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Tommyrotter Distillery gets its big break

Tommyrotter Distillery is hoping its latest move will gin up national sales.

The Larkinville distillery has signed with Palm Bay International, a global importer of wine and spirits, which means Palm Bay will assume responsibility for the Buffalo company's sales, distribution and marketing across the United States.

The deal puts Palm Bay's considerable resources to work on Tommyrotter's behalf, and gives it access to Palm Bay's extensive roster of clients, which includes chain restaurants and retail stores, hotels, airlines, cruise ships, duty-free accounts and military bases.

The leap to national sales would be nearly impossible for a small, craft producer to make on its own, said Tommyrotter partners Sean Insalaco and Bobby Finan.

"Everyone tries to compare the craft spirit industry to the craft beer industry but spirits are really hard," Insalaco said. "The big guys, the big companies, the big brands control like 92% of the market."

Insalaco and Finan will retain ownership and the distillery will remain in Buffalo. With Palm Bay taking on the work of selling, marketing and distributing the products, the owners will manage the Buffalo operations, come up with new products and build the Tommyrotter brand.

Until now, Tommyrotter's products have been represented by the sales forces of its regional distributors in the six states where it does business (along with some support from its own small sales force) where it might fight for buyers' attention among as many as 7,000 other accounts. The distillery competes with other small producers in the rapidly growing craft spirit market as well as established powerhouses, such as Beefeater and Tanqueray.

With Tommyrotter's products in the Palm Bay portfolio, the brand will get more focused attention from potential buyers and be taken more seriously, the owners said.

"There are fewer brands and they have some sizable wine brands that distributors covet, therefore they’re gonna end up paying more attention to Tommyrotter," Insalaco said.

Bobby Finan is the co-founder and head distiller at Tommyrotter. He's next to the oak barrels where the whiskey ages holding a bottle of their American Whiskey. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Palm Bay represents Cavit wines, which is widespread in chain stores and chain restaurants, and has developed private label wines for the Olive Garden chain.

Tommyrotter installed an automated packaging line last year, which has allowed it to expand production. A 750 ml bottle of its American gin retails for about $35.

"With the old hand rolling machine and gravity fed spout filler, it was a struggle to manufacture 2,500 cases a year," said partner and master distiller Finan. "The bottleneck, no pun intended, wasn’t in production of spirit, but packaging."

It is on track to produce about 6,000 cases this year. Its spirit production operation has the capacity to produce 35,000 cases, but the packaging machinery is capable of much more.

Some key national press and top industry awards helped take the brand to the next level, Insalaco said. The brand was awarded the Chairman's Trophy in the 2019 Ultimate Spirits Challenge as well as Double Gold and Best in Show in 2016's New York World Wine & Spirits Competition.

In 2017, an article in Forbes magazine called Tommyrotter "Quite possibly the best gin I've ever tasted." It has also been featured in Afar, Town & Country and Marie Claire.

Tommyrotter Distillery, at 500 Seneca St., opened in 2015. It sells its products in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.

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