ADDRESS: 720 NE Granger Avenue, Corvallis, OR 97330
PHONE NUMBER: 541-286-4285
OWNERS: Caitlin Prueitt and Chris Neumann
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 2½
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 1
WHAT THEY SELL: Vodka, gin, and liqueur
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: For distilled spirits that are carefully crafted using high quality ingredients. Their tasting room also features works by local artists.
Caitlin Prueitt and her husband, Chris Neumann, have worked hard to create the first woman-owned microdistillery in the Willamette Valley, and one of just five nationwide. As their website states, “Not since the days of bobbed hair and bathtub gin have women played a role in the production of distilled spirits.” But Caitlin brings far more knowledge and experience to her craft than those who made gin in the bathtub, and she is justifiably proud of the high quality products she and Chris have produced in just a few short years. They are committed to using ingredients that are as local as possible, and that commitment has paid off. Their “Native Gin” won a Gold Medal in TheFiftyBest.com “Best Gin” competition and the American Distilling Institute’s Silver Medal for Classic Rectified Gin.
Caitlin, when and why did you decide to start your business? We started the business four years ago, when we found ourselves chronically underemployed. We wanted to stay in the area, so we considered some different possibilities, including opening a distillery. At first, it seemed like a wild idea, but when we looked into it, we realized we could do it.
I had moved to Corvallis in 1996 to go to OSU. I have a degree in Nutrition, with a minor in Food Science/Fermentation. I had worked at a couple of wineries in California [Meridian and SVP], and I had also worked at a brewery in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1999. I was a hops research chemist at OSU for five years, from 2002 to 2007. Chris’s background is more in construction and hands-on work. He’s also done a lot of home brewing. Our combined skills were a good match for opening a distillery.
Once we made the decision to start our business, we took classes in California and Michigan that were specific to distilling. We also did a lot of reading and Googling. Willamette Community Bank gave us a loan through the SBA. The president of the bank showed a lot of interest in our business and even came out to the distillery. We named our “Bankers’ Gin” in his honor. We’re renting a space on Granger Road where Mid-Valley Tile used to be. We have a showroom that features work by local artists, and we have a warehouse that serves as our production space.
Tell us more about your products. What are your favorites? We currently have four products: vodka made from organic corn, two gins (Bankers’ and Native), and Turkish Coffee Liqueur. The Native has been really popular, since it’s an Oregon gin. The Turkish Coffee Liqueur just came out in August. We currently have rum aging in the barrel, so it’s coming up soon. We’ve committed to keeping it in barrel for a year. We’ll start a whiskey program in winter.
All of our products are sold through the OLCC [Oregon Liquor Control Commission]. We send our products on pallets to the OLCC in Portland, and they act as our distributor. We have to do all the marketing – to individuals, stores, and restaurants. Our tasting room is the only place where we can do direct sales. The tasting room is open every first and third Saturday – and also whenever we’re there. We’re happy to give people tours of the facility.
Our products are available at the two liquor stores in Corvallis, two in Albany, and one in Philomath. We’re in about 60 stores now, and there are about 240 total in Oregon. So we’re in the process of marketing to all of them. Chris does a lot of the tastings at stores, and I like doing the festivals and fairs. We’re hiring our first full-time employee next week to focus on marketing.
What does being featured as the Local Business of the Week mean to you? It means exposure, and at this stage of the business, that’s what we need. People need to know we’re here, then they need to come out and taste our product and buy it!
Does your business fill an unusual niche? There are a lot of distilleries popping up. Our products are different. Our Native Gin and Turkish Coffee Liqueur are unique. Also, we’re local and independently owned.
What challenges have you faced as an independent local business owner? What challenges haven’t I faced?! Financing was a real challenge, and the licensing process with state and federal governments was huge. Marketing has been another major challenge. Paying my own personal bills is another one, since we’ve put everything into this business.
What do you feel is the impact of local independent businesses on Corvallis, and what does the future look like for the local independents? Corvallis is very aware of what it means to support a local business. People here are very savvy, so Corvallis is a very good place to start a small business. And people support each other. Garland’s Nursery has a lot of events, and they’ve invited me to do tastings at a lot of their events.
What do you enjoy most about owning a local, independent business in Corvallis? There’s a sense of accomplishment; I’ve created something. Also, even though I’m working more hours now than when I had a regular job, I have greater flexibility.
What is your relationship to the community? What nonprofits or civic organizations do you support or participate in? We belong to CIBA and the DCA, and Chris and I do the MS Bike Ride together every year.
How important is sustainability to you and your business? Of course, financial sustainability is very important to us. Chris and I both still have to work outside of our business; he’s out of state right now on a job, and I work part-time at Squirrel’s.
We also care about environmental sustainability. A lot of water is used in the distilling process, so we installed a water cooling tower. That way, the water is recycled, and we’re able to cut way back on our water use. We’d like to put solar panels on our roof as soon as we can afford them.
(Interview and article by Annette Mills – October 27, 2013)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally-owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Corvallis Independent Business Alliance.