Sonat and Robert Birnecker of Koval Craft Spirits wanted to bring the distilling traditions of Robert’s Austrian grandfather to America, and Peter Rifakes of Town Hall Brewing wanted to bring a new brewing scene to Minneapolis. Both succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. I sat down and asked them about their spirited journeys.
Koval Craft Spirits
Koval has become one of the largest independent craft distilleries in the world. But the husband-and-wife team of Robert and Sonat Birnecker didn’t stop at producing award-winning whiskeys, brandies and liqueurs. They launched Kothe Distilling Technologies, a consultancy which has helped more than 170 other distilleries get off the ground. Sonat had this to say about paying it forward and paving the way for other startups.
How can businesses work together to better their industry?
1. Research all aspects of your industry. “The number one most important thing is to really know your industry and everything about it because then you can identify areas that could be improved,” Sonat said. She and her husband share this knowledge to help others launch successful distilleries, and they keep learning to stay ahead of the curve. “We are more than happy to prepare you to be a great craft distillery, but in doing so, it’s really helping us grow,” said Sonat.
2. Think of yourself as a lobbyist. “If you identify something that needs to be achieved for your business to do better, why wouldn’t you try to address it?” Sonat said. The Birneckers blazed a trail by petitioning local government to launch the first distillery to open in Chicago in more than two centuries. And that has given rise to the city’s booming craft distillery scene.
3. Turn your expertise into a new revenue stream. Your expertise can actually be a service line in and of itself. Not every aspiring distiller wants to do the research, so why not be a leader and turn all you’ve learned into a product you can sell? The Birneckers have educated 3,500 people so far. Though some of these people have become competitors, the Birneckers are OK with that. In the end, a strong craft distilling market benefits everyone.
Watch our full interview here:
Town Hall Brewery
Pete Rifakes founded Minneapolis-based Town Hall Brewery with his friend Scot McClure in 1997 and he has been running it for more than 20 years. The brewery has won national awards and continues to thrive amidst a booming craft beer scene.
How can you stay relevant in a fast-growing industry?
1. Don’t lose sight of quality. The quality you pour into your products matters to your customers, and it makes you stand out from the competition. Rifakes continues to wow his customers with more than 60 styles of beer per year — some of which can’t be produced by newer, less experienced breweries. “We’ve got a very good brewing staff that is extremely creative,” he said. “It’s great for the people who have been consumers of craft beer for a long time. They know us. They know our quality.”
2. Join industry associations. Small business owners should absolutely join associations, neighborhood guilds, even their local Chamber of Commerce. It’s a way to network with fellow business owners, gain professional insight and get to know your customers.
3. Tap outside partners for their expertise. Smaller businesses can’t always afford to hire a dedicated marketing staff. So why not enlist the help of outside marketing experts? When Town Hall Brewery first opened, Rifakes had to come up with creative ways to promote it. He recalls standing in the skyway in downtown Minneapolis, handing out vouchers for a free pint. Today, he works with a marketing team, so he can focus on running his business.
Watch our full interview here: