AmBraBev hopes new distillery, tavern can be unique in Bluegrass

Published 8:35 am Monday, October 30, 2017

Danville could become a test market for new distilled sugar cane spirits before they’re introduced around the country. That’s one of the goals the Danville-based Brazilian spirits company AmBraBev hopes it can achieve with its new dual-purpose location, currently under construction on Techwood Drive.

AmBraBev plans to first open a distillery in the new nearly-10,000-square-foot building, and then a separate commercial business named “The Still at Ambrabev.”

The Still is planned to have a “tavern atmosphere,” with a retail space, drinks and “more than likely” food, said Zachary R. Baeker, chief executive officer for AmBraBev.

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AmBraBev hopes to begin operation of the distillery in January; The Still could open in the spring, he said. AmBraBev currently employs 10 people around the U.S., not counting people who distill the company’s spirits in Brazil. Opening the new facility will lead to between five and 10 new jobs in Danville, Baeker said.

The distillery side of the business would include the company’s bottling and distribution operations, bringing a lot of AmBraBev’s activity that’s currently outsourced into Danville. And it would be where the company comes up with new products, Baeker said.

AmBraBev will import “cane-neutral spirit” from Brazil, then “add our personal touch to it through re-distillation and exploration” in Danville, he said.

The distillery will feature a custom copper pot still; The Still will have an “observation window that will allow people visiting the tavern/retail space to view the still and production process,” according to information provided by AmBraBev.

“A cane-based gin is going to be our first project,” he said. “We don’t have a specific timeline for that. Obviously, creating a new product from scratch and then developing everything that goes around bringing it to market takes time, and we’ll be managing our current brands as well.”

AmBraBev currently has two product lines — its Espirito Cachaça and its Boteco Vodka — both of which are distilled from sugar cane in Brazil and then imported to the U.S.

Just like bourbon must be made in the U.S. in order to be called bourbon, Baeker said the alcoholic drink cachaça (he says to pronounce it “kah-shah-sah”) must be made in Brazil from cane sugar.

“It’s actually the third-most consumed spirit by volume in the world (but) relatively unknown in the U.S. Most of its consumption is in Brazil, of course, as well as South America and Europe,” he said. “But it’s beginning to make in-roads here in the U.S. and we’re excited to be a part of that and to have an opportunity to help define the cachaça category domestically.”

Once AmBraBev comes up with a new product at the distillery it thinks is ready to be tested, it may be able offer try-it-here-first promotions to the local Danville market through The Still, Baeker said.

“We can release some of the things that we’re working on in a very small scale, limited only to our facility, and kind of test it out and see what people think,” he said. “And then perhaps use that feedback from the community as a way to weed out those things that we think are ready for a larger market presence and those that we either abandon altogether or just keep at that small scale.

“So Danville can play a role in determining products that are potentially distributed as far west as California and perhaps even beyond in the future.”

AmBraBev currently distributes its products to 14 states — mostly in the southeast and midwest, and in California and some states in the mid-Atlantic, Baeker said. The company has expanded by “a few states each year” since it officially began operations in 2012, he said.

Baeker said building the new facility in Danville and consolidating operations here lets AmBraBev “play a more hands-on role.”

“From a business perspective, the facility we’re building is an opportunity for us to kind of take control of as much of the process of bringing our product to market as we can. We’re currently out-sourcing functions like bottling and warehousing to third parties,” he said. “… From a business perspective it makes sense financially.”

Baeker said the initial focus will be on the bottling and warehousing to make sure “we have a good grasp of those functions before we pivot our focus to something else.”

Once they’re comfortable with that side of the operation, efforts will begin on The Still and more public-facing activities.

Those activities will hopefully include partnerships with local businesses and “artisans,” Baeker said.

Image courtesy AmBraBev
AmBraBev’s Brazilian cachaça liquor, distilled from sugar cane and then imported from the South American country, has won multiple awards. The Espirito XVI Classico, center, won a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and a double-gold at a Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) tasting competition. The Espirito XVI Cavalier, right, which is cachaça aged in bourbon barrels, won double-gold and a “Best of Show” award from WSWA.

“We want to make this, to the greatest extent we can, a space where we are not only promoting AmBraBev and its portfolio of Brazilian spirits, but also playing a role in promoting community interests both culturally, as well as from a business perspective,” he said. “So it’s going to be an exciting business opportunity to hopefully bring a couple of people from the community in and allow them to practice their craft in what will be a fun an exciting new environment.”

Baeker said AmBraBev wants its new location to be something different and unique in the Bluegrass.

“We’re not bourbon,” he said. “Our goal is not to recreate the stereotypical distillery experience. We think that all of the other bourbon distilleries in central Kentucky and beyond have that down. We don’t know what we gain or the community gains from trying to recreate or reproduce that.

“So we’re going to stay true to our roots, which are Brazilian in nature, and try to create an experience that really emphasizes what Brazilian culture means and in turn, develop an atmosphere that’s fun, exciting, interesting, new and unique to certainly central Kentucky, if not beyond.”