By Richard Thomas
The American craft whiskey boom and the widening interest in home distilling has created a demand for stills and other distillation items on a scale that simply did not exist 15 years ago, leaving established copperworks shops such as the famed Vendome of Louisville, Kentucky with waiting lists stretching out more than a year. A crop of new companies have sprung up to meet that excess demand, with one of early entrants being Hillbilly Stills.
Operating out of Western Kentucky, Hillbilly Stills has become a full-service shop, selling mash pots, fermenters, measuring equipment, yeast and other distillation items, as well as stainless steel and copper stills.
“I started my business basically from a hobby” says Mike Haney, owner of Hillbilly Stills. “I had a couple of still that I had bought off E-Bay, and to honest they were just junk. Very poor workmanship and productivity. I decided I could build a better still.”
Before long, Haney was working with a friend on building stills out of his garage to make extra money, and that garage business soon grew into a full-time job. He expanded his workshop onto adjacent properties, and by 2011 his son had joined the business. Hillbilly Stills now employs 13 people full-time, complete with benefits.
In terms of stills, Hillbilly makes and sells models from “250 gallons down” (the smallest listed is three gallons), representing a mix of copper and stainless steel and all-copper units. Haney is working on “a 400 gallon copper kettle with a 12” diameter column with 6 plates for making vodka” this year, his biggest project yet.
Much of what Hillbilly Stills does at the present time is assembly and sales, with sub-contractors doing much of the manufacturing. “[They] do our copper kettle basic build for us. We just don’t have the tools or room here to do it. We are hoping to expand soon and do all of this onsite. We also have a wood craftsman (Cedar Chips) that does all of our wood work for us right in in Barlow.”
As one of the early entrants into the new still contracting scene, Hillbilly Stills has supplied equipment to several familiar names, including Heritage Distilling in Wasington state, Old Ballard Liquor Company in Seattle, Treaty Oak Distilling in Texas and, most especially, Kings County in New York. Haney is justifiably proud of his successful business, but is quick to acknowledge the support he has received from within the still-building community, ostensibly the competition. “I must say Rob Sherman at Vendome Copper and Brass has been a great resource for me also. I send many thanks to him for advice and help in the past.”