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Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Creative Problem-Solving Gives “Ventura Spirits” a Leg Up

by Kristen Senz
July 2018 • CoolStuff

What started as two teenage brothers tinkering in their Los Angeles garage has since evolved into a successful and growing craft distillery, with an emphasis on innovative infrastructure design and hyper-local raw materials.

To make Wilder Gin, the most popular product of Ventura, California-based Ventura Spirits, engineering major Andrew Caspary ’06, his older brother Anthony, and partners, Henry Tarmy ’06 and James Greenspun, start by foraging.

“We work with local landowners and ranch owners and farms to pick on the margins of their property,” explains Caspary. They gather purple sage, bay laurel, sage brush, and yerba santa—herbs that grow in abundance in Ventura County—and hang them up to dry in the distillery. “The gin has this very savory, sort of arid, kind of coastal range character to it, because of those herbs.”

The Ventura Spirits Team
l to r: Anthony Caspary, Henry Tarmy '06, Andrew Caspary '06, and James Greenspun

Between the gin and Ventura Spirits’ other products, which include a strawberry brandy, prickly pear spirit, and vodka made from a 50-50 mix of potatoes and apples, Ventura Spirits processes nearly 500,000 pounds of raw materials each year. That, along with the distillation process, requires some serious machinery, and that’s where Caspary and his engineering talents shine.

“Our approach has definitely been a more technical and innovative one,” he says. “Because of my engineering background, we felt more confident in doing things our own way. We’ve built out an infrastructure that is pretty unique, and we’ve done it for a lot less money than a lot of other distilleries.”

Along with his brother Anthony, an industrial designer, Caspary, who also serves as director of engineering at Resonic, tweaks and troubleshoots equipment at the distillery to increase quality, efficiency, and output. Driven by a “hunger for creative problem-solving,” the founders have accomplished for about $15,000 what has cost other distilleries closer to $150,000, says Caspary.

“The best way that we’ve found to learn is to do,” he says. “Through the willingness to take risks and try new things, and the openness to failure and the understanding that iteration is a necessary and expected part of the development process, we’ve been pretty pleased with how things have gone and how we’ve been able to build, develop, and grow.”

Currently distributed only in California, Ventura Spirits produces a few thousand cases each year and is now exploring regional and international distribution options. A tasting room opened at the distillery last year, and word is spreading about the company’s creative spirits. “We’re definitely poised for quite a bit of growth before we need to spend a bunch more money on capacity increases,” says Caspary.

Ventura Spirits equipment room
Andrew and Anthony Caspary did a lot of the design and fabrication work themselves on the custom still and other machinery at the distillery in Ventura, California.

One downside to their success, Caspary admits, is that drinking is not as enjoyable as it once was. “The reality is that drinking alcohol becomes less fun the deeper you get sucked into the industry.” On the bright side, however, the business has given Caspary a greater appreciation for the various skillsets needed to build a winning brand.

“Engineers tend to not be valued or compensated according to how they see their contribution to the business,” he says. “Now, having a business of my own that has products that have to be sold, I definitely appreciate the outsized contribution of salespeople. Developing and making stuff is important, but that doesn’t make a successful brand.”

Tags: alumni, design, entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership

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