Rick and Karen Stillwagon came to the Southwestern Oregon Community College Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in July 2013 with an idea to start a rum distillery on family property in Charleston. Rick had many ideas to recycle waste products from the distilling process to reduce costs. His research into the industry had shown substantial growth in micro distilleries nationwide so the recycling technology would have substantial market potential. According to Rick, “This venture started with a Koi pond. I was raising koi and looking for a better way to clean and heat the water. I stumbled upon aquaponics, the Living Machine, steam, had a steam engine built in India, water distillation and then ethanol fuel production. I then began my path through the licensing process with the federal, state, and county governing bodies. That is the very short version. There is about 10 years of exploring, experimenting, and a lifetime of developing different skills that led to this current endeavor. This is only a piece of a larger puzzle.”
At the SBDC Rick learned about SBIR grant assistance, the South Coast Inventors Group, business planning using LivePlan, market research and the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce New Business Challenge Grant. These are just some of the services provided by the Small Business Development Center. There was so much to do, he decided to focus on getting the distillery licensed and producing as he worked on his business plan for the New Business Challenge grant. He was fortunate, his business plan was chosen as the 2013 New Business Challenge grant winner. He received $9,850 in cash, products and services provided by Coos Bay area existing businesses. As the winner of the grant, he also received membership in the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce plus mentoring through the SBDC for the year he was receiving the grant.
In 2014 Stillwagon Distillery was able to obtain a business loan allowing them to expand distillery operations. They increased product offerings from two to five different flavors including: white rum with a delicate, smooth flavor and a sweet fruity finish; spiced rum infused with the flavors of the tropics; wicked rum at 155 proof; gold rum aged for at least one year in charred oak barrels; and black spiced rum with a rich bold flavor. They also expanded into multiple Oregon liquor stores and bars. They offer tastings at their distillery location in Charleston Wednesday, Thursday and weekends, and many liquor stores around the state host tastings.
Now, in 2015 Stillwagon Distillery is in over 35 Oregon liquor stores and has added a second tasting room in old town Bandon. They have five products with more on the way. They are also in the process of opening a new distillery in Ohio with a partner and exporting products in other U.S. states and internationally. They also hope to hire one or two employees in the near future. This is a locally grown business with potential to be a major player in the local economy. Interested in learning more, visit the Stillwagon Distillery Facebook page or the Stillwagon website www.stillwagondistillery.com. According to Rick, “We are also working on a waste water treatment system to process our spent wash, a CO2 capture system to prevent excess CO2 from escaping our fermentation process, and solid waste composting and recycling to reduce our waste stream. We are just getting started, and slowly getting to these very complicated but necessary amenities to our business. So if you would like to know more about what we are doing feel free to contact us or drop by for a visit.”