Amber: Hi everybody, I’m Amber Ambrose and this is The BusinessMakers Show coming to you from Seattle, Washington but wait for it, there is going to be a Houston tie-in, Not that it matters because Ian MacNeil, Founder of Glass Distillery here, doesn’t need any ties because he’s got pocket squares. I’ll be here all week – just kidding, we’re leaving tomorrow.
Ian: I wish you were here all week.
Amber: I know me too actually. I mean hanging out at a distillery, there’s not much better than that.
Ian: It’s kind of a fun office isn’t it?
Amber: Yeah. So Ian, you’ve been on the show before and so we’ve kind of got the gist, but just in case someone hasn’t seen your story will you tell us a little bit about Glass Distillery?
Ian: Yeah, so I started this small, artisan distillery – I know it looks a little bigger as a background but it really is sort of a small distillery – a little over 5 ½ years ago. We’re just starting our 6th year in business.
Ian: Thank you. And we focus on making world class vodka from wine grapes. That’s all we’re doing right now and we’re going to keep focused on that until people really know who we are.
Amber: Great. And I know that you try to focus on Washington grapes.
Ian: We do, we do.
Amber: So you’re grape to glass.
Ian: We’re grape to glass.
Amber: So you don’t get anything shipped in and then you just turn it into whatever, it starts here and it ends here.
Ian: It starts here in Washington, we are very proud of the Washington wine industry. Texans really appreciate fantastic California wines as well, so do we but Washington is the second largest producer of grapes and wine in the country behind California and we like to use those local products. They’re not technically local to Seattle because the wine grapes come from East of the mountains, but we get all of our fruit from Château Ste. Michelle – big brand name that most people know – and we distil some really fine quality vodka from that.
Amber: I mentioned the Texas thing so I want to get right to it. I know you’re in multiple states but in Texas – in Houston specifically – where can they find Glass Vodka?
Ian: You can find us at one of Landry’s great restaurants Morton’s. So there’s two Morton’s in Houston and actually my second home is Dallas, Texas and so you can also find us up there at the Landry’s Morton’s up there as well.
Amber: And how did you get into Landry’s? I’m just curious.
Ian: Actually we started here in Seattle and we got into the Morton’s here and then we’re also in the Morton’s in Honolulu. But I have a salesperson that we call a Charges d’affaires and she’s in charge of the affairs of Glass when I’m not there and we had just seen fantastic acceptance of our brand in Texas over the course of the last 7 or 8 months. We’re in about 85 restaurants and bars in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and another half a dozen in the Houston area already.
Amber: What is that process like? Do you find – not a distributor but I’m sure you need that too – do you find an account and then sort of back into it and be like okay well we need to figure out what regulations we need to take care of before we go to that state?
Ian: That seems like what real businesses do but that’s not exactly how you do it in the liquor world. In the liquor world you take a sledge hammer and you smash yourself in the head until you get all lumpy and then you kind of look through the stars and you say how do I do this the most backward way possible? And that’s how you go about it. You actually have to first get your product imported into the state.
Amber: Is that in your business plan?
Ian: Exactly, word for word.
Amber: Okay, sledge hammer.
Ian: But once you get it imported into the state then you have to find a wholesale distributor. That wholesale distributor has to sell it to a class B establishment. That keeps the separation between the distributor, the supplier and then if you own a fine restaurant or bar you buy from that class B distributor. So it’s a really complex way to do business and once you can navigate that water successfully then you can introduce your product on a sort of third party basis to those select restaurants and bars and hotels. And that’s what we’ve been doing and very successfully in Texas over the last like 8 or 9 months.
Amber: You’ve grown even since we were here I guess about 8 or 9 months ago. It’s been exponential and you’ve opened something really big next door to where we’re sitting right now.
Ian: Yeah, we now have our boutique open. When we last talked I was just getting ready to open it and now we successfully have opened our doors to the public so people can come in and taste it and experience our products in the boutique.
Amber: What is the best way to be customer friendly there other than the tasting? Can they take it home with them after?
Ian: Yeah, they can buy it. We found that the best way to have people experience our brand is to get them to taste it. I know it’s a beautiful bottle, I meant it to be a beautiful bottle, but the spirit itself is truly exceptional in terms of its taste. And when people taste it and they find out that all of our flavors are truly just natural infusions of the base product that we have with honey or coffee or cinnamon it seems to resonate with people.
Amber: Well it’s kind of nice to be able to try before you buy.
Ian: It’s wonderful.
Amber: Especially when it’s a boutique vodka because I know it Texas right now, or anywhere really, when you go into a liquor store you’re really, truly – if you haven’t tasted the product – you’re just sort of buying it by packaging.
Ian: Yeah, it’s a shot in the dark.
Amber: Which is fine, and I know that’s why packaging is important, but it just does seem like a better plan to be able to taste it first. By the way, those noises are actually like the vodka’s being distilled behind us as we speak.
Ian: The still is calming down.
Amber: This is real like folks.
Ian: It’s the interesting part about why when I started the business it was at a time when Washington was really changing the landscape and why Washington has become one of the leaders. I was the 23rd distiller to get a license in the state of Washington and the 1st distiller to get a license since prohibition was only 2007. And I got my license in 2012 and now there’s 140 in the state. So it’s a really fast-growing industry because of the way that you can be sort of a small, little tiny business or you can be something that’s a little bigger like me where we’re trying to take it out to the 50 best cities and the 50 best restaurants and those places.
Amber: So we know Texas and we know Seattle and actually we know Honolulu because you mentioned that and Detroit. So how many states are you guys in now?
Ian: We’re now in 12 states and we just signed a deal to add Kansas and Missouri in July of this year and then based on a relationship with another great Texas restaurant group Del Frisco’s we are looking to add an additional 13 states to that, mostly out East, to supply their restaurants on their national menu list. So it’s really cool.
Amber: So that would be 26 states?
Ian: Yeah, we’d be 26 states.
Amber: By the end of this summer?
Ian: Yeah, it would have to be by September because by September the distributors sort of lock down what they’re going to be involved in for the year.
Amber: Their portfolios or whatnot.
Ian: You got it, you got it.
Amber: Okay, understood. Now that you’ve been around for 5 years you can have a little more flexibility in doing some different products. You just released one, I would love to hear more about it.
Ian: We did. This is sort of ground-breaking; it is a product that’s an aged vodka. And most people don’t have any idea what that is, in fact in working with the TTB it was a challenge to get the label because you have to be so specific in what you’re actually making. Because vodka technically is colorless, odorless, tasteless – though that’s not necessarily true – and it’s not whisky because we’re not making it from grains because we’re making it from grapes, and it’s not brandy because we’re not aging it long enough to be 2 years in a barrel. And we also distilled it to a level of purity that makes it not brandy or whiskey so it’s something completely different, but it’s elegant, it’s finessed; it’s got notes of vanilla and caramel and sort of pencil shavings in mineral. It drinks very easy but it’s got this gorgeous golden amber color like whisky.
Ian: We’re going to try it.
Amber: And I’ve heard it referred to, very informally, as visky; is that correct?
Ian: Visky, that’s right and that kind of fits. We call it Selkirk, it’s named after my now-deceased Labrador Retriever who spent the first 5 years here when I was building this thing out wandering around and leaving dog hair all around my distillery. So that was sort of my way to pay homage to one of my very loyal friends Selkirk.
Amber: That was nice. It sounds like it’s a very high quality product worthy of his name.
Amber: That’s great. Well Ian I know we’re going to get to tasting soon so we’re excited about that but what’s next in the world of vodka?
Ian: We’re not only continuing to expand here in the U.S. but we’re also working on some relationships abroad. We have product now in Mexico City and we’re working on – crazy enough we’re working on China and the United Kingdom. So just kind of sticking to our plan of…
Amber: World domination?
Ian: World domination one bottle at a time.
Amber: I like it, I like it. And I don’t want to forget because actually since we’re here in the distillery – which they’ve been so gracious to let us use as our studio while we’re here in Seattle – I’ve noticed that you’re an artist. His art is all over the walls here and it’s gorgeous.
Ian: I think my artistry is here and I paint sort of as a way to mentally relax but I think artists sort of sell their art so I don’t want to tread on the territory of a real artist since I don’t sell it.
Amber: I think you can be an artist I whatever way you want to be.
Ian: You can and it doesn’t matter what you do, we’re all artists in our own right.
Amber: Exactly. It really does seem to liven up the distillery.
Ian: Thank you, thank you.
Amber: And I’m sure we’ll get lots of really good shots of the glass art, which is part of the name. Juts remind us real quick why Glass Distillery?
Ian: Not only am I very proud of the Washington wine industry but I have a lot of ties to the glass community as well; the glass art world here. And we have become an epicenter of the world of blowing glass and all the different forms of glass art here in the Northwest and I think it’s sort of a respectful way to pay homage to my friends who are in that art form. And I think it’s kind of an elegant name for a vodka.
Amber: It’s a perfect name; I think it’s perfect too.
Ian: Thank you.
Amber: So if you stop by the tasting room you’ll notice it’s just filled with color and glass and artwork and a hot tub.
Ian: If you can be one thing you need to be original, I have the world’s only tasting table in a distillery that is a cedar hot tub.
Amber: And with that the next thing you’re going to see hopefully is us tasting some vodka so I want to get to it.
Ian: Me too, thanks Amber.
Amber: Thank you for joining me Ian again. I could come every 6 months and interview you.
Ian: Let’s do that.
Amber: Yeah. Once again Amber Ambrose, this is Glass Distillery in Seattle, Washington and you’re watching The BusinessMakers Show.
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