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Visiting Other Distilleries


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I am working on a business plan to open a distillery. I have a good understanding of the process and of what products I would make but I have a lot of questions regarding running the business, buying equipment, etc...

I have received advice that I should visit other distilleries and that I should be careful not to take too much of their busy time nor try to turn them into my personal consultant. I would like to do this. I have been contacting currently open distilleries, and stating that I would be careful to limit the questions I ask them during a tour to not expand past the time they're willing to give me, but not having a lot of success and this is where I need your advice.

I realize I would be yet another competitor to them AND that they're all busy. However, I would like to get some tours setup for myself. Some have public tours and one even suggested I just take their public tour (that I have already paid-for and will be taking at the end of this week), but I wonder if public tours will answer the types of questions that I have.

For any of you who have done this, do you have any advice for me? Can you suggest things I can look for in the public tours that would be valuable to me? I realize that, even in a public tour, I can see what brands of equipment they have, and that give me places to look for my own equipment, for example. Do you have any other suggestions or tips for me and on how to get private and detailed tours?

I have been compiling some questions so that I could quickly pick one or two to ask, so I'm ready to be organized with all this (so that I'm not just asking endless and time-consuming questions nor making them wait while I try to come up with questions, I mean).

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I would like to open a distillery, have obtained various information, attended workshops, and am working on a business plan. However, while I think I can manage to distill something and to figure out what I want to distill, it's the business questions that are holding me back.

I have gotten advice that I should visit as many distilleries as I can, being careful not to take too much of their busy time or to try to make them my personal consultant. I have contacted a number of distilleries with this in-mind, asking for a short tour, and assuring them I won't take up more of their time than they plan to allot to me.

This isn't going that well, though, and that's why I need some advice.

First of all, I realize that I'm basically their competition asking them for some help. Second of all, I do realize they're small business owners and super-busy. I also know that some have public tours and one of them suggested I take the public tour, instead.

In a public tour, I feel I could make some amount of use of that, as I could, at the very least, see what brands of equipment they're using, for example. But I wonder if these will be useful to me. For those of you that visited a number of distilleries, do you have any advice to me?

Currently, I am signed-up and paid for a tour at the end of this week, and I have been writing my top questions so that I can be quick and organized about asking one or two whenever the opportunity arises (not all of them, just one or two at a time). But, with regard to visiting distilleries to help me figure out what I want to do from the business standpoint, will welcome any advice and tips you can give me.

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Where are you located? I know many of us got started the same way as you. I think there are a few options for you.

First, visit as many distilleries as you can, and ask questions. Identify yourself accordingly prior to the visit. You'll find that a lot of us, while busy, as excited about the industry and happy to talk about it. Some of us are grouchy though. Just read folks and know when not to push your luck.

Second, read and research. A lot. This forum is fantastic. There are also books and other forums online that will teach you more than you can imagine. Use them.

Third, attend a class or conference (or both). They are not only helpful for the material presented, but for the networking as well. I have met so many great folks from all of the above methods. Get to know them. Personally, as well as professionally. It's easier to ask a friend for help than a stranger. You'll be able to determine who would better address different questions. Some questions might be better suited for TTB folks than distillers, suppliers might better address others.

Last, know when to stop asking. As we both mentioned, small business owners can get super-busy. If you hit up the same person time and again, they may begin to feel taken advantage of. At some point, it is time to stop asking and start doing. You won't get experience without making mistakes. My best advice for those is a squeegee and a hose!

Good luck and hope to meet you on the road!


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I'm located in Michigan.

Also, I have been to a two-day distilling course, as well as obtaining several books on the topic and my business partner has some distilling experience.

I was thinking about attending the ADI conference, this Spring. However, I was not sure if that was an appropriate place for someone who is not yet distilling or if it was more intended for those who are already distilling. I need to look into it, more, and would also be glad for advice on it. Or, I'm also open to hearing about other conference opportunities.

Thanks for the advice, Todd.


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We toured a couple of distilleries when we opened, and I feel that some people will tell you everything you need to know and some things you didn't think you needed to know. While others will give you the cold shoulder and short answers. I feel its also a great way to test the waters and figure out who the friendly neighbors are, and the ones who couldn't care less that you exist.

I know Michigan and Montana are a ways apart but you are always welcome here to take our tour and I'll answer any questions you might have.

Best of luck!

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I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb here with some contradictory advice. It seems to be the number one piece of advice given to aspiring commercial distillers, but I do not think that visiting as many distilleries as you can is all that helpful.

I think there are two categories of people who should consider starting their own distillery:

A distiller who wants to become a business person.

- If you are distiller you should know how to build and or acquire the equipment you need to distill. You should know this because you have either worked at another distillery and leaned it there, or done it yourself on a small scale and have the understanding of what is needed to scale things up. Obviously your not going to know everything, but you will at least know what questions to ask.

A successful business person/entrepreneur who wants to become a distiller.

- You already know and are familiar with creating and/or running a business. (incorporation, trade-marks, getting a website up, doing social media, record keeping, taxes, liability insurance, workers comp, payroll, etc, etc,)

- follow fldme's advice and hire a consultant or team up with a distiller as described above.

I am sure there are plenty of people out there who have, and or will, start successful distilleries that do not fall into one of those categories. It just seems to me you are much more likely to be successful if you meet one or both of the above descriptions.


You are asking a forum filled with commercial distillers how to get other commercial distillers to answer your questions. Perhaps you should just consider asking your questions here? :D

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Im at the same place you are and have found that if you visit distilleries just dont come off as an ass. There are a number of ways to do this..... Feel them out and ask appropriate questions. Throw some compliments their way (" I really like how you built your still" or " You really did a good job with this...." etc. ) Buy a few of their bottles, let them know that you are insanely interested in opening a distillery, ask SMART questions that you have researched and cant find the answers to yourself. Say a few smart things so they know you are not just some yahoo or lookyloo. Become familiar enough with the trade through reading/researching that you don't ask stupid questions that could easily be answerable with a bit more research on your part. If they are giving tours, I would assume they have a second to talk business (I like to be the only person there so its one-on-one). I have yet to be given a cold shoulder but have visited distilleries where I didn't ask any questions at all because I felt either they were to busy, the wrong type of person to chat with, or that they were less knowledgeable then myself (like at larger ones when you are dealing with just a server). I've been offered the option to come back during the week and actually help with aspects - perhaps volunteering to sweat for them for a day or so would be a great way to get your foot in the door.

I dont know. Like I said, Im at pretty much the same place as you. The best piece of advice I've got that I still have not followed is to just "jump". You wont be able to fall on your face or land on your feet without first jumping (Take note self...Ha!). Good Luck!

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All great information. Thanks. And, as for asking questions in here, I would have but felt kind of overwhelmed by the number I had.

For one, do any of you from Michigan have an insurance agent you could give me the name of? So far, I have not been able to find one. I do have another business, but my business insurance agent does not cover distilling operations, suggested some other possible agencies to talk to, but nothing has yet panned-out.

As it happens, I went on a tour, yesterday. Our of sheer dumb luck, I stumbled into a tour where my business partner and I were the only attendees, as we just happened to pick on early tour on a weekday. We did pick that on-purpose, hoping to get to ask more questions, but it was just true luck that we were the only ones, on that tour. Also, the owner just by chance was around, realized by our questions that we were people he'd exchanged some e-mail with and, in yet another sheer stroke of luck, was a truly nice guy who gave us a bunch of time and let us ask a lot of questions. And, when he seemed to need to get back to work, we thanked him and went along our way, after admiring his products, his tasting room, and a variety of other things. In one of the responses, above, it does say to do that and we did. We didn't really do it on purpose, just happened to be really excited to be starting our journey, getting so much of his time, etc... Also, he was among the "we're all neighbors" crowd so that was yet one more stroke of luck. I did buy two tour tickets and two of the most expensive cocktails on the menu but I did forget to buy a bottle or two of their spirits on the way out. I'd meant to, but was so excited by my sheer luck at all the time he spent with us that I truly just forgot to do it.

I'll remember the tip about volunteering to work at one. Maybe I can get us in to one of the local places. Jake, thanks for the invitation and if we come out your way we'll definitely come visit. And, if we ever get setup, here, extend the same welcome.

As for having a successful business, well, I guess my partner and I are more in that category. He has a little distilling experience, but not enough that we don't need to get plenty more. I have a successful business only from the standpoint that I've made a good living off my business for almost 20 years. I've gotten a trademark and all that sort of thing. However, it's a services business, so I realize I don't have experience with inventory and those sorts of things. I see that as one more thing I truly need to learn about, as the fixed and variable costs will be totally different from my current business. I see my current business as kind of the "training wheels" for a future distillery.

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Good luck with everything in the future Geo.

If I can offer my services in anyway that is helpful for you please don't be shy to ask.

Evan Parker

1A Distillery Consulting


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If you can spend the time, and don't have the cash for week-long courses or paid consultants, intern at a distillery for a few months. We usually have one intern, and expect 30+ hours/week of work in the distillery over the course of 3 months in return for learning whatever one can about any aspect of the business.

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