21/11/2023 In the interview below, Michael Kuryla, Business Owner at Don Michael SAC, talks about his inspiration behind starting the brand, the importance of social media marketing, merchandising & increasing sales.
Don Michael Distillery's Black Whiskey hails from Peru and ranks #7 on the Top 100 On-Premise Spirits list. It has received various accolades for its quality and taste at the 2022 Bartenders Spirits Awards, USA Spirits Ratings, 2021 Las Vegas Global Spirits Awards, New York World Wine& Spirits Competition, and many more.
Know more about Michael and the award-winning black whiskey in the space below.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into the world of alcoholic beverages?
I started out by fabricating stills for myself and for others. I even built a distillery for a client in the jungle of Peru. Ultimately, my wife and I came up with the idea to use Andean Corn to make a bourbon-style whiskey. We shut down our construction company and dedicated full-time to working on the recipe. Five years later, Black Whiskey is world-renowned!
What were the inspiration behind the brand and each of the winning bottles (Black Whiskey, Andean Cream, Andean Vodka)?
The inspiration was “Andean Whiskey,” the whole idea of using Andean corn to make a bourbon-style whiskey. Interestingly enough, about 53 varieties of corn originate in Peru, 60+ from Mexico, and only 12 from North America. These types of corn that are only grown in the Andes Mountains are very distinct and result in a special kind of whiskey. With that in mind, the branding naturally carried over to Andean Cream and Andean Vodka.
According to you, what makes a great spirit?
That’s easy….one that I like to drink. People get hung up on price, brand, and social influences and drink stuff they think they should. I drink what I like. I modeled the mash bill of our whiskey after wheat bourbons in the US because that is my preference. Our whiskey is 60% corn, 30% malted wheat, and 10% malted barley. Let me finish off by saying don’t cheat. We don’t add any fake flavors or colors; everything we do is 100% by the book and done right.
What excites you the most about your brand?
It’s Awesome. More than that, we are working with the Peruvian Government to register ANDEAN WHISKEY as a new type of whiskey recognized worldwide. In the same way one refers to Canadian Whiskey or Japanese Whiskey, Andean Whiskey will be something people are looking out for! On top of that, the Andean Black Corn we use is something special. No one in the world is making a whiskey like ours.
Image: Black Whiskey
Let's talk a little bit about the trade. How do you work with your distributors to ensure they have everything they need?
I am constantly in touch with them. We work on incentive programs, multimedia support, social media promotions, and ordering and logistics to ensure they never run out of products. In addition, as owners, my partners and I make an effort to do tastings and events to help promote the product. Currently, we have flyers, sales sheets, table toppers, shirts, and a bunch of other stuff to help them help us.
Does social media play a huge role in your marketing? If so, what are some of the most successful strategies you've built?
Huge, social media is the advertising of today. We have tried radio, TV, and billboards, but there is nothing like social media. We have a company account with FB/IG and are posting at least five times a week on two different accounts.
Black Whiskey Peru & Black Whiskey TX
This is coupled with paid advertising campaigns where we target certain demographic and specific stores throughout the country.
Competition medals play a huge role in marketing these days. How do you intend to use your competition wins to promote the brand?
They definitely do. One thing that Michael Lowry, the national buyer for total wine, told me a couple of years ago was, “Win a few medals, and we will consider taking you on.” We have won a whole bunch of medals, been featured in a ton of articles and tv broadcasts, and even made it to the top ten in TWO top 100 lists in the USA.
Image: Black Whiskey
Have you seen any traction come in after announcing your win at competitions?
Yes, after winning a number of medals and participating as one of the six finalists in the Brand Battle competition, we have had a number of people reach out, and thanks to Ryan Moses of Best Brands in TN, we are expanding sales to a new state. These competitions and references have helped us in the international market as well. We recently shipped an entire container to 99 Bottles in Taiwan. Thanks to Kynan Larson of Eudemon Brands in Canada, we are also about to be available in Alberta.
According to you, How important is merchandising? And what do you usually include while merchandising in stores?
It's cool, I don’t think you can do without it, but does it really make a huge difference in the end? Probably not in terms of point-of-sale success. We will continue to do hats (made in the USA), coasters and apparel. These things work better as support material for us as owners and team members rather than sales incentives.
Do you personally work with many bars and restaurants to increase sales?
Yes, mostly the famous restaurants here in Peru. We are in all the top locations in Lima and in international restaurants such as Osaka, La Mar, and Llama Inn. These places don’t sell huge amounts, but they are great places to present our products and get worldwide exposure.
How do you work towards increasing sales?
I do 100 different things every day, and it's different. My role with the company has changed from the distiller/producer to the face of the brand. I am constantly talking to people in person or on the phone. I do live presentations, nightly news features, videos, tastings, and store visits. I am also involved in shows such are Bar Convent Brooklyn, Berlin, ADI, ACSA, etc.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to other distilleries?
Don’t cut corners; get certified. We are BPM certified, which is easy, and HACCP certified, which is a really big deal. There are only a couple of distilleries in South America that are HACCP-certified. We will be working on ISO 9001 next.
What's your favorite way of drinking Black Whiskey?
So you're drinking this. What's playing on your speakers?
Rammstein, unless my wife is around.
If you were to drink one of your spirits with one person, dead or alive, which spirit would it be, who would it be with, and why?
I think Ernest Hemingway. He was one of the greats in every sense of the word.
If you were to pick one drink to drink for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Sticking with my Old Fashioned…..there are plenty of different whiskeys to use and lots of good variations.
And lastly, Tell us a funny story or a memory that always makes you smile.
Starting out was not easy. One thing is cooking 50-liter batches and stepping it up to 300l batches, but it's a different ballgame when you move on to 10,000-liter batches. I remember plenty of mistakes we made where thousands of liters of mash ended up covering half the distiller floor, fermenters overflowing like crazy, or experiments that just didn’t work out right. Fortunately, we figured everything out, and production is completely streamlined.
Interviewed By Aakriti Rawat, Beverage Trade Network