Coppersea: Emergence of the Microdistillery Movement

Coppersea: Emergence of the Microdistillery Movement

Glenn Carroll, Davina Drabkin
2014|Case No.SM233| Length 14 pgs.

By the spring of 2013, Michael Kinstlick and Angus MacDonald had been running a microdistillery for less than a year. Coppersea, located in New York’s Hudson Valley, produced handcrafted spirits using a unique process based on techniques little-used over the past 300 years. The founders had coined the term Heritage-Methods distilling to describe their process. Although Coppersea was still working to develop a stable and consistent production process, it was already receiving attention for the fruits of its experimental runs. Jack Daniels (no relation to Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey), CEO of Wilson Daniels, a family-owned sales and marketing company, had contacted Kinstlick about a possible distribution partnership.

This case covers the emergence of the microdistillery movement and, specifically, the founding of Coppersea, its handcrafted approach to spirits, and its focus on authenticity. While a partnership with Wilson Daniels appeared to offer a solution to the extremely complex world of alcohol distribution in the United States, the case considers whether Coppersea was truly able to shift priorities and make the commitments that a partnership would require. It also raises questions as to whether such a distribution agreement would affect the appeal of authenticity.

Learning Objective

To learn about the emergence of specialty producers in mature established markets, the conditions under which producer segments arise, and the tactics that producers use to develop successful and sustainable competitive advantages. Students learn by analyzing the parallels between the microdistillery movement and the earlier rise of the microbrewery industry, a comparison that the founders of Coppersea considered.

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