Amber: Hi I’m Amber Ambrose and this is The BusinessMakers USA coming to you from Seattle, Washington. Hello Seattle, we’re so happy to be here. Today my guest is Ian MacNeil of Glass Distillery which is actually right down the street.
Ian: It is. It is Amber, thank you for having me.
Amber: Yeah, welcome to the show.
Ian: Thank you so much.
Amber: I’m excited. Okay, so first and foremost tell us about Glass Distillery.
Ian: Well, Glass Distillery is a company I founded about 5 years ago and we make vodka, a connoisseur class spirit here in Seattle, and we make it – our little thing that we do a little bit differently that most people are surprised by is we make the vodka from wine grapes, Washington wine grapes specifically.
Amber: Okay, so how is that different from – I know it’s usually made from grain or potatoes, and how or why is that something that you chose to do?
Ian: Well I’ll tell you, this is a very crowded market, the vodka market, but we choose to make a product that’s sort of a higher end, a luxury spirit that’s made for people who really like to appreciate finer things; fine wine, fine food and fine spirits. And one of the industries that I’m very proud of in Washington State, one that has become sort of a central focus of industry, is our wine industry. And instead of getting involved in a winery or starting a winery or investing in one of my friend’s wineries I decided to do something that I could actually help celebrate the wine industry and eat up a lot of excess grapes and do something completely different. And it’s harder to make vodka from wine grapes than it is from grain. It’s not as accessible, it’s a little bit more expensive but I really like what it does and it’s a spirit that people can enjoy in a traditional sense of drinking vodka but in a completely different sort of taste profile.
Amber: Understood. So to that end I know that a lot of distilleries are quite different in that they don’t necessarily distil onsite.
Ian: That’s very true.
Amber: And so I just want to get your take on sort of the whole – because you wouldn’t be grain to glass, technically you would be grape to glass.–
Ian: We would be grape to glass.
Amber: So what are your thoughts on that and why did you choose to go this route?
Ian: There’s all different ways to approach this market and you can be the biggest of the big and make vodka in stills like the big players, like a company like Smirnoff where they’re producing thousands of gallons a minute, because there’s a big enough market for that in the world. There’s people – there are distilleries that are sort of halfway between that where they are buying grain neutral spirits from bigger players like out of Indiana where the biggest ethical producers are and then they put their own little brand spin on it and that’s another way to address the market because the market is so big.
And then there’s others of us that are going about it from we want to know the exact source and we want to know the bottle that we’re putting it in. There’s good in all of the market but it’s just that I choose to make something so that we know each little artistic piece of it and then we share that with people so that they get to experience the whole story of the product. And I think there’s a market for that.
Amber: So you were telling me right before we started the interview that you actually haven’t opened your space to the public yet. It’s only available for private events and for actual distilling. So what’s the next move on the actual facility?
Ian: It’s very Willy Wonka-eque; you come in there and there’s some big copper pipes and tubes, but it’s really just a big chemistry set. And then we also have the opportunity here in Washington to experience small sips of cocktails as well; so you can taste what the spirit is like in a different kind of drink that you may or may not have had. And so one of our separate ways to share that is to bring you in some of our bartender mixologist on-premise partners and we bring them in, we may have a cocktail on the list of a great restaurant, like Wild Ginger has a cocktail here in Seattle and they make that cocktail in the distillery at the boutique.
Amber: At the home.
Ian: At the home.
Amber: Yes, homemade.
Ian: And then you get to see how they make it and then really what we want you to do is go back to our on-premise there and then we’re going to bring in some of these celebrity bartenders from places like Texas (Amber: yee-haw!) where we have some for sale – yep, giddy up – and Hawaii and California. And it’s – we are a local brand but really Glass is something that we just happen to be something that’s – it’s a smaller production connoisseur class spirit but we really want to be all over the world.
Amber: Which brings me to my next question, it’s like you read my mind. Where are you guys distributed?
Ian: Right now primarily on the West Coast but I’ll tell you we’re also in places like Michigan and Texas, Hawaii, Mexico City and we’re expanding, it looks like the next couple states we’re going to be in is South Carolina and North Carolina. And Michigan being my home and South Carolina being where I attended one of my universities it’s kind of fun to be back home so to speak.
Amber: Sure, and do you ever have plans to distribute nationwide?
Ian: We do, we do actually. And it’s really just a matter of time for us; we’re a small team and we’re expanding but we’ve now penetrated some pretty important national accounts and when they buy they want to buy for all of their facilities across the country. So one of them is a Texas-based retailer clothing store, it’s Neiman Marcus. But Neiman’s has got…
Amber: Oh I’ve never heard of it.
Ian: Yeah well they’re this really cool luxury vodka purveyor and they also sell some clothes.
Amber: Oh cool, I’m down with that.
Ian: But in their restaurants they want to share things that are sort of unique and like their brand. They like our vodka so they’re starting us out in 5 Neiman Marcuses in Texas and then we’re expanding to 31 across the country so.
Ian: Yeah so it’s going to force us to be available in more states.
Amber: Yeah, that totally makes sense. What are some of the biggest hurdles in getting into other markets? Because I know liquor laws are different everywhere (Ian: oh my god they’re so complex), so just how do you go about that opening in a new market?
Ian: I will tell you the hardest thing is getting in front of the decision-makers at the distributors because by law in all these different states that we do get to have distribution it’s a different decision-maker in each state because it’s different liquor laws. So our primary distributor in the United States is Southern Glazers Wine and Spirits and even though it’s the same corporation and all the revenue sort of flows up the decisions are made in each state. Well we were fortunate enough a couple of years ago to get access to the national decision-makers at Southern Glazers and they really believe in the idea that small, limited production, fine quality spirits are going to help lead the charge for lots of their bigger brands as well.
Amber: Okay. And my last question; where does the name Glass come from?
Ian: You know it’s – thank you for asking that because I wanted to come up with something that sounded pure and clean and elegant without being arrogant – it’s not Diamond or Sapphire or what have you – it’s Glass and glass is a liquid expression of art really. When you are blowing glass, which is really where it comes from, glass blowing is an art form that is hot and liquid in nature but then it eventually has to come into some form so that you can pick it up and see it and enjoy it. I have a lot of friends in the studio glass business here in Washington State and I also serve on the Board of Directors for the Museum of Glass down in Tacoma and so it’s one of my little personal celebrations as well of Washington State.
Amber: Yeah. Well thank you so much for joining us Ian, we really appreciate it.
Ian: Yeah, thank you so much Amber.
Amber: Thank you for joining us here on The BusinessMakers USA Seattle Edition, now we’re going to go drink some vodka.
Ian: I like that, it’s National Vodka Day.
Amber: It’s always National Vodka Day, Thank you so much.
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