By Aron Johnson | Feb 14, 2016
[Editor's note: Rado Distilling has ceased operations.]
When Mills was a student in CU Boulder's MBA program he was given an assignment to start a business. His original plan involved a distillery with an on-site orchard. "My brother-in-law owned a 110-acre orchard in California," he says. "I looked into buying an orchard in Durango. I liked working the trees." The financials weren't workable, so he "reworked the idea to a distillery using locally grown ingredients."
Four years later Rado Distilling opened its doors in Arvada, focusing on rum-like spirits using Colorado beet sugar. "Legally it's not rum, which is made from sugarcane. We use sugar beets," Mills says.
Mills has done his homework, reading books about distilling rum written as far back as the 1600s. "I'm an engineer by trade," he says, "I enjoy the science and technology of distilling."
Rado's process is derived from recipes from the 18th century. The attention to detail is paying off. Rado's Colorado Gold won a silver medal at the Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival in 2015.
In addition to the three spirits that are currently available, Rado plans to release a one-year aged rum in May. It also will be rolling out a line of canned cocktails in June. "We're going to utilize a mobile canning line," says Mills.
Rado stays as local as possible. The beet sugar is supplied by the Western Sugar Cooperative and the barrels are from Rocky Mountain Barrel Company. "We keep everything local," Mills says. "All the lumber used in our tasting room is beetlekill from the Black Forest fire."
The company also strives to be as environmentally friendly as possible, using electricity sourced from wind power. That's not something they play up, however. "We don't advertise being environmentally friendly because we don't want to get bogged down in that conversation," Mills says, "We just do the best we can. It's part and parcel of being local."
Challenges: Getting the word out. "Nobody's ever heard of Colorado beet spirits," Mills says. "We're the only company in the U.S. doing a beet spirit." With a 500-gallon still due to be completed in April 2016, Rado plans to ramp up capacity as needed.
"Production isn't higher because of sales," says Mills, noting that Rado's all-volunteer staff is short on sales experience. Hiring a full-time salesperson is a priority. "We make a good product, but getting it out there is hard."
Regulatory issues are another challenge. With new products in the pipeline, there is a lot of waiting on regulatory approval. "Each product we release, there's a four month wait," Mills says, adding, "We went to upgrade our labels and it took the TTB [Tax and Trade Bureau] 36 days just to look at the label."
Opportunities: Mills sees great potential in the company's canned cocktails. "We see a hole in the market for canned cocktails. In Australia and Europe, they're quite popular," he says. "The major brands in America are not succeeding because they're not meeting quality requirements." He hopes Rado can fill this void by creating hand-mixed cocktails with well-balanced, premium ingredients.
Needs: Capital. "We have a lot of big plans, including hiring people," Mills says, "but we need capital to implement our growth structure."