Oaklore Distilling

Oaklore Distilling Company was opened in October 2022 by co-founders Matt Simpkins and Tom Bogan after discovering they had a knack for distilling bourbon. Nestled in the MoRA (Monroe Road Area) neighborhood of Charlotte, North Carolina, the distillery and tasting room provides the perfect backdrop for a unique, community-driven experience complete with delicious local spirits. They have been quite successful since opening, earning recognition as the “#1 Distillery in 2023” by The Charlotte Observer.

Matt Simpkins and Tom Bogan, Co-Founders of Oaklore Distilling Co.

We sat down with Jack Shute, Head of Sales & Commercial Operations at Oaklore, to discuss the brand, what they have accomplished so far, and what they are looking forward to in the future.

Drinking Buddies Interview

Can you tell us more about your background and how you got involved with Oaklore?

“I have been in the beverage alcohol industry for my entire 20+ year career, with the last 10+ years focused on the craft whiskey space, building brands such as High West and Sagamore Spirit. I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, from the Tri-State area in 2021 and decided I wanted to build something from the ground up locally.”

“Given that North Carolina is a top-5 whiskey-consuming market, and at that time had just ratified all of the archaic laws that limited the ability for distilleries to operate successfully, the local distilling scene was just starting to blossom. I thought it was the right time and a great opportunity to gain immediate market share. I was introduced to Matt Simpkins and Tom Bogan, the co-founders of Oaklore Distilling Co., and we had an immediate connection. They had already done a great job spending a few years understanding what it takes to produce whiskey at the highest quality, and for the most part, we were aligned on all things that needed to be done to build a brand that had longevity and a runway of consumer attraction. Bottom line…the stars were aligned, we hit the ground running, and the last 12 months have been a wild ride!”

What about the tasting room at Oaklore? Are there any types of special events or plans with the space?

“We are currently operating in a tight 1,000-square-foot distillery, bar and tasting room on one of the busiest intersections in Charlotte. We have a great outdoor patio, heated outdoor space and a resident food truck. It’s quaint but has great energy, and the community has embraced us with open arms. That being said, we knew we were going to outgrow the space quickly, so we recently purchased the 6,000-square-foot building next door, increasing our footprint by more than 600%, and will be moving our production to that space very soon. Our current visitor experience will remain, but we will now have the ability to expand our distillery tour dynamics and to put whiskey in bottles and bottles in boxes at the rate that the consumer is demanding!”

I see there are cocktails and alcohol slushies available on the menu. What is your preferred ready-made cocktail in the tasting room?

“We do some great batched cocktail classics such as a barrel-aged old fashioned, a lemon drop, a passionfruit sour and a pomegranate punch, but our #1 selling cocktail by far is aptly named, The Oaklore, which is merely a neat or rock pour of any of our whiskeys, and all we do is add a premium cocktail cherry and a small spoonful of the cherry syrup. It’s a great drink that keeps the focus on the whiskey itself but adds a little sweet cocktail vibe to it.”

Which do you prefer? Bourbon or Rye?

“I love a great bourbon but given that I have spent many years building rye-focused brands High West and Sagamore Spirit, I am a rye guy through and through. Rye just brings flavors to the whiskey that take things to the next level. Plus (in my opinion), any cocktail that you can make with bourbon just tastes better with rye!”

Was it always the plan to expand into distilling vodka, rum, and gin? Any other ideas for new offerings in the works?

“Our unaged spirits at this point are for the distillery only. We are a whiskey brand and that will always be our true passion and priority. However, we know that not everyone is into whiskey like we are, so we wanted to take that passion that we have for distilling and create our own unaged products for those who might want something besides whiskey. They are unique in their own right, especially our American-style gin, and we have built a great base of consumers who continue to come in to support those items.”

“We currently offer our Four Grain Bourbon and North Carolina Straight Rye Whiskey statewide and for national shipping, and are currently planning for some additional releases that will hit distribution eventually, but we also regularly release limited distillery-only whiskeys, including recent releases such as our Port Barrel-Finished Rye Whiskey, a Merlot Barrel-Finished Bourbon and our most highly sought-after, Honey Barrel-Finished Bourbon. We are putting our bourbon and rye whiskeys in any quality freshly dumped barrels we can get our hands on!”

Are people able to purchase Oaklore online? Do you have any plans for that in the future?

“Yes! We are doing a major overhaul on our website as we speak—to be more e-comm focused and will be launching that platform soon! At this point, we are available on seelbachs.com, but other e-comm retailers will be coming online as well. It’s a new world for spirits and e-comm, and we plan on leaning into that heavily as we market to our core demographics of whiskey consumers nationally.”

I see Oaklore locally sources its ingredients and materials for the distillery. What about that ‘North Carolina community’ aspect is so important to Oaklore’s identity?

“North Carolina is a top-5 whiskey-consuming market in the US, and the premium whiskey-drinker continues to flock here from the northeast and west coast for a better quality of life (and climate!). Supporting local continues to be a top priority for businesses and consumers alike, so focusing on that with our local consumers will always be a part of who we are. Oaklore was built on community and whether we are talking to someone within or outside of North Carolina, community and storytelling will be a major conversation for us. We’re all about building connections, and you’ll see that in our brand as we evolve.”

Can you tell us more about the Owner’s Keep? What is the process behind distilling/choosing these bottles?

“The Owner’s Keep is a large library of whiskeys that we offer at the distillery for people to try. Educating our customers is something we have a real passion for, and the Owner’s Keep allows us to do that very well. It may seem like we are producing a TON of different kinds of whiskeys, but what we are actually doing is holding back a handful of bottles of every release that we’ve ever done (most are no longer available for purchase), including our single-barrel and barrel-finished expressions, and allowing people to try pours of them. We even offer cask-strength versions of those whiskeys, so that customers can see how whiskey truly evolves during the proofing process. It’s a very cool experience, and we have many people come in and spend hours with our team attempting to try them all! Not all in one day, of course…”

When did the Angel Barrel Program start? What are some groups you’ve been able to help through the program so far?

“Our Angel Barrel program started on Day 1, and at this point, we are booked out until 2026! It’s something we decided early on would be a pillar of our strategy, and we have a ton of fun with it. We partner with local charitable organizations to come to the distillery and pick out their favorite single barrel from a selection of options. After the selection is made, we then bottle the full barrel with a custom-branded label and sell it out of our distillery retail shop—with proceeds going back to the organization. It allows us to expand our consumer awareness in a unique and heartfelt way, but more importantly, give back to the community that supports us.”

How has Lilypad CRM helped scale the business as you look to sell more liquid?

“I am highly experienced and a power-user with many CRM platforms and what drew me initially to Lilypad is the focus they put specifically on the beverage space. There was a list of things that were a must-have for me, plus some nice-to-haves, and after speaking with many different platforms, Lilypad was the only one that seemed to hit all of them!”

“Both the web and app-based platforms are intuitive and easy to use, and I can already tell that our organization is going to grow into the capabilities beautifully. The majority of my use at this point is account visit recaps and tracking, but setting up and customizing tasks and surveys are very easy to execute. Scheduling visits and follow-up planning that easily integrates into your calendar is also very helpful and will be more of a priority as we expand our sales team. Lilypad is great for what I need right now, but more importantly, the platform is intuitive and scalable for when we build out our team nationally. Lastly, the customer service is top-notch! If I ever have any issues with anything technical or data-related, there is someone always available to jump on a call to fix the problem quickly.”

We thank Jack for his time and for being a Lilypad client. If you are ever in Charlotte, NC, be sure to stop in and try some of their locally distilled bourbon and rye, including some of their exclusive Owner’s Keep collection.

Check out their website for more information.

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