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Glenlyon last won the day on July 16

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About Glenlyon

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    British Columbia
  1. I first encountered the idea of owning a distillery waaay back in the late nineties when I was shooting a wine series. The winemaker in question wistfully painted this idyllic scene of the happy European distiller frolicking naked through the fields. Well, perhaps he didn't say quite that, but the dream was planted over a wee dram of his 'home-distilled' product - a black walnut liqueur. However, I only seriously began to re-consider the idea about two years ago when a friend of mine and I started doing our own home distilling. In no time flat we'd brewed up more booze than we could possibly drink and it became obvious, unless we were going to sell the stuff - there wasen't much point in continuing. My friend chose to stay home, but I ventured into the field - being the foolish entrepreneur that I am. The first hurdle I faced has taken a year to get over - rezoning the chosen property for the distillery. (Passed into law only yesterday! Yay!) Next is the provincial and federal process which will take about 4 - 6 months. Then, we're planning for another six month delay as we refine the product for sale. So, conservatively - you are looking at two years - unless you choose an already zoned environment in which case, I'd plan for a year. If you are paying rent, that's a year of expenses with no income, so plan accordingly. I've said before, alcohol is a business of patience. The upside of this, is while you are waiting for your permits etc., you are given ample time to build your market. Lot's of people wait to build the market until they have a product in hand, but then you loose the slow burn of anticipation and word of mouth. I've sat on a local bus while two people behind me discussed the opening of the distillery. They got some of the details wrong, but they were keen. That's what you can't buy. Another fantastic quote I've picked up somewhere and whoever said it was brilliant - "No one can tell you how to open a distillery, you just have to do it." I second that. Not to mention, its great fun.
  2. Bank Loans

    Bank vs. investor - is one of those nasty: 'It depends'... You need to ask yourself at the very, very beginning - am I creating this business to enrich myself and my lifestyle - or - am I building this business to make money for other people? If you are wanting to enrich yourself - you are establishing a 'founder's based business'. Otherwise, you are creating an 'investment grade business'. So, here is the 'depends'... If you are creating a founder's based business, a bank loan, although difficult to get - is the better way to go. For one reason - they are predicable. You know the payment schedule, the interest rate and the time frame. As long as you operate within these constraints, you're gold. Your goal as the business operator is to make money. The more money, the richer the happy business owner and paying the loan is no problem. Even if you have a challenging cash flow projection. A clever bank will recognize this and will structure the loan accordingly. How do you find a bank that will listen to you? Don't bother - look for a credit union instead. You will have a lot more luck with less paperwork. That being said, you better present a killer business plan and as much collateral as possible. I won't get into the complexities of an investment grade business but, I will say in the long run it will be vastly more expensive to operate with investors and their attendant opinions and associated problems. Investors are for bigger companies with a management team that can handle them. Don't forget, starting a distillery will suck up cash faster than you can possibly imagine. For example, your choice of window frame color can affect the window invoice by over 30%. Handicapped bathrooms? Who knew? And that's just a few examples. No one thinks of these kinds of things when they are creating the business plan. Banks or investors not withstanding, you need to have your own money one the table and you are going to need a lot. My pico distillery is closing in on $300K and I'm month's away from opening and by the time I do, I'll probably be out $400K+. With that kind of a budget, you can fly around the world and amass one hell of an alcohol collection and still have $100k in your pocket. So, consider the dream carefully and double down on the business plan! Make those numbers sing! I also should add - I operate in BC Canada - where our regulatory system is vastly superior to most American jurisdictions, featuring fewer rules, a better tax system and a clearer road to profitability. Easier for the banks to understand - something else to keep in mind. I guess.
  3. Thanks to Paul and Susan and their crew as we take delivery of our first still! The distillery construction workers went nuts when we un-boxed it. (Site behind the truck) Talk about building excitement and a market! Awesome. Glen
  4. Biggest surprise

    “Here,” said Wayne my electrical contractor and thrust the plans into my hands. “You need a handicapped washroom.” Surprise! WTF? Valiantly, I defend myself. “Nobody told me that” I mutter to no one in particular. The workers shuffled around awkwardly, staring at the ground and the builder glared at Wayne. He shrugged. “Ya gotta have it,” he declared happily. My distillery building was already impossibly tiny. No one in their right mind would build such a small project but I was already nearing the limit of the maximum building size for the rezoning application and the building lot. “Someone in a wheelchair has to be able to turn around so that’s a five foot radius plus the door has to be larger.” Wayne confirmed. What a fount of knowledge, I thought sourly. “We could widen the building two feet,” I suggested. I looked at Marlin the builder as he winced. I knew why. The building was a post and beam design and finding even longer solid wooden beams which would be sound to an engineer’s satisfaction was another added cost. Not to mention, the ones we had, were already custom cut. Note to self: ‘Try not to think ahead too much. It can be expensive.’ Note to self: ‘Try to think ahead as much as possible. It could save money.’ Shit. Which one is it? Anyway, back to the story... Straight away this morning, I was up at the district office bending the ear of the building permit guy, Alan. “Here’s the thing,” says Alan. “If we classify the entire building as high risk, then you won’t need a handicapped washroom... On the other-hand, if we declare that the tasting room is medium risk, then you’ll need the bathroom. But, you’ll have to build an explosion proof wall between the production area and the tasting area.” Either way, its going to cost. Cost more of that mythical $500k you didn’t think you’d need to spend. In the end, the jury is still out. And so, we wait... In the meantime, the septic guy has just called, apparently the health people aren’t convinced about my solid waste plan... Surprise!
  5. Lead Time

    Meanwhile, late into the night, Glen toils to find a way to pick up the pace of the distillery project... to no avail... When I first had the idea of a distillery proposed to me way back in the late nineties, there was not a snowball’s chance in hell it was ever going to happen. That’s a pretty long lead time! More recently however, when I decided to pursue the reality of actually creating an establishment, I was warned it would take 2 to 3 years to open. Being a guy who likes things to happen much faster than that, I scoffed and said ‘I’m sure there’s a faster way!’ A year later with another stretching out before me, I clearly see the reasons why and have come to terms with the slow pace. After all, I tell myself, ‘Alcohol is a business of patience.’ Dealing with the local zoning process, the neighbors and the building permits have been an exercise in zen like behavior modification. The latest twist is now the ministry of the environment wants to know where the waste (spent grains & fruit lees) are going to go. I had no idea this particular ministry even knew I existed. I’ve certainly never contacted them. (Turns out, the local health authority did.) “Into my pigs,” I said. “They are going to eat it. Then, I suppose after that, the compost. Then, the garden.” “We’ll have to study that radical new idea.” They respond, while everything grinds to a halt. Again, turns out - if I just dump everything into the sewer, no problem. Its only when I want to manage the waste myself with either my septic or animals they care. Ummm, OK. In the beginning, this kind of stuff would really get under my skin. But, now I look at it as an opportunity to gain more followers. Every single time something comes up, I meet new people. I sell them on the yummy potential of my imaginary, yet obviously incredibly fantastic products, if only I could get started. They are always enthused and then they promptly think up new ways to slow me down. Cat and mouse. Still, I am making steady progress and the key is, expect this shit and just keep your shoulder to the wheel and eventually, hopefully, the tide will turn in your favor. And the upside is, I do have a much, much bigger potential market now than I had when I started. When you start to realize that, suddenly the wheel seems a lot easier to turn. Cheers, Glen.
  6. Water, water everywhere...

    Meanwhile, Glen works through the paperwork... Ring, ring. “Damn phone” mutters Glen and picks it up. “Oh hi Glen, it’s your local politician here. Just wanted to let you know a local activist has taken up the cause against your distillery.” Ah, for fucks sake, only 30 days to the deadline. Now what? thinks Glen, then asks politely. “What’s the problem?" “Water” responds the politician cheerfully. “Water?” “Yep, apparently you’re going to use it all. Probably pollute the rest. Riled the masses. Look for a negative letter to the editor in the next local newspaper edition. Good luck!” Glen stares into space morosely. What now? How do you counter that? That’s a tough one. Not easy to overcome, because you are dealing with something you can not possibly control when you are a tiny operation. Its also a great example of one of the little barriers that need to be overcome that no one thinks of - even during the business planning. Not to say we didn’t think water - we have an ongoing discussion with our local heath department regarding the water. But, that is mostly around the issues of potability and serving water to the public. So things like heavy metals, arsenic, hydrocarbons, etc are tested for and the septic and waste water all come under their purview. So, we thought we were covered. What I’ve learned in response to the opposition, is that here in BC Canada, we have a newly enacted ‘Water Sustainability Act‘ which requires all users of water from wells, streams, lakes, etc to get a water usage license. This means you have to submit an application and a hefty $1k+ fee (yet another fee that helps add up to the $500k you didn’t think you needed to spend) to get such a license. Once the application goes in, you have a government inspector come out and review the operation, how your usage will affect other users, natives etc. In the end, it is quite the process and will no doubt take some time, possibly months to complete. The upside of this process is that it knocks the local government out of the equation and so local complaints about water are not considered in the final zoning amendment no matter how much the opponents yell. Whew! That was a close one. Next?!
  7. I noticed another article in the local weekly newspaper this morning about my impending distillery. I wasn’t expecting it. The headline read - ‘Distillery in the Creek Moves Ahead’ Good to know. I was wondering how things were going. Considering the paper hadn’t actually interviewed me, the article was surprisingly accurate. As I browsed through it, I realized they had gotten all of the information from the public record. Interesting. It got me thinking about my favorite subject: cultural development around food. In particular, what gets a community interested local food and in turn what convinces a community to produce food for the locals? Why, booze of course. Way back in the mid nineties, one day, on our way home from a dreary government gig, we stopped in at a tiny winery in the Southern Okanagan to take a break from the long drive. We knew nothing at all about wine. The short visit was great. We tasted a few wines, saw some vines and bought a few bottles to go. We later came to learn, the winery we stopped at was terrible, but we sure enjoyed the wine we bought in our ignorance. And ultimately, those few bottles ignited a passion for craft beverages that continues to this very day. Over the next 100 days we explored every inch of BC’s brand new wine business flourishing since the recent introduction of free trade. During that time, the Okanagan Valley was mostly a fruit growing region, producing vast amounts of fruit largely for the super market business. There were only about 20 wineries at the time. The BC government had just approved the idea of farmgate wineries (5 acres, direct sale) and there was only one decent restaurant in downtown Kelowna that we frequented with any regularity. Outside of that, food culture was pretty dull. Over the next few years as we continued to return to the valley, suddenly great restaurants were popping up everywhere. Each one wanting to feature the best local wines and eventually beers and now distillates. They needed better food so the local farmers, switched to producing custom products for them. Bed and Breakfasts began to flourish and within a few years of the introduction of the farmgate wine business, the Valley was hosting over two hundred and fifty thousand new visitors a year. Today, there are hundreds of wineries in the valley and good luck getting a hotel room in the summer. Now wineries, brewers and distillers are everywhere and a major driver of economic activity and the Okanagan has a very bright future as a direct result. How does all that affect our corner of the universe? In the area where I live, we’re cut off from civilization, save the dubious ferry service. And, grapes don’t grow so well here. The only winery on the coast is pretty lame and I believe is closed right now. Up until a few years ago, there was little culinary interest and a lackluster agricultural presence. Then, over the last five years, a couple of local breweries were built and each one was immediately popular and sure enough, restaurants began flourishing where they used to suck. And I mean they really sucked bad. They actually have to compete now. Farms are popping up, where there used to be none. Everything from vegetables to fruit to herbs to honey to meats are available in an ever increasing range and abundance. A few days ago a new cider company opened. Now there is a rush on apples and the demand will continue for years to come. Luckily we had already secured our own sources. I stopped in the other day and they were packed. On the way home I stopped in at the farmer’s market. Packed. More vendors than I’d ever seen. Loads of new food people and what’s this - a beer truck! Awesome. I’m starting to worry we might be more popular than we’re anticipating. Already, we’re dialing back our opening plans to be a long quiet one with no fanfare. One of the things the article pointed out was our commitment to secure much of my fruit needs through the local community. A positive look at what we’re doing. Nice. The other thing the article is telling us is that the community is already taking ownership of the idea. Never before in my TV career did a newspaper publish a story about us without us putting a lot of work in to convincing them to run it. I can now see the community is even trying to name us and in-spite of our every effort to resist, well, resistance is futile. Want better food? Make booze. Glen
  8. Prepair for the FALLOUT!!!

    579 million. Sorry. Still a lot
  9. Prepair for the FALLOUT!!!

    Meanwhile, late a night Glen broods about his future.... Hmmm. What can I do to make a living? Let’s see. Gotta be nine to five and the pay has got to be great... Jeez, that means I’ll have to get an actual job! That sucks. Wouldn’t want to waste my days working. Hmmm. anything else? Wait! I know, I’ll start my own business! Let’s see... Be my own boss. Do what I like... Sounds perfect. But, what kinda business could I start? Corner store? Na. Too boring. Gas station. No, cars are going outta style. Amway? Possibly... Hey! I like to drink! I know how to make some moonshine - I know! I’ll start a distillery! That’s a great idea. I can’t wait to get started! How hard could it be? Hmm, How much money is in the old investment account? I’ll clean that out first as my seed money. I’ve made millions in the TV biz, so that should be OK... Type. Type. Type. Hmmmm. Type. Type. ‘Your balance in your investment account is: $437.94.” ...Or not. OK let’s see what’s in the ‘ol current account. Type. Type. Type. $103. 54 Alright then, my working capital $541.48. Although, once I subtract the mortgage, car and other essential living expenses, that should leave me with about $-6547.96 in my account. Good times. Good times. Well, that doesn’t look too good. Oh well, no worries. Let’s do some research here and see about what’s up with getting this off the ground. Let’s see... I’ll just surf over to alibaba here. Hey look! I can get a still for 2K USD. Gee that doesn't sound too bad... I could build a whole distillery for the price of a used pick up truck. Cool. Although, it does seem a little too good to be true, I wonder what the catch is? Perhaps some more research is required... Five months later... Man I wish I hadn’t written this business plan, it sure is depressing. No matter how I push the numbers around, it looks like it going to cost way more than a pick up truck, new or used by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Shit. Hey what’s this? I need to rezone my property before I do anything else? Eight months later... Man, am I ever gonna get through this process? Sigh. Fucking neighbors. Why did I decide to start a distillery again? Could someone please remind me? Fame, fortune, lifestyle, great whisky, a better gin... you were looking for something different to do, remember? Oh yeah, right. Thanks. Without question, alcohol is a business of patience. So, clearly, the question is, considering the daunting odds why would you bother? Also with more distilleries going out of business and a crowded market, doesn’t that make it harder? Consider the story of two competing coffee companies I know. This is a true story unfolding even as I write. They both started at the same time. They both bought the same equipment and they both were equally geographically challenged. Company One struggled from the beginning because almost immediately they felt overwhelmed by the market and they always felt they weren't making money and ultimately, they had missed the coffee boom. Eventually, they sold their coffee machine and their company and went in a different direction. Meanwhile Company Two, clearly understood that in the modern era, something like coffee would never pass today’s tough food guidelines and, even better - was an addictive substance. Also, who the hell would drink bitter bean juice? They clearly realized, the key to success was to simply sell a (or their idea of) a better bitter bean juice. Simple really. They were recently bought out for 214 million dollars. All of this in a terribly over saturated North American coffee market dominated by big brands. The moral of the story is whether or not you are rich or bootstrapping - the eager distiller should not be scared by the idea that they’ve missed the boat. There are billions of people in the world. Nobody can produce enough of anything edible to meet demand. The trick is, can you produce something people want? Why do they want it? It it better? A cleverer story? Geographical placement? In the case of the coffee companies, a geographically bad location made (well one of them anyway) work harder to get their ‘better’ products out and as a result, built a wider market faster. I’ve found that by going through the rezoning process, an interesting thing happened. People began to follow the story as it periodically appeared in the local newspaper. People were both for and against it. Everywhere we went people would ask us about it. Eventually, we realized this was the very market we were seeking to create. We now have a clear sense of how much product we might sell when we open the doors. In fact, I can’t believe how much people are interested in alcohol. And of course, I’ve realized I’m woefully underfunded and under equipped. Good times. ‘Course you knew that. And really, so did I after checked the accounts at the beginning. So if everything is so hard and jaw droppingly expensive and difficult to achieve and make a profit, why proceed? Because, here in BC Canada (at least for now), you can make a profit in this business if you work at it. As really in any business, if you are financially prudent, run a tight ship and ultimately, make sales. But more importantly, because others won’t. They’ll dream. They’ll make some home made hootch. And, they’ll happily tell you how to run your place better. But they won’t have it in them to actually run the gauntlet and take the risk. Yet, with over a billion people in North America alone there will never be enough brewers, wine makers or distillers. Those who do make it through and can build their customer base always have the potential to do well. As my old fishing skipper told me as advice when I was young: “Sell something people want more of.” Empty bank accounts and no plan B? Awesome. Count me in. Glen.
  10. I hope you all get the idea?

    Yes - that is why its important to think about that, especially, if you want to scale up.
  11. I hope you all get the idea?

    One of the things with the continuous still, it runs basically as long as there is a wash to feed it with. But, size dictates throughput, so if you are potentially using a grain base mash, you want to make sure you only make enough volume the still can handle before potential bacteria takes over and spoils the wash before it has time to get to the still. Yet, at the same time, you need fresh material to keep the still running. So, the timing and volume of the mash creation becomes very important - resulting in a 'just in time' process.
  12. I hope you all get the idea?

    Hiya Mythbuster, Thanks for your note. We haven't yet figured out how to separate the elements within the C. Still environment yet. Right now we're using it as a stripping still and then doing a spirit run using a more traditional system. We have not automated it in any way. We're a bit geezerly for that newfangled computer stuff. But, we'd love to learn! PM me if you want to exchange emails for a more robust conversation. That being said, the product that emerges from the C. Still tastes great (assuming the mash was properly done of course.) It was the taste factor which finally sold me on the idea - as well as the consistency of output. Our C. Still is built out of off the shelf lab ware and so insulation has not been a consideration. Our unit was built more as a 'proof of concept'. But, it runs so well - there is a lively debate about whether or not we should deploy it into an actual working environment. If we decide to do that - we'll head back to the drawing board and build something that will be robust enough for the long haul. One of the interesting problems is the C.Still puts out so efficiently - if we were to run it full time, we'd exceed our yearly production limit in about six months. We would love to do whisky, (and will probably do a little for our egos) but as a small farm distillery we need to focus on a speedier product . Probably Gin and Liqueurs, followed up with a little brandy and schnapps. Purely from a drinking point of view though... I think having a distillery with a variety of stills is a great way to go. We've collected all kinds of different designs and ideas and they all produce something different. That's why I like this business so much - it much more creative than wine or beer and yet still incorporates all the same traditions. Very cool.
  13. I hope you all get the idea?

    My partner and I have built an extremely successful tiny (1 L boiler) continuous still. Not quite as sophisticated computer wise as Mythbuster's, however, it works like a hot damn. Incredibly efficient. With our small test unit, we are easily able to output a virtually unlimited stream of excellent quality stripped product. The engineering challenge has become creating an effective 'just in time' system for keeping a fresh flow of the mash/wash for the still. I can see fantastic potential for this system, although I will admit when it was first proposed I was highly skeptical. Also, not much in the way of eye candy for the tours! Kinda boring to see $40 worth of glassware and a hotplate laying waste to an expensive still!
  14. Off the top - I'm operating in BC Canada - so this experience is Canadian. However, I suspect dealing with any local government is less about the actual process and more about handling the system. A quick recap - over the last eight months or so, we've slowly been winding our way through the rezoning process to allow us to build a micro-distillery on our farm. When we originally approached our local government with our plan, they were less than enthusiastic. While in theory, they are positively inclined towards the craft beverage industry, a couple of recent previous attempts have not come to fruition and a local brewery is embroiled in a very contentious land use battle. After that meeting, we extensively canvased our neighbors and they generally liked the idea. Although, as the process deepened many of these people turned on us. When we inquired as to why they changed their minds, we often heard; 'Well, we didn't think you'd actually do anything.' Umm, how do you think I got a job, bought a house and raised a family? By blowing smoke up your ass? Early on, the forces of 'no', pulled ahead and things began to look bleak. We eventually countered by focusing in on some of the key players and cutting them out from the crowd. We brought them in and gave them a private 'preview' of our impending public meeting. They complained about traffic, smells, drinking, music - the usual suspects. At these 'pre-meetings', we addressed these issues and got some general side agreements going. At the same time - we watched the timing of the public meeting very carefully. We determined that the rules for advertising the meeting insisted that we advertise within a certain time frame of the meeting. As luck and strategy would have it, we were able to run our ad a week earlier, catching the newspaper two editions before the meeting. This ensured during the week of the meeting, there was no advertising. We also changed the venue from the regular 'public meeting' place (well known for endless community conflict) to the local school library. Who can yell in a school library? Insert evil chuckle here. Predictably, quite a few of the people who were all worked up with no cause simply forgot about the meeting and those who cared enough, actually showed up. The big Public Meeting was held last night (June8/17). Although the meeting itself wasn't overly large for all the hype, the people who showed up were significant. Including, several who were representatives from the sub-committees (land use/community plan etc.) who are also considering the request. As the meeting got going, the planning department gave their pitch and nicely justified the reasons why the project fit the local community and land use plans and goals. Then, I gave a riveting 20 minute presentation speaking about the land, our rural lifestyle, craft distilling, the proposed distillery building and process of making alcohol and wrapped it up addressing the concerns we'd been dealing with. I knocked it out of the park, clearly setting a new standard and expectation for future public meeting presentations. (My TV background gave me a significant advantage in this arena.) The 'no' forces rallied with some questions about noise, traffic and fire suppression and then settled down and the rest of the meeting was a love fest for the project. The representatives from the sub-committees were all thrilled and invited us to their meetings. It was great. A very positive evening all around. I would say we gained an advantage last night and the rest is all about patience, while staying cool and vigilant. However, with a much more optimistic outlook, we're now planning to get the shovels in the ground by July. Have a great day! Cheers, Glen
  15. Hiya, Just a quick note to introduce myself. I'm a television producer turned beekeeper, farmer and distiller. I'm currently building a small artisan craft distillery in the small seaside village I live in. We're building on the back part of a five acre apiary and are right in the middle of the rezoning adventure! ...must ...keep ....going.... This upcoming Thursday is our big public meeting - so we'll see what happens! A positive outcome will secure our rezoning bid a negative one, well... the battle will be that much harder. Cheers, Glen.