Warrior Liquor: Distilling warrior spirits
~April 25th, 2019
Spokane couple Rich and Mary Clemson say working with grain has always been their forte, starting with their pasta-making company Pasta USA and leading to their newest venture, Liquid Brands Distillery, which does business as Warrior Liquor.
“Grains have always been in our wheelhouse,” says Mary. “After we sold Pasta USA in 2006, we tried retirement, but we both felt this need to keep creating.”
Rich adds, “I might have talked Mary into it a bit, but we’ve always enjoyed manufacturing and our previous business gave us a lot of grain-based connections. We’d been interested in the distilling process, so rather than start a brewery or winery we started Warrior.”
The Warrior distillery has been in operation since December 2017 in a 7,500-square-foot, renovated East Spokane warehouse at 714 N. Lee. The site includes a tasting room, offices, and production area.
The Clemsons say they spent a lot of time researching the distilling industry before starting their business and found a mentor, Volker Dietrich, of Holstein Stills, in Los Angeles, to help them get started.
“We went down to visit his distillery for a week each month or so to get real, on-the-job training in how a distillery works,” says Rich.
Dietrich also helped them select the distilling equipment they’d need for their facility, he says.
“We already had business experience and contacts with grain suppliers,” he says. “Therefore, our first big challenge was finding a source to supply the distilling equipment. It turns out the U.S. hasn’t quite caught up with European distilling standards, so all of our equipment is sourced from Germany and Hungary.”
Rich says Warrior’s distilling equipment incorporates computer integrated technology, that provides a cleaner product and allows Warrior to maintain a small staff.
“This technology is automated enough that it only takes a few people to operate,” he says. “We’re also able to control production processes precisely enough to create a very clean spirit.”
The Clemsons are currently part of a staff of three, the third being master distiller Brad Budge. The couple’s daughter, Kayla, also occasionally helps out with the business.
Rich Clemson says the couple discovered the inspiration for the Warrior logo while on a visit to the San Francisco Bay area to visit Kayla, who attends college there.
“We visited this market where a gentleman was cutting designs in quarters,” he says. “I’d had this image in my head for a while, so I asked him if he could make it and he did.”
Clemson says the warrior in the logo is named Harcos, which is the Hungarian word for warrior.
“We thought it’d be a nice nod to our distillery equipment suppliers, who were from Hungary,” he says.
The couple say the Warrior name is a reflection of Rich’s background as a veteran, as well as the strength and attitude they want their product to portray.
“Warrior really typifies who we are,” says Rich. “Our motto ‘Be a warrior, conquer life’ speaks to this idea of tackling problems and adversity head on, which is something we really believe in.”
The Clemsons say they waited until August 2018 to open the Warrior tasting room officially, to give themselves time to produce their product and allow it to distill.
Since that time, the two have been working to market two newly created flavors of bourbon and increase their product’s distribution area.
Rich says the distillery currently produces about four batches of liquor each week, which equals out to about 2,500 cases of liquor each month. He says the company uses four kinds of grains in its products; wheat, corn, barley, and rye, that are sourced from farmers in the Colfax and Ritzville areas.
“Each batch uses about 15,000 pounds of grain, which creates between 10 and 15 barrels each week,” he says. “Overall, the distilling process from start to finish runs between 10 and 14 days.”
He says Warrior produces American dry gin, vodka, and flavored vodka in 10 varieties: huckleberry, blood orange, grapefruit, vanilla, coconut, pineapple, coffee, spiced cider, raspberry, and lemon.
The business also makes American single malt whiskey, rye whiskey, and two flavors of bourbon whiskey; Cherry Bomb and Xpresso.
“We’ve always enjoyed experimenting with new flavors, but we’ve scaled back on those so we can focus on our barreled items,” he says. “Right now, we’re working with BHW1 Advertising to label our new bourbon flavors and get them to market.”
Mary adds, “The new Cherry Bomb and Xpresso flavors are what we’re really excited about right now.”
In addition to marketing their two new bourbon flavors, the Clemsons say they’re also working hard to expand Warrior’s distribution area.
Rich says, “We’ve been busy working on our distribution in Eastern Washington for the past six months and expanding our distribution area will be a big focus this coming year. We recently signed an agreement with The Odom Corp. out of Seattle, and we have several other distribution agreements in the works for Idaho, Montana, and Oregon.”
Mary says Warrior products already can be found in several Spokane-area supermarkets and liquor stores, including Yokes, Rosauers, and Total Wine & More.
“We’re working on getting our product into some of the smaller, independent stores,” she says. “And there are already about 50 some area restaurant bars that offer our products.”
She says Warrior’s products aren’t available for purchase online, but customers who visit local stores, or the Warrior tasting room can purchase 200 milliliter or 750 milliliter bottles, ranging in price from $9 on up to $35.
Warrior hasn’t been open long enough to show much revenue growth, but the Clemsons say sales are increasing consistently.
“Once we were able to open the tasting room, we’ve seen a steady increase in sales each month,” says Mary.
Rich maintains customer interest is due to the quality and intense flavor of Warrior’s product.
“The quality of our equipment translates to a quality product that’s able to generate a tremendous flavor that customers really enjoy, and our tasting room sales reflect that,” he says.
The tasting room is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays, and 2-7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
“Friday and Saturday nights are extremely busy for us,” says Rich. “Customers are able to taste and experience the product, as well as tour the distillery. It’s really a fun time for everyone.”
Rich says the Warrior tasting room also serves as a kind of focus group, where the couple can gather feedback on new products and flavors before they begin the marketing process.
“Our tasting samples are only about a half ounce, so it’s an excellent opportunity to test out products and fine tune them to match consumer tastes,” he says.
The Clemsons say one unexpected challenge that came out of the tasting room was the need to learn more about what kinds of cocktails can be made using their liquor products.
“We’re good distillers, but mixology is new to us,” Rich says. “We can make some simple mixed drinks in our tasting room, but regulations prevent us from mixing our product with liquors produced elsewhere.”
Luckily, he says, some customers who visit the tasting room frequently have already developed their own unique cocktails that feature Warrior products.
“There have been quite a few tasty ideas,” he says. “Now we encourage customers to come up with mixed drink ideas, and if we like their recipe, we might even add them to our tasting room menu selections.”