Mastering Craft with Horse Soldier Bourbon

WSWA's Access Craft Director Michael Bilello sits down with Horse Soldier Bourbon Co-Founder Scott Neil to discuss the state of craft brands and how Horse Soldier Bourbon is Mastering Craft. They say, “once a soldier, always a soldier." With military strategy and quickness of action running deep in the Horse Soldier ethos, Neil and his team applied tactical thinking to the way they launched their craft bourbon operation because failure was never an option.


Scott Neil

Scott Neil

American Freedom Distillery

Michael Bilello

Michael Bilello

WSWA Access Craft Director 

WSWA EVP Strategic Communications & Marketing



Please send all media inquiries or follow-up questions to Michael Bilello at



On-Premise Exploration is Critical: 20% percent of total sales are on-premise and 75% of customers learn about new products through recommendations from bartenders and menu placements. It is critical that brands understand their own capabilities (price point and prestige) and work with the right on-premise accounts to get a product in the right consumer's cup.


Distributors are Partners - Work with them:  Always let your distributor and local partners know when you are going to be in a market. What marketing promotion are you planning on running? What's your budget for samples and tastings? Any guerrilla mission requires force multipliers to be successful, so let your contacts know what you have to offer in the way of videos, literature, challenge coins or other offerings.


Take Advantage of Ride-Alongs: Scott's team views ride-alongs with their distributor partners as "joint operations" that help introduce a product to a new area. And just like any operation, they go in with a plan:

  • Always Be Ready: Be prepared with everything you may need to make a presentation to a possible account - tasting samples, glassware, POS materials, etc.
  • Do Your Research: Distributors are managing large books and don't have time to teach new brands about the industry from the ground up. Learn what you can including the "lingo." Be ready to answer questions about velocity, marketing budgets, and more.
  • Time is of the Essence: Know how much time you have and be sure to leave time for questions at the end of every interaction.
  • Start with a Tasting: At the end of the day, it's about he juice. Start with a tasting, then talk busines. Explain the product quality and price point.


Know the Lingo: At the end of Neil’s military career, he was a senior advisor to the director of the U.S. interagency task force for counterterrorism. One of the things he learned in the role is that each agency he worked with had its own language, its unique glossary. In breaking into the beverage alcohol industry, he and his team found themselves hearing things from distributors that they simply didn’t understand. “So, I had to ask each and every distributor, can I get a glossary of your inside terms?” Now, when they communicate with different distributors, they have to adapt their conversations to the unique jargon of each company they work with. 


After-Action Report: According to Neil, one of the most important elements of breaking into a new market is what happens when you leave the area - the initial visit is just the start. “So, we have a whole tail end of every visit,” he says, “and that’s probably our biggest key — the business discipline.” It begins with thank-you cards, and then follow-up reports and stats that tell distributors what was effective. Part of being a “100-year brand,” is to learn from your partners and other companies. Continuing touchpoints can help keep the relationship fresh with the distributor partner.




Get the scoop from successful craft brand owners and operators on best practices and tips that are leading to impressive growth both on- and off-premise. Proven craft brand distributors give insight on getting into the most competitive marketplace in the world, as well as what it takes to run a business in the current climate.



Access Craft Distribution Playbook Vol. 03