I got a chance to catch-up with the founder of Brenne, Allison Patel, who I interviewed last year just after her new whisky had been released. In case you missed it or if you just want to take a walk down memory lane you can peep the original interview here and here. Since that interview, Allison has been busier than a hive of honey bees and has taken her brand to unforeseen heights. In this Q&A you’ll hear of all progress Brenne has made in it’s first year and what’s next for the brand.
Tell us about all the progress Brenne has made in it’s inaugural year.
Allison: First, thank you for the opportunity to do a 1 year Anniversary Q&A! It was quite a milestone and as much as the actual day (October 1st) went along like a normal day – much like a birthday – over the next couple weeks, I realized I had started to relax and believe that maybe people really do like Brenne! 🙂
As for the progress we’ve made over these last 12-13 months, well, I’m still trying to keep up! Brenne definitely has its own personality and has taken on a life of its own – thanks largely to how wonderfully loyal and vocal our fans are. I launched Brenne in Manhattan on October 1, 2012 (right before Hurricane Sandy) and over the next 12 months, it grew from a 30 account launch to a product now available in 11 States around the country.
Winning the Icons of Whisky “Highly Commended” Brand Innovator of the Year for ’14 was a huge honor and a moment I won’t soon forget. It was also exciting to see Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Spirits for 2013 article (Nov ’13 issue) which not only included Brenne on the list but had Brenne as the only whisky on the list. That was another major highlight.
Did you sell all of your stock?
A: Yes, of all of the whisky that was ready and bottled for ’12-’13, it was all sold out by August!
(For clarification purposes; “sold out” for me is at the wholesale level, distributors and retailers still had inventory to sell to the general public … until they ran out and then it was really sold out for a bit!).
Tell us more about the decision to partner with a Classic Imports to manage wholesales for Brenne.
A: Yes, this was a very pivotal moment for us. I realized early on that the response to Brenne was growing at a faster rate then I’d be able to support as both the producer AND importer. Classic Imports is a perfect partner for us since they have been focusing on building the Gordon & MacPhail and Benromach Scotch brands in the US exclusively for the last 15 years. They have proved that they have a strong understanding of the intricacies of whisky as a whole (from the industry, to sales, from education to events and so on) and I believe that they will be able to continue to develop Brenne in the US in a successful yet still personal way. We work closely together on a daily basis and I think 2014 is going to be quite an exciting year for Brenne in the USA.
Brenne is famously a one-person company, any plans to hire employees?
A: I really love being in direct connection with the Brenne fans and will continue to run it by myself (for now!) – it’s a huge challenge and definitely results in both a lot of late nights and many unread emails & social media, despite my best attempts (apologies if you’re out there reading this and are “still” waiting for me to get back to you!) I love how diverse my days, weeks and months are and am excited to wake up each day to move the boulder up the mountain just a little bit more.
I believe it’s worthy to also note that by working with Classic Imports, Brenne “inherited” 5 amazing Brand Ambassadors living all around the US who have already started getting out there with Brenne at tasting events, whisky festivals, and sales appointments. These guys work super hard and seem to be traveling 24/7. I definitely couldn’t balance the US growth and remain a one-person company without them and am honored to have such awesome firepower behind me.
How’s the whisky maturing? Have you been to the distillery to taste next years’ batch?
A: Beautifully! I’m far overdue for a visit but do monitor them continuously through samples sent from my distiller.
What’s next for Brenne in 2014? Any limited edition release imminent?
A: We still have a ton of work to do with Brenne Estate Cask here in the US. As exciting as 11 States is, we have a goal of being in 30 by the end of 2014 and that will take lots of time and focus … but stay tuned, when working with aged spirits, sometimes it’s not me you’re waiting for but rather the spirit itself. 🙂
When do you expect the next batch of Brenne to be arrive in the States next year?
A: Brenne is bottled in single cask releases so there aren’t actual “batches” – we have about 30 barrels a year and are regularly releasing them into the market.
What surprised you most about year one of Brenne?
: The support I received from my family, friends and complete strangers. (Please don’t stop! I truly, truly appreciate every note, tweet, Facebook & Instagram “like”, comment, etc).
Any other changes to Brenne (either the spirit, bottle or branding) that we should look for in year two? In other words, are you changing anything from lessons learned in year one?
A: I worked with the most amazing team to create the look of Brenne, for which we even won a design award – so in terms of the look and feel of the brand, Brenne is happy being Brenne. As for the details, the label will have an actual date in the “Date of Bottling” area! Our first round of labels last year all said “Date of Bottling: MM/DD/YY” …I’m happy to report they all have numbers instead of letters now 😉
What’s next for Allison Patel? Any new brand launches on the horizon?
A: My hands are full with Brenne at the moment.