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Meet The Maker: Storywood Tequila

October 18, 2020 by Bryony Maiklem

Storywood Tequila might just be the best new brand launch of 2020.

Why?

Well, there are several reasons.

The stunning branding.

The innovative shaking up of the tequila category.

But most importantly, there’s the brands owner, Michael Ballantyne. Part chef, part whisky lover, part creative, Michael has clearly poured a lot of himself into Storywood Tequila which has given the brand true authenticity.

This instalment of our Meet The Maker series is a must-read as this pioneering new entrant into the tequila category is really something special.

Hey Michael, great to meet you. First up you are a new brand – can you tell us more about yourself and your journey to launching Storywood?

Great to meet you too and thanks for having me. Storywood is the world’s first tequila aged in Speyside whisky barrels and Oloroso Sherry casks. It’s a combination of my love for whisky and bringing that into the agave category.

The brand is very innovative – we’re not sure we’ve seen tequila aged in scotch barrels before – what inspired this match?

I guess anyone can be innovative, but innovation only works when it has a real purpose. The creation of Storywood really is a brand of unique flavours tailored to the whisky consumer. We want to show people the love and care that goes into creating Tequila just like the love and care that goes into creating a whisky.

Did you get any opposition or raised eyebrows from scotch or tequila purists?

We’ve had the exact reaction I expected and that’s that we are changing perception and people’s views on tequila’s tainted past. Whisky drinkers love it and tequila drinkers naturally fall into Storywood because of its innovation.

Logistically this has complex written all over it – sourcing of Speyside barrels, shipping to Mexico, production and distribution. Was is a tough challenge putting all the elements in place?

It’s a very complex situation when you’re getting into ageing spirits and when you have to ship barrels halfway around the world it can be even more challenging.

On the production side, you have to find the right balance between what products you should leave for ageing longer/shorter and what types of casks do you want to invest in more of, than the others.

Ageing spirits is not for the faint-hearted that’s for sure. It’s months and years of trials, experimentation, and finding the right balance between not over-investing or under-investing in your stock.

We have to mention COVID…sorry about that. Presumably, this has affected your launch strategy? Have you pivoted your plans over the next 12 months with a downturn in the on-trade forecast?

We have been privileged to work with Proof Drinks in the UK who have a great success in building brands in the on-trade.

Whilst it hasn’t been easy to launch the brand, we’ve been sure to concentrate our efforts on brand awareness and education instead.

We’re also about to launch our new online store and will be working hard on our direct to consumer offering, as well as with plenty of our online retailers to push the brand. We still see a great opportunity in the lead up to Christmas.

It’s also a great time to be supporting the on-trade in general – for example, menu printing and training. We know that anything we can do to help operators now, will be in everyone’s interest down the line when the sector returns to normality.

Where do you want to see the brand in the next 5 years?

To be honest pre-pandemic I probably would have been able to answer that question better! However, post-covid, all I can say is that as a brand, our ambitions are to do what we set out to do and get Storywood into more whisky drinkers hands around the world.

As a company though it would be great to be able to build on our current team. With so many in the trade having lost their own jobs, it’s now a personal mission of mine to be able to give back to the industry, as we try to turn things around over the next few years.

Tequilas reputation in the mass market in the UK is questionable, which suggests a major opportunity – do you envisage a challenging time seeding the brand here?

Tequila has certainly had a bit of a reputation in the UK, hugely skewed by the slammer and availability of great liquids to try. That’s not true anymore though, you can grab some incredible brands here.

For Storywood it’s about dialling into just how much work, care and passion goes into crafting these liquids.

By aligning ourselves with the incredible prestige of the Scotch world – one that the UK knows and loves already, we actually see ourselves in a great position to overcome the hangover of the tequila shots, salt and lime.

We have a lot of aspirational bartenders and employees of the drinks industry that love to hear about how brand come to life. How long did it take from inception to launch of the brand and what were the biggest challenges you faced with launching the brand?

I started Storywood in 2015 and we’re now just launching the brand in 2020, so that gives you an idea of the length of time it takes creating these liquids to perfection. It’s not a quick process when ageing liquids. It takes lots of time and patience.

Finding the right people is key to a brands success. I was spinning all the wheels for the first four years and now in year five, I aligned with the right people to maximise success.

It’s ok to admit your weak points and flourish on your stronger points, but you must face those weak points head-on and get people on board that do those things well.

What advice would you give an aspiring brand owner, something real that may help them?

My biggest advice is unless you’re willing to go “all-in” then don’t do it at all.

I know a lot of people will say “I can’t do that”, but the reality is that if they are already saying there are obstacles in the way then they are not fit for the times creating a brand will throw at you.

Most of us aren’t in a position to throw 7 figures at creating brands so you have to raise the funds slowly at different times and that means aligning with the right investors.

When I say that I’m not suggesting just to take someone’s hard-earned cash, find someone who can invest in your vision and that knows the industry. Knowledge and connections will leverage you in better positions down the line.

The reality for us was that we gave up our house and cars, minimised as much as possible, had two children at the same time and basically lived like hermit crabs for the last four years!

This goes back to my point about going ALL IN though….when you invest your life and find your true passion there is no quit button to push, you just keep going.

You can buy Storywood Tequila Here.

 

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