Starting a Distillery: Questions to Ask Yourself

You’ve been perusing the different moonshine stills for sale and distilling accessories on the market and you’ve decided you want to start a distillery. It’s a big step and we’ve written a few different blogs about starting distilleries and how to get things going but it never hurts to ask yourself a few questions before jumping in feet first. This is hopefully a solution to analysis paralysis and will give you more of a comfort level with your vision for this project and where you want to take it.

The Basics

The first question to ask yourself is: why am I starting a distillery? This may sound pretty basic but it’s a really important question and there are no wrong answers. Knowing why you want to do this will help inform how you’re going to make it happen.

Do you want to be the next (insert gigantic spirit brand here) or are you looking to create something more boutique and niche? Is this solely a money-making endeavor or are you ok with lower profit and sticking to your vision of what the product and/or production process should be? The answer to these questions will help you make decisions and inform how you proceed to make your vision a reality. And don’t be afraid to pivot! Your plans should be a living document based on the reality in front of you. If something isn’t working the way you thought it’s ok to adapt.

You’ll also want to ask: what is the market for the spirit(s) I’m planning on making? How much volume do I want to add to that market? This ties in with the question above to determine the size and production capabilities of the facility you’ll need. There are a lot of wonderful products out on the market that people just aren’t aware of and if you’re trying to be as big as (insert gigantic spirit brand here) with a spirit that has a market share of half of (insert gigantic spirit brand here) you have a lot of customer education and market building to get there.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious about how much you can grow. If we weren’t ambitious and driven we wouldn’t be starting a company and trying to make a name for ourselves. Knowing how big a market we’re trying to capture will help us in our next question to ask ourselves.

More Questions to Ask Yourself

How am I going to make my spirits? This question is a little more in the weeds than the last two but it is just as, if not more, important. Are you planning on using a traditional pot still, reflux column, or continuous system? Each of these technologies has a place and its own strengths and weaknesses and they’re all different.

The amount of work it takes to get a vodka made on a pot still is astronomically higher than on a reflux column or a continuous system. On the other hand, to my knowledge, you can’t make a super funky Jamaican-style rum on a taller reflux column. These are just general guidelines though and at the end of the day, the systems are tools you use to make your product, although quality equipment can help you make a quality spirit. 

Once you know how you’re going to make your spirit you’ll need to know: how big of a system do I really need? This is an important question and it can be deceptively difficult to answer. Too small and you’ll outgrow your system quickly and need to spend the money again on a larger system to keep up with demand. If you go too big too soon you may be tying your operating capital in the equipment.

A great way to think of this is that sizing your equipment is like buying shoes for your kids, you need room for growth but you can’t get something so big it outpaces your production needs in the beginning. If you’re planning on having an aged product you’ll want to factor that production in as well. It’s wise to go on and put barrels away as much as possible because you can’t cheat time (rapid aging aside, which is a whole separate article). Don’t forget to think about fermenting and potentially mashing equipment, you’ll need to feed the system to keep it running and everything needs to work together to work optimally.

Now that you know the type of equipment you want to use you should think about whether your equipment needs to focus on form, function, or both? Is this strictly for production and no one will ever see it or is this going to be the centerpiece of tours and/or your tasting room? This can have a significant impact on the final price and there’s no one size fits all answer. Even industrial equipment not made for aesthetics can fit into the right design scheme and a beautifully decorated system can be too decorative for its surroundings. Everything needs to work together to get the right layout for your model.

Finally, you’ll want to ask yourself: am I going to build a space around the equipment and process or am I going to fit the process into my space? Similar to the design aspects above, your working process needs to be workable with the space you’re going to be in. It’s not always possible to build a brand new building to house your facility and sometimes the location that fits your needs isn’t the perfect spot for your plan. Just like the question about why you’re starting your distillery, this can and probably should be a fluid plan that you can adjust as needed.

This is by no means a comprehensive list but it should help you get started. Anytime you’re starting up a new company the to-do list is seemingly never-ending but if you have a good road map in place it can help you make decisions more quickly and hopefully use your time wisely. What questions do you have or wish you’d asked when getting started? Comment below and let us know and if there are any questions you have for us we’d love to hear them!