Julie Macklowe: Founder & CEO of The Macklowe

Episode 521

Julie Macklowe, Founder and CEO of The Macklowe, the first luxury American Single Malt whiskey, discusses her journey in creating and building this luxury spirits brand. From a successful career in finance to creating an incredible luxury skincare company and now venturing into spirits business, Julie explains the process of creating The Macklowe whiskey, the challenges of distribution and the importance of finding the right partners. Julie’s journey is a testament to the resilience, creativity and determination of a great entrepreneur that can make big ideas happen. With a commitment to excellence, Julie and The Macklowe aim to transform what whiskey is all about. I can’t wait for you to listen to this episode. Now on this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I’m super thrilled to have my next guest here. We have serial entrepreneur Julie Macklowe who was the founder and CEO of the Macklowe, which is the first luxury American single malt whiskey, which is made here in the US as well. She’s a serial entrepreneur, as I mentioned, a dynamic one who has transcended boundaries in the business world, moving from wealth finance, first and a beauty and now into the spirits, luxury spirits business. Her journey is a testament to the resilience and creativity and determination that one needs to make big ideas happen. So I’m very excited to have Julie here. So welcome, Julie.

Julie Macklowe 1:31
Thank you. Thanks, Kara. Excited to join today and talk about our Macklowe whisky and right on. Appreciate you having me on the show. Yes, super,

Kara Goldin 1:38
super excited. So you are clearly a creator. And when did you when did this creative side and you really start? Was there a time when you said I’m just gonna go create these things? You’ve obviously transcended lots of different industries. But when did you decide? I’m just gonna go and do this if no one else is doing it? Julie is signing up to go and create and scale. So

Julie Macklowe 2:06
so funny enough, I come really from a traditional finance background, I would say absolutely no creativity was actually in my education or my schooling, not one marking maybe one required marketing class but in the zero. So you know why I came out of college as working in Goldman Sachs and then did m&a. Then I went to private equity with Chase capital and JP Morgan partners, and it was really was working in finance 24/7 I discovered whiskey and my love for it because I would work all the time. And basically, I would find I spend my dinner allowance on what whiskey or champagne and one bottle led to the next headquartered in my little apartment. But the creative part of my life where I started really was with my skincare and cosmetics company. After my finance career was over, I’d say I spent maybe 15 years investing in retail and consumer companies because that was my specialties. So it was got to meet the guy who started Crocs or Oh rugs or you know, the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch I was always very fascinated by like companies and this idea of design and I was super into the fashion world I was about it girl in 2008 I think so you know I always really liked fashion and design and the idea of things but I actually didn’t start to make things until I decided to start a skincare company which was VB chain 2010 after almost a decade I happened finance so it was an evolution and then after doing VBA for about seven years and doing home shopping network night and day, they were then acquired by QVC I didn’t really like it they took with the snacks and the toilet paper. I’m like well I really liked his whiskey in golf you know I’m still allows a golfer but scratch drinker I’m like well I know how to do marketing and packaging. And so I’m like you know I’m gonna follow my dream and why really love is Scotch because I have like 2000 balls and whiskey ranging from you know 1939 Present day I realized I had Irish Canadian Japanese Taiwanese tons of sculptures but I nothing that was made in America, that would be my collection. I thought oh, I’m going to go create that so because of my cosmetics background I by then learned how to talk packaging and do the marketing and do the labels and the trademarks and all those little details that go into a company that frankly I had to learn for the first time I did my beauty business. So

Kara Goldin 4:41
you just mentioned V beauty j which was the beauty brand that you created the luxury organic skincare amazing, amazing product. What’s one thing that you now know that maybe you didn’t know when you started that company?

Julie Macklowe 4:58
That is a great question. So, one of my hardest learning lessons with BBj was lack of distribution partner. And we spent, you know, I’d say two to three years, scouring all of these, you know, boutiques and we were 200 boutiques spread super across the US, your Strong’s. You know, Fred Segal, Bergdorf Goodman, in one day somebody came to me is like, why aren’t you just on home shopping network, like you should be at home shopping network. And the reality is in home shopping network in 10 minutes, I could sell 10,000 units, which way exceeded probably the prior two years of sales to that point, right. So when I got into the liquor business, I realized that having a key distribution partner was super critical. So we started with Empire, New York City. For our first year, we really only had our super high end acquired casts. But once we launched our flagship product, which is our $250, bottle, and more of our $40 Mac live shot, we realized we needed to have one distribution partner. So we started with Southern glazers, after working with them for about a year, we decided we needed a national deal. And we ended up you know, through discussions with them, and rndc, their competitor, ultimately choosing rndc, where we just recently signed a national deal to roll out nationally with them. So I think that was the biggest learning curve for me is, you know, that you your core customer, isn’t Yes, in key markets. And for us, that’s New York, Aspen, LA, Texas, Miami excetera. But they’re still great customers in all these other markets. And to really be able to get to them, you need a solid distribution partner on the National Ability who can help you scale the brand. And I think that was like, when I look at what I would have done differently with my beauty company, it was not having a Sephora and Ulta against an Hsn. So I’m on TV selling lots of marketing, loss awareness. But then there was no place to walk into like one solid retailer and just have a partner, we could buy it. I’d say that was our biggest challenge.

Kara Goldin 7:15
Well, and the spirits business is even more key that your average distribution partner, right? I mean, if for those who aren’t, that are wise, right? Exactly. So to

Julie Macklowe 7:26
your point, so spirits business is three tear channel, I can’t sell to Cara, I’ve got to sell to my distributor, who then sells to you, which makes it legally necessary to have a distribution partner. You can self distribute in a handful of states, I don’t personally recommend doing that. But obviously, having a distributor is very key. And then the second part of that, just getting back to the beauty business and parallels is you need a sales force. So in the beauty business, you know, we had a lot of freelancers, myself, law, people work for me, were always at counter selling. Alcohol is not much different. Even with a distribution partner, you still need ambassadors and people in the restaurants selling in the bottle selling through the bottles doing staff trainings, says, in a weird way super similar to skincare, as it’s just more fun, right?

Kara Goldin 8:24
Yeah, exactly. So how would you describe the macklow to somebody, actually, two different people. The first person is somebody who is a whiskey drinker and is very, you know, interested knows that they’re probably going to love it. But then the other person that maybe has never tried it, I know you’ve talked a lot about how you’re bringing more women into, into enjoying the spirit as well. But how would you respond about you know, your brand overall to maybe one or both of them, maybe it’s a different conversation, like

Julie Macklowe 9:06
our goal is to be like the aromas of whiskey and the top of the diamond. So you know, my goal is to create the first luxury American made product. For the novice, I’d say our goal is to have you experience whiskey and enjoy it and be able to drink it without thinking too much of it. The reason I designed packaging that looks like this is I want something fashioned after my favorite thing, which was a flask because I never liked to be without my own alcohol. And I liked the idea of like Tom Ford meets whiskey when I designed it. And I wanted frankly a design that appealed to both men and women in my looked at all the bottles out there until like dead white guys had really made every single one. So I wanted something that was more modern, right. Obviously, if you’re an expert, like a lot of people are I’d say it’s a hybrid between a bourbon meets a Scotch when Make it just like they make bourbon distillation column and then into a pot. But because it’s 100% malted barley water nice and there’s nothing else in this made and Cooper slept 18 month air dried barrels, it really has a nose of a bourbon. So if your bourbon drinker you’re gonna be like, Oh, this smells like a bourbon is sweet barley sugars toffee vanillas but when you taste it because it’s 100% malted barley and not corn bourbons, 51% Corn is a very spicy palate to it. More ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and then over smacks you like a scotch on the finish. So what we found is people like Scotch love it and people like bourbon love it, because it’s a true hybrid. And one of our master blenders main goals Ian mcnown, who started this project with me, we did Glenn Gein, Bunnahabhain, bladnoch, diensten, 50 years in the business was to create a category that was uniquely American. And by that we didn’t want Scotch or bourbon, there’s enough or both, we want something different. Hence American single malt. And it’s a brand new category. It’s not even yet approved by the TTB. So we’re still in, you know, brand new white space, which people don’t even really appreciate how new this category is.

Kara Goldin 11:16
Yeah. So I didn’t realize that. So you’re creating this entirely new category. That was something that I founded a company called hint water. And years ago, we were out there trying to trying to get people to really understand the product, including distributors. They’re like, where do you fit? Are you like vitamin water? And I’m like, No, there’s no sugar, there’s no sweeteners. And what we realized pretty quickly was that we were not only developing a beverage, but also developing a new category, which is extremely hard.

Julie Macklowe 11:51
Correct. So when I was when I went to the Magglio COEs who run empire, like five years ago, I was like, Hey, I have this crazy idea. I won’t create American single malt, they’re like, We think you’ve fully lost your mind. But, you know, do it. And if the product is cool, we’ll sell it for you. And so, you know, five years later, I was just with John Magglio, who’s Senior runs, he’s like, you know, this is gonna be a real category, Jim beans getting into it, and Jack Daniels and the big guys. So I think the fact that you’re starting to see the major players enter it stuff, definitely solidifying the fact that American single malt is going to be a category, we’re part of the American single malt craft Association, which has been lobbying to make it official category, but they have not changed the TTB law since like 8090. And this will be the first change to those prohibition laws. So it takes time, and they’ve already done one review, my guess is there’ll be a final review before it actually goes and gets to be approved law. That being said, it hasn’t really stopped people from buying our product. And I think people buy our product because Macklowe name is known, as you know, because of the real estate in the art family that I’m married into. It’s a fairly well known name. And I think they’re curious to try the Macklowe whiskey. And hopefully, will we do that, then we’re able to educate them on the American single malt category, which is still, I’d say, a little fledgling of the category. Yeah, definitely.

Kara Goldin 13:26
Well, what you’re touching on too is competition is not such a bad thing. It’s, you know, it’s it helps to grow a category and really highlight what you’re starting and what you’re leading and all of those things. So that’s, that’s really terrific. So when you decided that you were going to start the macklow and you had to find a master distiller to bring it to life? How hard was that process?

Julie Macklowe 13:52
So this is great story. So I was hanging eyeless, Scotland like everyone should. And I was, you know, we’re hanging out with Dr. Bill Lumsden. And Brendan McCarran it was actually Brendan, who I said, Hey, I have this crazy idea. I want to like the Ferrari of American single malt, obviously, I was not a blender, although rapidly becoming one. I was like, can you connect me and he connected me to Ian McMillan? 50 years in the business. As I mentioned, he had never worked on American project. He loved the idea of this. So luckily for me, he said yes, and that’s how we started. And then we really followed a trail of like, speaking to all these distilleries finding the best partner down in Danville, Kentucky, who ended up creating our product. I will say all things come full circle in that here we are, you know, five years later in MacMillan’s actually retiring and the next batch that we just bottled this week, has actually been done by Brendan McCarran, who is that Ardbeg Glenburn gene to stolons near world acclaim. So it’s really for me been very fortunate that gone to really work with some of the most knowledgeable people in this industry who have helped us build this business. And they’ve been interested in it because it is a new cool modern whiskey. They love that. It’s, you know, female owned Kentucky made. And I’ve had great guidance counselor’s. I don’t think I could do any of this without all the people around me have helped us.

Kara Goldin 15:24
Yeah, definitely. I love that you built up a business inside of an industry. And then you decided to kind of go lateral, start at the bottom again, and start learning and you’re going to you’re, you’re a true entrepreneur, when I see other entrepreneurs do that, especially switching industries where, you know, you want to go back and learn what was the most fascinating learning that you learned about this industry that you didn’t know when you walked in?

Julie Macklowe 15:57
So I walked in, I don’t think I had a full appreciation for how highly regulated it is. So even I’ve now personally have a liquor license, I have a tasting license, I have a you know, registered marketing permit. Every single state in the USA is like its own country, on the laws and what’s permitted and what’s not permitted. I also though, really didn’t appreciate that to him was what I was doing before. I already went to restaurants are a new all the bartenders are new, the general managers, I was already asking them about all their whiskies. So in a weird way, this this fits very seamlessly into my life, because I always love to drink whiskey and drink alcohol. When I looked at my skincare company, although I do have great skin, because people tell me, I never really knew why I had a skincare company to be quite honest, like, because I got very scared. But it was never like, why did she ever speak your copy? I think even though I was passionate about it, I loved and enjoyed it. I never really knew why I started skincare. Whereas when I look at Whiskey, I have so many options. I love drinking whiskey, I love tasting whiskey, like, Oh, that’s a natural fit. So I must think like the skincare company was in a weird way my internship to allow me to do what we’re doing now. And so much of it is similar in terms of the sourcing the packaging, the differences. I didn’t know how to blend alcohol, I didn’t know how to source alcohol, I had to create alcohol that didn’t exist. It wasn’t like, I think at first I thought, Oh, I’m just gonna go buy barrels from MGP and slap my label on it. Well guess what American single malt didn’t exist. Even today, if I tried to buy it on the market, it’s almost impossible. So when you create a new category, you’re also learning how to make the product, where to distill it, how you get the highest quality, which was super important to us, we want to have locally sourced grain. We want to have all these requirements. So it took a real iteration, you know, originally I’m like, Oh, do I make in New York, and then you realize, oh, well, all the knowledge is in Kentucky. And that’s where they make the casks and that’s where, you know, they make bourbon for a reason. And that’s where the water is so pure. So eventually, through that journey, we ended up making it in Kentucky, that’s where then you had to make a custom ease, then it was definitely, I’d say, almost a year and a half of back work before we even lay down our liquid in 2019. And I don’t think people appreciate them as they age over four years. So we just gone this on market. 20. You know, 2023 I started conceptualizing this in 2018. Right? So takes a long patience. For sure. Patience, and patience is not my virtue.

Kara Goldin 18:57
That’s awesome. I remember going to Louisville and staying in a hotel there. And I said, so what can I do here? And they said, You should go on the whiskey trail. And I got on a bus and I went around on the whiskey trail. And it was so much fun. And I’ve told so many people about that. Yeah, it was it was great. People are like the whiskey trail. And I said no, it was it was a blast to see

Julie Macklowe 19:22
it. Definitely fun, fun little journey. Fun little journey

Kara Goldin 19:26
for sure. So what do you think is bringing so many women into consuming whiskey? I read. I thought it was really fascinating that that’s really changed. Whiskey used to be a drink for men. And now more and more women are coming in and given that you’re sort of leading the category right now that you’re creating. You’re in some ways responsible for bringing in a good way bringing in more women into enjoy this how do you build like a law Oil community around it and build brand around that, that that works. Do you? Yeah, yeah. So

Julie Macklowe 20:08
I think one, I always drink whiskey was in finances a way to fit in with the boys club. And I think drinking whiskey is a power drink. I think naturally more women these days want to be in the power place. And we want to be in power positions just like men. And our goal is to include the women in the conversation. Part of that was done in the package design, which is also based on a ring that I have from Mr. Lee, in addition to the idea of the flask, and part of it is actually just simplifying the conversation. Because I think sometimes people get very intimidated by whisking Oh God, no, every single tasting note is like, Well, no, you don’t really need to know every tasting note. You can drink it and like it and you can put in a gold fashioned or Macklowe Manhattan in the idea of whiskey is to enjoy and create memories and connect with people. And I think women are becoming less intimidated because they realize you know what? Whiskey is a great drink. I always say it’s the best drink ever keeps you thin. Look at me. It’s a diuretic, naturally. And there’s nothing in it. It’s just, you know, wood, water, yeast and malted barley. So super pure, because you distill it twice. It’s by nature gluten free. And, you know, I think the taste profile of whiskey there, it’s every barrels different. It’s such an unusual drink, right? I’ve kept the barrel my exact same distillate, up high and down low. And they taste totally different because of where they’re in the warehouse, versus like a gin or vodka, where there is no exploration, I think, you know, women are very curious. And once they realize you can try different things. And each one has a different taste profile. And the rails women have better noses. That’s just the fact. So I think all those things are appealing to a female drinker, as they start to drink it. It just needs to be I think, a little bit more simplified, so that it, you know, appealed as a drink that also was like for women, not just men. And that was our goal. And my goal wasn’t just to cater to women, just to be clear, is to cater to women and men and to have a drink that’s inclusive of everyone. And I think when you look at a lot of the brands, what they’ve done, by mistake, in my opinion, is they’re just saying, Oh, I’m just going for women. And they do it in a very like, gimmicky way that’s not authentic. And I view myself as like just a drinker, I just like drink whiskey, and I just want to drink a whiskey that appeals to me. But you know, my husband drinks my whiskey too, and appeals to him. And I think this idea of that you have a great product that includes everyone was what we were going for.

Kara Goldin 22:59
There’s this this trend of speakeasies all over the place. In fact, you and I were just talking about Arizona that we both spent some time there growing up. And that’s become the big thing in Phoenix, and Scottsdale, all these little speakeasies and the macklow, I think is the perfect drink that I would see. And in some of those, who is this customer or outside of the fact that they’re very particular, you talked about, you know, err may have the single malt in the whiskey business, the spirits business overall. But do you think that consumer is getting younger? I mean, do you feel like there’s more of the, you know, millennials that are coming in?

Julie Macklowe 23:46
So I think our core customers probably 30 to 60. Because of our price point is skews a little bit older, right? I do you think millennials are drinking more whiskey, I think specifically our brand, since the shots of our gold bottle are 40 to 55, up to $60. And our single Cask is for $100. For one shot 200 for two shots, the balls $1,500 inherently that’s going to price out, you know, most customers are 30 below. I think we’re appealing more to a working professional, a connoisseur, a collector, somebody who has somewhat of an education on whiskey, or somebody who wants to try it, because the bartenders recommended Hey, you know, I’m seeing you’re drinking Macklin, a Manhattan making Macklowe Manhattan. I also do think there’s a trend because people are all on those epic these days, that people are drinking less, and they will drink better. And so instead of drinking three drinks, you’re like, Hey, I’m gonna drink one drink. So they’re not afraid to buy 45 or $50 shot of whiskey, because that’s what they’re drinking for the night and I think We have benefited from that because the reality is no one was doing rounds and rounds and Macklowe shots. That’s not what it was intended for. It was intended to be, you know, sipping, drink, and drink to enjoy. Which I think a good whiskey is how you most people drink it neat, or putting a cube or a couple drops of water to open it, you know, not throwing back at like a to kill our gym. So I think what we’ve benefited from is that true better trend. I think people are like, You know what, I’m gonna probably one or two drinks tonight, I’m happy to get something better. And I think that’s a trade up we’ve seen and you know, even on I’m just had on this email or gold bottle, this is only 10 casts together. Like our addition, we just did only 2500 bottles, right? Well, two super small batch still and super limited. Think about each state gets couple 100 bottles, right? And they go mostly to restaurants. So really the macklowe.com Our website is one of the few places outside a couple of the best retailers that you’re gonna find.

Kara Goldin 26:07
Do you feel like there’s a certain part of the country I know you talked about you’re in, you know, all the major cities with your distribution. And that’s expanding. But do you see that there’s a certain part of the country where single malt really seems to be growing the quickest.

Julie Macklowe 26:23
So I think there’s places that are only single malt drinkers. And I think there’s places that are more seasonal drinkers. For instance, a place like Arizona, where it’s super hot, but it’s Arizona, I think they switch more to tequila in summer, a place like Vegas, where people are always inside gambling. I think they always drink whiskey still, Texas, they always drink whiskey. Still, Miami, it shifts in summer to more of a tequila Rosae market just like the Hamptons does your same warm winter. So I think what I found is certain places are more seasonal, in certain places are just like they drink whiskey all the time. They’re sort of like me, I’ll have a whiskey in 110 degrees, it doesn’t really matter. There’s no other option for me. But I think culturally I found different states have different ways they drink it, like some places drink it more in the cold seasons. And then they’ll switch to a rosin tequila in the warmer seasons. But I think that is changing. As it becomes a more popular drink. People are realizing, oh, I can have it year round. I can do a whiskey sour, I can do you know, a Bobo da or a different drink? Right. So I think that’s changing. It’s but I would say it’s based on where you are. So

Kara Goldin 27:46
look in your head, what are you most excited about for the Macklowe brand? This is your last question. So I’d love to hear when you wake up in the morning. And you’re you’re thinking about this brand that you’ve started and built and you’ve been very patient. And you’ve made just a lot of really, really terrific moves to build this, but what are you most excited about?

Julie Macklowe 28:10
So we’re about to launch, you’re the first to see it our little mini Mac close or 200 MLS, which actually look like the little flasks are awesome, which I’m super excited about those will come into our market. And then down the road later this year, we’re gonna have a platinum bottle, which will be our raw that’s finished or normal casks. And then we’ll have next year bourbon. So when I looked down, it’s always about new again, new creation iterations from our existing skews, but not too far away. I’d also say just getting into more consumers hands, we haven’t been in a lot of retail accounts just because we always want to keep our great on premise counts, whether it’s John George or Maria or Danielle, always in stock. So major food groups etc. So the idea that as we gradually are able to increase our production to have more product into the off premise, so that you can buy it at retail is also very exciting to us in that something you know that we’re targeting for the end of this year.

Kara Goldin 29:15
So Julie Macklowe founder and CEO of the macklow Thank you so much for coming on and for sharing everything about this incredible brand we’re very excited for not only the existing but also for all of the new things that you’re doing to and and so much to learn from you definitely you’ve you’ve you should be very proud of both companies that you’ve built and it’s it’s really awesome.

Julie Macklowe 29:45
Thank you. Well, I’m so appreciative you coming, having me on? I would love to have you go visit our website, the macklow.com Check it out. All of our new products were bad tiles so long took 12 Your product next week. So for anyone who wants to go on there and register, you’ll get that. Well, we put it out. I think there’s only 200 bottles. So thanks again for having me. Awesome. And we’re really appreciative of this time.

Kara Goldin 30:14
Awesome. We’ll have all the info in the show notes too. But thank you again and thanks, everyone for listening. Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. I would love to hear from you too, so feel free to DM me. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my Wall Street Journal, best selling book undaunted, where I share more about my journey including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks for listening and good bye for now.