Inside the On-Premise Sector with Heaven Hill’s Walter Inman
Each month, ForceBrands partners with The Tasting Panel magazine. The Tasting Panel offers an insider’s look at the tastemakers and trendsetters in today’s growing beverage industry. From winemaker profiles, to brands that are the bartenders’ best friend, this monthly publication gets up close and personal with today’s influencers and explores the products they love the most. With a readership of 85,000 professionals across all levels of the industry, The Tasting Panel maintains its position as a leading authoritative voice in the beverage industry. This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of The Tasting Panel.
ForceBrands’ Hot Shot feature in The Tasting Panel magazine’s May/June issue highlighted the career accomplishments of Walter Inman, On-Premise Manager at Heaven Hill Inc.
We caught up with him to learn more about his extensive experience in the beverage industry, what excites him most about future trends, and more.
ForceBrands: You have a long history in the wine and spirits industry. Tell us a bit about your background and how you became an On-Premise Manager at Heaven Hill.
Walter Inman: Having grown up in the wine industry, I was a sommelier for a few years for some amazing restaurants in Sonoma County, Napa Valley, and even in Arizona at a grand award-winning restaurant. I liked the on-premise aspect of the business but I knew I wanted to get into the sales side of it. It took me a lot longer than I planned but I got my first chance as a Sales Rep in Napa Valley. One year later, I got brought into a management position for Southern Wine & Spirits of California. I spent about six years with the PWS division as a Wine Manager then a Key Accounts Manager, which was a spirits-based role. From that point on, I knew this is what I wanted to be doing. I love the spirits side!
I had ended up leaving PWS to take on a larger Market Manager role for a startup spirits company based out of Kentucky. At the time, the travel just got to be too much and I decided to take a more local role with Young’s Market Company as a Brand Development Manager for what was called the Alliance Division. After two years I decided I wanted to take on a big challenge. It was managing Northern California for a smaller family-owned wine importer and distributor. But the spirits side of the business called me home. Several years later, I had the opportunity to join with several people I have long admired in the industry: Jon Scriven and Nicole O’Neill. This is where all the pieces came together for me. They have an incredible portfolio, are family owned and operated, and I love managing the on-premise sector in Northern California.
FB: What excites you most about the work that you’re doing?
WI: I’m serious when I say this: everything we are doing excites me! The incredible whiskey portfolio with a range of styles and types, the liquors and tequila — it just goes on and on. I feel like I get to work with one of the most dynamic families in the spirits business, the most passionate teammates, incredible bosses, and the most amazing portfolio.
FB: How have consumers’ tastes changed over the course of your tenure in the industry?
WI: While the “sweet” sector is still an important thriving market, I’ve seen a lot of consumers go away from the sweet and flavored products as their palates have changed. Part of this has to do with the desire to try and compare different brands. When I first got into the business, you had ‘your brand,’ and that’s what you drank. That’s it. But now consumers are open to trying a wide array of brands — especially in the whiskey sector
FB: How have brands in your portfolio evolved as new trends emerge?
WI: The brands in Heaven Hill have diversified over the years since it was started in 1935 by the Shapira family. Still family-owned and operated to this day, the Shapira family is constantly watching trends, listening to the consumers, AND most importantly, listening to the feedback of the on-premise and retail marketplace. I would argue that they not only adapt, but lead the way in changes in the marketplace. You could say that constantly improving is something that is practiced and preached company-wide.
FB: What advice would you give to someone looking to step into an on-premise role? What skills or qualifications should they have to succeed?
WI: I would suggest they spend some time working in on-premise roles in some capacity. I managed restaurants and bar programs, but I was not a bartender or mixologist. Usually, if I was behind the bar that meant my team was in the weeds. Having some type of on-premise experience is crucial in my opinion. You don’t have to have it but it certainly helps! Having distributor experience is certainly helpful as well but again not absolutely necessary. As far as a skill set, I think the biggest things to have are a passion for what you are doing, patience, persistence, and an ability to follow through. If you can do that, you will be successful.
FB: Describe your ideal happy hour — what are you drinking and where are you?
WI: A busy bar, but not too crazy. Somewhere with a good selection of spirits and a group of industry friends and my wife. I spend a lot of time on the road and out and about so I don’t always get to take her out for drinks. I would be drinking bourbon or rye. My go-to as of late has been Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and Pikesville Rye.
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