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Geoff Stewart

Owner of Rig Hand Distillery

Geoff Stewart is the President and Owner of Rig Hand Distillery, Edmonton’s first  craft distillery. Having a background in chemistry from the University of Alberta  and illicit experience in moonshining, Geoff was interested in making the jump to  

legitimate distilling once legislation in Alberta changed to allow craft distilleries. He  enrolled in formal training at Artisan Craft Distilling Institute in Seattle, Washington.  Upon completion of this course he felt that he needed more hands on training so he  arranged an apprenticeship and Stillwrights bourbon distillery in Fairborn, Ohio.  

As head distiller, Geoff constantly challenges himself to innovate and come up with  novel recipes and business development ideas. He often works with other local  entrepreneurs to increase the business’ network and create “win-win” partnerships.  Rig Hand has over 70 products on the market with retail sales in over 1000 liquor  stores. Restaurant chains like Canadian Brewhouse and Boston Pizza now carry  their products. His business focus now has shifted to export markets with a new  distribution deal for 14 US states. Rig Hand has also diversified its business model  to offer courses similar to the one Geoff took in Seattle since none were being  offered in Alberta. They sell distillery equipment and offer consulting services to  other distilleries that want to start up. Rig Hand Distillery’s goal is to be a leader in the craft spirits industry in Northern Alberta and this constant innovation is making  this goal a reality. 

As a father of two highly successful daughters and spouse to one of Alberta’s leading  dentists, I am immediately surrounded by strong women entrepreneurs who are  professional business and community leaders. I have seen first-hand the dedication  and hard work required for them to have reached their levels individual success and  have the utmost respect for the extra challenges they have overcome that a man in a  similar position would not have faced. When I am in a room full of successful  business people, I automatically expect the majority of them to be female because of  my family members’ successes. The management team in place at our distillery is  also predominantly female and they run our company with the utmost efficiency. I  realize; however, that the skills they use to work so efficiently have been learned  over a long period of time and that they actively continue their education to  constantly grow their knowledge base. For some demographic groups access to the  resources necessary to develop these skills may not be readily available and it is the  responsibility of our education and business community to provide opportunities  for these people. To “Grow Women Leaders” I believe there is never too young of an  age to start and never an age too old to stop growing leadership skills. My oldest  daughter, Ande, was already running her own musical event production company by  the age of 12.  

I admit that as a man, I cannot answer some of the questions like which resources &  tools are the most helpful to tap intoas a woman. Instead, I asked our Vice President,  Jo-Ann Keller, what her experience has been in order to give you better feedback.  Her biggest challenges included balancing personal life, school, kids, and career  development. Although formal courses and some mentorship were helpful, her  greatest advances were made strictly by a strong mental attitude to push forward  and “never say no” to added responsibilities or tasks outside her comfort zone. Failure was her best teacher and the ability to not be discouraged from that failure  but instead use it as a learning tool. 

This is a characteristic that I see in all successful entrepreneurs regardless of  gender. The conviction to jump with both feet off a cliff, convinced that you can build  a plane before you hit the ground. A steadfast resilience to pivot and find alternative  solutions if your initial attempts fail. 

The most exciting partnership our company has currently is with Kikawinaw – Mother Earth Essential. This company is owned by two First Nations sisters. They  have been producing and selling traditional Indigenous teas for over 10 years. A  couple years ago, we started working with them to produce a sparkling gin tea  cooler. They had approached multiple businesses like ours, but none were willing to  partner. They did not give up and eventually came through our doors with what I  believe is the best product presentation I have ever seen. Other distilleries had not  wanted to partner with them because they feared back lash from the public about an  alcohol company exploiting Indigenous people or encouraging alcoholism in the  First Nation community. It is a discussion we had also but their response to my  query about possible problems was met with the perfect direct response “That is a  white stereotype. There are alcohol issues in all populations not just First Nations”. 

They were dead right and after the discussion I was now armed with the response I  would need if the issue ever did arise. The product is a mixture of our Wildrose Gin  and their grandmother’s traditional blueberry tea which we lightly sweeten with  birch syrup that we harvest ourselves each spring. The nature of the ingredients  creates a perfect fruity, floral cocktail that is not overly sweet and contains only 50  calories. In order to develop the recipes, Carrie & Kelly were able to access a grant  and worked with food scientists at Nait. Further Indigenous specific grants were  accessed for marketing material development and a full marketing strategy was  funded by a female entrepreneur initiative. They have already met with Earls  Restaurants who are planning to add it to all their menus, and they are in  negotiations to have it placed in every First Nations owned casino in North America.  In addition to being a great tasting product, we donate 25 cents from every can to a  foundation that supports the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women  and girls.

 

Visit: Rig Hand Distillery  for more information and shop their products