Building the Distillery

Building The Distillery, Part 1:

Donna’s Distillery blog, moved here, started in 2015 when we decided to actually open it.

Grab your favorite beverage and get comfortable, this is a long read, and LOTS of pictures!!

The following pages are as seen through her eyes as the adventure unfolded, and YES, there ARE Dragons!!!

We have been working on our new business venture (adventure?)! 

While lately it hasn’t really taken a lot of time, it has taken a lot of my mental energy, leaving me drained at the end of the day. So I haven’t had the wherewithal to drag myself 5 feet from the  couch to the laptop and do any posts. I have tons of pictures I took  over the summer and a few craft projects I could’ve put on, but instead I just vegged out, watching an episode of ‘Midsomer Murders’ on Netflix  every night! 

So….this is what is draining my brain…. 

We  have decided to open a distillery. Most people know what this is, but  sometimes when we tell people we are opening a distillery, the  conversation goes like this: 

us: we are going to open a distillery them: Ooh! are you going to make wine? (this would be a winery) us: nooo.. them: Beer? (this would be a brewery) us: nooo… them: well, what are you going to make then? us: whiskey them: Like moonshine? us: Yes! exactly like moonshine! (this would be a distillery, with a still, to distill alcohol) them: Cool! 

Why  start another business at this stage of the game, you may ask? Well, we  pretty much always knew that we wanted to have some sort of “retirement  business”. We figured we would never retire anyway, so we might as well  do something that would earn a little money and be something we would  enjoy. 

Vince has a knowledge of distilling that has been passed  down from his grandfather, to his dad, then to him. They never did it to  sell, they just did it for their own use and for fun. So when New York  State came out with a new distillery designation, the ‘farm distillery’,  we did some (a LOT) of research (Vince perused the Alcohol, Tobacco and Tax Bureau (hereafter known as the TTB) website and read a bunch of  stuff there and looked at options for equipment, which is all very expensive, of course!, and I looked at every NY distillery that had a website, and we went and visited a few distilleries to see their  operations) and even after finding out about all the crazy rules and  regulations, decided to do it anyway. 

Here are the basics to a farm distillery:  *  your products have to be made from 75% New York State grown  ingredients, i.e. corn, rye, barley, apples, etc. (these are the 4 we will be using the most of)  * you can sell the finished product on your premises, at  farmers markets and fairs, and directly to bars, restaurants and liquor  stores (NOTE: Turns out, some of these thing you can only do if you get a marketing permit). *you can have a tasting room where people can come and taste  your product. They can have three 1/4 ounce tastings per day (this has  now changed to allow us to make mixed drinks and whatever as long as we  make the whiskey that goes in it). 

still sounds cool, huh? 

Here are the basics to actually starting this cool business: *you  have to have a building at least 80% completely built and most of your  equipment (but NOT a still (but you need it’s serial number to apply), because it is illegal to own one, even if  you are only making whiskey for your own use) before you can even APPLY  for your federal permit from the TTB. It can’t be in your house,  attached to your house, in your garage, or attached to your garage. It  has to be a separate, secure building. 

 *once you get your TTB  permit, which can take 4+ months, then you can acquire your still (but  you can’t make any whiskey yet until you get your NY State permit). 

 *then  you can apply for your New York State permit (another 4+ month wait).  But NY doesn’t want to give you your permit until you have your building  100% finished and ready to open for business with product to sell. But  you can’t legally make any whiskey to sell until you get your NY permit! 

When  Vince was initially researching all these things and told me this crazy  ass-backwards process, I said “so what happens if after you have laid  out all this money for a building and equipment, they don’t give you a  permit?” AAGGHHHH!  Well, he did some more research and we couldn’t find  anywhere that a permit was denied if they met all the requirements. Oooohkaaay…  so we have to build a building. And put in another well. And another  septic system. Not a big deal, we thought, until we started pricing  materials, equipment, excavation costs, etc. Holy crap, we will be in  debt up to our eyeballs! But even that did not deter us for long… 

This is Vince’s philosophy, in his words: 

 If  you read other blogs written by some distillers, you will see them tell  you that you will require millions of dollars to open a distillery.  This is simply not true, though it would  make purchasing big fancy  buildings and fancy equipment possible. If you can build, and do things  yourself, and have knowledge of the processes,  you can start small and  build up a business to what ever level you might be comfortable with. 

So,  since we can do a lot of things, like design the building, hire and  oversee contractors, wire and plumb it, sheetrock and paint it, install  equipment, decorate, landscape, design logos and labels, construct and  paint our road sign, keep our own books, and do whatever else is needed  to start and run a business, who needs millions? 

so here is how we have done it: 

June  2015: we start kicking around the idea, did some cost estimates and  decided we could afford to take the risk (we are going to have to take  out a loan, bleh!) Talk to banks about rates. Talk to accountant about forming an LLC and general tax info. Come  up with cool name for distillery- Dragonfyre Distillery, it will be a  medieval theme with dragons and fairies, and we design a logo and come  up with bottle label ideas. I get lots of inspiration for stuff watching  Midsomer Murders, the pubs and buildings on that show are so cool! We  want to build a castle to put the distillery in. Waaaay out of our  budget! Rats! Come up with basic building design, want to do a  partially bermed, concrete walled building in the hill across the creek  from our house. Can’t decide on size until we get more prices for  things. 

July 2015: Tell family members we are going to do it.  Vince’s dad says “wow, you aren’t wasting any time!” Vince says “I’m not  getting any younger!” Apply for loan (will take 4-6 weeks) ,  contractor comes out to look at site and gives us an estimate (yikes, I  hope we can borrow enough money). Town says we need engineered,  stamped plans to get a permit, and we have to pay for a commercial  permit because it is for a business. Finally decide that 30’x40′ is the  largest we can go for the money we have to use. One end will be where  the still is and the other will be the tasting room/gift shop. There  will be a glass door in between the 2 rooms so the process can be viewed  by visitors. Ok, now we have to find an engineer (they used to be  called architects, but when we googled architect, not much came up).  Don’t know one. No one we know knows one. Google to the rescue! We  find one and he comes out to look at site and says it will be  $3,500-$5,000 for the plans (yikes again), we had not figured that into  the budget. But, oh, well. Give engineer a deposit. Called a lawyer  to see how much it costs to form LLC-$1800. Vince says @%!! , “I’m just  going to do it myself online, it is no big deal!” 

August 2015:  Start thinking we may want a stick built construction instead of the  concrete bermed one. Did some research about buying a prefab building  from a place called Woodtex out of Himrod, NY, over by Seneca Lake  (basically a garage that has been customized to what we want), turns out  we can get one delivered and set up on our site for not much more than  having Vince do the construction himself. It is just the shell, but will  save us months of work. Vince will still be doing the electrical and  plumbing. They will supply stamped plans for an extra $1200, but this is  just for the building and we need plans for the concrete slab it is  going on, so we have to pay another engineer $450 for slab plans. Call original engineer and tell him to quit working on the plans for the bermed building. 

 September  2015: Vince goes online and forms LLC on the New York State department  of corporations website for $235-poof! we are an LLC! Loan comes through! We  open a business account at the bank and apply for a Visa card so we can  start paying for stuff in the business name. That takes 3 weeks to get!  Call 2 local newspapers to run the notice of the formation of our LLC  for 6 consecutive weeks, this cost about $130. (NY is the only state  that requires this. After the 6 weeks of running the ad are done, we  have to send affidavits from the newspapers and $50 to the NY State  dept. of corporations for our LLC  to be officially recognized) We  put deposit on building (which we add 4 feet (so now its 30×44)  because it was only a  few grand more, at this point, what is a few grand more gonna hurt?)…  so we can get stamped plans… so we can apply for building permit.  Should only take 2 weeks. It takes 3. Take plans to town hall to apply for permit, should take 2 weeks. It takes 4. Starting  to sweat out the timeline issues of trying to get the excavation done  before winter hits. Sleepless nights worrying about things I have no  control over.(shouldn’t have worried about the weather since it has been  fairly nice out every time we had work done) 

October 2015:  Woodtex calls and wants to set up the delivery date for the week of  November 23rd (should take about 3 days to put it up). That week is  perfect, we don’t have anything else going on. But at that point we  still don’t have the building permit nor have we broke ground yet! They  give us till Oct. 23rd to let them know if they can keep that delivery  date. Our excavating contractor, Daryl Cross, calls on Oct. 22nd and  says he’ll be there on the 23rd, and the town says the permit will be  done on the 23rd also. I call Woodtex and give the ok.  Hooray, we  can start! Daryl gets the road in and the site prep ready for the  foundation guys (Johnson Valley Construction, Jeff and his crew which  includes our UPS man, Tony) to come in and set the concrete forms. 

  • pond
    The building will be up on the hill, across the creek

Building The Distillery, Part 2: the building arrives, Day 1!

  • I couldn't believe they were actually going to make it all the way up the driveway!

Building The Distillery, Part 3, Day 2 and 3

Day 2 and 3 of the build. It’s Tuesday, November 24th, 2015 The  crew arrives about 10:30 am, there were 5 guys again, but two of them  left for a while to finish up some stuff on a few other jobs nearby. It  is cold again. Get out the long johns! And a warmer hat. And another  coat to wear over the first coat. And a scarf, and 2 pairs of socks. It  is 23 degrees out.   

I think I’ll take my coffee with me today…..

  • The pond had ice on it this morning, and this is what my boots looked like most of the time from walking around in the mud!

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015 Just 2 guys today to finish up the trim, they didn’t get here till about 1:00. It was sunny, a beautiful day! I only

  • Putting in the window for the distillery side. You can see him holding his sandwich...they did not take much time for lunch!

Part 4: the real work begins!

On Black Friday, the weather was  nice enough so that I could get the porch posts stained. I didn’t think I  would be able to get to that till spring! We still need to add some  decorative details to the porch, but that will have to wait till spring. 

  • We went shopping on Saturday for electrical supplies- wire, outlet boxes, lights, etc. Vince got some of that stuff put in, then we started figuring out what materials we were going to need for the interior walls and ceilings. The original plan was to put wafer board on the distillery side for the walls and ceiling, but the code officer said we could only do that if we painted it with fire proof paint. proof paint is $350 for a 5 gallon bucket and we would need about 5 buckets, so we opted for fire rated sheetrock (65 sheets that are 8' x4') instead. Yuck, that is a lot of seams to tape and spackle! We hate taping and spackling, and are not very good at it either! The tasting room side, which I consider my side because I will be painting and decorating it, will have sheetrock (32 sheets that are 10'x 4') walls and a wood plank ceiling (100 boards). I've got a lot of ideas on how I want to paint the walls, and I want to do a mural of a dragon on one wall, I think behind the bar area would be good. And I want to put a small wall mounted fountain in there. I can't wait to get started on the fun stuff!

Part 5: what we got for Christmas!

Christmas eve day, 2015
It is 60 degrees out at 9 am!
Daryl comes to dig the trench for our electric supply to go from the pole to the building.
Alan Young, our well driller comes to work on the well.
My  brother Dave, who is home for Christmas, comes up to help Vince and  Daryl’s son Derek put the conduit over the electric cable. It is so warm out that the guys end up working in their t-shirts! 

  • This is the wire being delivered a few weeks ago. NYSEG told us what kind we had to buy, the sample we got from the field engineer, Paul Blakelock, was a foot long and weighed a pound! Vince looked up on line how much it would cost- $13.00 per foot. And we needed about 300 feet. Holy Crap! So he looked around some more and found a place in NJ that had it for $2.85 per foot. WTF? I think we should go into the electric wire resale business! So Vince ordered 400 feet just to make sure we had enough, because the wire has to go up the pole 40 feet, and we weren't exactly sure where we were putting the underground vault for the transformer yet.

Distillery part 6: Utilities and progress! A lot has been accomplished the last few weeks.

  • This is the transformer where the huge wire comes from the pole, then the secondary wire runs up to the building. They did this part first.

Distillery part 7:

Sealing, priming, cleaning It has  been so long since I’ve done a post, I almost forgot how!  Between  working at Fancifuls in the mornings and then working on the building  interior in the afternoons and weekends, I’m just too tired to blog!
Vince is currently recovering from his second carpal tunnel surgery, so I have a few free minutes to give some updates.
We  have been very busy working on the inside, this post is showing what we  got done prior to Vince’s first carpal tunnel surgery on March 16th. We  were trying to get as much as we could done because he would only have  the use of one hand for awhile. We didn’t really know what to expect  from the surgery, but all went well with his left hand, he had minimal  pain and was able to do some minor tasks after a few days. The worst  part about the whole thing was having to tape a plastic bag over his  hand for 12 days while he showered.
sooo, anyhoo, here is what we got accomplished in February and early March…. After  the drywall was finished and we got the heat going, it was time to put  up the ceiling in the tasting room so the insulation guys could come  back and do the attic area. 

  • This is the lumber for the ceiling in the tasting room, there are 8' and 10' lengths of wood in these piles. We bought all this last year and had it delivered the same time as the lumber and drywall.

Distillery part 8: Painting stuff

This time it really has been too  long! I’ve been looking for my photos on this computer for a half an  hour trying to figure out if I have edited any yet or not! The last time  I tried to do a post a few weeks ago, when I turned on the computer, it  said it wasn’t connected to any network, so I couldn’t get on line.  Vince wasn’t here, and I don’t have a clue! So I said a few choice swear  words and watched a movie instead!
We have been having computer or  internet issues lately (mom, too, her hard drive went in her laptop, we  had it replaced and then the new one went also, so it is currently back  at the repairman’s – the Computer Man in Johnson city). The hard drive  in Vince’s work computer croaked last week, so he is working on fixing  that as I write this. There is nothing more frustrating than these  computers!
Our internet connection is so slow in the mornings that it  takes forever for me to process orders and get the postage printed from  my program, and God forbid it be a foreign order, that can  take up to a 1/2 hour just to print a label out!! Needless to say that  the last thing I want to do is go near a computer. I miss the good old  days before all this technology ran our lives. I’m so glad to have the  distillery project to get me away from the computer (for now anyway,  wait till we open and have to do all our reporting to the government  online!) Well. We have been very busy and have gotten a lot done  in the last few months. I’m not sure when these pictures are from. I  think it was in late March after Vince’s first carpal tunnel surgery (he  is doing great, by the way!) I hope to get caught up with our progress  here on the blog in the next few days. 

  • Lumber for trim, paint for walls, and 2 tables we got from the old Hunts Turkey Farm building in Killawog. We rented the building from 1996 to 1999 for Fancifuls. The legs were really rusty, so I painted those with some Rustoleum. They are super heavy duty with stainless steel tops.

Distillery: Part 9 Fe, Fi, Faux, Fun!

  • I knew I wanted to faux wood grain the interior doors right from the beginning. I've had the wood grain tool since I was a teenager, but never used it because I didn't know how. Enter the wonderful world of you-tube! I watched a few videos (only one was really helpful) and said "wow! That looks really easy!" And it was!

Distillery part 10: The Tasting Room is (mostly) Done!

A lot of progress has been made!  The tasting room is done enough to open with. Of course I have some  other things I would like to do- paint a mural on the wall behind the  check out counter, and paint some faux bricks and crumbling plaster on  some parts of the walls. That will have to wait, because I have to paint  the road sign and a bunch of other signs. We are sending out our NY  State permit application tomorrow, so we need to be ready to open as  soon as that is approved. So I think this will be OK for now!

  • This is the start of the tasting bar, they are 2 kitchen cabinets that we used in our kitchen temporarily while we built the house.

Distillery part 11: The restroom, we’re finished!

Since our Grand Opening is going to  be next Friday, I figured I should tell everyone that we are finally  finished working on the distillery! It is hard to believe that it has  been a year since we were waiting for the building to be delivered the  week of Thanksgiving. Here is the restroom from start to finish,  it was a lot of work, but a great outlet for my creativity and I am  super excited about how it turned out. 

  • I really wanted a Treebeard type character in there. This resin face made it really easy!

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