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At simply 28 years previous, Iowa’s Gene Nassif wears a whole lot of hats. By day, he’s a practicing attorney specializing in household regulation. By evening — and on the weekends and no matter different spare time he can muster — Nassif is co-owner of Cat’s Eye, a Bettendorf-based micro distillery extra broadly recognized for its “Obtainium” model sourced merchandise.
With Obtainium, Nassif has leveraged social media, YouTube, and phrase of mouth to construct a following across the model’s sourced Polish rye, Canadian whisky, gentle whiskey, Armagnac, and extra. At sure factors, a few of Obtainium’s merchandise have boasted age statements exceeding Nassif’s personal age.
With Obtainium gross sales rising in double-digit percentages 12 months over 12 months, Nassif and Cat’s Eye co-owner John Baker have sights set on broadening Obtainium’s traces into worldwide spirits from across the globe. Cat’s Eye additionally bottles choose blended merchandise underneath the Nassif Household Reserve label.
Nassif — a frequent visitor on whiskey-focused YouTube channels — just lately sat down with Drinkhacker to debate beginning off within the sourced market and the regulatory challenges concerned with sourcing overseas.
Notice: This interview has been flippantly edited for readability.
Drinkhacker: How did you initially develop a ardour for spirits?
Gene Nassif: The place I went to varsity, Luther School, is subsequent to Toppling Goliath breweries. So among the finest breweries within the nation was a block away, and I acquired to style some actually nice beers. After which the craft side of craft beer was the craft side of whiskey, and the remainder is historical past.
Drinkhacker: You reside a twin life: You’re a practising lawyer and also you’re additionally a distillery proprietor and energetic in sourcing spirits.
Nassif: That’s right. Two full-time jobs. The story goes that I used to be in regulation faculty in a whiskey group regionally in Iowa. We had been speaking in regards to the retailer choose market earlier than the shop choose market skyrocketed. And what I noticed was a chance. This was 2016, however the entire concept of retailer picks wasn’t enormous. And in addition the sourced market, as we all know it in the present day, was not enormous. You had some, however folks going past the MGP or at the moment, Heaven Hill or Barton, and sourcing spirits from world wide.
Me being into Scotch at the moment, I believed, “Why can’t I’ve this unbiased bottler idea utilized to American spirits?” Full transparency, you see on the label what you’re getting. I acquired related to John [Baker], my associate, who on the time was operating a distillery in Iowa, creating his personal product. We partnered to create this model new model — Obtainium — which turns into 99% of the gross sales. And now we’re co-owners.
Drinkhacker: Are you solely dealing with the sourced merchandise, or are you concerned with any of the in-house distilled product?
Nassif: Our present setup is just not constructed to maintain scaling. So until we spend one other $250,000, we may by no means produce sufficient product to even get past the state of Iowa. So I’m solely the sourcing, mixing, and advertising and marketing side of the Obtainium model. The product that we distill ourselves, whereas we care about it fairly a bit, simply may by no means get to that time until we spent an enormous amount of cash on bettering our tools.
Drinkhacker: Let’s discuss among the early sourced merchandise that you just had been releasing. What was your first sourced product, and what was the launch technique for that?
Nassif: So it took a whole lot of chilly calls to even get any individual who was prepared to promote us barrels. I didn’t know the market, I didn’t know that this market historically was virtually shrouded in secrecy. No person needed to say the place they acquired the stuff from. No person needed to reveal brokers. It was really Jeff Mattingly of Mattingly & Sons down in Kentucky who was the primary particular person to actually assist me out. A well-known quote from him that I bear in mind to at the present time is, “Us little guys stick collectively.” And that was completely true. He related me with a few of my first brokers, and I tasted by means of a bunch of barrels.
I tasted by means of a bunch of Dickel at the moment, previous Dickel, I’m personally an enormous fan and I actually needed to bottle it, however the concept caught about how many individuals actually like Dickel? There’s like 10% of all whiskey drinkers who like Dickel. So I tasted by means of, after which I get to this gentle whiskey and I’m going, “No person’s heard of these things earlier than.” I actually favored the historical past that was neglected. It’s basically a single grain akin to scotch used for mixing. And it’s actually good when it’s previous, by itself, interval. So I loved it. It was a brand new spirit. I may create my very own class or carry again this historic class. And that’s what I did.
Drinkhacker: What are among the different releases that you just’re doing with some regularity?
Nassif: After gentle whiskey, we got here into some Polish rye whiskey. It was really distilled in Poland, then we imported it right here and bottled it, which was completely superb. We do MGP five- and six-year rye whiskey, the 95/5 recipe, which can also be a staple. We do Canadian whiskeys. I purchased a bunch of whiskeys from the Palliser Distillery, which is often known as Black Velvet.
When Heaven Hill bought them, a whole lot of the previous whiskey inventory stayed. The reason being that Black Velvet in America is a backside shelf model. In Canada, they really have extra premium traces they usually discontinued the premium traces. So essentially the most premium, highest-age product, we ended up shopping for a whole lot of. It’s a 26 12 months previous Canadian corn whiskey, and a 27 12 months previous blended Canadian whiskey. Moreover we’ve carried out Armagnac. I imported Armagnac from France, blended it, which was superb. I’ve acquired a 21 12 months previous Canadian rye whiskey popping out, actually simply sourcing among the coolest, most fascinating merchandise from in all places.
Drinkhacker: What’s one thing you haven’t bottled that you just’d be excited to deal with within the coming years?
Nassif: Scotch is the last word hurdle due to regulation. Scotch doesn’t enable for bottling outdoors of Scotland, which implies that I’ve to associate with bottlers there after which basically discover ways to import Scotch. So I did in all probability the final step first and purchased Scotch barrels earlier than realizing all of this. Down the road, a blended Scotch too, with older, single grain and single malts.
Drinkhacker: What’s your advertising and marketing technique?
Nassif: What we did in another way I feel has modified how craft distillers market themselves, and I feel not a whole lot of model folks or entrepreneurs had been prepared to have interaction with whiskey YouTube and social media. In different phrases, you may need an advert, proper? You would possibly pay any individual or ship them the little pattern bottles together with a $50 invoice or no matter else you wish to do and say, “Hey, please overview my product.” However virtually no one up till that time of time needed to go on Whiskey-Tube and speak in regards to the product. You didn’t have lots of people that needed to have interaction with these whiskey Tubers. And we’re not simply speaking the massive deal folks, the Fred Minnicks of the world. I’m speaking about these people who at the moment had been possibly 10,000 subs on YouTube or 3,000 on Instagram, or haven’t actually skyrocketed.
I actually needed to have interaction with these folks as a result of I knew even simply attempting a bottle with them was going to get extra eyes than an commercial on YouTube, particularly, eyes of people who had been going to purchase my product. So I began partaking with them, began speaking with them, began getting suggestions from them. And I used to be pleased to do it. I actually loved the neighborhood.
Drinkhacker: Is most of your choose curiosity inbound now? Or are you approaching folks that you just particularly wish to do picks with?
Nassif: Most of it now could be folks reaching out to us. We’ve acquired a backlog at this level, given how massive we’ve grown. When there are specific teams and sure people who I care about who supported me once I was no one, completely. I attain out to them and say, “Hey, I acquired this actually cool stuff coming. I’m going to supply it to everyone else, however I wanna just be sure you have your alternative.”
Drinkhacker: I do know you’re a numbers man. What are you able to inform us in regards to the progress of the model?
Nassif: I share every thing. Actually, I’ve made different distillers uncomfortable throughout dwell streams, once I speak in regards to the value of barrels and such.
Drinkhacker: In 2022, what number of barrels of sourced product are you going to maneuver?
Nassif: I feel we’re in all probability on observe for one more 250 to 300 barrels. On contract now and owned we’re at round 2,000 barrels, I feel possibly 2,100 at this level. And that’s possession, after which we now have contracts to buy. So it’s principally an choice that you just simply need to train.
Drinkhacker: How can folks keep on high of your new releases?
Nassif: More often than not, Instagram or Fb. Let’s say any individual goes to get a retailer choose from us. The very first thing that I inform the retailers are put up on social media, ship me the hyperlink and also you’ll see it on our Fb, you’ll see it on my Instagram. I attempt my hardest to do this. That being stated, even a whole lot of these liquor retailer homeowners nonetheless usually are not getting behind social media advertising and marketing of their retailer picks. And so you find yourself having third events, like any individual that got here in and purchased it which are posting the images.
Drinkhacker: Anything you’d like so as to add?
Nassif: Get pleasure from consuming, get pleasure from exploring totally different spirits from world wide. Get pleasure from making a cocktail with it, too. I inform people who it’s nice to discover, and don’t be restricted by considering you need to drink it neat and in a glass with out ice. I imply, simply get pleasure from!