Ashley Barnes Partners with Monica Wolf
at The Spirits Group
Ashley Barnes shed her role as Assistant Quality Manager at Four Roses Distillery this month and assumes the new title of Co-founder and Partner alongside Monica Wolf at The Spirits Group. Wolf started independently consulting in 2017 with craft distilleries, providing strategy, business development, and bulk whiskey provision. Barnes adds her numerous skills on the production side to the mix, allowing their newly formed company, The Spirits Group, to also consult on quality control, blending, and analyzing spirits.
Wolf left D.C. and a career in finance four years ago to join her father, Richard Wolf, at his consulting firm, Wolf Consulting. Wolf Consulting is a resource to the spirits industry, specializing in mergers and acquisitions, capital formation, and supply chain optimization. Following her passion, she got her feet wet in the spirits world by working with her father at this company in Louisville. “Working with Wolf Consulting was a natural next step of immersion, and afforded Monica the opportunity to get to know the great people in the business, and to become a part of the fabric of this truly collegial industry,” says Richard Wolf of his daughter’s time with his firm.
Monica Wolf began volunteering with American Distilling Institute (ADI) and American Craft Spirits Association (ASCA), two craft spirits organizations, as a judge and event planner in 2015. It was at the 2016 ACSA Spirits Competition that Barnes and Wolf met for the first time.
“I got an invite to be a judge for ACSA and thought that was awesome, to be able to see what all the craft guys are doing. I felt lucky to be able to attend and participate,” explains
Barnes. There, she and Wolf met and formed a fast friendship. They shared conversations about their careers, future goals and current frustrations. The friends’ conversation continued over the next few years.
During this time, Wolf began to identify the needs of craft distilleries not covered by the scope of her father’s company and she began working with clients on her own in the fall of 2017. Under Entrepreneurial Spirits, she provided business development plans, contract negotiations, event planning, financial modeling, barrel modeling, and future case sales projections for the growing craft distilling community.
At the same time, Barnes’ job description at Four Roses was ever-expanding. During her tenure, Jim Rutledge retired, Brent Elliott took over the position of Master Distiller, and she took on more and more responsibility. “Having the opportunity to work and learn from Jim Rutledge and Brent Elliott really grew me into the bourbon expert that I am and honed my blending abilities,” Barnes said.
Still, the friends continued to talk, to dream, and eventually start to form a plan. Both ladies began having glimpses into a future together. Barnes remembers one of her light bulb moments when she realized, “Holy cow, I could be my own boss and still do what I love.” Wolf recognized an opportunity with her clients that she wasn’t prepared to meet, “one really important area was quality control.”
Our visions started aligning.
“I just saw a huge need for help in that [quality control] area,” Wolf recalls. Barnes had a decision to make. “Leaving was not an easy decision, but it was time to spread my wings,” she says. “Four Roses already has an amazing Master Distiller in place and will not be needing one for a while.” The women effortlessly oscillate. “She’s the science to my business,” Wolf continues, “We really balance each other out.”
Wolf continues to partner with her father in some aspects of the business, including the brokering of bulk whiskey. Barnes will concentrate her efforts on their clients’ quality control, grain analysis, distillate analysis, and blending. She’s already looking at samples for existing distillery customers. Their client list is under lock and key for now, but the pair expect to announce a distillery partnership in the first quarter of 2019.
Both Barnes and Wolf have been afforded access to a wealth of industry knowledge and experience, especially through their mentors, Jim Rutledge and Richard Wolf, respectively. Rutledge is not shy about his respect for Barnes, “her organoleptic skills and
dedication to excellence will certainly ensure success for The Spirits Group. I don’t think it will take long for Ashley’s and Monica’s company to achieve success and become a well-known fixture across the rapidly growing craft distilling business in the U.S.”
Wolf’s father agrees, “The partnership will showcase two very accomplished young women, with complementary technical and business skills in the spirits industry, to help craft distillers take their businesses to the next level.”