Manteo | Adam Ball, Kelly Bray, Matt Newsome, Scott Smith | www.outerbanksdistilling.com
We’ve never done this before, so it’s awesome to be able to call someone who has answers at the drop of a hat.
ABOUT OUTER BANKS CRAFT DISTILLING From molasses to glasses – a craft distillery making Kill Devil Rum on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The name, “Kill Devil” is what the fieldworkers called rum when they discovered how to distill the molasses left over from sugar cane production. They believed it would ward off evil spirits; a drink so strong it could kill the devil inside you. To get their sugar to New England, the ships would travel up the coast past the Outer Banks. The area was difficult to navigate and shipwrecks were common. The barrels of Kill Devil on board would wash up on the beach and the locals would be waiting to stash the barrels in the dunes before the salvage wreckers arrived. One of the most popular dunes became known as Kill Devil Hill.
Since their opening one year ago, these four artisans are changing people’s perceptions of how rum should taste. Using the best possible ingredients and nothing artificial, you can taste the raw, natural molasses.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED? The four of us met working at the Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills. Adam and Kelly were brewers, and Scott and I were bartenders. We knew early on that we wanted to do something as a group. Originally, brewing beer made the most sense, but the market is just too saturated. With the history of the Outer Banks, we kept coming back to rum. I mean, Blackbeard died right here in Ocracoke.
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU DECIDE TO QUIT YOUR JOBS? We met weekly for a year, looking for a location and working through a business plan with the SBTDC. We originally wanted to keep it in Kill Devil Hills, but the only township able to support our waste water was Manteo. As soon as we bought the building, we quit our jobs to work on the building renovation full-time, which took another year. We all believe that it is important to go into this 110%. Thankfully, we have a huge support system here that kept us fed and the bills paid.
DID YOUR FIRST YEAR MEET EXPECTATIONS? Until we had our Certificate of Occupancy in hand, it was illegal to make any rum. That was a little scary, but we weren’t going in blind. We used the two years leading up to take classes across the country, so our first batch was pretty close to the flavor we were looking for. It went into the liquor stores on May 5th and all 720 bottles sold out within four hours. It was September before they lasted a week on the shelves. We knew we had a following, but we never expected that. Now we have two medals from the American Craft Spirit Association as well.
AT WHAT POINT DID THE SBTDC GET INVOLVED? We’ve been with them from the very beginning. We thought we had a pretty good idea of what we were doing, then we met these awesome guys and realized how far away we really were. They prepared us for talking to the banks. It’s tough for start ups and they knew what red flags to look for so we were prepared. Even still, we were turned down twice. We are the first distillery on North Carolina’s East Coast, so we’re definitely the guinea pigs for a lot of issues. The SBTDC sat with us through the meetings and helped us figure out why they were hesitant and what we could change. We’ve never done this before, so it’s awesome to be able to call someone who has answers at the drop of a hat.
WHAT DO YOU FORESEE FOR THE FUTURE? The way things are going, the only thing holding us back is us. If we keep pushing and working hard, the sky is the limit. We’re looking forward to seeing how much rum we can really sell this year, since we aren’t playing catch up. But we’re being strategic in our growth, starting with the Outer Banks and moving out from there. It is really important to us that we take care of our hometown first. We’re hoping to replace our equipment with larger pieces with more capacity and maybe talk to a distributor next year. Then it’s the eastern seaboard and maybe the whole U.S.
This story was originally published in the SBTDC 2015-2016 Annual Report. View the entire report here.
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Our counselor, Janis Mueller, helped us find the right bank, figure out my financials, and put together our presentation to get an SBA loan. We still work with Janis regularly; in fact, I called just yesterday with some concerns. She was able to bring in an expert in the field that I had questions about while I was still on the phone with her. It was that quick. I think it’s unique that I can call her spur of the moment and get that kind of response. It has been very valuable to us and I would say we probably wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t reached out to the SBTDC. I talk about Janis like she’s magic but she is kind of magic.