Coppersea: Growing a Craft Distillery

By Glenn Carroll, Jesper B. Sørensen, Jaclyn C. Foroughi
2019 | Case No. SM233 | Length 14 pgs.

Coppersea, a craft distillery in the Hudson Valley of New York, had developed a range of whiskies using “heritage distilling” techniques (a term they coined), whereby local, raw materials were combined using a process modeled after 19th century distilling. Founded in 2011, the distillery was the consequence of intense conversations between Angus MacDonald, a master distiller who had learned distilling in his teens from his uncle, and Michael Kinstlick, a businessman who foresaw the burgeoning of the craft distillery movement.

After nearly a decade in the business, Kinstlick hoped to grow production volumes by three to four times existing levels—which were still below 10,000 9-liter cases annually—using Coppersea’s current production technologies. Kinstlick knew that growth beyond those levels would require a more significant set up and investment. Given the trends affecting craft distillers, an evolving consumer base, and new potential avenues of distribution, including international expansion, the path forward would be challenging.

Students take on Kinstlick’s challenge and grapple with keeping a balance between sustainable growth and adhering to Coppersea’s founding principles and heritage methods. Kinstlick described his perspective: “We realize our heritage approach would keep our production volumes somewhat limited as we grow—but we think it’s important to retain that distinction of character in the spirits themselves and we don’t think we can capture that using the same kinds of methods other distillers are using, even other craft distillers.”

Learning Objective

To learn about the emergence of specialty producers in mature established markets, the conditions under which producer segments arise, the tactics that producers use to develop successful and sustainable competitive advantages, and the importance of distribution channels when pursuing a perceived quality strategy, especially one based on authenticity. Students analyze the parallels between the microdistillery movement and the earlier rise of the microbrewery industry.
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