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Program to help Pa. distilleries get exposure in local state stores

| Thursday, June 4, 2015, 11:06 p.m.
James Orr, an employee at a Fine Wine & Good Spirits store in Murrysville, arranges bottles of various spirits from Pennsylvania craft distilleries on Wednesday, June 3, 2015.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
James Orr, an employee at a Fine Wine & Good Spirits store in Murrysville, arranges bottles of various spirits from Pennsylvania craft distilleries on Wednesday, June 3, 2015.
James Orr, an employee at a Fine Wine & Good Spirits store in Murrysville, arranges bottles of various spirits from Pennsylvania craft distilleries on Wednesday, June 3, 2015.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
James Orr, an employee at a Fine Wine & Good Spirits store in Murrysville, arranges bottles of various spirits from Pennsylvania craft distilleries on Wednesday, June 3, 2015.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has launched a program to make it easier for small, in-state distilleries to get their products into state stores in new “Made in Pennsylvania” displays.
Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has launched a program to make it easier for small, in-state distilleries to get their products into state stores in new “Made in Pennsylvania” displays.

Shopping for locally made gins, bourbons and flavored whiskeys will get a little easier under a program of the state Liquor Control Board.

The program aims to streamline the process for craft distilleries to get new products from the still to the shelf.

Limited distilleries, which can produce up to 100,000 gallons of liquor a year, were invited to submit as many as 10 products to be placed in up to 10 state wine and spirits stores geographically near their distillery.

Eleven of the 28 active limited distilleries statewide applied, seeking to place 35 spirits in stores, said Dale Horst, director of marketing and merchandising.

“Competitiveness is good for everybody,” Horst said. “(Craft distillers) are competing with national brands, and we've carved out a way for them to do that that they can handle.”

LCB members are expected to vote on the products in August, with items likely hitting stores in September, he said.

Distillers must sell one case of each spirit per store each month to stay on shelves. That requirement is the same for state wineries that got locally made wines into state stores under a similar program the LCB began two years ago for limited wineries, Horst said.

The spirits program is getting high praise from distilleries and their advocates.

“I don't know of any other control state that's done something as forward thinking to support craft distillers,” said Robert Cassell, president of the Pennsylvania Distillers Guild.

Cassell, who is master distiller and managing partner at New Liberty Distillery in Philadelphia, said he submitted his New Liberty vodka and white whiskey, and Kinsey cask-strength whiskey, to the program.

The 10-store limit is perfect, especially for the cask-strength whiskey, which has a hand-written label, he said.

“It allows us to be very focused in where we're trying to be. That's a great thing for us,” Cassell said. “It allows a small, craft distiller ... to get an initial footprint.”

Craft distilling has become a burgeoning sector of the industry during the past five years, piggybacking on the demand for products that are handmade locally, said Bill Owens, founder and president of the California-based American Distilling Institute. He said he's witnessed the industry grow 30 percent annually.

“I think we're just part of the general renaissance of everything being handcrafted today,” Owens said.

His group has about 650 active members, with 300 in the pipeline. Two years ago, he had about 450 members.

Getting new spirits into stores is difficult: “You're going to start on the bottom shelf. You'll be more expensive,” Owens said.

“Even if a product doesn't sell very well, if they'll hang in there with us, we'll grow that brand,” Owens said. “If I've got the door open to state liquor (stores), I am thrilled to death.”

Meredith Grelli, co-owner and co-founder of Wigle Whiskey in Pittsburgh's Strip District, said it plans to submit its Pennsylvania Bourbon Whiskey to the spirits program during the LCB's next product submission period in a few months.

She hopes the program makes it easier to get products into stores. Wigle has several items in state stores, but the most recent submissions were accepted only after Wigle launched a social media campaign to get the LCB to overturn its rejection.

“Craft distilleries like ours don't have marketing budgets ... to get on end caps, on displays, all the things that really move bottles en masse,” Grelli said.

“This marks a shift in thinking for the state store system,” she said. “It shows a progressivism, which is really exciting ... and appreciation for the diversity that could exist in our burgeoning little craft distilling community if it's supported and allowed to grow.”

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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