Black Whiskey has become a Peruvian sensation-not just in Peru, but in the world. As of September of this year, Black Whiskey is the best whiskey in the world and made its spot in Forbes Magazine.
All of this is even a surprise for CEO, Michael Kuryla, who I sat down with to talk about the major recognition and its outcome- the outcome being huge global sales and how he’s trying to keep up with the massive demand for this Andean product.
So going from the beginning, what sparked the idea of Black Whiskey?
Well, my wife and I lived in Oxapampa and we were drinking every single day. And it was kind of like, what are we gonna do with our lives? To the point where we had to come up with something other than wait until the bar opened at 5:00 PM and go in and drink and have a good time and, you know, not be productive, let’s say. So we came up with this idea to use Peruvian grains, specifically, in our case, black corn or purple corn. And I say black corn because we started with a variety that’s black corn from Hunin in Spanish. Obviously purple corn, purple whiskey, doesn’t sound too good. So, it was awesome that really, that it really exists. a black corn, and Black Whiskey sounds awesome. The word “black” infers quality. It also infer recognition because Black Label, obviously, is probably the world’s most renowned whiskey, let’s say.
So at first I talked to my parents. My dad laughed at me and nothing happened. But then he called me back and said, “Hey that might be a good idea.” Literally, I thought he was drunk, but he doesn’t drink very much. I was like, “Huh, dad, is that, is that you?” Long story short, we spent a year drinking less and experimenting with purple corn with other Andean grains to try and come up with something drinkable. For the first six months it came out horrible. Literally, it was just terrible. But at that point we imported some barrels from the United States. We imported some malted grains from the United States as well. At that point we had passed sort of the, the hump of the learning curve. Because, at first, you can read and you can talk to people, but you don’t really know what you’re doing until you actually do it.
So by six, seven months, the product that we were making started coming out relatively drinkable, and I say relatively because when you’re doing it, you think it’s the most awesome thing in the world. Yeah. When you give it to your friends, they look at you like, not again. And, I remember those days. I remember the little miniatures and the bottles that we made, and, and I look at it now and I’m like, oh my God. It was so terrible. So terrible. But it, it was a great improvement from the beginning.So, at that point, seven, eight months into it, it was enough to write a business plan.
My background actually is engineering and finance, so I wrote the business plan and we came up with some capital to essentially move from Oxapampa, which is the middle of nowhere, beautiful, but the logistical nightmare of to and from Lima wouldn’t have worked. So we moved to Lima and built the distillery in Lurin, that was in 2017. We basically started filling barrels, you know, because the whiskey has to age and you can’t just make whiskey and sell it the next day, the next month, or the next year. So we started filling barrels, filling barrels, filling barrels, working, and it was very capital intensive because you’re spending all of this money with zero sales.
Finally in 2019, we did our first product launch and it was awesome. Wow. I mean, it was amazing. But then, Covid hit. So it was like sales went to zero. Yeah. And we were stressed because all of a sudden we were starting to make a little bit of money and then nothing.
So we had to make a decision: are we going to conserve our capital and not really produce, not really do much, or are we gonna just keep filling barrels, keep producing? We got a permit permission to work six weeks after Covid started. So we started just filling barrels, filling barrels, filling barrels. So for us, that was awesome because it gave us enough whiskey in barrels to be prepared for what’s happening now.
We came up with Black Whiskey, using Peruvian grains. But the whole idea of Andean whiskey to me and to everybody now is very important. You know, we registered Andean whiskey finally with the government after four years. Wow. So you have Scotch whiskey, you have Canadian whiskey, and now, you have Andean whiskey, which is awesome.You know, it’s great for, for Peruvian national pride. I tell everybody that I want to be able to go into a bar someday in New York or in Miami or or wherever, and say, “Hey, I want an Andean whiskey. And they’re like, which one do you want, sir?” Obviously, my bottle should be number one. Considering we won World’s Best Whiskey. But yeah, that was my, fantasy.
We launched again, basically when other countries started to reopen (Peru was still closed at that time). So we started selling and exporting in 2021 in April. Which was great because we sent a container to the United States. We sent a container to Taiwan, we sent product to Spain, to Australia. We ended up in Canada. I don’t know if we made it to Germany that year, but, basically things, things started moving. Not enough to really float the company, but it was enough to, at least produce a little bit, pay my my people and pay rent, and all that stuff.
2022 was kind of a lean year. But then we won World’s Best Whiskey, and it’s just like, oh my God! So that was in September this year. And it was kind of funny. It’s actually kind of quite funny. They sent me an email, you won Double Gold and the New York World Spirits Competition, I think it’s the oldest with San Francisco. It’s the same company and probably the most recognized spirits competition in the world. So they sent me an email, Double Gold. I was like, oh, wow, that’s awesome! I was really happy and that was it.
A week later, my friend calls me, he’s like, “Oh my God, congratulations! I saw you in Forge Magazine, World’s Best Whiskey!” And I was like, “Dude, what are you talking about?” He’s like, “What do you mean, what am I talking about? Haven’t you seen?” I’m like, “No?” I went to my computer typing “Black Whiskey Forge Magazine.” And while he’s laughing at me saying, “Dude, are you clueless?” It pops up like all of these articles. And I literally, I almost cried. I swear to God. I was sitting there like, hold on a second. Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! And the articles were awesome. Because in one of the articles, the guy was like, “What, what, like, like how did this happen? Has anybody heard of Whiskey Andino, Black Whiskey, or Andean Whiskey? Has anybody heard of Whiskey From Peru?” And it was kind of cool because of a little bit of satire, right. And then the guy goes into detail of how awesome it is, so that was awesome. It was great for us. We have an online platform in the USA, which from one day to the next, sales went through the roof. Wow. Through the roof.
We got into Colorado, we got into North Carolina. We’re selling nicely in New York, New Jersey. We were already in Illinois, Tennessee, Texas. Tennessee’s great. They, they’ve ordered like four times. So we were kind of prepared with stock, like enough bottles in the US. And in Peru for Christmas season this year. After September, it was crazy. Crazy. Then on TikTok this guy in Lima launched the brand nationally here too. Until now everybody’s talking about Black Whiskey. Anywhere you go, people either recognize me, which I hate, or I wear my hat, you know, with the logo, and they’re like, they’re like, Oh my God! It’s crazy because usually I have the Black Whiskey logo on my hat or whatever, and in the airport people stop me. At events, people stop me which is cool. It’s not really my thing, but as far as the brand goes, that’s awesome.
So like I said, right now we’re, we’re like, corriendo, running as fast as we can and filling bottles, selecting barrels, and people call me from all over the world, literally from all over the world. And it has gotten to the point where I have to tell people, “Wait a second, I would love to sell to you, but I need to figure out where I need to allocate my bottles for this upcoming year.” Which is not a bad problem to have. But I would love to have more whiskey to sell, we have enough to where it gives us enough funding to grow the business. We also have the other brands too, which are working out nicely. The Andean Vodka and we launched Andean Gin. So the Andean Gin we launched in September. We ended up sending like a thousand something bottles to Taiwan. Wow. We sent, I think, 500 or something to Australia, which is not a huge amount, but you know, when you start out with a product, it is great to get it going. The gin is now in all Wongs, and we just got into Tottus. It’s going to get into the airport, too. So duty-free is also another huge point of sale for us. From one day to the next, we went from selling one to 200 bottles a month to a thousand to 1200 bottle a month, just in duty-free.
We’re getting calls from provincias. They call us from whatever city here, there, wherever. “We want your whiskey. Can you send us this? Can you send us that?” It’s gotten to the point where I’ve had to tell people, “Look, we have a minimum order now because we just don’t have time.” I have my truck, I have another chauffeur and another truck, and they’re just like doing this all day long. Carlos, who runs my plant, he needs to be there. He also does deliveries, but there’s so many now that I can’t have him running around all the time because I need him there to fill bottles, to fill boxes, to prepare them, then export. Right. So, so it’s, it’s been, it’s been super hectic. But again, I can’t complain.
Do you have any thought, I mean, this is all so like, quick now, like what are your thoughts looking forward to the future? How are you planning onexpanding? Are you gonna expand your distillery?
Well, good question. I thought at first, okay, this was gonna be awesome. We’ll sell some bottles in September and October, and then it’s gonna kind of die down a little bit. But it’s not the case. No, no, no. Definitely not. Now Peruvians are like, “Oh my God, there’s a Peruvian whiskey that won the world’s best whiskey and is in Forbes!” And here comes Christmas. The sales are just keep growing, keep growing, keep growing. So, to answer your question, we’ve already ordered some new equipment. I’ve sold some of my smaller pieces of equipment just because they don’t have the capacity to do what I need done. Probably in maybe end of January, I will have some new equipment arriving. We’re also working on our production schedule already for 2023 to where my goal this year is to fill between 600 and 750 barrels.
So, that will translate to how many bottles?
Look, 750 barrels is, is 1.5, 750, what is it is 150,000 liters. Divided by 0.62 or something like that, because you have to dilute and then fill bottles that are 750 you end up with like 240,000 bottles at least in that many barrels. So that would, that would give us in a couple more years, great capacity to keep growing, to get into other countries. So that’s where we are right now. We have a certain amount of bottles available for this year and for next year because the whiskey has to age. Like I told you before, fortunately, we had Covid period where we filled a bunch of barrels. So I expect to sell, I could sell more if I have more, but I expect to sell, I don’t know, 40,000 bottles this year and probably 40,000 bottles next year. As this stuff starts getting ready to bottle, say three years down the road, hopefully we can sell 75,000 bottles, a hundred and something thousand bottles. Interestingly enough, I’ve been contacted already by some investment funds by people that are like, “Oh my God, I want to represent your brand. I’ll give you a million dollars!” And I’m like, “What do you want?” And they send me a horrible contract, which is everything for them. I was like, no. Oh, yeah, no, and no. Yeah. But the, the whole point is at least this stuff is coming now. I think we’re going to get recognition probably from the bigger companies, the bigger brands. The whole company has been paid for by us, you know, the owners. So equity, capital, like personal equity to capitalize the company is obviously expensive. So I would rather external funds, which I could give them a percent of the company, but the idea is to grow the company from where we are now to in four years, like a 25 million company. Wow. So, that’s the goal. We’re nowhere near that right now. And I can do it myself. I can do it myself based on what we’re doing right now. But it would take me probably six or seven years to hit that valuation. With investment, not very much. . just like that, because then I can buy more equipment, expand, and instead of filling, let’s say 50,000 bottles per year, all of a sudden I can fill, say, 500,000 bottles per year, and when I say fill, I mean fill barrels. But that gives us great potential a couple years down the road.
So how do you value a company a couple years down the road?
You have to look at sales, obviously, future capital sales. But in the case of a spirits company, where you age the spirits, it’s very important to be able to take a look at what you have in inventory in barrels. So being able to present to potential investor or, another investor in a couple years down the road and say, “Hey, I have 2 million bottles and barrels right now”. It’s very easy to say, okay, 2 million times, whatever you sell your bottle for, those are your potential future cash flow. So, that sort of stuff is opening new doors for us. As soon as we close out 2022, I’m going to write a new business plan. I wrote the first one, and we’ve pretty much accomplished everything in the first business plan with some delays because of Covid, obviously. But now I’m gonna write another business plan essentially saying, “This is what we’ve done, this is what I would like to do, these are my expectations, and this is what I’m looking for in terms of external funding.” So hopefully I’ll have that ready by February next year. And it’s gonna be awesome.
Do you ever see yourself building a distillery in the USA to make things easier to flow as you expand?
I’m gonna say absolutely not. You know why? Because the rules and regulations and taxes and everything that you pay in the states are amazingly high. Part of the dynamic is that we’re an Andean distillery. We’re in Peru, you know, et cetera, et cetera. So it doesn’t really fit with the narrative.
So you’ve done Andean gin, you’ve done Black Whiskey and Single-Barrel Whiskey, you’ve also done the Andean cream and whatnot. Do you see yourself creating something else right now?
You know, we actually, we have six different products. And I’m thinking about dividing them up into the Andean brands, which are Andean Cream, Andean Gin, and Andean Vodka. And then the Black Whiskey brands, because we have Black Whiskey and the Single Barrel. And in a couple weeks, we’re launching the Oxapampa Honey Black Whiskey with a bee on it. It’s super cool. So that may be an exclusive product just for the airport for duty-free. But it’s kind of cool because we’re a little bit more dynamic in terms of how we’re gonna present the brand. Right now we’re just blackwhiskey.com and all the products are there. The idea is to migrate to Don Michael or company Black Whiskey, with the brands Andean Liquors or Andean Distillers or something like that. I’ll tell you a little secret too. We sent a used whiskey barrel to Tarapoto. My friend is an Italian. He makes cigars. He exports tobacco all over the world. We filled a barrel with tobacco to let the tobacco ferment in a black whiskey barrel. And literally yesterday he sent me pictures of the first cigars with my label, Don Michael Andean Cigar company. So that’s exclusive. Nobody knows that. I’m telling you, that’s 100% exclusive.
How many restaurants in Lima carry Black Whiskey?
You know, I don’t even know because they call everybody, they call the different distributors and they’ve been getting it from various people and they call us, we send them over here, we send ’em over there. But as far as all the restaurants go, we’re in Maido. We’re in Central, we’re in Pascal and Rafael and Miguel, Osaka. It wasn’t because of some networking thing. They really tested it, they tried it, they looked for the best things they can find. And by their ownselves, they tried Black Whiskey and they started considering it in their menus. It’s amazing. My team is going to help me try and stay organized. My problem now is I’ve got so much stuff going on. I can only apply myself a few minutes here, a few minutes there, a few minutes there. My phone rings all day long, or I get messages all day long. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t even pick up the phone. Not anymore. It’s crazy. My wife wants to kill me.
She has a huge role in the company too, right?
Yeah. Absolutely. Thank God for her, because she’s the one who selects the barrels. Which is a very important part. I’m terrible at that. I’ll be honest with you. Say we take down a hundred barrels and she has to taste every single one of ’em. And she gives ’em a grade for color, aroma, odor and stuff like that and taste. And let’s just say out of the hundred barrels, maybe 45 of ’em are okay. There’s always one or two or three barrels that are like out of this world. Wow. Those are are the barrels that we separate to do the single barrel. We’re actually planning a campaign all about women power because lots of my staff are women and my wife is responsible for some of the most important parts of our products. There’s actually a lot of women power behind this, so that’s something nice to show.
So really, 2022 you would say was probably like the biggest year?
Oh yeah. By far. By far. Look, we, we, we grew 300% from 2019 to 2020. Then we grew 300 and something percent from 2020 to 2021. And we’re going to grow probably almost 200% this year. So again, that’s very attractive to potential investors. Yes. we’re kind of peaking right now because like I said, I have this amount of, of whiskey available for the next two years, but it doesn’t really matter. It is like we have market penetration, we have people wanting to buy all over the place. It’s almost like you’re lucky to get it if you can find it. Yeah. which again is not a bad problem to have in terms of recognition and, and sellability, you know. So that’s, that’s where we are.
How often do you drink your own whiskey?
Do, do I have to answer that? I think every day. You know, I usually come home every day and make like an old fashion out of my whiskey. But to answer your question, I would say five days out of the week. Wow. Yeah. It’s, it’s one of the the dangers of the job. So dangerous.
Where to buy Black Whiskey in Peru
Wong, Tottus, Duty-Free at the Jorge Chavez International Airport, and you can also try it at most restaurant in Lima.
All photos: Black Whiskey