Coppercraft positions craft spirits to compete against national brands

HOLLAND, MI — Coppercraft is making upgrades aimed at positioning the craft spirit brand to stand out on the shelf next to both local and national competitors.

One way the Holland distillery is capturing attention is by taking its packaging up a few notches.

As part of the transformation, Coppercraft’s new bottles are more substantial with thicker glass and raised lettering that proclaim the spirits are "Proudly Crafted in Holland, Mich". The bottles are topped with custom caps made of coin and copper.

The look is important because people drink with their eyes before they ever take that first sip, says Brandon Joldersma, the distillery’s general manager.

In addition to its two bourbons, Coppercraft’s gin are now also in new bottles.

Coppercraft spirits include rum, gin, vodka, citrus vodka, whiskeys and bourbon that can be found throughout Michigan.

The hefty new glass bottle is five times the cost of its predecessor. Even with the added expense, prices have dropped because increased production has lowered the overall cost. Prices ranges from low $40s to mid $50s per bottle.

The response has been strong to the new packaging. Distributors quickly sold out of the product since last month’s introduction.

The new bottle design stands out on the shelf, says Alan Hartline, owner of Kingma’s stores in Grand Rapids and Ada.

"They’ve got the coolest bottle," says Hartline. "It is amazing how consumers respond to packaging. We see that with wines."

The distillery, at 184 120th Ave, has been expanding and upgrading its product lines since Amway scion Dick DeVos – husband of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – bought the business in 2016 with his sons, Rick and Ryan, and sons-in-law, Nathan M. Lowery and Michael Abraham.

Walter Catton, who co-founded the distillery with his wife, Kim, remains with Coppercraft as a distilling adviser.

Along with the new look, Coppercraft is launching two new American Craft Blended Whiskies: Straight Bourbon and Blended Bourbon Whiskey.

They are a blend of Coppercraft whiskey with older premium whiskey.

Straight Bourbon brings together a 10-plus year old sourced bourbon and with 4-year old bourbon whiskey, while the more premium Blended Bourbon Whiskey, combines Coppercraft’s original 4-year bourbon with a 4-year and 10-year found bourbon whiskies.

The new Coppercraft whiskies are blended by Master Blender Nancy Fraley, the creator of numerous award-winning spirits as well as director of research at the American Distilling Institute.

"With Nancy’s nose we have been able to craft this really artisanal blend," Joldersma said.

Fraley’s role is to help guide the company through the delicate operation of getting just the right flavor and texture from a spirit.

"I really enjoy it when a client gives me the latitude to really take the time to use my nose to create something exceptional," she told the Atlantic for a 2015 profile. "You’ve heard of ghostwriters? I think of myself as a ghost blender."

In the last 15 years, there has a renaissance in the interest in American whiskey, bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, says Richard Wolff, a consultant who has been working with the Coppercraft for several years.

The resurgence in American-made whiskey has been inspired from everything from the hard drinking characters on the cable series "Mad Men" to the cocktail craze.

Within this arena, the craft distilling movement has just exploded in the last 5 to 10 years.

"I think some of it has to do with the whole craft food movement," Wolf said.

The craft distilling movement — with its traditional approach to make spirits — has spurred innovation across the industry, from the variety of products to the packaging.

"The name of the game is to stand out and be noticed, and then hopefully someone picks up your product and then they try it," Wolf said.

He adds that consumers tend to be drawn to a product’s authentic story about its location, history and founders.

Coppercraft’s decision to open a restaurant along with the tasting room enhances the distillery’s story, he says.

Coppercraft spirits include rum, gin, vodka, citrus vodka, whiskeys and bourbon that are sold in restaurants and stores across Michigan.

The six-year-old distillery is upping its production of bourbon, made at its distillery in Holland Township. Those who stop at the distillery’ tasting room and restaurant can watch the process through a glass window.

"We are laying bourbon every week," said Joldersma. "We are making an effort to reach growth expectations in four years."

On the heels of a major expansion, Coppercraft is planning another one.

"We need to double again to meet growth expectations," Joldersma said.

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