Brindiamo Group announced as principal sponsor of World Whiskies Awards

Brindiamo Group announced as principal sponsor of World Whiskies Awards

We sat down with Brindiamo Group’s founder, Jeff Hopmayer, to learn more about this leading supplier of bulk whisky and consultancy services

Interview | 08 Nov 2023

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This promotional feature was created by the Whisky Magazine team in partnership with Brindiamo Group

When you ask Brindiamo Group founder Jeff Hopmayer to explain the philosophy behind his business – one of the largest bulk bourbon and whiskey suppliers in the world – he has a simple answer: “We just do good. We try to do the right thing. We try to be transparent. We try to be open and honest all the time. And it just works.” This, you will learn from just a few minutes in his company, is in keeping with his typically understated approach to explaining how a former baker became the custodian of somewhere in the region of 300,000 barrels stored in rickhouses and warehouses from Kentucky to West Cork.

 

When he says ‘it just works’, he’s not wrong. From starting out with one employee and from a room above Jeff’s garage, the business now employs 22 people worldwide and is a market leader in bulk spirit supply. Beyond that, they are also well on their way to operating as an essential arm of the global whisky family, a position they are keen to build upon as they enter into their headline sponsorship of the World Whiskies Awards (WWA), the competition from the team behind Whisky Magazine. The title sponsorship included hosting the American phase of the WWA’s judging at the Brindiamo Penthouse in the iconic Spalding Hall in Bardstown, Kentucky.

 

On any given day they may be buying or selling 40,000 casks in one transaction, helping a new entrant to find bottles, corks or packaging, or breaking ground on a new storage facility, all thanks to a little black book of good whisky people built up over decades of experience in the drinks industry.

Brindiamo Group founder Jeff Hopmayer. Credit: Brindiamo Group

For Jeff, the journey began from an unusual starting point. As a baker by trade, he was intrigued by the fact that his baked goods tasted amazing – fresh blueberries, cinnamon and spice – while the flavoured spirits available on the market at that time “just weren’t good”. He was convinced he could do better and initially moved into the drinks business to create quality flavoured vodkas. While that business didn’t succeed in quite the way he had envisaged, it did provide him with an entry point. From there he was convinced – “I wasn't gonna go back and make scones. But I wasn't spurned by the drinks business”. Reinventing himself as a consultant on mergers and acquisitions in the drink space, the next piece fell into place after a regular day in the office.

 

“I didn’t find whisky, whisky found me. I did a deal in the whisky space here in Nashville and the person who bought it asked me if I could find them some extra liquid. I found the liquid and made some money”. Spotting the opportunity in front of him, Jeff explains, was like being hit by a lightning bolt, and from there, things just spiralled. The early days of buying and selling casks led to the discovery of more opportunities, largely thanks to conversations with his contacts. Each of these relationships provides a link to the next, whether it is the trade in liquid, strategy and advisory services, marketing and M&A consultancy, or simply helping a new entrant to the industry figure out how to get liquid into bottles.

Brindiamo Group's rickhouses at Log Still Distillery in Kentucky. Credit: Brindiamo Group

With sourcing liquid as the backbone of the business, the expansion into storage was also a logical one, prompted by the costs of keeping a massive inventory on other people’s premises. As Jeff explains, “We were paying to store all these barrels that we were buying. We were paying distillers, so we said, ‘Well, maybe we should own some rickhouses.’” So they built some. With three sites in Kentucky already up and running, each holding 30-50,000 barrels, and plans for six more in the US by the end of 2024, the business has an ambitious growth plan that Jeff forecasts could lead to as much as a billion-dollar turnover in the not too distant future.

 

Once you’re holding all of this stock, it’s natural that your mind would turn to insurance and Jeff is bullish about the value that Brindiamo can provide in this space. “I think we are probably the best provider of cask insurance around the globe today,” he says, before explaining his reasoning. “Because Brindiamo has storage and warehouses all around the world, it's not like a tornado can come in and take all our warehouses out – that would have to be a pretty talented tornado - so that lowers our risk and makes our rate of coverage really favourable…whether you are the big guys or small craft producers that just have four barrels with us.”

The Brindiamo Group facility on the site of West Cork Distillers in Ireland. Credit: Brindiamo Group

The business has also made moves into Europe with one eye on the rapid growth of a resurgent Irish whiskey category. Again, this was the result of spotting an opportunity that no one else had taken. “When I look at what we have created here in the United States, I don't really see that happening in Europe,” says Jeff. “I don't see anybody doing it like we do it, so I thought it was a real opportunity for us to get started overseas…and to get in earlier, ahead of the curve.” From that start, the Brindiamo Group has now accumulated an inventory of nearly 10,000 barrels of Irish whiskey from new make to 20 years old and has opened its own warehouse on the site of West Cork Distillers.

 

On both sides of the Atlantic, it is the same simple philosophy that governs the way they choose to conduct their business. James Hewlette, the Group’s vice president brand and distillery sales, explains, “It’s really a testament to what Jeff's built. The relationship is first, not the sale, and it's about growing that relationship and making sure that you are the trusted adviser for your clients and they know that you have their best interests at heart.” This, he goes on to explain, was one of the major factors in his decision to leave a senior sales role with MGP Ingredients to join Brindiamo in 2022, proving that the Group’s philosophy and growth can draw talent from across the world of whisky.

The Brindiamo Penthouse in Bardstown, Kentucky, which is hosting the American judging leg of the World Whiskies Awards 2024. Credit: Brindiamo

It was this quest for trusted advisor status that has led a business that sets itself out as ‘not really marketing or advertising’ to becoming the headline sponsor of the World Whiskies Awards. From the moment the relationship was suggested, Jeff was clear on a couple of points. First, that he isn’t doing it to gain customers; second, that it had to be done “the way Brindiamo does things – in a big way”; and thirdly, that the Brindiamo team will enjoy themselves while they’re at it. “It's going to be so much fun and so cool,” Jeff enthuses. James agrees, explaining, “It’s about driving brand awareness for Brindiamo, who we are and what we do. We’ll get the name out. You can call upon us if you need us.”

 

Overall, the decision to become the headline sponsor of the World Whiskies Awards reflects Brindiamo Group’s unique approach to doing business. It’s never about the hard sell – there’s no price list, no sales calls – it’s about making connections and sharing their passion for the industry on a big scale, all while having fun. With entrants from around the world coming together at one of the industry’s showpiece events, meeting, greeting, shaking hands, and sharing some drams and some stories, it was only natural that a business as relationship-driven as Brindiamo was going to want to be involved. For Jeff, every interaction is a chance to make a new connection and grow that little black book. If you’re in the market for 10,000 barrels of Irish whiskey, some storage space in Kentucky, or anything from labels to a new distillery, he might have just the solution for you.

 

www.brindiamogroup.com

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