COOS BAY — Southwestern Oregon Community College’s Small Business Development Center presents a local success story: Stillwagon Distillery.
Rick and Karen Stillwagon came to the 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.
“This venture started with a koi pond," Rick said. "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 Small Business Innovation Research 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. He decided to focus on getting the distillery licensed and producing as he worked on his business plan for the New Business Challenge grant. 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 it to expand distillery operations. Product offerings increased to five different flavors including white, spiced, "wicked" (155 proof), gold and black spiced rums. Distribution expanded into multiple Oregon liquor stores and bars. They offer tastings at their distillery location in Charleston on Wednesday, Thursday and weekends, and many liquor stores around the state host tastings.
Currently, Stillwagon Distillery's rums are in over 35 Oregon liquor stores, and the company has added a second tasting room in Old Town Bandon. More flavors are on the way, and the Stillwagons are also in the process of opening a new distillery in Ohio with a partner and exporting products to 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.
"We are also working on a wastewater 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," Rick said. "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.”