Private Label Spirits Go Premium – How Spirits Buyers are Developing Upscale Brands Without a Distillery

Master Distillery Jacob Call oversees all aspects of Green River’s whiskey production and warehousing. Distilling has been in his family for eight generations, all the way back to the earliest days of bourbon.

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Private Label Spirits Go Premium – How Spirits Buyers Are Developing Upscale Brands Without a Distillery

Q+A with Green River Spirits Co.
Green River Spirits Co.
Green River Spirits Company owns and operates the historic Green River Distilling Co. in Owensboro, Kentucky.

The spirits industry is booming, and many of the most exciting brands are those developed with a distillery partner. Consumers are focused on great taste, an authentic story, connection with consumers, and fantastic packaging – not as much about distillery ownership.

This is good news for retailers with private label programs. No longer do private label spirits live on the bottom shelf. Today’s private label brands, with rich stories and impeccable quality, can live eye-level and compete against premium brands and household names.

So, what should spirits buyers look for when starting or expanding their private label spirits portfolio? To find out, we spoke to Simon Burch, CEO, and Cathy Steen, Chief Commercial Officer, of Green River Spirits Company, an organization specializing in the production of award-winning spirits and providing world class logistics support for customers.

Progressive Grocer: Can you start by telling me about Green River Spirits Co.?

Simon Burch
Simon Burch

Simon Burch: We are a brand creation company. From behind-the-scenes logistics to supply chain to brand ideation and more, we can do it all. We work with spirits buyers who are looking to start or grow a private label business, entrepreneurs looking for a place to build a brand, and exporters looking to invest in the highest quality spirits. We have an incredible asset with our historic Green River distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky. I sought out the original founder of Green River’s great grandson to bring the brand back at its original home, and we have a great team there. When it comes to whiskey, there’s no better place for brand partners to call home than our distillery. It was founded in 1885 and is DSP-KY-10, one of Kentucky's original permitted distilleries. Many of history's most beloved whiskey brands were born there. Our customers can tap into that legacy and be part of a home that is building on this historic legacy.  

Cathy Steen
Cathy Steen

Cathy Steen: Our business model is focused on supporting our partners and helping brand owners and spirits buyers be successful. We’ve assembled a team of experts that create brands that can come to life in a multitude of ways: with retailers, inside agencies, or at leading global wine and spirit supplier companies. As Simon said, the heart of the business is our “crown jewel,” the historic Green River distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky led by our incredible Master Distiller Jacob Call. He and his team craft wonderful, award-winning bourbon and rye. We also have a vibrant business creating spirits brands in other key categories: vodka, rum, gin, and flavored whiskey. They are produced in our production facility in Charleston, SC, a city known for flavor and culinary innovation.

PG: What are the trends in private label spirits?

SB: Private Label spirits are becoming an integral part of a retailers’ offering to consumers. Today’s private label spirits brands don’t need to be relegated to the bottom shelf or considered “less than” more well-known competitors. They are of premium quality, authentic brands in their own right, and can be offered at a higher price point. We see success stories with our customers every day. Private label also allows retailers the opportunity to capitalized on trending items, for example brown spirits, flavored spirits and even canned cocktails. Here at Green River, we’re able to help our customers, many of whom are spirits buyers at top retail chains, develop world-class brands.

CS: Spirits trends and category growth drive decisions around private label offerings. Bourbon and rye continue to drive excitement and growth in the distilled spirits business. As a result, we are the perfect partner for companies looking to develop whiskey brands. Our team of distillers and liquid development experts are ready to help our partners develop the best products – whether that be an incredible bourbon or rye from our distillery in Kentucky, or another spirit or flavored whiskey from our production facility in Charleston. Flavored whiskeys are also driving incredible growth in spirits, so we’re always working on incorporating hot new flavors into scalable recipes. We are ready and can provide options to our customers.

a person on the machine
In addition to its historic distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky, Green River has a state-of-the art spirits production facility and innovation center in Charleston, South Carolina.

PG: What should a spirits buyer look for when choosing a supplier to partner with?

SB: Spirits buyers know that first and foremost, the quality of the liquid is paramount. At Green River, we have an incredible master distiller, Jacob Call. Distilling has been in his family for eight generations, all the way back to the earliest days of bourbon. Jacob oversees all aspects of the distillery’s whiskey production and warehousing at our Green River distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky. Our partners know when they choose Green River they get access to one of the best distillers in the business.

CS: Equally as important is a partner that can provide expertise in brand creation to build beautifully designed packaging. We have assembled an incredible team committed to working with our partners to design brand ideas that are compelling to consumers. From here, partners obviously deserve outstanding customer service and problem-free orders! 

PG: Are you launching your own brands too?

SB:We will be releasing a limited run of Green River whiskey in early 2022. We're launching this to showcase our distillery and the great bourbon we make, proof of concept, if you will. Our core priority will always be to work with our partners to deliver the best spirits, develop brands and provide impeccable support. We provide a home and launchpad for brand owners and spirits buyers to realize their ambitions.

PG: How can I learn more about the opportunities with Green River?

CS: Our team is ready to support! We can help spirits buyers from brand concept and design to production and marketing, or anywhere in between. You can learn more at

Simon Burch joined the Green River Spirits Co. as CEO in 2018. In that role, he has embarked on a dramatic expansion agenda for the organization and is the company’s visionary leader, aiming to disrupt and elevate the way the world makes spirits. At Green River Spirits Co., Simon leads the team that helps partners build their brands with quality spirits and know-how. Simon has more than 20 years of experience in the spirits industry, an MBA from Harvard business school, and multiple leadership positions at Pernod Ricard, Diageo and Moët Hennessy. He is now taking this expertise to Green River to help partners build their brands with quality spirits and know-how.

Cathy Steen is the Chief Commercial Officer at Green River Spirits Co., leading strategic business development, sales and marketing for the company. Cathy brings more than 25 years of spirits business experience to Green River and its customers. She was part of the team that launched Belvedere Vodka in 1995, and her marketing and sales contributions helped to scale the business, leading to the brand’s sale to LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Cathy spent 12 years at Moet Hennessy in executive leadership roles managing a variety of sales teams and brand launches in the United States as well as serving on the Global Leadership Board.