March 6, 2011

The Bottom Line: White Rock reaches a pinnacle

Distillery whips the competition with its cream-flavored vodka

By J. Hemmerdinger jhemmerdinger@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Anita Desrosiers loads bottles of Fire Water, a cinnamon-flavored schnapps, at White Rock Distilleries in Lewiston.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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White Rock bottles and ships 16,000 cases of four varieties of Pinnacle Whipped vodka each week.

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WHITE ROCK DISTILLERIES

HEADQUARTERS: Lewiston

HISTORY: White Rock, which has operated in Lewiston since 1937, was purchased by Ray Coulombe in 1971. The company once distilled Poland Spring vodka, but now is solely in the bottling and branding business. Ray's son Paul became CEO in 1995, and assumed complete ownership of the company a few years ago. Paul gifted two-thirds of the company to his daughter.

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 230. About 200 staffers work at the Lewiston plant. The company has roughly five marketing employees in Portland and salespeople throughout the country.

EXECUTIVES: CEO Paul Coulombe, CFO and COO John Suczynski and President Bill Dabbelt.

WORTH NOTING: White Rock doesn't distill liquor. The company buys spirits in bulk and bottles them under some 100 brands. White Rock formulated Three Olives Vodka from scratch. Coulombe sold the brand in 2007 and turned his attention to Pinnacle Vodka, which was named the fastest-growing spirit in the world in 2010 by industry publication Impact Newsletter.

FINANCIALS: Coulombe said White Rock earned $185 million in 2010. He expects 2011 sales to be between $215 million and $220 million

College kids across the country snatched up bottles of Three Olives, mixing the liquor with energy drink Red Bull to create cocktails like Grape Bombs and Cherry Bombs.

Coulombe sold the brand to New Jersey-based Proximo Spirits in 2007. And though he declined to discuss the purchase price, he said it far exceeded the price he paid a few years earlier.

With Three Olives gone, Coulombe began growing Pinnacle, a relatively unnoticed brand the company launched in 2003.

Coulombe said White Rock invested heavily in marketing the brand, offering a host of rebates and discounts to encourage sales.

"It was hard work, but we were aggressive," Coulombe said.

White Rock's liquor arrives at the Lewiston production plant in 6,000-gallon tanker trucks and is stored outdoors in steel tanks

The liquor is pumped into the bustling plant, where it is diluted with water to roughly 80 proof, then flavored and filtered.

The bottling process happens on six production lines that stretch the length the plant. Conveyor belts carry bottles from labeling machines to filling machines, past the watchful eyes of human inspectors and up, along the ceiling, into the warehouse, where they are boxed and loaded onto pallets for shipping.

In the center of the plant is a monitoring room and testing lab, where technicians measure alcohol content, and at the back at the plant is the flavor house, full of enough concentrate to flavor 25,000 cases of liquor.

Many of the flavors are from companies such as Swiss flavor and fragrance manufacturer Givaudan.

Other ingredients are sourced locally, such as cream from Portland's Oakhurst Dairy, an ingredient in White Rock's Aunt Bea's Butterscotch Cream.

Another back room houses three 6,000-gallon tanks of liquid sucrose and corn syrup, which sweeten some White Rock liquors.

The room is heated to between 105 degrees and 110 degree so that the sugary mixtures flow easily, said White Rock Director of Operations Joe Werda.

"If it gets below 90 degrees, you are in trouble," he said.

White Rock employs some 230 staff, including 200 at the Lewiston plant and a five-person marketing team in Portland. Salespeople are stationed around the country, and White Rock's president, Bill Dabbelt, works from an office in Bonita Springs, Fla.

Coulombe said White Rock's revenue in 2010 was roughly $185 million, and he predicts this year's sales to be $215 million to $220 million.

Coulombe owns one-third of White Rock; he gifted the rest to his daughter, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla.

Despite Pinnacle's rapid growth, Suczynski said the brand still lacks presence in some markets, such as California.

Though Pinnacle is on the upswing, Coulombe has his eye on the next brand, EPIC Vodka, which White Rock will release this year.

Made from vodka distilled in Iowa, EPIC will be less expensive than Pinnacle and will come in new flavors, such as cookie dough, cake bread and Swedish Fish.

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or: jhemmerdinger@mainetoday.com

 

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Additional Photos

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John Suczynski, White Rock’s COO and CFO, walks past a row of stainless steel pipes that transport alcohol to the bottling lines at the distillery in Lewiston.

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Cynthia Fisher checks labels and the fill levels of bottles of Pinnacle Vodka at White Rock Distilleries in Lewiston.

 


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