September 30, 2023
John Wohlfert, Distiller at Wohlfert Craft Distilling On His Role
John Wohlfert, Distiller at Wohlfert Craft Distilling on his role, how he thinks distillers can help in sales and how he would pitch a bartender.
1) What has your distilling career been like? Tell us a little about your background.
I’m a “nerd” by trade with a family history of distilling going back to prohibition, but I personally wasn’t active in the field until about 10 years ago. My real-world job has a mix of heavy technical skills mixed with a healthy amount of creativity. A good friend and I both started watching a new TV show called “Moonshiners” and ended up talking about it. We were both heavily involved in the tech industry and intrigued with the idea of mixing science with creativity and joked that if these guys could do it, we could too. My friend said he knew a moonshiner and hooked us up. The shiner liked us, took us under his wing, and taught us the Basics. Cutting out a whole pile of details about 7 years ago we decided it would be a good thing to consider taking courses on how legally set up a distillery.
At one of the classes was an American Distilling Institute judge. I had some of my wife’s coffee liqueur with me and asked him for his opinion. He said, “if you do nothing for the rest of your life, you must make this”! I shared that information with my wife and to make a long story short we started looking for property zoned to accommodate a distillery. A year later, we bought a piece of property we figured would work. I was ignorant (lol) but knew the distillery needed to be in a detached building. This place had a detached garage and I built out the back of the large garage/shop as a distillery only to find out that the TTB would never approve it. Plan A shot down. It took 1 year to find out what it would take to make the TTB happy, a year after that we broke ground on 4/10/2020, what fun that was. Lucky for me the pandemic resulted in me working from home so I was able to take on the role of “general contractor” for the project and on the last day of 2020 we got our certificate of occupancy. We got our federal permit 2 weeks before that and 3.5 months later had our state permit. We opened our distillery and tasting room almost 1 year to the day we broke ground.
2) How do you think the Spirits industry has evolved?
How incredible is this industry? No shortage of history that’s for sure. I suppose it best to focus on more recent times and the explosion of craft spirits. Driven by artisans with a passion for creativity, state laws have changed allowing thousands of distillers to emerge from the shadows to legally share their passion and creations with others. What a boon for consumer choice. I’m pretty sure Temple Distilling, in Lynnwood Washington, has a greater variety of Gin available at their tasting room than was available to purchase at liquor and package stores around the world when I was graduating high school. Think about it, in 2006, just 16 years ago there were 75 distilleries in the US, today there are almost 2,300! For a short while, I understand our state of Washington had more distilleries than the rest of the US combined.
Image: Wohlfert Craft Distilling
3) Tell us a little about your day-to-day role.
We’re pretty new so at this point my day-to-day involves working with our assistant distiller to manage the bulk of the work in the distillery, paperwork, working with our marketing folks, arranging tastings, and still personally delivering products to local bars/restaurants, and liquor stores.
4) What's your elevator pitch to a bartender when pitching your brand
First I’ll ask what type of bartending does he/she do? Flair, Speedtending, Publican, or Cocktail/Mixologist. It’s enjoyable to listen to the stories and backgrounds of the first three but a Mixologist would be the person most interested in a growing craft brand. I ask if he/she has heard of our products and I share information about some of our awards: that our Clutch Coffee Liqueur ranks #1 as a domestic manufacturer and 2nd in the world in the Bartender Spirits Awards; that our Torque Apple Liqueur was the highest rated Apple liqueur in 4 international competitions, it won Best of the Northwest in SIP Magazine and Best of Category International Craft Spirits Competition, and that “Spark” our Basil Flavored Vodka was the highest rated flavored vodka and our Starter Sugar Shine (moonshine) was the highest rated in 2 major competitions. Then I ask if he/she be interested in a tasting.
5) How do you help bartenders with the depletions of your brand?
We love to do tastings and “meet the distiller” events. They are so much fun and we try to do as many as our schedule permits. If we aren’t available we encourage our sales agents to attend and provide them with recipe cards, signage and social media support to promote the events. We also created a Deluxe Sampler pack of all7 of our spirits so that bartenders, staff, and consumers can try them before they commit. It’s the perfect educational tool and we’ll soon have a video walking folks through a tasting with a little bit of distilling and tasting knowledge and a few legacy stories.
Image: Wohlfert Craft Distilling
6) What do you cover in your product training with bartenders
Because we like to focus on restaurants and bars with creative open minded mixologists we really don’t have to do much beyond the initial tasting. Almost immediately they’ll start sharing terrific ideas on what they can do with each spirit.
7) How do you think a distiller can help in driving marketing and sales personally?
I like to share information about our process and the reasons we do things or the history behind the products. Each of our spirits has an interesting story. I love doing tastings, especially watching the expression on people’s faces as they first smell and then taste. They weren’t expecting it to be so smooth or flavorful or delicious. I love the comments such as “that’s dangerous” the most common response when tasting our liqueurs.
8) Define a good distiller
To me, a good distiller is someone who cares about quality and is open to trying new processes.
9) Which is your go-to drink and what is the perfect setting you enjoy it in?
I suppose my favorite drink is our Starter Sugar Shine on the rocks. After a very long day I’ll take some time to grab a rocks glass, load it with ice, fill it with Starter and plop myself down in the recliner put my feet up and watch one of my favorite shows on the DVR.
10) What do you do when you are not distilling?
I enjoy going to events, meeting customers doing tastings, and sharing our stories.
11) What is your idea of a good life?
For me, a good life is when I wake up in the morning and I’m excited for the day. Doing things you enjoy with people you care about.