Editor’s Note: This story contains one of our 10 Best Business Lessons of 2013. For the full list, click here.
In 2010, Kings County Distillery–the first whiskey distillery in New York City since the prohibition era–started churning out moonshine and bourbon in a building that was once a bank and later home to a company that made burial shrouds.
Cofounders Colin Spoelman and David Haskell found out during the planning stages that Haskell’s grandfather was a New York bootlegger during prohibition; Spoelman, meanwhile, had grown up in a dry county in Kentucky (which seems a particularly harsh irony for a bourbon lover). Booze was in their blood.
Today, they run a commercial distillery whose small-batch products have garnered boldly positive reviews. The New York Times says Kings County’s barrel-aged whiskey has an “almost piney tang of new American oak embracing the grain”; GQ said of its moonshine that there’s “no grimace when you take a sip–just a mild burn that makes you want another.”
So the product wasn’t the problem. Despite a quirky backstory and a seemingly national passion for all things Brooklyn, the branding was. Spoelman, who still works part-time at an architectural firm, says the packaging in particular had him stumped.
“The architect I work for refuses to design facades; he says it’s more about what it does and less about what it looks like,” Spoelman says. “I got into that same sort of dilemma–how do you design a logo and the appearance?”
Instead of killing himself to replicate old-timey fonts or come up with a brand identity, he typed out some labels on a typewriter.
“It just became about the words and that simple sort of approach,” Spoelman says. “And I think, weirdly, that makes sense from a branding point of view.”
Bottom Line: Define your brand with substance over style.
[Video Producer: Shalini Sharma, Camera/Editor: Tony Ditata]