I’ve been waiting for an article like this for some time – a rallying call to financial institutions to take notice of the craft alcohol sector. 

This spot by Eric Gneckow from the North Bay Business Journal – “Access to financing easing for wine industry, lenders say,”  isn’t just a decent piece of reporting on an uptick in the winery financing business.  It’s a tell-tale sign of a niche business for traditional lenders that institutions looking for new markets should pay attention to.

The article identifies two sources for commercial lending – traditional lending (think banks) and specialty non-bank lending (think venture capital and private equity) – that wineries have access to which don’t often pay attention to craft beer and craft liquor.

And this financing isn’t for large production wineries.  This is directly cited as financing for “the fine wine sector” … “among small to medium sized family wineries”.  The article highlights two banks with wine dedicated business.  Silicon Valley Bank has a Wine Division that produces an annual “State of the Wine Industry Report”, and Wells Fargo has a team dedicated to the Wine, Food & Beverage industries – creatively called the Wine, Food & Beverage Group.

Where are the banking groups dedicated to understanding craft beer and craft spirits?

The recent production and sales statistics from the Brewers Association (the organizational entity for craft beer) show that while the overall U.S. beer market was down 1% in 2011, the craft beer sector was up 13% in volume and 15% in retail dollars.  This market isn’t just an extension of the beer industry, it’s a cult populated by millions of enthusiasts.  A case in point – how many industries have fans that create amazing graphic design promoting factoids and sales figures about their products?

Anyone struggling with a craft alcohol startup understands that there are currently limited sources for financing the start of production and sometimes even production expansion.  Banks and private equity have been unwilling to make the leap, either on account of a lack of decent market analysis, or lack of some creative thinking on security agreements in distilling and brewing equipment.  Quite frankly, craft distilling and brewing has come a long way from the backwoods and farmhouse days shown in the picture above and the financial sector should realize that.

With strong sales and a booming market, banks and other lenders should pay attention to the other craft alcohol sectors in this country.  Those looking for new market sectors can only benefit, especially in areas like Chicago with 15 new breweries scheduled or in the scheduling phases and 3 recent craft liquor distilleries starting up. 

Any lender willing to investigate these sectors and take a calculated risk on loans for these businesses would have a niche lending practice with the possibility for substantial future return – years ahead of its competitors.