I’ve always admired people who have the courage to start their own business. It’s not only a ton of work, but a ton of risk, not only for you, but for your employees as well. Anyone who has the drive and ability to be an entrepreneur deserves respect, regardless of the product or service they provide. But not all businesses are created equal, and some are riskier than others. It turns out, starting a craft distillery in Virginia is about as gutsy a move as any entrepreneur can make.
In the new short documentary, Guerilla Whiskey, viewers can get a sense of how steep the climb from idea to execution has become in the seemingly rustic and simple art of making brown liquor. When Denver and Christine Riggleman decided to found the Silverback Distillery, they had no idea what they were getting into.
Denver, a veteran who survived war and a near death experience, came back to Virginia to live as a productive civilian. When his wife Christine told him she wanted to start a distillery, he jumped at the chance with characteristic optimism and enthusiasm, only to find the very government he had served rising up like a wall against him.
I’d be willing to bet that most people have no idea what goes into making a business viable in the regulatory climate of a state like Virginia, where beer and wine interests have largely boxed out the distillers with protectionist legislation. If you’re like me, you grew up thinking that all you need to be successful is a good product and willing customers. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works in the real world.
Whiskey, the drink that has sustained our country through good times and bad, is an American staple that has been made, legally or otherwise, since Scottish and Irish immigrants first came to these shores hundreds of years ago. Today, it’s no longer just a matter of perfecting your recipe and setting up a still. Virginia distillers have to comply with hundreds of pages of densely written regulations, and devote huge amounts of their revenue towards taxes and fees just to keep the government off their back. One cannot help but be reminded of the protection money demanded by mobsters in prohibition-era gangster films; a comical exaggeration doesn’t seem so funny when it hits close to home.
Despite these obstacles, Christine, who is the master distiller at Silverback, has managed to make some award winning spirits in the distillery’s relatively short lifetime. Meanwhile Denver, fed up with the way government stands in the way of those who just want to make a good product, has decided to effect change by seeking political office.
Guerilla Whiskey is an eye-opening look at how the institutions we rely on to provide justice and a level economic playing field actually stack the deck in favor of special interests, and against even the most patriotic Americans who only want to live, love, and prosper in the land of the free.