As the "Maker Movement" Goes Mainstream, Sites Like Caskers Spring Up to Provide Distribution

By Erin Griffith , written on June 22, 2012

From The News Desk

The "maker movement" of the last five years or so is going mainstream. Americans are turning hobbies into legit streams of income.

As crafty hobbies evolve into a alternative sources of income for the most passionate makers, there's been plenty of talk on the future of DIY. One of the biggest sticking points is whether this new DIY economy has legs. How can businesses that started as hobbies really grow?

In a profile of Brooklyn's artisan food makers and crafters, New York Magazine said it best:

If small batch goes global, how will the idiosyncrat perform this pageant of superior taste? ... And is there really a mass market for $9 chutney? In other words, can twee scale?
That is, I think, where the Internet comes in. The early success of sites like the recently launched Caskers, which helps small distillers find distribution for their artisan spirits, gives me hope that all that $9 chutney may actually find a hope.

In the maker world, distilling is an increasingly popular category.

In New York especially, micro-distillery laws have made it incredibly cheap to open a licensed distillery. (So much so that two new gin distilleries have developed a rivalry and legal battle over the use of the word Brooklyn and Breucklyn in their names; as a Brooklynite I wish I were joking, but even the NY Times warns readers not to mock "ground zero" for the artisanal movement.) There are approximately 350 to 400 craft distilleries in the United States with at least 50 applicants pending.

Former corporate lawyers Steven Abt and Moiz Ali noticed the phenomenon several years ago. After working out the details of a business, they left the world of legal documents to open a craft spirit ecommerce site. At Caskers, they curate rare and difficult-to-find liquors from craft distilleries and feature seven to 10 at a time.

Lucky for crafters, the demand for such a site is apparently high -- Caskers launched this week to relatively low fanfare and, within the hour sold out of several of its featured spirits, including the world's only maker of blue corn whiskey. As the company builds up its schedule of featured liquors, it will avoid quick sell-outs by giving distillers more lead time, so that they they can produce and set aside more inventory for the site.

Most craft distillers have very limited distribution outside their immediate region and spend even less on marketing. Abt says the distillers are jazzed on the idea: "I rarely get phone calls ever," Abt says, "but if I cold email a distiller, I almost always get a call back within the hour." It's an attractive outlet for makers who want to spend all their time actually making their product and not finding a distribution for it. The company has 50-60 distillers on board, including several international makers of mezcal and rum.

The founders feel confident they'll be able to navigate the legal hurdles involved in shipping booze around the country thanks to their past lives as lawyers. They can also credit their lawyer jobs for not needing any financing to launch the site -- right now they're both happy to self-finance the project with almost zero overhead. Abt says he may look to raise capital from friends and family as the site grows.

Caskers is limited to invite-only for now -- join here with the code "Pandodaily."