Central Standard Craft Distillery has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, but with spirit sales still outpacing other alcoholic beverages in the industry, the company is poised to capitalize on this growth pattern with plans to expand into new markets. The Milwaukee-based distillery on West Clybourn Street has met the demand for spirits during the pandemic by not only investing in new equipment, but also pivoting its operations to produce virus-fighting products like hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray. The distillery has since returned to full-time production of its core products and now, Central Standard has hired beer industry veteran Jim Kanter as chief commercial officer as the company realizes its growth plans. Kanter, who since February worked for Glendale-based Sprecher Brewing Co. as chief commercial officer, previously worked in commercial development and sales at MillerCoors for a decade before rising to general manager at the brewery. Central Standard co-owner Evan Hughes says he and co-owner Pat McQuillan have known Kanter for years, adding that his experience in commercial development will help the distillery establish a smarter strategy when bringing products to market. “He has the perfect experience for what we’re looking for as we look to get better at distribution and sales and expand into other Midwest markets,” Hughes said “We’re very confident he’ll be able to provide the leadership for Central Standard to do so in a very successful way.” Although Kanter is new to the spirits space, the trends found in craft beer are not too far off from that of craft spirits – locally sourced and natural ingredients are just a few examples of what consumers are looking for, Kanter said. “It’s the better-for-you aspect of things,” Kanter said. “Brandy, as an example, has antioxidants because of how it’s made with fruits. Lower carbs, lower calories, that space is growing immensely. Similar to how craft beer has done it over the last few years and how that exploded, I think spirits are the next big phase of growth.” Central Standard has made several investments in its production facility over the last two years including an automated bottling line as well as a new fermentation space and additional space for aging barrels, Hughes said. “We’ve really expanded our capabilities, and like I said, we’ve hired new team members for our packaging and the production of our products, so we can be a lot more efficient,” Hughes said. In his new role, Kanter will work to improve the distillery’s route to market – that is, building relationships with distributors, retail partners and ultimately the consumer, he said. “Evan and Pat are phenomenally entrepreneurial and creative and have built a really great base for the business,” Kanter said. “How that whole route to market works and the understanding of that whole value system is something that again, Pat and Evan have knowledge on, but they just wanted additional expertise.”
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