Chemistry, Conniption, and Constellation: The Durham Distillery Founding Story

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Chemistry, Conniption, and Constellation: The Durham Distillery Founding Story

Melissa Katrincic loves gin, and she sought out new brands of the spirit everywhere she went.

“Whenever my husband, Lee, and I would travel, we would try new gins and gin cocktails, or we would go and buy gin at the retailer just to see what was on shelf,” Katrincic said.

Riding home from a trip to Savannah, GA and facing an impending layoff after 20 years in marketing, she saw a passion project in her future.

“Why don’t we make gin?” she asked her husband.

He laughed, but she was serious. And with her husband’s experience as a pharmaceutical chemist, they began distilling a drink that would stand out and become the best-selling craft gin in the state: Conniption.

Her boss became one of her company’s first investors.

I’ve had the privilege of working with Melissa, president, and CEO of Durham Distillery, at Hutchison for many years on her company’s trademarks, and she had the worst luck of anyone I have worked with on her applications. 

A hamburger stand in Texas was concerned that their business might be interfered with by her gin business in Durham.

“I don't think we had any understanding of how trademarks were being held by the big conglomerates until we really went through this with you,” Melissa said.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office looks at alcohol sellers in one of three ways: as a restaurant, as a brewery or as a distillery. With so many marks filed in the office, it’s easy to run into the same issue Melissa had, and she didn’t let it phase her. As an entrepreneur, she was used to it.

“The whole thing about entrepreneurship is you have to be ready to get knocked down every day and get back up,” Melissa said. “I'm amazed how often I got back up after I got an email from you. I was just like, ‘OK, onto the next one. What are we doing now?’”

Aside from the legal hurdles that we, in the end, successfully jumped over, Melissa’s financing process wasn’t easy, either, with many banks and investors hesitant to provide capital to an alcohol business. 

“I was really lucky that we were able to self-fund a lot,” Melissa said. “And then we had, like I said, a couple of initial investors in the group that believed in us.”

Those investors made a safe bet. In addition to her distillery, the Corpse Reviver Cocktail Bar and Lounge located inside and her best-selling gin, Melissa’s also the first—and, as of right now, the only—female distiller in the U.S. to be inducted into The Gin Guild.

“If I think about what it all means to me,” Melissa said, “I think it's the recognition that we're bringing a quality of gin to the US consumer that they are embracing and not feeling intimidated by.”

For more startup stories and a deeper dive into the distilling process on the latest episode of Founder Shares, available wherever you get your podcasts.

The blog content should not be construed as legal advice.

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