February 1st, 2022-
It's incredibly humbling and also staggering to comprehend what has transpired in the last decade. I founded this distillery on June 30th, 2011 by registering with the state of Missouri and the federal government. But it wasn't until February 1st, 2012 that we actually took ownership of our physical location and moved into this old Hardee's.
I can clearly remember that day. It was simultaneously a culmination and a brand new beginning. For the past year, I'd been working hard on this dream while also finishing out my futures trading career.
I moved with my new wife (married less than a year) from Chicago to St. Louis with the dual purpose of starting this company and, hopefully, our family. We spent months agonizing over our name and logo, overthinking it over and over again. I'd also been researching distillery layouts, suppliers, recipes, business plans, operating agreements, distillation practices, Missouri laws, equipment, marketing strategies, current market research, forecasting, and (maybe more than a little) 'practicing' on my own.
I had absolutely no clue how much I didn't know. But I've always believed that I can figure it out and whatever challenges arise, I'll work through them somehow. And if that doesn't work, then I'll try a different tact. Again and again relentlessly until I'm successful. I had faith in my own Indomitable Spirit. I remember well the feeling of exhilaration knowing that this dream, that I'd been working hard on for the previous year, was finally truly about to begin. I felt like I'd finally reached the starting line.
For some reason, a few key people were crazy enough to believe in this guy, who'd never been in the distilling industry before and with no practical background. My dear friends Dyke Minix and Ben Pippenger believed in me and opted to come along for this ride by investing in this fledgling start up company. As did Jim Schultz, our Missouri craftsman who hand-built our pot stills (all three). These were my original investors. And they've (hopefully) enjoyed the ride so far.
There have been many, many great supporters over the years, particularly in my close family like my dad, mother-in-law, father-in-law, siblings, aunts/uncles, but also old and new friends. However, one other person who needs special mention is my father-in-law, Troy Pohlman. Without his material support and wise guidance, I would've made countless more missteps over the years. He, along with the investors, remains my main advisory board and business mentor. My failings are my own, but my successes are owed in large part to him.
Back to the building... The florist who was the previous tenant had vacated on Jan 31st, 2012. The next day I walked in alone and reveled in the reality of this challenge. My goal was simple: to make the best damn craft whiskey and rum that I possibly could. But first I had to gut the building to make it usable for my purposes and bring in my equipment to get up and running. While I was working on the renovation (and I had some great help from Pernikoff construction who did the heavy lifting) I was also running our little 10gallon pot still continuously off to the side, tweaking my rye recipe and trying to accumulate enough to start aging as many barrels as I could.
Slowly the distillery took shape. I spent a year in here alone without ever having a single customer before we released a single bottle. In early 2013, my Dad & Sister and some friends came out for some marathon work shifts where we put the 'finishing touches' on the distillery and bottled up our first release (Big Jake and RallyPoint, the un-aged and aged versions of our flagship rye whiskey).
In February 2013 we finally had our Soft Opening party and I sold my first ever bottle of whiskey to Dr. Andrew Smithka.
We sold quite a few more that evening, but it was an incredible feeling. A dream made manifest sheerly through relentless hard work and a refusal to give up. As would be our mantra.
Less than a week later, my wife gave birth to our first son.
And everything has been a blur from then on, with the occasional larger moments highlight in photographic relief. April 8th, 2013, I sold my first bottle to an account: Kevin Lemp at 4Hands Brewery. I wanted to be able to say that our booze was so good that even a brewery bought some!
I remember the early years when there were only a few craft distilleries in Missouri and we were all trying to find our feet. Eventually I was able to bring on some help to handle the self-distribution and Adam Larkin was our first ever head of sales/distribution.
Later we hosted our first (of now 7 and counting) Wabash summer interns: Spencer Peters.
We've also gotten good work over the years from Kyle Albertson, Brandon Wongangamit, Geno James, Bryan Roberts, Bill Polen, and Max Right. It's been an honor to get to know these guys and then watch them grow in the following years. And it's always a treat when they stop by again and we get to catch up. Larkin eventually parted ways and we brought on Johnny Starr to handle sales/distribution.
He worked hard but eventually moved West to follow his own dreams. So I hired on Andrew Spaugh as our new head of sales/distribution. He's been handling everything outside the distillery for almost five years now and has overseen our biggest growth and necessary transition (in late 2018) to our current formal distribution partner in ShowMe Beverage.
During this time, we've had countless ups and downs, victories and setbacks. Mechanical failures and barrel shortages; roof leaks and forklift issues with our parking lot/weather; production issues, etc, etc. But we've also had more than our share of victories. In 2013, we received our first ever medals for our spirits: a Gold Medal for our RallyPoint Maple Sunset and another Gold Medal AND a 'Best of Category' for our S.S. Sorghum Whiskey. And it was incredible. So vindicating and rewarding and it allowed me to show my wife that YES, I can get good at this business and we can make some decent spirits! Fast forward a few more years and in 2016 our Double Barrel RallyPoint was named the BEST Craft Whiskey in the Country!
Absolutely incredible. I'd always dreamed that I'd eventually learn how to make really good stuff (after I'd exhausted all the ways to mess it up!), but I never imagined that I'd put out the BEST craft whiskey in the US by the American Craft Spirits Association!! And then in 2018, we did it again with our 5YR RallyPoint!!
To this day, still the only distillery in the world to have won that honor TWICE!
In 2017, Sidni and I were sitting in the Gin Room at Cafe Natasha's and Natasha graciously spent an afternoon with us walking us through the spectrum that gin could be and totally opened our eyes that it had the potential to be so much more than just the typical London Dry style. And I first envisioned our Botanical Library: which has now grown to be truly world class with over 275 - and still growing- different botanicals represented.
With much 'research' (ie. drinking and taste-testing) Andrew and I tasted through all of them. And at different proofs. And with over 156 different minute iterations, we eventually created Volstead's Folly American Gin. The gin I wanted to drink. And it has gone on to win Double Gold medals at both the Seattle International Spirits Awards and SIP Awards. We also created our American Navy Strength Gin, which was named the BEST Craft Gin in the Country by the American Distilling Institute. Truly amazing.
Now here we are in 2022, for several years running, the most awarded distillery in Missouri and one of the top few in the entire country. All in an old Hardee's building downtown St. Louis, with a company created from an idea and with an indomitable ethos. Andrew and I run the day to day. But Andrea Bolt has been with us for five years too as our chief labeler and cocktail guru. In 2017, we launched "The Library" which is our cocktail bar, now open to the public every Friday night 5-9pm for fantastic cocktails and between our Librarians (Andrea & Andrew) they've created well over 400 brand new cocktail recipes and counting during this time!
You know them and their incredible talents and they've produced some of the best cocktails I've ever had in my entire life! Andrea has also engraved our 5YR bottles and anything else engraved in our distillery as well as representing the company at various functions and tastings.
The other mainstay in our company is my wife Sidni, whom I've mentioned. Since 2013, she's given birth to two more sons as well as somehow managing to operate our HR/bookkeeping and the generally thankless task of listening to my seemingly endless lamentations and wild plans for the future. She's been invaluable and is my steadfast partner in life and the woman who encouraged me to follow my dream. For the past ten years, my whole life has been about my growing little family and this growing little company. That has brought more joy and happiness and fulfillment than a man is entitled to ask for.
No, we're not where I'd hoped we'd be as a company ten years in. However, we've weathered supply disruptions, barrel shortages, and obviously an unforeseen pandemic where we even pivoted to produce hand sanitizer and help our community... and we're still in business! Not only are we still in the fight, but we've achieved far more than I'd dared imagine possible. I've alluded to our Experimental Spirits Program, which, to the best of my knowledge, is the single most ambitious and expansive program of it's kind anywhere in the world. Which fits perfectly for our Library, which, if you've been in our distillery lately, is clearly worthy of the same statement.
Personally, during this time, I was also one of the five founding members of the Missouri Craft Distillers Guild in 2018 and had the honor of serving as the second President.
During my tenure in 2019, we achieved historic accomplishments including passing a bill into law creating "Missouri Bourbon" as a legally recognized and defined class/type as well as launching my personal pet project: the Missouri Spirits Expedition.
I have every expectation and desire that these will long outlast me and become recognized as hugely successful and time-honored traditions in their own right.
So I find myself sitting here, totally blown away by what has transpired over the last decade. I've gotten to work with many of the best chefs, brewers, distillers, coffee producers, farmers, chocolatiers, craftsmen, and genuinely passionate people in the region and learn so much from so many. I've gotten to be on television, radio, and many podcasts, along with national and regional print magazines and articles. We've directly donated tens of thousands of dollars to great local causes and helped raise even more through donations and auctions. We've helped people find gifts for the most important people in their lives on the most important days. There are a thousand tiny moments, cool experiences, and memories that I can't properly articulate here. Countless fortuitous meetings and events and a great many helpful people I've met along the way. I truly believe the universe has conspired in my favor, for it's been too great an experience to account for mere chance.
I'm also thrilled by the possibility of what lies ahead for us. All while dealing with the worst bottle shortage in our history (we're currently going over five months impatiently waiting on pallets of bottle we desperately need to keep our business running). We've also got plans that won't come to fruition for years into the future that we can't wait to talk about and we will when the time is right!
Most of all, my deepest appreciation and thanks go out to you, the fans and consumers of our spirits who are the SOLE reason we're still in business and I get to do this for a living. THANK YOU ten thousand times over. And ten thousand more after that. I hope you continue to come out for StilL 630 Day and the other fun events we do throughout the year, give us your feedback on our experimentals and enjoy the delicious new cocktails every month. Not to mention the incredible line up of spirits we have been working on for years leading up to 2022. Every single bottle you've purchased from us has gone to support this small, local, family-owned business right here in St. Louis. From the beginning, our goal has been to make incredible spirits right here in St. Louis and thus contribute a little bit to what makes this city and this region a great place to live and visit. For ten years now, we've been working on improving and we've come a long way. With your continued love and support and the tireless work ethic of our great people, I can't wait to see where we are ten years from today!
So cheers to all of you, to dreaming ridiculous dreams, and living indomitably!
Founder-StilL 630 Distillery