I have often been asked, “How did you decide to open a distillery?” My usual answer is, “I got thirsty.” The truth of the matter is that my wife and I are both very creative and have very different skill sets. So we set off to find something we could do that would let us express ourselves and combine our differing talents. It also had to be something that we could share with our friends and families. We started thinking about opening a small Mom and Pop restaurant. Can anyone say, “Italian”? (I think I would be our best customer. Mmm lasagna). How about opening a Coffee House? (See previous comment). How about a Bar? All these seemed like possibilities but none really took our fancy.
We know many of the restaurant and tavern owners and knew that the margins on a restaurant were pretty slim and most kept their business’ afloat selling alcohol. So that meant it would be an Italian restaurant with a bar attached. Again, we liked the idea but were not in love with it. Then one day my wife asked me, “How about a distillery?” We looked at each other and laughed. That was illegal! (Wasn’t it?). After a few days of looking at various buildings and discussing their respective merits and shortcomings, we came back to the concept of a distillery.
We did some research and discovered that indeed, it was perfectly legal. Now we had to look at how feasible a distillery would be. We went online to look if there were any distilling classes available and to our surprise there were quite a few, but which one to choose? Classes ranged from a day or two to a week long and the prices varied greatly, too. In the end the decision was made in favor of the week long class from ADI (The American Distilling Institute) being held at a distillery in Petaluma, CA. We figured it would give us the best overview of operating a distillery. It was, however, not inexpensive. The good news was that meals and lodging were included in the price and we would get a small price break because we would be sharing one room.
The class was amazing! It covered so much territory; from bottles, closures and labels to legal aspects, pumps, fillers and visiting working distilleries. Distillation was covered only briefly because, quite frankly, you can cover the basics of distillation in about 10 minutes.
Our fellow students ranged from a farmer who wanted to do something with his surplus crops, a Pepsi Co. rep who was looking to expand his horizons, a Diageo flavor chemist who wanted to know more about the distilling process, a pair who already had a product on the market but were contracting it out and wanted to take over the reins and us who were seeking information.
What I found even more amazing was that I learned as much from the other students as I did from the classes. Everyone brought something to the table from their personal experiences. By the end of the class we decided that, yes, we could do this and we were on our way. Cheers!