Rick Stillwagon is the owner and operator of Stillwagon Distillery in Coos Bay, Oregon. Stillwagon Distillery produces hand-crafted distilled spirits from raw ingredients. They make small batches with premium ingredients, carefully prepared, fermented, and distilled by hand. Rick shares his story here about one of the most common questions he’s asked when guests visit Stillwagon Distillery.
I am often asked, “Do you actually make your products?” I tell them “Yes! Of course!” and they are often surprised. The trend of many startup distilleries is to buy bulk spirits and pass them off as their own. This often creates confusion to consumers as to what “Craft Spirits” or a “Craft Distillery” actually is. When someone comes to visit our distillery, we take the time to explain the process and show guests how we make our products and it wins them over quickly. There’s an appeal to the hands on production of a craft spirit that cannot be accomplished with a slick sales pitch and flashy label.
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Personally, I enjoy setting myself apart from the bottlers and by showing distillery visitors the process of making a true craft product. Taking the time to create a quality, unique product takes a great deal of creativity, time, and patience. A new spirit must be physically introduced, tasted, and then an education process begins. Explaining the difference between something made by hand with real ingredients versus those that are blended from bulk ethanol and flavored with synthetic flavorings opens up a great opportunity to win over a customer.
I am finding my best strategy is a slow and steady local support movement; gradual growth accomplished on earned capital from actual sales versus projections and borrowed funding. The rush of new distilleries seeking fast profits will burn itself out as it did with the micro-breweries of the 80s-90s. Introduction and education of the consumer, building relationships with the retailers that sell our products, and maintaining quality and a reasonable supply of product based on demand will allow us to ride the wave carving our niche in the market.
Patience, education and integrity in business practice will help to guide the consumer to what they are looking for. Those hidden gems of truly unique, high quality spirits are out there. Networking with like minded and practicing artisans will help build recognition of our craft and guide our supporters to the products they are looking for and will keep them coming back.
You’ll Have the Devil to Pay…
A phrase from when ships were made of wood, men were made of iron and rum was part of the daily ration. The Devil was the seam of a ship at the waterline, and the constant rolling under water and into the air meant the seam needed regular repair. Pay was the filling of the seam. So, if you were at the bottom of the Captain’s list, you’d be lowered over the side at sea to “pay the devil”, and hopefully get your ration when you were done.
Stillwagon Distillery produces hand-crafted distilled spirits from raw ingredients. Small batches are made with premium ingredients, carefully prepared, fermented, and distilled. Their goal of using local ingredients whenever possible is important in supporting the local community and farmers. You can learn more about visiting Stillwagon Distillery here.