Mikael Mossberg and Brent Stiefel eyed the drink menu at Canon, a bar in Seattle that
bills itselfas “the western hemisphere’s largest spirit collection.” It’s the kind of place where it’s easier to get demoralized than drunk.
So Mossberg, a “whiskey appreciator for the last few years,” figured it was time to make good on an idea he had been kicking around.
“If you don’t have the expert level of knowledge,” Mossberg told Business Insider, “How do you choose?”
So began Distiller, a new web-based whiskey discovery platform. The company, which has been in development since May and today moved from beta to version one, is geared toward anyone looking for the right bottle of whiskey — the connoisseur, the dabbler, even the gift-giver.
The interface is pretty simple. Just answer a few preliminary questions about what you’re looking for and Distiller’s algorithm does the rest.
It feels almost like a throwback startup. Booze Google. But Mossberg says existing whiskey-finding web products leave a lot to be desired. Maybe they have a lousy mobile interface, are focused more on the social grandstanding of “checking in” than the quality liquid itself, or they just straight up aren’t accurate.
We’re in something of the whiskey Renaissance right now. The craft distillery boom is adding more options to liquor store shelves and barroom menus. Mossberg figure there was room for another whiskey aggregator in the mix.
“To me the idea really started when I was trying to expand my palate,” Mossberg said. “I would often find myself at a bar or store, and that’s pretty daunting.”
Distiller guides users through a set of filters asking about mood, personal knowledge, and budget, before presenting them with personalised bottle recommendations.
So how does Distiller cobble knowledge together? It employs a “tasting table” of whiskey professionals — authors, bloggers, bar owners, restaurateurs — to give notes. Mossberg calls them his “Iron Chefs of whiskey.” He’s got American whiskey experts, ones for Scotch, world whiskey, bourbon, etc. Each bottle gets rated and reviewed in person, Mossberg says, so as to not use brand-influenced distiller’s notes or content that’s already out there.
Distiller then takes the notes from the tasting table and pumps it through an algorithm that organizes by flavour point, availability, popularity, price, and more. “Each step takes into consideration what you’re looking for,” explains Mossberg.
Currently Distiller has about 150 reviewed bottles, with plans to get up to 500 next year.
Between high prices and the elitist culture, “There can be a really high barrier to entry for learning a lot about whiskey,” Mossberg says. “The future to us is to create a one-stop shop, be all end all whiskey discovery hub.”
That future includes an iPhone app, currently pending approval. And more bottles. In terms of, you know, making money, Mossberg says they have a few ideas for down the road (Stiefel’s media/entertainment/VC firm Votiv is Distiller’s current backer).
For now, it’s all about upping the user base. Distiller is hoping those users will create a Distiller profile, which allows them to save and track recommendations and amass a digital whiskey collection. That’s shareable via Facebook and Twitter, of course.
“Who we’re going after is a wide range of people who want to learn about craft distilleries, people who are really discovering for the first time, and people who have been long-time appreciators of whiskey,” Mossberg said. “There’s an endless supply of new things to try.”
Here’s how it works.
It’s holiday time, so I made this one a gift.
Appreciator. Why not.
Off the charts scared me, so “pretty adventurous” it is.
If it’s a gift for a good friend, not a great friend.
The coolest part is the flavour profile chart.