Walking into The Whiskey Factory at Detroit City Distillery was completely unlike my last visit two years ago – with more equipment, more barrels, and more people in a beautiful new event space, it was like a completely different distillery. I was excited to hear about what the team had been up to, and what they had planned for the future.
Sitting down with J.P. Jerome and Steve Orzechowski to talk about the journey from opening to now was, like a visit to any active distillery, an exercise in multi-tasking: Steve ran the forklift and harvested barrels for bottling, while J.P. hopped around making sure things were running smoothly. Business as usual for a growing craft operation, especially toward the end of the year.
The city of Detroit has been through a lot in the last few decades, so it seemed fitting to talk to the Detroit City team about their own journey. “We’ve had our ups and downs,” J.P. admitted, “but in terms of growing a small business … [you] make it work in the hopes of better times.” As Detroit has rebuilt and grown over the last few years, Detroit City has as well, adding new distribution partners, a new production facility, and new product lines. They’ve made it work.
In the six years since opening, much has changed for the Detroit City team. J.P. recalled when “the standard stuff” – things like paying the bills, managing the business, and fear of federal regulation – would keep him up at night, but said those days are gone, thanks to a successful partnership with a trusted industry partner – DISTILL x 5.
Distillers are a community known for sharing best practices and improvements – at your next expo or guild meeting, listen for how many times you hear “we used to do it that way,” followed by a process improvement that completely changed how they manage a critical task. As an industry, craft spirit is a source of endless innovation, efficiency, and continuous improvement. While the industry evolves, though, heavy regulation handcuffs production – making it all the more crucial to find ways to stay compliant and continue growing as planned. But how do you manage risk while growing to your full potential?
Resources for new distilleries are everywhere. Annual trade shows have education tracks covering a wide range of distilling topics. State guilds are bringing local businesses together – sometimes to fight for better legislation, other times to share insight into navigating the current system. Online forums and publications are a platform for up to date information on the industry and trends. And then there’s your trusted industry partners.
“I learned a lot,” J.P. recalled of getting set up with DISTILL x 5, “when I got set up and looked at the reports and realized, ‘Oh, that’s where that number is supposed to go!’”
“I’m sure a lot of people are in the same boat because none of [the TTB’s] terms make any sense,” he added.
Navigating the TTB’s reports in the US (and varying regulations around the world) can feel like looking into a black hole, and as a growing distillery there are always other things that need doing that feel like more of a priority. Though it’s tempting to brush off the need to compile (and understand) reports, though, it’s now more of a question of when – not if – a distillery will be visited by an agent of their respective regulatory agency. With the Craft Beverage Modernization Act of 2017, for example, the TTB was given additional funding to hire and train agents, resulting in a massive increase in audits in the years since. If you think about it, it makes sense – the easiest way to recoup the cost of the federal excise tax reduction that came with that legislation is audit fees. Luckily, software products like DISTILL x 5 make understanding and submitting your reports painless by doing it for you as the month goes on.
“[DISTILL x 5] lets me delegate and still make sure everything is cool at the end of the month, and then I get to do whatever is more important,” J.P. noted.
As they move forward, Detroit City plans to build on the foundation they’ve set in the last few years and make the most of new opportunities to increase efficiency, reach broader markets, and make new and unique products, like their 2019 Paczki Vodka, which sold out in 2 days.
“New products are the key,” Steve said, “staying fresh while maintaining the quality and love.”
Without the support and security offered by a trusted industry partner, though, it might not be the same story for the team. By implementing DISTILL x 5 early, Detroit City was able to put processes in place that make it possible to expand product lines, introduce new and exciting offerings, and stay compliant.
It’s just another way FIVE x 5 Solutions is making it easier to make great things.
(Written by Megan Alexander)