Four-year-old Belle Isle Moonshine sees rapid growth
The makers of Belle Isle Moonshine are “just boatloads of fun and energy,” says Amy Ciarametaro, executive director of the Virginia Distillers Association.
They’re also producing boatloads of premium moonshine.
Since its beginning in 2014, Belle Isle has grown to become the fifth-largest craft distillery in Virginia by volume. It also ranks 164th among the craft distilleries in the U.S., according to IWSR, a provider of data for the alcohol industry.
The Richmond-based company is on pace to sell about 12,500 cases of moonshine this year. Sales were up more than 150 percent during the first half of 2018 when compared with the same time period last year, says Belle Isle co-founder and CEO Vince Riggi. Its biggest seller is Honey Habanero, moonshine infused with Virginia honey and organic Virginia peppers.
Belle Isle also produces moonshine infused with grapefruit and moonshine infused with cold brew coffee along with two proofs of straight moonshine. Blood orange moonshine will be out soon.
Belle Isle’s founders have learned a lot in the five years since Riggi and Brian Marks sat drinking Tito’s vodka and soda while talking about an event they’d just left at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond.
“The atmosphere at Hardywood was just electric,” Riggi says. He and Marks wanted the same kind of atmosphere at a distillery.
“We don’t come from the distilling industry,” Riggi says. “We don’t have any distilling background. We don’t have any prior knowledge of the space.”
Riggi considers that to be an asset. No prior knowledge means no preconceived notions of how a distillery is supposed to produce and market its product. Belle Isle, Riggi says, is “looking to do things as they should be done, not as they have always been done.”
After its initial run of liquor sold out, Belle Isle got big eyes. The company started spreading distribution as far away as China.
“That sounds cool,” Riggi says, but it wasn’t practical. “Where maybe a couple of years ago, we wanted to be in 50 states and international, we’ve really honed in our focus and stopped chasing the shiny objects … We don’t want to just scratch the surface in a market.
We really want to become the local brand in every market we’re in.”
Belle Isle now distributes its products in 12 states. Virginia is still its top state, but sales in other states have grown rapidly. Even as Virginia’s sales doubled, its percentage of total sales has fallen.
“We feel like we’re really barely scratching the surface. We’re just starting to find our stride,” Riggi says. “It’s that age-old adage: Surround yourself with people smarter than you and hire well. And we’ve certainly been fortunate enough to have done that in spades.”