David Weglarz of Still 630 Distillery in St. Louis

David Weglarz launched StilL 630 (www.still630.com) in 2012, driven by a passion for quality product, local, organic ingredients and experimenting with unique distillation processes. Producing gin, whiskey, rum, brandy and agave, they’re known for a botanical library of over 300 distilled samples, singling out flavors in roots, herbs, leaves, seeds, fruits, berries, nuts and flowers.

Their Evolutionary Library stores samples from brown spirits “thieved” (siphoned) from aging barrels at different stages, cataloged with tasting notes. Their Experimental Spirits Program is a detailed catalog of each spirit produced with outcomes at different stages. For example, they distilled different wheats for wheat whiskey, blended them in varying proportions or with other grains, also trying experiments like smoking.

For over five years, Weglarz has shared their spirits at free public events the first Friday of every month, which attendees taste while offering feedback. This flow of information sharpens and hones their spirits as it also engages and connects StilL 630 with their community.

The path to distilling and experimentation has been circuitous. David was born in Michigan, moved to Indiana in 6th grade, playing football and majoring in English at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, IN. Post-college years in North Carolina, then working as a futures trader in Chicago, Weglarz eventually got burnt out in that career. David’s wife hails from St. Louis, where they moved to raise a family in 2011 after he had been investigating distilling, Missouri’s favorable liquor laws only helped.

David is a dedicated family man with wife, Sidni, three boys under the age of 10 and a Pyrenees dog named Charley. As one of the founding members of Missouri Craft Distillers Guild — serving as its second president — he was heavily involved in launching the statewide distillery trail during his tenure, also working to pass a bill into law, making Missouri Bourbon a legally recognized class/type.

In his own words, Weglarz tells us about his journey to distilling and how he and his team spread the word about their spirits in a saturated market.

What led you into distilling?

I was incredibly burnt out and unsatisfied with my previous work: day trading futures. I knew I had to do something else. That was one of the darkest periods in my life. I saw (seemingly) everyone else starting companies with their ideas and had no idea what I wanted to do except that I wanted to be in charge and actually make something.

I saw everyone else getting into craft beer (this is 2009-2010), so my buddy and I started brewing beer in his kitchen (I wanted his wife mad at us, not mine!) One day, we were sitting there drinking whiskey looking at all the beer we’d just laboriously bottled, but didn’t really want to drink and we realized that someone has to make this (whiskey), too. I’d had some legit moonshine in the hills of NC when I was there as a raft guide and figured if they could do it, then certainly I could, too.

So I looked into it and saw that people were actually starting craft distilleries and that it was following the same growth pattern as craft beer, just 15-20 years behind. So it was something that was a growing industry, an actual craft you could continually get better at, and the storyteller in me fell in love with the idea of building a multi-generation family business. Honestly, I believe you live one life and it’s up to you, and you alone, to make that life whatever you want.

Tell us what is unique or specific about your distilling and production process and spirits:

Our pot stills were handmade here in Missouri to my specifications. I made some adjustments to the design on the pot head as well as the lyne arm, but the pots are made from reclaimed tanks. We double distill everything, but more importantly, we ferment on the grain and are actually grain-in on our first distillations. Running that through a pot still allows heavier flavor materials to come over which translates into a richer, more flavorful spirit.

StilL 630 is only distillery in the world to win the Best in Class Whiskey award twice. And in 2020, we won the ADI’s Best in Class Gin award. We are the most awarded distillery in Missouri and one of the top five in the United States. And we have the largest Botanical Library (300+) in the world, that I am aware of. Our Experimental Spirits Program (one new spirit per month for five years) is also the most ambitious experimental program I’ve ever heard of.

How is your business affected by — and  surviving — pandemic?

We were blown out of the water by the pandemic. We were on the cusp of a big expansion, but that died immediately. We were able to pivot and produce hand sanitizer, which not only felt good to be actually doing something, but allowed us to donate over $50,000 to local first responders. We were also able to sell enough to keep some revenue in and keep all our employees on. Unfortunately, the market for our sanitizer dried up over a week or two like someone turned off the tap when the giant producers caught up. But that brief couple months allowed us to survive.

However, since, it has been a slow climb to get back to where we were sales-wise. We make premium spirits and during the pandemic we all know that people drank more, but what doesn’t seem to be talked about is that everyone really traded down. Which makes sense financially, but really hurt our business. Our spirits are heavily used in local cocktails and with that obliterated by the pandemic, it has been difficult. Fortunately, we have a great group of core customers who come visit us and that has truly helped keep us moving forward.

How does running a distillery in STL define and influence what you create?

When I was envisioning this distillery, my goal was to intertwine it with the soul of St. Louis. I literally want people to think of St. Louis and think of the Gateway Arch, the Cardinals, and StilL 630… and not in that order!

It’s in our name. Still for the piece of equipment we distill on. We capitalized the last “L” to emphasize “STL”. The 630 stands for the day we were founded: June 30th. It also stands for the serial number on our still, which just happens to be: 630, so it’s literally Still #630. Last but equally important, it stands for 630 feet. Which is the width and height of our inspiration: the Gateway Arch.

The Arch stands as a bold symbol for the indomitable spirit of the pioneers who headed west to build a better life for their cildren. That “never give up, never quit” attitude. It’s that indomitable spirit that is required to do anything great in this life. Obviously, it’s a play on the liquid spirits we create, but that’s truly why it’s our tagline: “Indomitable Spirits.”

How do you and your team pursue relationships and promotion of your spirits?

With an increasingly crowded marketplace, it’s a continual challenge to get placements. It obviously helps that we’re local, but I always say: “Like us because it tastes good, not because we’re local. But if you don’t like it, then like us because we’re local!” But in all seriousness, we target places that care about the quality of what they pour and the care with which they curate their menu. We realize that we’re not for every single place out there and that’s okay. So we target like-minded folks and pour our lineup. We can nerd out as deeply as anyone wants, so that’s where we identify as true spirit lovers and that passion really goes a long way. Plus, we try to get them into our distillery because that is a surefire way to showcase our nerdery and love for our craft. You don’t leave our distillery not a fan of StilL 630.

How do you envision the world of small batch spirits/distilling evolving in the coming years?

Unfortunately, I envision a culling of sorts. I really think the time is past for people who are starting a craft distillery “for fun” or “in retirement.” It takes more commitment and energy than that. And the store shelves are filled with just fun names or creative labels. Quality needs to come back to the forefront.

I also think the consumer is going to stop caring as much about the brands that are just sourcing. There are too many great distilleries actually making their own spirits. And those spirits are going to get older and older and improve in complexity and just get better as the distillers continue to get better at their craft. At least that’s what I’m hoping for here at StilL 630! But I also am very excited about Americans embracing gin and rum in the same way they love bourbon/whiskey today. There is even more potential differentiation and flavor compounds in both compared to whiskey, so there should be more room to nerd out and embrace really special expressions.