Friday, August 28, 2015

So You Think You Want to Start a Craft Distillery?

Cayman Spirits Distillery
     I was once asked how do you make a million dollars in auto racing, you start with 5 million and when you get down to 1 million, you quit.   Starting up a "craft distillery" is much the same.  The expense of purchasing equipment, securing space that has zoning for a distillery, water and power requirements available and that is before you start looking at all of the legal hoops you have to jump through.

Small Copper Alembis 10 Liter Still
     This is a very glamorous idea, but like auto racing to do it well is very expensive.   I'd love to be able to create my own rums, and introduce them to my friends to share, but it is not that simple.  Here in the United States owning a still for anything other that producing alcohol for external use is strictly "verboten".   Besides the legal issues involved, there are also health concerns to worry about. Home mad alcohol can become tainted with toxic liquids, especially methanol, the form of alcohol reputed to cause blindness and death. Making moonshine also poses obvious risks of fire or explosion.  Alcohol made at home with out the proper legal permits and licences is known as moonshine and the laws against moonshine may place those who wish to make their own line of commercial rum or other spirit in a tricky situation. 

Copper Alembic "Thumper"  Pot Still
     Robinson, at Moonshine Still Pro, likens existing distillation laws to a sort of Catch-22.  You can't learn to operate a still with out a still, but most who start in the business start with a small "secret  still" in their basement or garage.   While most states prohibit making home made alcohol for consumption, state laws sometimes conflict with federal law.   In Missouri, for example, a person 21 or over may produce  up to 100 gallons of spirits per year for personal consumption without a permit.   But federal law trumps state law, and to the feds, distilling at home for personal consumption is illegal, period.   "If you distill without permits, you're looking at roughly a dozen felonies," says Tom Hogue, spokesman for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. "It's not something you want to be doing."

Troy Roberts at Drum Circle Distillery
     The odd part is we haven't even began to talk about the cost of the materials, supplies and equipment you are going to need.    Stills depending on the size can go up into the hundred thousands alone, no to mention the other necessary stainless vats etc.  Barrels are in short supply these days and very expensive.   Troy Roberts of Drum Circle Distilling in Sarasota, Florida has spent since 2003 making his dream of making his fine craft distillery a reality.  Today his fine rums are very hard to find, but the search is definitely worth the effort for the rewards of his rums.

      As I said start with 5 million, it's not easy, but if you are good at running a still, blending, marketing, legal stuff, health stuff, and have the patience, you will be able to open a craft distillery.  You might want to add another attraction like a restaurant or gift shop to help off set some of the costs of the distilling and aging of you rum.  ;o)