It all started with a Koi Pond. I have long been enamored with pond culture and the beautiful Koi fish. I have built several ponds over my time to house these fish and play at creating a self-sustaining ecosystem. As with everything I do, I look at what others have done and what is best for the subject, in this case, the fish. Generally, warm, clean water is best for Koi. Koi are a relatively hardy carp, but the ones I ordered were raised in the warmth of Florida. So when I got mine, they started dying due to a suppressed immune system due to the cold water.
Warming a large amount of water is an expensive hobby. I tried electric heaters, and found them to be way too costly to run. So I started looking at alternative fuels and greenhouse like structures over the pond to retain heat. I settled on experimenting with pellet stoves. You can automate and regulate the consumption of fuel much easier than with a wood stove. The first pellet stove I used was an old conventional electric operating stove I found on Craigslist. I built a heat exchanger for the fire box and fabricated a hydronic heating system for the fish tank. It worked well enough until the auger fried. So I began my research into non-electric pellet stoves. I found three on the market. The one that I found to be most suitable was the Wiseway Pellet stove invented by Gary Wisener.
I contacted Gary, and being an inventor, he was intrigued with the use I had planned for his stove and helped me with the heat exchangers. The short story here is when I plumbed the heat exchangers, I wanted to test the ability to heat water. I did a simple convection circulation system. The way I plumbed it initially, I got steam from the second heat exchanger.
The steam lead down a variety of new tangents: steam heat, steam engines, Sterling engines, water distillation, and fuel ethanol distillation. I pursued all of these avenues, but water distillation was the most inexpensive to begin with. We built the distillation column and began distilling water with the pellet stove. Then it was suggested that if you can distill water you can distill ethanol as it takes less heat because of the lower vaporization temperature.
I also had a steam engine built for me in India that took a substantial amount of capital, built a greenhouse, and began experiments in aquaculture and aquaponics. These ventures began to get rather expensive and I needed to start making more money than I was spending. This is when we began down the road to distilled spirits.
The paperwork for the permit was extensive and took a year to get approved. We had to be fully invested, meaning we had to have all our equipment purchased, set up, and the location leased prior to approval. This required selling most of our possessions and moving from Washington to Oregon where we are now located on the coast in Charleston.
How we chose to produce rum was a result of research in what was being made in Oregon and what the market competition looked like. Rum is one of the smaller sections in the liquor store, and a spirit not as commonly made in Oregon. I think the major reason is that sugarcane isn’t grown in our region of the country. But, molasses is readily available and is where the origin of rum lies.
We now produce 10 different rums, have a whiskey aging, and produce a vodka that is well liked locally.
The story doesn’t end there. I am still pursuing other technologies surrounding water purification, recycling, waste heat reuse, aquaculture, aquaponics, CO2 capture and remediation, composting and vermiculture, etc. These all play a part in the big picture of Stillwagon Distillery.