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  • Writer's pictureCalla Norman

Western Reserve Distillers Raises over $100,000 for Craft Distillery Expansion!

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

Kevin and Ann Thomas, owners of Western Reserve Distillers, hold bottles of their spirits in the distillery

After working in corporate food businesses like Nestle for about 25 years, Kevin Thomas was looking to go into business for himself and began weighing his options. After working in corporate food and beverage for most of his career, Kevin saw the proliferation of industries such as craft brewing and winemaking, and he saw an even bigger opportunity with craft spirits. So, he and his wife, Ann, who had a background in marketing, began thinking about what they could do about this chance to enter a burgeoning industry.

“Spirits were always in the background, chugging along and continuing to grow and expand,” he says. “It wasn't what I'd done for the past 25 or 30 years, so it would be something that would be fun and interesting to jump into.”

After 18 months of construction, Kevin and his wife Ann opened Western Reserve Distillers in 2018, starting their product line with vodka, as many distillers do. But Western Reserve Distillers is unique in that they chose to source the corn for this spirit from organic, local farms in Ohio. This attention to detail and regionality is one of the features of this distillery that makes it stand out from the rest.

“You know I think that for us, the connection to the farm has always been in the vision for a business, and it's one of the key things to make sure that you know local businesses are supporting other local businesses,” says Kevin.

In addition to their local connections with organic farms in Ohio, Western Reserve Distillers directly sources from their partnerships in Louisiana and Jalisco, Mexico for ingredients such as molasses and agave, which they can’t exactly get in Ohio.

As Western Reserve Distillers grew, the awards for their different spirits offerings began pouring in. Their vodka, silver rum, reposado agave spirit, Blanco agave spirit, and their 8 and 14-year barrel-aged bourbons have all been highly acclaimed and racked up awards from the World Spirits Competition in 2019. While starting in the Cleveland area, the distillery has now expanded into multiple states and is continuously growing.

In order to finance this growth, Western Reserve Distillers ran a Honeycomb Credit crowdfunding campaign, raising over $100,000 from 57 investors! Read on to learn more about Western Reserve Distillers’ story, and how they were able to give back to their community in more ways than one through the course of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

a flight of whiskeys from Western Reserve Distillers in Cleveland, Ohio

Giving the community a (sanitized) hand

In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Western Reserve Distillers switched their production entirely over to making hand sanitizer, as commercial shortages of hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies began occurring.

“Truthfully, it wasn't that difficult because we already had the base ingredient that everybody was scrambling to get their hands on — the 190-proof ethanol. And when you make vodka, you have to produce that base spirit,” notes Kevin.

When Western Reserve Distillers made this switch over to producing hand sanitizer, this did not go unnoticed by their community.

Valentin, a customer who invested in Western Reserve’s Honeycomb campaign, said, “This company was one of the first to respond to the need for sanitation alcohol. They were giving to the community, as we needed it so badly. In return for their efforts, I totally support them!”

By the fall of 2020, Western Reserve Distillers was ready to resume the expansion of their line of craft spirits, but there was a slight challenge. In focusing on producing hand sanitizer, they missed the window to purchase barrels needed to age some of their spirits such as whiskey and agave spirits. Kevin & Ann needed capital to purchase these barrels, as well as whiskey needed to replenish their inventory.

Barrels are an incredibly important tool for craft distilleries like Western Reserve Distillers. Especially if a distillery plans to age something for a long time, quality barrels and materials are a key investment.

“Bourbon and rye whiskey would be the main products in the portfolio that people are interested in. And that’s the revenue stream that we're buying these barrels and bringing them in for. It gives us a cash flow of bourbon and whiskey that we use to operate while we're also building our own whiskey stocks and then it also gives us the barrels that we need to fill with the agave spirits,” says Kevin.

Local whiskey calls for local investors

While some of the investors were customers already very familiar with Western Reserve Distillers, others learned about them through the campaign and decided to see for themselves the business they might invest in.

“During the campaign, there were people who would visit the property and visit the site because they’d been exposed to the campaign and were interested,” says Kevin. “Even this last weekend, we had people that have come in, they buy stuff at the gift shop and they tell us, ‘You know, we're also investors.’”

As we mentioned before, a lot of Western Reserve Distillers’ customers were incredibly impressed by their goodwill and willingness to provide for the community by selling hand sanitizer. Kevin even had customers coming up to him and asking if they could invest in the distillery.

“We had a number of people that had asked if they could invest in the business, so we decided that for a portion of our 2021 capital needs, we would look to Honeycomb for that and run a campaign — more as a way to give back to those people that had supported us through the pandemic and helped us get through it.”

While Western Reserve Distillers have expanded into other states, their heart is still in Ohio, from the local grains they distill with to the relationships they’ve built with their clientele.

“I believe most of the investors were from the Greater Cleveland area. We are a local company, you know, and I think it's a key point of the marketing,” says Kevin.

A copper still at Western Reserve Distillers

Adding crowdfunding to this distillery’s bar cart

For an established craft distillery, or really any business looking to grow at the scale that Western Reserve Distillers has, sometimes one form of fundraising isn’t enough. Crowdfunding can be used as a valuable tool to raise some of the money needed, in conjunction with other more traditional forms of financing such as SBA loans.

With their Honeycomb campaign, Western Reserve Distillers was able to cover 10 percent of their capital needs for the year! With over $100,000 raised, that’s no small feat, and with the help of their customers who invested, they were able to cover some of the capital they needed for their growth.

For the Western Reserve Distillers campaign, the relationship-building aspect of crowdfunding and the ability to give back to their community through the campaign was more part of the appeal than the goal of raising every cent needed for their expansion project.

“It was an opportunity for the community to get involved, I think, was that was the interesting thing,” says Kevin about the Honeycomb campaign.

While Western Reserve Distillers could probably have gone to a bank or SBA to fund all of their capital needs, Kevin & Ann decided to diversify their financing options in order to provide this investment opportunity to their local customers, as well as spread the word about their distillery in a unique way.

This is the magic of a Honeycomb campaign; Honeycomb campaigns are well-suited for small businesses at many different levels of growth. Whether it’s a start-up brewery, or an award-winning, established craft distillery, crowdfunding can be used as a tool to help businesses flourish, either on its own or in combination with other sources of capital like banks or SBA loans.

Pour out investment opportunities for your most loyal distillery customers

Western Reserve Distillers saw that their Honeycomb campaign could go beyond just raising capital, and also be a valuable opportunity to let their customers be more a part of their business, strengthening those relationships in the process. They also showed that no matter how big or small the capital raise project is, crowdfunding can be a great tool to finance part of it!

Learn more about how small businesses like Western Reserve and beyond leverage crowdfunding to grow at and fill the form below out for more information!


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