St. Louis Secures Its Spot on the Global Craft Spirits Map
By Rachel Huffman
As host city for this year’s ADI Craft Spirits Conference & Vendor Expo, which took place at the America’s Center Convention Complex from Sept. 14 to 16, St. Louis has secured its spot on the global craft spirits map.
Founded in 2003, the American Distilling Institute is the largest and most respected group of craft distillers in the U.S., and this was the first time that it chose St. Louis as the destination for its annual conference.
“St. Louis, and Missouri as a whole, have proven that they have what it takes to attract a national conference like this,” Natasha Bahrami, founder of Ginworld and owner of The Gin Room, says. “In this case, it’s the right combination of growth in the craft spirits industry, talented distillers and spirits enthusiasts and an environment to foster the success of a conference of this magnitude. We’re doing big things, and we deserve to be acknowledged in ways like this, so bravo, St. Louis.”
“We didn’t decide to come to St. Louis in a vacuum,” Anne-Sophie Whitehead, conference director of the American Distilling Institute, says. “It’s because of people like David Weglarz [of StilL 630] and Rob Vossmeyer [formerly of 1220 Spirits], Lynn Weber [of Edelbrand Pure Distilling] and Natasha Bahrami hammering it into us that St. Louis is a worthy market. They insisted that we give them a chance, that they would help us put on a great show. They were responsible for us coming here.
“I have to give kudos to the team at America’s Center,” Whitehead continues. “Everything was flawless, and everyone raved about the food. From an execution point of view, the America’s Center as well as the Marriott St. Louis Grand did a fantastic job, and I was impressed by how professional and amiable the staff was.”
Spotlighting the bustling distilling scene in the St. Louis area, as well as the region’s ingenuity, the conference drew approximately 1,350 people tied to the distilling industry from across the country and around the world, including 196 exhibitors, which was a record for the event.
To kick things off, the Missouri Craft Distillers Guild hosted a welcome tasting at the Marriott St. Louis Grand on Sept. 14. During the event, Missouri’s top distillers celebrated and shared their spirits with other respected industry professionals, who were blown away by the range, quality and creativity of our local and regional offerings as well as the camaraderie of the guild.
“From an industry point of view, we were extremely happy with the cohesiveness of the guild and its eagerness to grow the industry throughout the region,” Whitehead says. “The guild was eager to spread the word about the conference and work to put on a great show, and the feedback that we’ve gotten from both attendees and exhibitors is this was a fantastic show. It was fun. People were relaxed, and the location of the convention center and the hotel was great.
“The local and regional craft spirits industry is one of the unsung industries in the country,” she continues, “but there are some real gems here. There’s inventiveness in this industry that more established industries might not have, and we could sense a hunger amongst the distillers to push the envelope, which was refreshing.”
“Some of the most important distillers in the world attended the tasting, and they got to see what we’re making here,” Bahrami says. “It’s really cool to be able to show the explosiveness of our distilling industry. I can only speak to my category, but it’s a good example: When I opened The Gin Room in 2014, there were three gin distilleries in Missouri; today, there are more than 20.”
As a Midwest city, many people assume that St. Louis distillers focus on whiskey, but the tasting showcased the breadth and depth of Missouri craft spirits. “We had distillers from across the state, and they offered quite a variety, from moonshine to award-winning brandies and bourbons,” Lynn Weber, co-founder and CEO of Edelbrand Pure Distilling and president of the Missouri Craft Distillers Guild, says. “Some people traveled for hours to be a part of this, and I think that shows an enthusiasm for showcasing their spirits, both individually and collectively.”
The efforts of the guild paid off. “I had several people tell me, ‘I didn’t know what to expect when I showed up here, and I tasted spirits that are on par with the best things that I’ve tasted,’” Weber continues. “And it was packed at the tasting, and the energy of the room was so positive. Honestly, we all walked away on cloud nine, knowing that we did it, and we did it well.”
The connections made at the tasting and the conference will spark collaborations around the world that will positively impact the local and regional craft spirits industry for years to come.
“It’s not just about the money that the conference brought to St. Louis – although, the attendees were everywhere, especially downtown,” Bahrami explains. “It’s about the way the spirits world now views St. Louis and Missouri. That’s significant.”
Ultimately, the success of the ADI Craft Spirits Conference & Vendor Expo at the America’s Center means people from near and far got to experience the first-class hospitality of St. Louis and embrace our top-tier distillers, opening the eyes of other distillers, marketers, importers and sales teams and continuing to propel our craft spirits industry forward.