World Whiskies Awards proudly unveiled Brindiamo Group as its principal sponsor in Bardstown, KY, marking the beginning of an exciting collaboration that seeks to amplify the global acclaim and understanding of the finest whiskies for both consumers and industry experts alike.
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 whiskey 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 whiskey people built up over decades of experience in the drinks industry.
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 flavored 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 flavored 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 whiskey, whiskey found me. I did a deal in the whiskey 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 spiraled. 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.
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 favorable…whether you are the big guys or small craft producers that just have four barrels with us”.
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. As James Hewlette, the Group’s vice president of 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 whiskey.