It all started when a client of his, a vodka distillery, was “going under.” Williams looked at the fundamentals of the business and thought there might be an opportunity to buy it out of liquidation and run the company. He spoke with his group of advisors and mentors, got buy-in, and made the deal. B. R. Distilling Co., was born.
“We recognized this would be interesting and fun, but it's also a for-profit business. We’re trying to build a successful—hopefully one day a large—company,” Williams said. “We were successful in raising millions of dollars from a group of trusted investors in the Memphis area, Mississippi, Alabama, and some Nashville folks.”
The first order of business was moving the product line toward American whiskey, in part to respond to what Williams sees as a craft “whiskey boom” in the U.S. That meant setting up the finances of the distillery to deal with aging the whiskey and giving it time to get ready for market. Wiliams said raising significant capital helped with that ramp-up period.
They wanted to be regionally significant, so they launched with “Blue Note Bourbon” and “Riverset Rye Whiskey,” brands meant to evoke their origins in Memphis while resonating well for regional and eventually national distribution by B.R. Distilling.
Williams said what was most important to him was building the team. Along with Director of Operations Alexander Folk, who started the vodka distillery and stayed on through the buyout, the company has a two-person, in-house financial team: CFO Logan Welk, who left KP&G for the opportunity, and Financial Analyst Katarina Olsen. Williams said that recognizing the regulatory framework they were working in and their desire to grow quickly, having a dedicated financial team was a top priority.
The regulatory landscape is also why Williams, an attorney himself, chose McLaughlin, P.C., for legal advice.
Williams notes that he and a number of his partners and investors are lawyers. “But we knew we couldn’t do it all ourselves. This is a highly specialized area,” Williams said. “Matthew McLaughlin is really sharp, knows his stuff in this area, and he has gone out and is doing the entrepreneurial thing ... with his own firm.”
Williams also says he appreciates that McLaughlin, P.C. is client-oriented and project-based, and not just looking for billable hours. That makes it possible to treat the firm as a trusted advisor and run business strategies by them for a legal perspective. “They have this very great, open, transparent fee structure that encourages that from their clients.”
Williams says part of the long-term strategy for B.R. Distilling's growth has been offering a quality product at an affordable price point.
“There are a lot of small-batch and craft products in the spirit space. The prices are just so ridiculously high that even if somebody likes it, they can’t reasonably enjoy it as much as they would like to,” he said. “We don’t need to try to have the highest possible profit margin out of the gate. We’re focusing down on the customer-oriented perspective of delivering quality at the right price.”
B.R. Distilling is distributing in six states now—Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Illinois—soon to be seven when they add Alabama. Memphis is a strategic location as a logistics hub, which offers the added benefit of a lot of local sources for items such as bottles, pallets, labels, boxes, and so on.