Want to Become the Elon Musk of Booze? Listen to These Entrepreneurs of Whiskey. Is starting your own whiskey brand as intoxicating as it sounds?

By Dan Bova

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If you’ve dreamed of starting your own distillery -- for fun or for profit -- take some advice from successful distillers and founders of whiskey brands big and small.

Related: How To Get Into The Whiskey Business When You Don't Know Anything About the Whiskey Business

Woodford Reserve

Put on your whiskey goggles.

Chris Morris, master distiller at Woodford Reserve:

“To get started on an entrepreneurial effort, one must have a vision. What is it you want to create or accomplish? That must be followed up with a ‘why?’ Otherwise, your efforts could be without purpose or focus, and that will result in a less-than-desirable result. For example, when we craft a new product at Woodford Reserve, all conceptual work starts with our philosophy of crafting a new flavor experience that will be of interest to the consumer. Why? It is our goal to be the only brand that fully utilizes the five sources of whiskey flavor which are grain, water, fermentation, distillation and aging.”

Related: How 2 Brothers Revived Their Family's Tennessee Whiskey Distillery



Getting started is easier than ever before.

Simon Coughlin, co-founder of Bruichladdich:

“Perhaps it’s easier today to start as there are literally thousands of distilleries open or in the process of being opened, the whole process is a much more common occurrence. On the other hand, it’s fast becoming a very crowded market. When we had the idea to revive the mothballed Bruichladdich distillery, it was almost impossible to raise funds, either from investors or bank loans. Only Scottish banks understood the complexity of financing whiskey stocks and their portfolios were full! Distilleries had been recently shut due to the rollercoaster ride of boom and bust in the industry, often associated with oil prices rises, so why would a bank wish to finance an opening? They were very skeptical.”

Don’t take "nah" for an answer.

Tom Bulleit, founder of Bulleit Bourbon:

“The hardest part is also the most important part -- staying as passionate about the business in year 30 as the first day you founded it. That tenacity is essential because the road isn’t easy and you’ll need it to navigate around roadblocks that will inevitably arise. In the beginning, when I was hand-selling Bulleit from bar to bar, I heard ‘no’ so many times I lost count. During those times, it’s important to have a thick skin and work twice as hard, because that passion will always drive you. You will always work much harder for yourself than you will for anyone else, but the reward is there if you bring the passion."

Related: How an Innovative Whiskey Brand Won Angel Investors


Stay honest.

Simon Coughlin, co-founder of Bruichladdich:

"I think one of the hardest issues will be gaining distribution for your products in a very crowded market. You, therefore, have to have a genuine point of difference in a crowded market. How many points of difference can actually exist? The danger is that these points of difference are often fabricated and wacky.  It simply won’t last or succeed unless it’s real, honest and of course tastes good."

Related: Here's What Happens When You Open Up a $3,000 Bottle of Scotch


Use everything you know.

Tom Bulleit, founder of Bulleit Bourbon:

“I was a lawyer when I decided to bring back my great-great grandfather’s Bulleit Bourbon recipe in 1987, so I used everything I learned in law school to help build and execute that first business plan. It wasn’t perfect, but it provided me a solid foundation to build on by using the methodologies I was taught.”

Launching is hard, but scaling is harder.

Stephen Teeling, sales and marketing director of The Teeling Whiskey Co.:

“At the beginning, much of the funding comes from the founders, but when you are looking to scale the organization you need to look at different ways in which you can do that while still ensuring you keep control and that the culture of the organization doesn’t change. While the first five years of the company felt like the hardest part, the real challenge comes now on how to solidify our leadership position.”

Dan Bova

Every detail is important.

Tom Bulleit, founder of Bulleit Bourbon:

“I also think how you package and get people to experience your product is important. The bottle has always been a big part of our success because it has a cool, vintage vibe while still being relevant among today’s whiskey drinkers. The packaging is part of the experience and is the inspiration behind our current Frontier Works campaign that brings together artists and makers, and celebrates their work.”

Templeton Rye

Don’t be afraid of risks.

Keith Kerkhoff, co-founder of Templeton Rye:

“I think the hardest part for us was not knowing how rye whiskey was going to sell at the time. When we started there were not a lot of rye whiskeys in the category, which was a little worrisome. Looking back now and with all of the other ryes that have come about, I would say our timing was fortunate.”

Patience will pay off.

Chris Morris, master distiller of Woodford Reserve:

"The best part of being a whiskey entrepreneur is the experience of the consumers’ reaction to the end result. This can be nerve-racking and requires a thick skin. In today’s market, you can’t please everyone. For better or worse, the consumer is the final arbiter of product acceptance, and when this is achieved, it’s all worth it."

Related: How a Volunteer Fireman Found Success In a Bottle

Wavy Line
Dan Bova

Entrepreneur Staff

VP of Special Projects

Dan Bova is the VP of Special Projects at Entrepreneur.com. He previously worked at Jimmy Kimmel Live, Maxim and Spy magazine. Check out his latest humor books for kids, including Wendell the Werewolf, Road & Track Crew's Big & Fast Cars, and The Big Little Book of Awesome Stuff.

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