Disobedient Spirits: How A New Law Lead To Indiana County’s Only Artisan Distillery
BY: RYAN LOMBARDI
It was 2012 and Pennsylvania had just passed its new limited distillery law. To most this went unnoticed but, not to Bob Sechrist and his business partner Bob Begg, who instead saw opportunity. Fast forward two years when Disobedient Spirits, an artisan distillery, was open to the public. As one could imagine, it wasn’t as easy opening a distillery. This week as we sat down and talked with one of the owner’s, Bob Sechrist and discussed the hurdles in opening a new business, especially one that’s so heavily regulated. Also included are tips for first time Entrepreneurs, how to pick a location for your business and steps on how to create the best product you can, no matter the industry.
Bob’s passion for crafting alcoholic beverages started at a young age, fifteen, when he first started making wine in his parents basement. “I always made fruit wines so no one knew how bad I botched it.” he said laughing. But over the years he honed in his craft, eventually expanding into brewing beer during his college days. After college, he eventually moved back to Indiana and began teaching at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), started a family, and eventually didn’t have the time to continue brewing and making wine. That all changed years later when he heard the new distillery law had passed. He approached his former colleague at IUP, Bob Begg, and decided to open Disobedient Spirits.
Going from idea, to business, to final product is a monumental task, especially when that particular business is so heavily regulated. Talking with Bob, we can start to learn just how he and his business partner succeeded.
Pictured first is owner Bob Sechrist followed by Brent Guy, Tasting Room Manger since Disobedient Spirits opened.
How did you decide to start an Artisan Distillery?
“I’ve been in alcohol a long time.” Bob said laughing. “As soon as I heard the law had changed I knew it was time.” When you see an opportunity that you think can do well in you just have to take it. “Teaching the wine course at IUP and studying prohibition I figured I could probably do this. Morons 500 years ago were capable of distilling, I must be able to figure it out. It’s idiotically simple.”
How did you make the step from making wine and beer to distilling?
Making wine takes a long time, especially if you do it right. If a bottle of wine says Pennsylvania wine it more than likely came from grapes in Northeastern Pennsylvania. If the bottle says American wine the grapes came from somewhere in the United States. “You can only make wine once a year. Wine you have one shot, and if you screw it up, you are done for the year.” Bob said. “Whereas distilling you can make a 10 gallon batch everyday if you wanted to. You can do it over and over and really refine your product.”
“If morons 500 years ago were capable of distilling, I must be able to figure it out. It’s idiotically simple.”
Why did you choose Homer City for Disobedient Spirits?
“When we were looking for a building, it was at the height of the shale and oil industry and not a building was to be had in Indiana. Homer City is right in the middle of the county, 8 miles to Blairsville State Store and 6 miles to Indiana’s State Store and here we are right in the middle.” Conditions lead them to the area they settled in, and they couldn’t be happier. “Plus here in Homer City, we are kind of exotic.” Bob said.
How did you learn the distilling process with no prior experience in it?
“I kept telling myself and business partners, If morons 500 years ago can do it so can I.” Researching recipes, studying different variations and simply experimenting played a major part in learning. There are so many different variations of barley and rye among other things. 8000 gallons distilled this year. Bourbon you have to put corn whiskey in an oak barrel. Straight bourbon is in the barrel for 2 years.
How did you learn all the rules and regulations of this type of business?
“By doing a lot of things wrong.” Bob said with a laugh. But you do learn as you go for instance: In order to call your product a bourbon it must be put in an Oak barrel says the law. In order to call your product straight bourbon, it must sit in that Oak barrel for two years.
What was your biggest hurdle and how did you overcome it?
“Waiting for construction to finish. You want things to happen faster.” Bob said. Building the boiler then figuring out how it worked, refining and adjusting the 500 gallon still, all were hurdles they overcome but just simply doing and figuring out as they went. “Another thing we had to figure out was what to do with waste product. We ended up finding a hog and now cow farmer that take the waste to feed to their animals.”
Best advice for a new Entrepreneur?
“Get more money.” Everything costs more than you think it will. “Look back in history at all the successful businessman. Now how many of them started with a $500 to $1000 loan from their parents?”
Knowing what you know now, what would you do different?
“We would’ve bought a bigger still. We have the one we have now because you have to have a still before you can apply for the license. We didn’t know if we’d get a license or not, we’d figure we would but didn’t know for sure.”
Has there ever been a time you doubted yourself through this whole process?
“I’m usually pretty positive in everything i do. I can figure things out.”
How did you learn to run both a distillery and a business all at the same time?
“My business partner takes care of the lawyers, finances, and all those aspects.” If it’s not something you can do yourself, find somebody that can complement your skill set. It’s best to focus on your strengths and be the best at that. “Another thing I learned is to stand back and let people do their jobs. I actually never tell anybody to do anything, I simply make suggestions.”
“Stand back and let people do their jobs. I actually never tell anybody to do anything, I simply make suggestions.”
What would be the first step you’d tell someone starting their own business?
“Sleep on it. Make sure it’s truly what you want to do.”
Disobedient Spirits makes a variety of Brandy, Vodka, Whiskey and Gin available for purchase at their location in Homer City. In addition they have a large game room as well as bar serving multiple drink creations. Tasting Room Manager Brent, has been with Disobedient Spirits since the beginning. He is more than happy to share his extensive knowledge of the industry and their products, guiding you in the right direction. Depending on when you arrive at Disobedient Spirits, you may catch either Denise Swaine, head distiller, or Jason Gamble, distiller, making the product right in front of you. To learn more about Disobedient Spirits visit their Facebook here or their website here.
About the Author
Ryan is the founder of MuscleMan Media. A normal guy who just so happens to know a thing or two about digital marketing and social media. When not working, there is a good chance you’ll find him at the gym.
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