An organic chemistry class, an entrepreneurial spirit and a family history of innovation helped engineering student Riley Giffen (Class of ’14) distil his passion for the business of beverages.
A young entrepreneur and a chemical engineering student at Dalhousie University, Riley owns and operates Coldstream Clear Distillery with his parents, Elaine and Robert (Class of ‘89).
Riley hails from West St. Andrews, near Stewiacke, Nova Scotia. Although the AC was always on Riley’s radar, it wasn’t until after he started an electrical engineering degree at another university that he decided to switch streams and consider the AC again. In 2012, he began his post-secondary studies at the AC, pursuing a diploma in engineering.
“It was the closest place to home to study engineering so in my first year I was able to work part time for my dad's bottled water business while I went to school. I knew the class sizes at the AC were small, which was appealing to me after attending a larger university.”
During his time at the AC, Riley took advantage of all the opportunities and resources available to him. He is quick to acknowledge that what he learned at the AC started the chain of events leading to Coldstream Clear.
“I vividly remember day-dreaming in class and having this vision of how awesome it would be to start and run a real liquor company. I knew it had potential, but I had no idea how much. The possibility of creating something that people recognized and genuinely enjoyed was what inspired it all,” recalls Riley.
“I worked really hard during my time at the AC. I learned about distillation in an organic chemistry class which, even now, I think was one of the toughest courses I’ve taken. The engineering program at the AC taught me the science and mindset that helped in this business start-up.”
Now, Coldstream Clear Distillery is growing in both consumer popularity and its variety of products. Coldstream Clear officially launched on September 5, 2015, and hasn’t looked back.
Their current products include four liqueurs (apple pie, coconut, salted caramel and coffee), a candy cane-flavoured liqueur for the holiday season, two different vodkas and rum that is presently aging in the barrel. Considering fermentation, distillation, bottling, labelling, sealing and checking, all which happen on-site, the products can take upwards of three weeks to make from start to finish. With strong community presence through events and food galas almost every weekend and a retail store, the Giffen’s are busy working as a family to build their brand.
“We support the vision Riley has,” explains Robert. Together, the family tackles different facets of the business. Elaine works with the finances and product packaging, Robert is involved in developing and making the products and Riley’s brother and sister are involved in developing recipes and helping out around the distillery wherever possible.
The Giffen family even has a unique historical link to distilling. The first Giffen to settle Nova Scotia was Simon Giffen, also a distiller, and keepsakes to his memory are featured at the on-site retail outlet.
“Unlike most things in this world, making rum hasn’t changed a whole lot from way back then,” says Riley. “When we found out the first member of our family to settle in Nova Scotia was a distiller, it seemed that starting a distillery was meant to be.”Riley and his family also recognize present-day challenges.
“You have to be ready to adapt in the agrifood industry. If things aren’t working out, you have to be ready to change,” shares Robert.
Social media has played a significant role in launching Coldstream Clear’s products.
“We appreciate the effect social media has had on our business,” says Robert.
“Social media was and is a key way of creating brand awareness for us. We try to be personal and let people know what we’re up to. It’s great for spreading the word but also for sharing the excitement,” explains Riley.
Although busy balancing school and business responsibilities, Riley makes time to give back to the AC and recently launched his products in the campus pub, The Barn. Hosting a successful kitchen party, current students and alumni gathered to celebrate Riley’s success. Riley has also been featured as a guest speaker with Cultiv8’s Business of Beverages, a showcase of local talent.
When asked about the best part of Coldstream Clear’s journey so far, Riley says “making a product that people associate with celebration and bringing people together is what it’s all about. People are happy and excited to purchase the products, which is awesome.”
Riley plans to finish his engineering degree in spring 2016 and has big dreams for the future direction of Coldstream Clear Distillery.
“I’d like to give my full attention to Coldstream Clear after graduation and see where we can go with this business, because it’s only the beginning.”
Riley exemplifies the skills needed to carve out a unique niche in the agrifood sector and the Faculty of Agriculture is proud to call him one of their own.