5 Takeaways from the Craft Spirits Conference

Posted March 26, 2019 by Keith Seiz

I’d normally welcome two consecutive weeks in Denver, but after experiencing the bomb cyclone snow storm, I was dreading heading back to the Mile High City just three days after said snowstorm forced me to drive home 13 hours from Denver to St. Louis. But, the American Distiller’s Institute was hosting their Annual Craft Spirits Conference, and I was pinned to speak about honey and spirits. So, Denver I went.

Thankfully, all ill wills about this trip quickly dissipated once I landed and experienced the excitement surrounding this show. The craft spirits industry is on the cusp of something big, and you could feel it. Consumer trends are shining favorably on spirits and less so on beer and wine. New distilleries are opening daily and established distillers are starting to push the boundaries of product innovation while still respecting tradition.

It definitely is an exciting time to be in the spirits industry, and after two days working the show floor and speaking, I put together this list of key learnings from my most recent trip to Denver.

1. I’m not ready for canned cocktails

Yes, I know they are the future and flying off store shelves, but crafting a cocktail is one bit of tradition I’m not ready to let go. I love the art of mixology. I love watching a mixologist craft me a drink, and I love making myself a Manhattan after work. I love the glass selection, and the thought that goes into garnishes and ratios. What makes a drink so special is the process, and for this old curmudgeon, that process does not include opening a can and drinking it.

2. Better together

Both the American Distiller’s Institute and the American Craft Spirits Association host annual meetings and conferences in the spring. I know they’re both big profit centers for their respective organizations, and there are slight differences in audience. However, two spring shows targeting the same audience seems duplicitous, and I would argue, lessens the impact of each. One of the best things the baking industry has ever done is to combine the once separate retail and wholesale baking shows into one mega-show. It improved attendance, attracted more exhibitors and enhanced the quality of the educational program. I strongly suggest ADI and ACSA explore this. It will make the industry stronger.

3. Coming to a neighborhood near you

Almost every sizeable city in the United States now has a brewery. From what I saw at the ADI conference, this will soon extend to distilleries. I honestly think I spoke to as many distilleries-in-planning as I did established distillers.

4. Brand sophistication is needed

How do I delicately put this…there is quite a bit of mediocre branding in the spirits industry. It’s a missed opportunity and one where we hope Brightly Creative can make an impact. Distillers must remember they’re competing against breweries, restaurants and bars for drinkshare. Step up your branding, social media and marketing efforts to make sure you’re noticed.

5. I (heart) Pico Still

I’ve never been interested in homebrewing. I like to drink beer, not make beer. However, I am intrigued by the concept of distilling, and stopping by the Pico Brew booth made me realize a Pico Still was going to be on my Christmas list this year.

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