a brief interview with one of the founders of Pittsburgh’s Maggie’s Farm Rum

Maggie’s Farm Rum is a small rum distiller based on Smallman Street in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Jess and I found it thanks to a Yelp blogger event we attended there. We’ve become big fans of Maggie’s and try to stop there for a cocktail as much as possible. My favorite libation is the ginger spiced rum. It’s run by some cool guys and is just a great place to stop and unwind.

To continue my series of “a brief interview with…” I reached out to Tim and he was kind enough to answer some questions for my blog.

Tell me about how Maggie’s came into reality.
I had been homebrewing for about 8 years and always thought about making that jump professionally, but it didn’t make much sense for me at the time. There were too many risks. A little over three years ago I ran across some state legislation in the pipeline that was going to open up things for distilling in Pennsylvania, permitting direct sales by distillers and drastically lowered license fees. Right around the same time, I got an email from the Seibel Institute, a brewing academy in Chicago whose mailing list I was on. It was an announcement for their new craft distillation and distillery management program. Everything just came together at that point. I enrolled a few days later and was on my way to Chicago that summer. Then, things got difficult. I had the know-how and access to the equipment, but none of the funds to procure it. I spent about eight months working with banks to secure a loan, but it was mostly a waste of time. They just don’t lend money to start-up businesses anymore. But it forced me to take a hard look at my plan and cut the fat. I decided I was going to pay for it myself and I ended up withdrawing most of my retirement fund to do it. I was going all in.

Fast-forward about a year later and things were taking much longer and costing more than I expected. My savings were running low, so I started looking for part-time work. I answered an ad on Craigslist that Moss Clark had placed looking for a carpenter to help him complete restoration of a house he was flipping up in the Slopes. We quickly became friends. We spent a ton of time discussing my options for the distillery while we were working. He ended up deciding to shore up the remaining investment needed and began work on the build-out of the distillery as soon as we finished the house. We were making rum within a few months after that.

 How did you find your location?
A LOT of searching thanks to Goldilocks syndrome. At least a year’s worth. Everything was either too large of a warehouse space and not cost-effective or too small and not zoned properly or lacking the proper utilities. The funny thing is I looked at the current location a year earlier, but blew it off for whatever reason. I was going through some old photos and ran across it again. I decided to take another look. Everything about it would be right with some work. It had the industrial feel because that’s exactly what it was. It was easy to give that speakeasy-ish feel. And the real estate was cheap in that area, but it’s still on a great corridor between Lawrenceville and the heart of the Strip.

How do you guys decide what new product to produce?
Mostly, I just think to fill a niche. What sort of spirits are Pennsylvanians underserved with? Even the premium state stores don’t carry any American-made craft rums. White brandies are also something that I enjoy, but have little to no availability in our Commonwealth.

Has Pittsburgh been pretty receptive? Jess and I love everything you guys do.
Very. More than I expected, actually. Given our production capacity potential, I planned doing half retail and half wholesale outside of the state. We’re currently only able to supply the walk-in and drink sales at the distillery with a small percentage going to about 25 or 30 restaurants around the area.

What are the plans for Maggie’s future?
More products, ideally. But the logistics are difficult. New products require new government approvals of labels and often the formulas and that takes months. There’s also the concern of being able to supply enough of the rum without worry of stopping its production for something else. But something has to give soon. We’re basically running at full capacity right now and are just barely keeping up with demand. We’ll likely have to expand production later this fall. I’d really like to put out some fruit brandy and also a beer schnapps. I’ve had some great success distilling some weizenbock from Penn Brewery and I’m working with some other local breweries to distill different beer styles.

And the big question is…who is Maggie?
It’s just a metaphor for that job working for that company that everyone hates. It’s based off a Bob Dylan song Maggie’s Farm. It’s a position I was in a few years ago. That song came on the radio after having a particularly bad day at work. I decided then and there I wasn’t working on Maggie’s Farm anymore.

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