Building the CT Spirits Trail

When Tom Dubay of Hartford Flavor Company in Hartford, Connecticut, sent an email to other Connecticut distillers asking if they were interested in putting together a distillery trail, he received a firm reply.

“Probably 80 percent of the folks just chimed back real quick and said, ‘Yeah, we’re in, we’re in,’ so it didn’t really take much to get the initial membership up,” said Dubay. “Everybody’s been really collaborative and really understanding of how if we all work together all the boats should rise.”

After about three months of planning, the CT Spirits Trail launched in November, and Dubay said some trail-goers already have four or more stamps on their trail maps. Right now 11 distilleries are listed on the map, but the number is expected to grow.

Like many sip trip trails, each distillery has maps they give to their customers, and those customers collect a stamp at each distillery they visit. Dubay said the hope is that people will opt for a $10 tour of the distillery, but if they’re in a rush a bottle sale will earn them a stamp, as well.

In 2017, Dubay and crew will focus on promoting the trail in-state, then expand to surrounding states in the future. They took maps to airport and convention center kiosks, and they may contract with a tourism publication delivery service to expand their reach. They’ve also been promoting the trail at events.

“Back East here there’s an event called the Big E, the Eastern States Exposition, and that was our first real public promotion of the trail,” Dubay said. “We had a beautiful display at the Connecticut House, which is part of that fair, and we had about 500,000 people come through over the course of like two weeks, so we really got a lot of eyeballs on our trail map.”

In addition to the distillers’ efforts to promote the trail, Dubay said local media outlets have given the trail a lot of exposure, and the state tourism board is promoting it on their website.

“The state is really seeing this as a similar potential to the wine trail, and to the Connecticut Beer Trail, so they’re getting behind it,” he explained.

Dubay said he looked to both the CT Wine and CT Beer trails for guidance when designing the CT Spirits Trail, and he also studied neighboring New York trails, citing them as excellent examples.

“New York has a pretty strong tourism and trail history, so it’s something I’ve kind of just noticed over the last couple decades, that you can really create tourism,” he said.

Even though the CT Spirits Trail is just two months old, Dubay said a local transportation company that provides chauffeured trips around the CT Beer Trail has offered to weave distilleries into its agenda, effectively cross-marketing the two industries. Since Connecticut is such a small state, tourists can take a full state tour of selected breweries and distilleries in a day.

“We’re kind of lucky in Connecticut since we’re so small,” Dubay said. “In like six months you can probably bang it out. In bigger states it might take nine months or 12 months to get around to them all, but ours will be pretty tight and quick.”

Trail-goers that complete their CT Spirits Trail maps will be entered in a twice-a-year drawing, and the prizes are generous. First place gets a basket of every SKU produced by the participating distilleries, and second gets one bottle from each.

In addition to generating tourism, the trail also serves to strengthen the CT Spirits Guild. Dubay said a small part of the Guild fee will go towards maintaining and promoting the trail.

“We’re kind of in the mode of crawl, walk, run in terms of that marketing budget,” he explained. “We’re all trying to build our own brands individually, but then make sure we’ve got a little left over at least to get the trail going.”

For more information, check out the CT Spirits Trail website, ctspiritstrail.com, and their Facebook page. More of Dubay’s story, including advice to distillers wishing to build their own trail, will run in the Spring issue of Artisan Spirit.

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