Rob DeGroot, founder and owner of Red Cup Distillery, likes to describe his new business using a question that to him, doesn’t need to be answered.
“What else would you rather be doing than making liquor?”
When DeGroot, who lives near Vegreville, first had the idea to start a distillery, he was trying to answer a similar question after leaving his last job: what would he rather be doing?
“We thought we were going to get the fancy German still and buy the Fisher-Price kit with the laptop, where they give you all the recipes. But we couldn’t afford that. Then my wife in her passing wisdom says, why don’t you build your own still? It was the smartest decision we made,” DeGroot said.
So he went to his local ATB branch and asked for help in setting up the business and financing it. His contact there put him in touch with a small business expert in the Calgary office, and she suggested he try Alberta BoostR, ATB’s rewards-based crowdfunding platform, to help with some startup financing.
“Participating in BoostR forced me to confirm my product and confirm support, and helped me to focus my marketing efforts and communication to the broader public.
“It was the best thing we did. It was basically priceless because we met people and began a journey with the public. We wouldn’t have had it any other way. If I didn’t do BoostR, I’d open my doors one day and say, please come, and hope people did. This way, I pre-sold more than 200 bottles.”
DeGroot participated in a BoostR Stage event in Edmonton, where he had to present his idea to a crowd of Edmontonians and pitch his business for a chance to win $1000 from a panel of expert judges. He won.
“It was scary when I won, very scary. I thought, please, I hope my fly is up,” DeGroot said.
“The judges said, we believe this brand can be around the world, we believe this can be the next Alberta beef. That was humbling.”
DeGroot is steadfast in his resolve that Red Cup Distillery’s moonshine be Alberta grown and produced.
“We do not add chemicals, we bring in raw grain, that’s it. It’s from Vegreville, I don’t go to Scotland for this, China for that, it’s from Vegreville, literally the way grandpa did it,” DeGroot said.
“That’s what the moonshine’s like, I can’t describe it any other way. We’re making it the same way as the way grandma made bread. A little more of this, a little more of that, wait a little longer.”
Red Cup Distillery moonshine is available directly from DeGroot at his place in Vegreville, and they’re working on making it available at some local shops and restaurants. So far, Boston Pizza in Vegreville is carrying it, as well as Kitchen by Brad, a culinary school in Edmonton. But he encourages anyone who’s interested to come out for a tasting. He also recommends a couple of books, to help people understand the roots of his business better: Booze: When Whiskey Ruled the West, and Red Lights on the Prairies, both by James H. Gray.