Reller said several of the participants made trade deals while there. Though DISCUS does not break down data between small and large distillers, it reports that spirits exports are up overall to over $1.5 billion, more than double than in 2005, mostly due to the super premium categories.
“To a certain extent, we look at what already sells in an export market,” Magliocco said, noting that visits with in-country bartenders, distributors and salesmen have helped identify fruitful international markets.
“We are now selling in over 20 foreign markets…given that foreign markets have great long-term potential for American whiskeys, we think it’s important to at least send some of our Michter’s production abroad to begin establishing brand presence in key foreign markets.”
Then there’s the supply and demand factor. Hletko and Perkins have both turned down export opportunities because of capacity limitations. Still, this year Hletko will send about a quarter of his goods to UK and Europe, where his hooch is hot.
“Small suppliers who try to play overseas without understanding the fundamental differences in markets will struggle. But exports can play a large role in building a business, so the exports can also help build more craft,” Hletko said.
Harris is now exporting about 2 percent of his goods to Australia, but hopes to export as much as 30 percent overseas to various markets over the coming years. After visiting China a few years, Scott Harris, general manager of Virginia-based Catoctin Creek Distillery, decided he wasn’t ready for it.
“The temptation is there because just one percent of one percent of that market is still huge,” said Harris, whose 40,000 annual bottle business is 80 percent local to the Washington, D.C. and Virginia area.
“But with our limited production and the perils of the foreign market, it doesn’t make sense for us yet. The Chinese tastes for distilled spirits are not the same as the U.S. ones, and dealing with issues like getting paid on time, distribution, and working the local markets is definitely not trivial for us.”
DISCUS said big strides are being made to support small distillers at the state level to keep more stock at home, such as working to legalize Sunday liquor purchases in 16 new states, and expand legal liquor store tastings in Connecticut, Maine, Mississippi, New York and Wisconsin.
Twelve states still prohibit the sale of spirits on Sundays, which is the second busiest shopping day of the week.
Rolling back bans like these can only benefit microdistillers’ bottom line, as would lowering federal excise taxes, so they’ll continue to keep the majority of their stock at home.
In the meantime, small distillers are open to diversifying internationally.
“It’s fun to be international,” Perkins said. “We’re not Diageo [one of the biggest spirits companies in the world] where we can sell a billion cases, but we can find a niche.”