Claire Marin wears a lot of hats as Founder and Head Distiller and Beekeeper at Catskill Provision Distillery and Pollinator Spirits. One of them even includes a beekeeper’s veil! Her path from publishing to distilling started in 2009 and she’s gone from selling bottles one at a time to a thriving local and regional presence that’s all about the bees and sustainability.
BW: When and how did you discover you wanted to work in the bourbon/whiskey/spirits industry?
CM: I was intrigued by the craft distilling movement as soon as NY started making waves. At the time around 2009, it was only Tuthiltown Spirits that was making whiskey in NY State. As soon as I tasted it I began thinking of my NY Honey Whiskey! I was beekeeping very regularly and passionately, and considering a major career change. I had been in publishing for 15 years and was disenchanted with it in 2009. So, the wheels were turning, and I was seriously considering the move to start Catskill Provisions. I ended up experimenting in my kitchen with rye, bourbon, maple, and honey! it was a fun time. I resigned from my position as VP Publisher of Woman’s Day Brand Group, the 7th largest magazine in America, in April 2010 and incorporated Catskill Provisions in September 2010!
BW: How did you end up working in the industry?
CM: Once I had the company in place, and honey products being sold to restaurants and bars, I was ready to work on my NY Honey idea! I began to study, read, and immerse myself in the distillation history and process. I found it fascinating! I started exploring the legality and requirements of starting a distillery. I had completed all the paperwork, and it was a lot of paperwork! Around that time there was the possibility of fracking coming to our area in upstate NY as our property sat on what was said to be one of the biggest finds of natural gas in the country. All of our neighbors had leased their lands to the gas companies, and I got very cold feet not knowing what effect it would have on our water and air quality. In PA there had been horror stories about the negative effects of drilling for gas near homes. I sadly had to shelve the project! But I didn’t give up! By 2013 I had a profile perfected, and I approached a distillery that did contract work to make my whiskey. And that is how I started in this industry, with NY Honey Whiskey as the sole spirit I made under Catskill Provisions which launched in November 2013. I sold it one bottle at a time in the community to stores and restaurants while I built up enough volume to work with a distributor in NY.
BW: How did your background in marketing and promotion prepare you for your position in the industry today?
CM: As mentioned before I was in media so I think it was very helpful to have a good idea about marketing and promotion. My background helped me from designing the label to who to approach, and how to sell something too.
BW: What was something surprising you learned in your early days in the distilling world?
CM: So for me it was more of a putting my toe in the waters of the distilling world. I learned a lot about how it worked before having the overhead of my own distillery. I think that was a really good way to go, now that I look back. At the time I felt disappointed with having to work with other’s distilleries. It wasn’t easy to produce a spirit at someone else’s distillery. There were constant production issues, packaging problems, inconsistencies, and other surprises! especially being a woman in a very male-dominated industry. back then there were nearly no women in this industry! In NY there were two female distillers!
BW: What does your day-to-day life in the distillery/organization look like?
CM: As Head Distiller, I’m at the distillery at least 3 days per week. I have a team of two additional people that assist me in production, bottling, etc. I handle all procurement of bottles, closures, grain, and botanicals. I love time at the distillery the most! The rest of the week I sell, visit accounts, run the company, and spend time at our tasting room, a restaurant that has become quite the place people enjoy!
BW: What similarities and differences are there between your former career/position and this one?
CM: Well, I’ve done a 180! I feel like I’m more in charge of my life, but I also have a ton more responsibilities and worries. As an owner, it all falls on you, so you learn to be flexible, resilient, and resourceful. You truly wear all hats, not many hats, but ALL hats!
BW: After working in the whiskey/spirits industry for all this time, what are some of the changes you’ve seen?
CM: I’ve seen many for sure. from the consumer standpoint, they have become passionate experts in what craft distilling is and how spirits are made, and what’s available. I remember having to add “Some sediment in this bottle is natural as we don’t chill filter to leave all the best flavors in our whiskey,” now that’s not necessary for us as consumers know that sediment is part of what carries the best flavor, it’s mostly esters which are responsible for the pleasant and attractive fruit aromas that are the stars of the whiskey world! Most consumers are aware of this now. Our industry has become much more inclusive and communicative I find. At shows or events, there’s a lot more exchange of ideas than when I first started. There’s been more innovation and fresh ideas which are making for more exciting spirits.
BW: What’s the future role or vision you’d like to see the industry move towards? What are the biggest roadblocks and how can we overcome them to get there?
CM: I think finding and hiring talent is the hardest thing, besides the deep pockets you have to have to stay committed. I’ve been looking for a distiller for years. I’m in a remote area and attracting talent is difficult. I’d love to have a pool of candidates interested in internships or being an apprentice … but I’d be super interested in having an experienced distiller join my team.
BW: What’s one thing you wish people understood better about your role or the initiatives you’re working on?
CM: Well it’s being identified as the Founder/Head Distiller that I find is always a challenge. Most people outside of the industry think it’s one or the other. But it’s gotten a bit better. As far as my methodology, it’s always been my goal to produce spirits that are sippable happening how transparent we truly are about our spirits. We are sustainably minded
BW: What’s something in your role and/or company that inspires you or gets you going in the morning?
CM: The creativity side of things is my favorite thing…new markets, new flavors, improvements we make. Crafting a marketing idea or event is so much fun. . . I wish I had more time to do it!
BW: What advice do you have for women who want to step into a similar role or carve a similar path?
CM: Know that the road is not going to be an easy one. If you can align yourself with more women I think especially now that there is a lot more support for us, that will ease the path. Let’s create more women in distilling groups and connect with each other more often! Make sure you have at least one to two years of funding in the bank for all you may need.
BW: Opening your own distillery, how was that?
CM: The freedom I felt after working at other people’s distilleries was amazing! Get yourself experts to consult with. It’ll minimize mistakes and headaches. We are about to start shipping to 39 states in the US so we are very excited about that! Starting May 1st!!!
BW: Tell me about your perfect whiskey weekend in your state/city:
CM: Take an afternoon and visit The Flatiron Room where they have over 1000 whiskeys from all over the world! The bartenders are super knowledgeable and will take you on an adventure you won’t believe! Make a reservation at one of their classes too…super fun!
Where to find her online:
- Instagram @catskillprovisionsny @pollinatorspirits
- Facebook: @catskillprovisionsny @pollinatorspirits