Building a Distillery Part 3

You know, something I forgot to mention.  If you are going to launch a brand you need marketing, a strategy, a message, a plan.  In 2018 we engaged a very create team of folks from a company called In-House Media + Marketing (Inhousemedia.ca).  Nice folks, multiple award winners.  Much behind the scenes work constructing a brand etc.  Not a lot going on yet but a pile of ground work being done.  Ton’s of decisions discussion, direction, forecasts etc.  Great folks to work with.  By early 2019 much of the basics are all worked out.  We’ve printed T-Shirts and hats, made them available for sale.  It’s real and we are moving forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the building.  Paid a deposit.

Well, it’s time to get serious.  The building company I had selected decided they no longer wanted to work Idaho and Washington.  Although we had a contract and would live up to the agreement, they offered to return my deposit.  The way I figured it, making someone do something they don’t want to do isn’t going to turn out well.  Their former sales rep was going to play general contractor.  Coordinating all the things that don’t come with a building you buy is a pile of work.  I didn’t know how big a pile yet.

Building companies sell buildings.  They don’t sell erected buildings.  That means, all the permits, dirt work, concrete, electrical etc.  That’s all up to you to figure out.  So, the search for a building was back on.  I wanted to buy local, I really did.  Sadly, most of the “pole barn” suppliers just didn’t seem interested, they were simply too busy, follow-up was iffy at best.  In the end I selected a building from Rigid Global and I have to say I’m very happy with my choice.

Now that we know the building.  Oh..  You have to commit to buy it with a deposit to get the drawings😊.. You kind of need the drawings for the permits!  OK, Done.  Believe it or not, the building is just about the cheapest thing for this whole project.  Well except for the insulation which cost almost as much as the building!

What do I need to get the ball rolling?

The next 7 months are filled with research and attempts to figure out who is going to do what.  I really didn’t want to play general contractor.  I have a full-time job.  I contacted all sorts of folks.  I knew we needed..

  • Concrete
  • Excavation
  • Erection
  • Plumbing
  • Septic
  • Electrical
  • Civil Engineering
  • Environmental Survey
  • Architect

I can handle that, especially after I started comparing quotes from “General Contractors”.  General Contractors – Don’t get me wrong, I know there is a bunch of work involved.  I know way more now, how much is involved now that I have done the job.  Yet, some of these “GCs” must think we are complete idiots. Here’s an example.  I had a GC quote me 45K for the dirt work and 35K for concrete on top of that he wanted a 10% fee.  Yep, 88K for dirt and concrete.  I got a fantastic job done by Pioneer Concrete and Excavating for both for 30K total!  WTH is going on?  When I put those numbers together plus some similarly crazy estimates from other “GCs” I knew I was going to have to DIY the GC role or I would go broke in the process. So, I am now “General Contractor” with zero experience but a desire to save what could amount to over 100 thousand dollars.

 

Time Marches on….

October 2019

Building Files and documents

  • County paperwork is in.
  • Project narrative
  • Application
  • Supplements
  • Traffic Study
  • SEPA checklist
  • Drainage Report
  • Drainage Plan
  • Critical Area Study
  • Vicinity Map
  • Structural and Lateral Calculations
  • Site Plan
  • Project Narrative
  • Pre-Submittal Conference Review Form
  • Architectural Plan

Land Disturbance Abatement

  • Project narrative
  • Site Plan
  • Critical Are Study
  • Drainage Plan
  • Drainage Report
  • SEPA Checklist
  • Storm Water Pollution Presentation Plan
  • Application Instructions
  • Supplements
  • Application
  • Project Narrative
  • Public Notice Agreement

Holy Moses!  As I write this, I can’t believe I did all this stuff!

The office notice of application was 11/18/2019

 

December 2019

The local water company.  After I had the well drilled, I contacted the water company and wanted to disconnect.  Why would I pay for water when I get it almost for free?   I’m told they can’t disconnect me!  I tell the person on the phone that we live in America and the only thing at the time I am forced to purchase whether I want to or not is Obama Care.  I’m forwarded to a supervisor who says, sure we can disconnect you, no problem.  It’ll cost several hundred bucks however, if you want to get reconnected it’ll cost you $15,000!  What?  Are you kidding me?  Nope, those are the rules.  I’m starting to get tired of playing by the rules.  So, let me get this straight.  They come, cut a pipe for several hundred bucks but to patch the pipe back up they want 15K?  Yep!  Well just what my normal monthly fee would be up to that point I had them reconnect me.  Whatever, I stayed hooked up and that turned out to be a good call.

Part 4 will cover.  The craziest year I could have ever imagined!  Yup, it gets crazier!

 

 

 

 

Building a Distillery Part 2

Dateline May 2018

After being told “no go” on the distillery in the garage it was time to figure out what we were going to do instead.  Unfortunately, this meant that a major remodel project in our house was going to have to wait as we needed to redirect those resources.

Time to reach out to county to make sure we were good.   Engaged with the county Planning and Development Services folks.  Friendly and helpful as they were, building a distillery on residential property was something brand new for everyone.   After much back and forth we finally found actual laws stating we can do it.   R5 Zoning in our area allows for “Agricultural Processing” and distilling sprits counts.

We engaged a TTB Consultant and asked, “How do we solve this issue with the distillery being close to our house?”  Our consultant has gotten numerous distilleries permitted by the Feds and suggested the building be 70 feet from the house and have a separate driveway and address.  That sounds easy.   Spoiler – It was NOT!  Our consultant is super conservative and recommends things he is very sure will have a high likelihood of success.  So, rather than risk it we decide to explore this direction.  An exploration it was.

June 2018 until April of 2019 was spent working on a fruitless effort to solve that problem.

Plan A – Add a driveway through the front.

Yuk, that’s not going to look very good.  So, nix that plan.

Plan B – Come in from the back.

There’s a private driveway that runs the length of the back of our yard which comes from a cul-de-sac and all houses have addresses on a different street!

A great solution, right?  Separate address available on a completely different street just for the TTB and we use our home driveway for customers, deliveries and pickup and the land does not get all messed up.

So then it was time to talk to George who owns the driveway!

George is totally cool and says “sure, you can use it for that”.   Time to talk to the county.  They do some research and tell me two rules.  Only 2 properties can share a private driveway and an easement will be needed.  Oops, satellite images show another neighbor is already using the driveway already without an easement.  He would have to stop using his current parking area and would have to be return it to grass.

No way I am going to ask him to do that.

Thinking cap back on.  So, what would it take to get around that?  No problem says the county, widen the private driveway to make it a road and create a new cul-de-sac at the end with a huge turn around for emergency service vehicles to turn around.  Where would all that land come from?  From a huge chunk of our back yard and it is going to cost a bunch of money.

Not going to happen.

During this entire time, we are continuing to research buildings, getting quotes.  Started working with a marketing company on branding and am making good progress on all other fronts including equipment research and starting to figure out what is going to be required for septic (that is a story all by itself).

In October I settled on the building.  A 3,500sqft building with a nice, covered patio for outdoor seating and small events.  Started talking with the county needing to setup a pre-application meeting to find out the details.

In November, knowing I would need a separate septic system (seems something magical happens to my excrement between my house and 70 feet away) because what is produced in the new building is considered “commercial waste”.  More on that nightmare later.   Anyway, I contracted a company that deals with such things, and we ordered a perk test and drilled the holes.   You’ll find out later exactly how long that took.

The pre-application meeting..

Mind you, I still have not figured out the access issue yet.  We meet with a bevy of county planners (paid my $500 to get the process started) and the fire marshal informs me that we are going to need to bring a brand-new fire hydrant within 50 feet of the building!  OMG.  That’s going to cost a fortune.  Digging up Snohomish Avenue trenching through our whole front yard!  This thing is going to cost over 100K!  I stood up and said, well, that’s a deal breaker I guess we just can’t do it.  Very sad, all this work down the drain.  The bureaucracy wins, little guy loses.  But then… the fire marshal says, “if you make the building 2,500 sq ft and loose the porch we can get our hoses around the building.”  OK.  We can do that, smaller can work too.  So, we’re back on just need a different building and still need to  figure out the access thing out for the Feds. I learned some other interesting things in that meeting.  We needed Environmental folks engaged, someone who deals with drainage, the building guy and “transportation”!

Transportation?  What’s that about?   Seems the county is concerned about how much extra traffic I’m going to create during the week.  Fine, we’re only going to be open on weekends.  But there is this little requirement that across the front of a commercial space there needs to be a shoulder on the road wide enough for a car.  What?  Oh, no.  Another deal breaker!  I am going to have to relocate 3 telephone poles and widen Snohomish Avenue in front of my house?  WTH?  Well, that’s not happening!  Time again to stand up and walk out, deal done, bureaucracy wins, little guy loses☹ Oh, but wait! Mr. Transportation expert informs me that there is a process that I can go through and request an exemption.  Turns out, they don’t care about weekends.  That’s great.  Most of the stuff I need will come on the same trucks I normally get for my house.  Raw materials, I pick up while out on other errands so, I just need to document those days out of all the others and submit a request for an exemption and we’re good to go.  OK, time to sit back down!  Good to go.

Oh but wait…  Environmental?  How could that be an issue?  Well, they need to come for a site visit.  The outcome of that was surprising to say the least.  Our county environmental person assigned to our project is very nice.  Let me be clear before we start.  Everyone at the county planning was great and helpful.  They did not create these rules or laws.  They are simply here to help guide us through and be compliant.  It is the political people “WE the People” collectively have selected to represent us who come up with these insane small business killing rules and regulations.  Not the county workers!  Anyway, she shows up and looks the place over and informs me that what I thought was a “drainage ditch” in our front yard was actually the head waters of “Great Dane Creek”.  What?  I have a dictionary.  A “creek” has water!  It’s freaking DRY!  It only has water in it when there is a boat load of rain between October and April.  The rest of the time it is bone dry.  How can this be?  A wetland on my property!  No way!  Oh yes way, no way around it.  Can’t fight city hall, well unless you have more money than they do like Walmart or CostCo and you can bury their entire budget in legal crap until they relent and just leave you alone.  Sadly, I am not playing in that field.  If you are under the impression that you own your own land and therefore you can do with it as you please, think again!  You can’t use that land as you see fit, but sure as you can read this, you are going to pay taxes on it as if you could.  This is the beginning of another nightmare.

 

It’s January 2019 and we’re starting to run out of options.  Time to throw a hail Mary on this access issue.

Plan C – Add a private driveway from the cul-de-sac right next to my neighbors.

Problem, we do not own about 40 feet of the land between the cul-de-sac to our property line.  It is a super long shot but maybe my neighbor to the north would be willing to do a small land swap, I’ll pay to get the property lines redrawn.

Oh no!  The property just sold!  New owners have only been there a few months.  Well, this is going to be an interesting conversation.   They seem like nice folks, (and they really are) and considering the circumstances, this is a ridiculous ask, but I must try.   It takes weeks to setup a meeting, time is of the essence we discussed, he wants to think about it (that’s not a no!) comes back a few days later and the answer is….  “NO, not comfortable with that”.   I could never begrudge them.  Are you kidding?  This dude they barely met for a few minutes, weeks before shows up and wants to swap patches of land?  That sounds squirely as hell.  Yes, yes it does😊  I would have thought the exact same thing and said the exact same thing.  Well, now we have a serious conundrum.  Wheels are in motion bunches of money spent.  What are we to do?

 

April 2019

The ADI (American Distilling Institute) convention, Denver Colorado.  Thinking my only hope is to find someone to talk to from the TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau [formerly ATF]).  The TTB is the governing agency that grants distilled spirits plant permits.  Maybe, if I brought my plans and drawings, I might find someone who could help.

Day One of the convention – mission – Find the TTB table and see if the person would be willing to help.  I can’t believe my luck!  The person manning the booth is the actual guy who deals with this specific legal stuff and could very well end up being the decision maker when it comes to a distillery at a residence!  (There are a handful of such situations in the entire country).  He asks me “Do you have any plans or drawings with you?”  I said, I’ll be right back”.  I speed walked back to my hotel room, gathered up my stuff and beat feet back to his table.  We laid everything out on the table and discussed it.  He pointed out where I should put signs, fences, gates and where I should put the building, get a separate address for the building and if I did all that he said “we can probably work with that”.  Notice no commitment!  But sharing the driveway with the home is possible!  Wish I knew that a year ago😊

That’s all I needed to hear.  We’re back on!  Of course it is a total crap shoot!  We must build the building before the application to the TTB can even happen.   Risky?  Sure, but worst-case scenario, we’ll have a building perfect for a brewery or winery and we sell the place if TTB says no.

 

We’re on!  And now the real “fun” begins.  Look for more in Part 3.

 

 

Building a Distillery… Part 1

It is way harder than I ever thought possible. After purchasing the property in Clearview, I figured the back of the large garage would be perfect for a distillery. The land is zoned for it, the building is detached from the residence. Perfect, start there right? I thought so..

First, drilled a well to get that great water 220 feet down. Check!

Get the back of the garage cleaned up and ready, and engage some experts to help with the paperwork with the federal government.

Garage ready – Check!
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How it came about…..

It’s been almost 1 year since we broke ground on the distillery at our home, but the process started years before. I thought I would share a few parts of the story.

About 7 years ago after watching the TV show Moonshiners I was talking about it with a good friend of mine. We both thought the show was fun and figured if those guys can do it, then so can us techy types.

Well, my buddy, who has about the most extensive network of contacts that I have ever seen, setup a meeting with a guy, a moonshiner guy. That Saturday we “helped” him do a “whiskey” run. “Helped” was more watching and sampling cuts as the juice dripped from his 10 gallon homemade still. The quality of the product when proofed down was terrific. We learned tons, a few weeks later we again “helped” him “mash in” and do another run. Learned even more.
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Spark Basil Flavored Vodka

How’d you come up with that? It started out as an experiment with infusing botanicals (there’s a future product from those experiments) and I was looking to do something different. I’m not a huge Gin fan, there are some very nice ones that I do like that are more botanical based but the juniper is always there. So, the idea was to start playing around with botanicals. One night Karen and I were discussing it and she suggested we try basil. A basil vodka? Interesting idea, “what the heck”. So, we started by going to Albertsons and buying a bunch of fresh basil. From the first bottle, we knew we were on to something. Not overpowering, subtle, refreshing. I like it just over ice. But, it’s great in a Bloody Mary especially if you mix it with something like Skip Rock Distillers’ Badger Pocket Black Peppercorn Vodka (in downtown Snohomish). With the formula worked out, we couldn’t be happier with it. We’re sure you will too once you give it taste.
Cheers!
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