David is joined by Jason Barrett of Black Button Distilling to discuss the history and growth of Black Button. Don’t miss our upcoming Whiskey Exchange, August 4, if you’re in the distilling industry. See BlackbirdAuctions.com for more information.
About this segment of Blackbird TV
Recorded: May 27, 2021
Published: July 20, 2021
On remote with Jason Barrett, of Black Button, Jason is one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever met. Very briefly, give us the Black Button story, Jason, it’s so fascinating. So I was a business consultant down in D.C. I’d been home brewing for a long time. I get to know all the craft breweries that are getting started down there, and they become good friends of mine. And then this distillery opens up. And so I end up going out there, end up becoming a business consultant for them, helping him set up on payroll and H.R.. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You’re twenty four years old. Yeah. You’re a consultant. I’m 22 years old. I’m sorry. I’m giving you way more credit than I should be. Two years, 22 years old. Twenty two year old consultant. Worked for a great accounting firm that was kind enough to pay for most of an MBA in finance at George Washington University, which were to the skills they were then lending back out on a per hour rate. And I just fell in love with what they were doing. And because I was in the accounting business, we worked crazy hours, January to April 15th. But come the summer, they really didn’t need us around. So you could have these huge vacation blocks in July and August where it wasn’t a problem. So I started taking my summers and going around the United States and going to distilling schools. And before you know it, I’m one class away from a master distilling certificate out of Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, Washington. Wow. So I did the perfectly reasonable thing that any twenty four year old should definitely do. I quit my Fortune 500 job. I sold my house. I packed up my car, went to Spokane, Washington, did that master distilling degree, got the certificate, drove back to my hometown of Rochester, New York, bought a still and started making whiskey for a living at twenty four years old. All local grains. All local ingredients. What started as a one man band with me literally sleeping on a futon in the office now is eighty three employees we distribute in 14 states. We export to the state of Japan. We got forty five products, plus all that hand sanitizer we made last year during the pandemic. Kids, I don’t want to say don’t try this at home. This is supposed to be inspirational. So listen to this guy. I always make the point to people that we not only worked incredibly hard, but we got incredibly lucky several times. And I would highly recommend if folks are intending and following in that footsteps, they start with a little more money than selling their condo in D.C. was able to raise. But it’s worked out very well for us. And again, we’ve got a great team of people. And at this point, we’re supplying whiskey, vodka and gin all across the northeast. It’s been explosive growth over the past few years. And so it took seven years to your first million bottles. And then that was in 2019 if my memory is correct. And then you just celebrated recently your two millionth bottle of bourbon in 17 months. In 17 months. But that was 17 months with the pandemic in the way. Yes. So there has to be an asterisk next to that, right. I mean, the pandemic, it was also just an interesting timing. We were launching in 10 of those 14 states in March of 2020. So we were in the midst of this big growth when the pandemic happened. And and luckily, we were able to power through that lot of changes, though, that we used to do, a lot of tastings, a lot of outdoor festivals, a lot of events. Those have all gone away. So now it’s online tastings. Whiskey clubs direct to consumer shipping really required an entire change of the business model just to survive. And we’ve not only survived, but thrived. Craft distilling overall down 55% in 2020. Our distilling business up 30%. And that’s not including the 400,000 bottles of hand sanitizer we made last summer. And bottled by hand. And bottled by hand. Yeah. So it was really just a crazy year in the midst of, again, a life altering world pandemic. Well, one of my mentors, Bill Fox, used to say that luck is where preparedness meets opportunity. You’re only as lucky as you’re able to make it, Jason. And that’s what I actually say to my sales reps. I always find that the harder I work, the luckier I am. And so luckily, I’ve got a very dedicated crew. We watch our expenses very, very carefully. And as long as the cards line up our way each fall, we get quite a bit of whiskey out there and spend the rest of the year getting ready for that fourth quarter push. Jason Barrett, Black Button Distilling, the Black Button story. Not to be confused with the Blackbird story, which I think is out there somewhere. Thanks for your time. Thank you.