vodkas these are naturally flavored – real peppers in the Pepper Vodka and small, family farm-sourced berries in the NW Berry Vodka – both are easily enjoyed in commonly served drinks, the Bloody Mary and Berry Collins respectively.

But yes, if the spirit is innovative, honest and well-made I think the consumer will appreciate it.

What were the biggest difficulties you had to overcome?

Like with any new business, financing is always a huge hurdle and in the beginning. The consumer just didn’t understand the concept of “craft spirits,” so a lot of time was spent educating the consumer that they had a choice. Specific to the world of distilled spirits, the biggest challenge for small brands is probably the inability to sell directly to the consumer. Few people realize that we are required by law to use distributors in each state and, because of industry consolidation, there are only a few options in each market and those few distributors tend to be dominated by the biggest brands.

On the official website it says that Bendistillery is “..America‘s most award winning small batch distillery…“. What is your secret?

Truly, the secret is our water. Of course everything you do during produciton is important, but in the end water is the backbone of any beverage. This is why Central Oregon is home to 30+ breweries; several cider and kombucha houses; and 11 distilleries.

At the moment, Bendistillery products are available in the US. Are you planning to enter new markets?

We have shipped product overseas and are actively open to any and all opportunities to sell product, but the core of our marketing efforts is rooted in the West. The exceptions are our rye whiskey – it is one of the few site-distilled ryes in the country – and a couple of our seasonal spirits, such as Hatch Green Chile Vodka and our Black Butte Whiskey collaboration with Deschutes Brewery. These products are limited quantity, unique spirits that are highly sought after nationally.

America‘s Most Award Winning Small Batch DistilleryWhere do you see your brand in 5 years from now?

I expect to continue growing at double digit rates and to keep innovating. Our Crater Lake Rock & Rye ready-to-drink cocktail is good example of staying on forefront, but beyond that it is hard to say. Acquisition by a larger entity is definitely common in our industry so I would not be surprised if we formed a partnership in the future, but our focus is still on creating great distilled spirits rather than grooming the company for sale.

What advice would you give to people who want to start, but are afraid to get involved in the beverage business?

Stay focused on what you do well, find a niche or clear point of difference and don’t give up. The market appreciates honest, well-made products and, even for the best, growth can be slow.

For more information visit Crater Lake Spirits website.

About Ugne Butkute

Ugnė Butkutė is a project manager at DrinkPreneur. Ugnė is responsible for attracting contributors, maintaining quality of content and keeping readers satisfied with DrinkPreneur

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