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922 South Morton Street
Bloomington, IN, 47403
United States

812-202-6789

Cardinal Spirits is a craft distillery in Bloomington, Indiana that specializes in producing extraordinary spirits from local ingredients.  

Spirit Trail

Modern Memento Mori

Adam Quirk

Now I'd like to talk about something very exciting. You're all going to die!

Memento mori is Latin for "remember that you must die". In medieval times this phrase was used as a reminder that we are mortal, and that earthly goods and pursuits are all transient. Back then it was the mostly about turning your attention towards the immortality of the soul and the afterlife. But honestly, I’m not as interested in that part. I see the modern version of Memento Mori as a reminder that we’re only alive here on this planet for a short time. Maybe eight decades or so if you’re lucky. Of that, you’ll spend around the first quarter in formal education. Then you’ll get maybe 4 or 5 decades of “career” where you’ll spend the majority of your time before wrapping it all up with a couple decades of retirement.

Then you’ll die, and you will stay dead forever.

For me, this is a constant reminder to make the absolute most of my time. It is a framework in which you can make other choices. Watch reality TV or read a book. Spend time in the park with my son, or skim Twitter on the couch. Time is your most valuable currency, and it cannot be accumulated, only spent. 

This is my own Memento Mori. It's a black ceramic mug in the shape of a human skull.

This is my own Memento Mori. It's a black ceramic mug in the shape of a human skull.

 

Now if I'm being honest I don't think about my own death every time I fill this with coffee each morning. And I definitely don't think about death every time I take a drink. That would probably drive me insane. But every once in a while, I'd say once a week or so, I see it in that light. It reminds me of why I use it. And that is all I need - at that moment it forces me to stop reading email or whatever I'm doing, and think about what is important to me. That is incredibly valuable. 

You don't have to use a skull. It can be a piece of stone to remind you how short your life is in geological time. Or maybe a dried flower. The point is to find something to jolt you out of your routine, and rocket you up about 30,000 feet above your own life so you can see everything from a bigger perspective.

Highly recommended.

The Unknown Monk

Adam Quirk

Changing yourself is inevitable. But what about changing the world? 

Time for another quote. This one is attributed on the Internet to "Unknown Monk, circa 1300 AD" but that origin is highly unlikely considering the content. I don't care at all who said it, because it holds a lot of meaning for me.

When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.

I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.
When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.
— The Internet, circa mid 2000's

 

The point being, that to solve big problems in life, and achieve big social goals, you don't need to be Elon Musk or Barack Obama. 

Start small, improve the lives of your close circle. The theory of compounding interest spreads that change out into the world.

World peace is a massive, lofty goal. To be honest, it seems unlikely in our current situation. But maybe the problem is that we've been thinking about it wrong. Instead of world peace, what if we decided to try to achieve inner peace? And if we could somehow do that, try to achieve family peace. And then we try to achieve Bloomington peace.

There are actual examples of this sort of bottom-up approach working. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr come to mind. One person doing good things at a very small scale can lead to massive societal change.

Let Go, and Trust People

Adam Quirk

Starting this business, I had to learn everything pretty much from scratch. 

I had been interested in flavor and smell from an early age, writing recipes for things when I was 5 years old, working in restaurant kitchens all through high school and college. I knew how to make things taste good. As a dirt poor 20-something I would buy cheap vodka, filter it through a Brita pitcher, and infuse it with fruits and spices to make delicious concoctions. They made great party gifts. But I had no idea how to actually make the base spirit, the vodka or whiskey. So I read. Articles, books, forums. Anything I could get my hands on. 

Like most people doing something new, I made mistakes, and learned from them. But luckily, humans are one of the few species that can also learn from other peoples mistakes.

So after lots and lots of reading about distilling, I moved on to learning about starting a business, then raising money, then running a business, creating a corporate culture, and on and on. I read a lot. Watched a lot of TED talks. Went to a few conferences. 

In retrospect it might have been too much. I'm sure you guys know that too much information can cause a kind of addiction. Checking Facebook, reading articles on Medium, watching TED talks, it's all kind of a temporary high when you are taking it in, but at some point you have to put all that shit down and go do something with that information. 

So in May 2013 I left my job as a marketing director for a tech company called Cheddar, and started raising money for the distillery. By that September my business partner and I had raised $850,000 and secured loans from German American for another $700,000 to purchase equipment. So that was crazy, and scary, and exciting. 

Next steps were to start renovating our building, and for me to start creating our brand identity and labels. That was an amazing process, and what I really want to share here is that outside perspectives are incredibly important for design. I think a lot of designers tend to focus on their own perspective, like an artist. That is definitely valuable. But design is not only art. It is a process. Designing in a vacuum is like looking at an object with one eye closed. You need multiple perspectives to see the true dimensions of anything.

So I met this guy Ryan Irvin, a local designer. He just so happens to be insanely talented, thoughtful, and at the time he was relatively inexpensive. Still is, when you consider the talent level. Ryan helped build the Cardinal Spirits brand identity with me, and there is no way it would look as good as it does without him. We developed the visual system for the labels, the typography, and colors.

For me, this was a big learning moment. For most of my career I had worked alone. This taught me that I could and should trust other people to handle big important pieces of work. Trust people to do a good job, and they will usually do it.

I want to tell you one of my favorite stories about trust. It's from a book called This I Believe, which is a collection of essays from people all over the country about their personal beliefs. It ranges from famous politicians to pizza delivery guys, and they are all excellent.

Anyway, this is from that book.

“One night recently, I was driving down a two-lane highway at about sixty miles an hour. A car approached from the opposite direction at about the same speed. As we passed each other, I caught the other driver’s eye for only a second.

I wondered if he might be thinking, as I was, how dependent we were on each other at that moment. I was relying on him, not to fall asleep, not to be distracted by a cell phone conversation, not to cross over into my lane and bring my life suddenly to an end. And though we had never spoken a word to one another, he relied on me in the same way.

Multiplied a million times over, I think this is how the world works.

In my own life, I’ve put great stock in personal responsibility. But as the years have passed, I’ve also come to believe that there are moments when one must rely on the good faith and judgment of others. So while each of us faces - at one time or another - the prospect of driving alone down a dar road, what we must learn with experience is that the approaching light may not be a threat, but a shared moment of trust.”
— Warren Christopher, This I Believe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trust People - if you're taking notes, that should be a bullet point.

I want to tell you one of my favorite stories about trust. It's from a book called This I Believe, which is a collection of essays from people all over the country about their personal beliefs. It ranges from famous politicians to pizza delivery guys, and they are all excellent.

Anyway, this is from that book.

One night recently, I was driving down a two-lane highway at about sixty miles an hour. A car approached from the opposite direction at about the same speed. As we passed each other, I caught the other driver's eye for only a second.

I wondered if he might be thinking, as I was, how dependent we were on each other at that moment. I was relying on him, not to fall asleep, not to be distracted by a cell phone conversation, not to cross over into my lane and bring my life suddenly to an end. And though we had never spoken a word to one another, he relied on me in the same way."

Multiplied a million times over, I think this is how the world works.

In my own life, I've put great stock in personal responsibility. But as the years have passed, I've also come to believe that there are moments when one must rely on the good faith and judgment of others. So while each of us faces - at one time or another - the prospect of driving alone down a dar road, what we must learn with experience is that the approaching light may not be a threat, but a shared moment of trust.

 

 

 

 

Change Is Coming

Adam Quirk

Here's something I know to be very true from direct experience. You only grow through challenge. 

You have to disrupt your comfort zone. Bombard yourself with challenging people and situations. That is the best way to keep growing. If you're not growing, you're dying.

Cardinal Spirits is a little over a year old, and my son is a little over a year and a half. Some of you may notice that that means my last year was completely fucking crazy. 

It was easily the most difficult year of my life. Work, baby, health, life. All of it. Starting a brick and mortar manufacturing business, that also has a full bar, that also is in a highly regulated industry, also also also. Doing that while becoming a first time father was a challenge with a capital C and all the other letters are also capitalized. 

I've learned sooooo many things about myself in the past year. But here is the most important one:

Try not to say “I'm overwhelmed, make it stop.” 
Say “This is really hard, I must be growing fast."

Think of yourself as a little sapling tree that's struggling to grow big enough to break through that forest canopy and capture more sunlight. Or since we're in Indiana, maybe you're a stalk of corn. Whatever works. 

Just remember that this too shall pass. Whatever terrible thing you are feeling when you are in the heat of battle, or curled up in a ball under your desk.

All will pass. Change is coming. Change is absolutely inevitable. Ride it like a river.

 

 

 

What's the frequency, Kenneth? λν = c

Adam Quirk

I was raised in Evansville, a couple hours South of here on the Ohio River. My parents still live there. My dad is an engineer, just like his father, my Grandpa, who was an engineer in the Army during WWII and then later at the Whirlpool plant in Evansville. My dad started as an electrical engineer, so I grew up around circuit boards, voltmeters, and oscilloscopes. I was never scared of electricity, like many people rightfully are, because I was taught how to understand it. My dad now deals mostly with medical gas systems. He founded and continues to operate GasMedix, and his entrepreneurial spirit has influenced me a lot. 

One day when I was laying on my bed staring up at my ceiling fan, my Dad came in and we started talking about light. He laid down next to me and said, "You know, you can describe everything in the world with math." He described how light from the bulb could be calculated. The colors and sheen of the paint can be calculated. The roundness of the bulb, the velocity and trajectory of the blades through the air, the resistance the air provides. All of these things can be written in equations. That conversation opened my eyes to a new way to see the world. And it changed how I thought about math at school. Instead of a subject to be memorized and tests to be passed, it became a tool to be practiced so that I could use it in the real world. It taught me that what you see with your eyes is not all there is - there is always something else happening beneath the surface of the world. That was incredibly exciting, and has continued to inspire me to this day. It made me realize that you can figure things out for yourself, if you know the right way to look at stuff.

Jump, Dive, Run

Adam Quirk

Avoid the hurdles. Every so often something will happen that could threaten the life of your business. If you’re lucky, this only happens once a month or so. For us it seems to happen every three weeks. You have to have a very thick skin, and be wildly optimistic. You can get scared, that is natural. But don’t stay scared for long. Get over it, and move forward. Sometimes that means drastically changing a process or an entire strategy. Just do it and move on. Don’t trip over the hurdles, either jump over them, dive under them, or run around them.

No Marketing Department Needed

Adam Quirk

Marketing is a blanket term for everything a business does. Creating new products? Marketing. Designing a website or label? Marketing. It has lost most of its usefulness to define work. The more meaningful term that we use is “demand creation”. What you likely need is a content person (to write blog and Facebook posts, shoot instagram photos, and make Youtube videos), a design person (to create materials like packaging, advertisements, and POS materials), and an events person (to manage events at the distillery, off-site tastings, and festivals or conferences). In the early days, you might have one or two people that do all of these things. But try to find people in your company that can take some of this load off your shoulders for you. Maybe a bartender has some Photoshop skills. Or your distiller is already using Instagram. Get them the launch codes to your social channels and let them go crazy.

Focus Focus Focus

Adam Quirk

Focus focus focus. What is the most important thing you need to do today? Do that first. What are the five other things you need to do today? Make a list, then draw a line under the top three. Get those things done first. Turn off your internet and phone if you have to. Put on headphones with no music playing. Do whatever is necessary to allow yourself the space and time to get your work done.

Subordinate to the Constraint

Adam Quirk

Find your constraint, then subordinate all other things to the constraint. What is the one thing in your business that is preventing you from growing? Is it the size of your still? Your amount of social media followers? I’m willing to bet it is neither of those. If you are selling out of your product as soon as it hits the shelf, then you are doing great. But if your products sit there for a couple weeks, then the constraint is the demand for your products. That means that any time you are working, you should be creating or cultivating demand for your products. All the time, no matter what. Don’t fix the leaky faucet. Don’t rent more space for more fermenters. Don’t do anything that doesn’t directly relate to creating demand in the market for your products. Go out and do a tasting event. Go talk to a bartender and tell them about your company. Make a poster and hang it up in your local liquor stores. Creating demand starts with information dissemination, and ends when the customer consumes and enjoys your product. Not until the bottle is empty can you truly say you have made a sale, because that’s when they will buy another.

The Market Doesn't Matter

Adam Quirk

The market is not your constraint. I cringe when someone is pitching an idea and they say “there are a billion people in this market” because that number is meaningless. Let’s look at Indiana. There are about 2.1 million people over the age of 21 living here. 70 percent of the population reported that they drank in the past year. That’s about 1.5 million people who could be our “market”. So now that we have some products on the shelf, we should be sitting pretty because all those folks can buy our stuff! But the problem is never the market itself, it’s creating demand for your product WITHIN the market. Your market can be a billion people, but until they are demanding your product, it might as well be zero.

Get a Contract

Adam Quirk

Get a contract. The hard truth of life here on Earth is that not everyone is cool and nice and honest. We’ve been lucky, and found about 90% of the people we’ve done business with are great. But there have been a handful of people who have tried to fuck us, and a couple have been successful. It’s a hard lesson to learn. When you’re starting a business you have to be almost impossibly optimistic, because there is a new problem to fix almost every day, and if you let them get you down you’ll get depressed and fail in a month. But that optimism can blind you to the motives and dishonesty of that 10% of our species that seems to consist of shitheads. So now we always get a contract, regardless of who it is. We never want to rely on the kindness of strangers for the health of our business.

Location, Regulation, Location

Adam Quirk

Location is important, but not for the reasons I thought. We have had to fight tooth and nail to get this distillery up and running. The town where we live, although a lovely place to live, makes it very difficult to start small businesses. This is not the case everywhere of course - many communities incentivize businesses with tax abatements and other programs. Here, they make you jump through a hundred hoops, and pay a hundred fees. It has been one of the biggest unforeseen hurdles in starting this business.   Check with your utilities and planning departments before you sign any leases or buy any property. You may be in for a surprise. If we had it to do over again, we would seriously consider building the distillery outside of city limits to avoid the oppressive departments we had to deal with here. Look at surrounding communities, even if you happen to live somewhere great.

You only improve the things you measure

Adam Quirk

Money is malleable and subjective. In some parts of the world, a million dollars is three meals every day for a hundred people, for an entire year. In other parts of the world, a million dollars is one man’s salary for throwing an inflated piece of animal skin through a steel ring for three hours. At our company, a million dollars is what we need to make in one year to break even. That’s around $80,000/month just to keep the lights on and our staff employed.

You only improve the things you measure. A million dollars is a big, scary number to me. So I rarely think about it, and instead focus on daily and weekly revenue goals. I know that if we can make around $15,000 per week in our tasting room, and $5,000 per week in outside sales and distribution, we’ll hit our monthly target. We break that down even further and set daily bottle and cocktail sales goals. As soon as we posted these goals for staff to see, we started hitting them.

Cash is King

Adam Quirk

The goal of any business must be to make money - that is the baseline, because money powers everything from employees to products. The social and environmental altruism at the forefront of some modern business cultures is always secondary to revenue and growth, no matter what they say on their blog. Money in and of itself is not the end goal for most sane people, it is the means to an end. But cash is king and the lifeblood of business. Don’t forget about that in the heady days of writing your business plan to save the world.

The Business Game

Adam Quirk

Business is a game, and games should be fun. Like most games there are rules, goals, and points. Money is the points system in business. There are many contestants, but only a handful of winners. The winners get freedom to explore the world and spend their time doing as they please, whether that’s helping others in their communities, or devouring expensive caviar and driving cars with doors that go up and down instead of out. Keeping in mind that you are playing a game can lower the pressure and make you think about business and money in a different way

Getting better

Adam Quirk

We've been building Cardinal Spirits for about three full years now. What have I learned so far?

Quite a bit about starting and running a distillery. A lot about running a business. A lot about what I’m actually good at and what I enjoy doing. A lot about my strengths and weaknesses. I've decided to write down some lessons I've learned. I'm going to try to write something every weekday. Here it goes.

You should always try to strengthen your strengths rather than improve your weaknesses. With work, you can become great at something you’re already pretty good at, but with the same amount of work you can only become mediocre at something you’re weak at. Don’t waste time trying to become mediocre at something. For me, whether it is writing, shooting photos, designing labels, making new products, or developing new businesses, I’m at my best when I’m creating something. It took me about 30 years to realize this.

Figure out right now what you are good at, and do more of that.