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