Spare parts and bartering help this Kentucky craft distillery make spirits. Dropbox keeps them organized
At Second Sight Spirits, one of Northern Kentucky’s earliest craft distilleries, spirits run in the family. Carus Waggoner’s great grandfather ran moonshine in Virginia, while Rick Couch’s great grandfather was a sheriff that busted moonshiners in Kentucky. There was only one thing to do upon discovering their shared history, Waggoner recalls.
“We both kind of looked at each other,” he says, “Like, ‘That’s kind of cool. Maybe we should build a still?’”
Waggoner and Couch co-founded Second Sight Spirits in Ludlow, Kentucky in 2012—just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati—and started distilling 2014. “We started with a white rum, and then moved into a spiced rum. That way we could develop our bourbon formula,” says Waggoner. “Bringing a bourbon to market in Kentucky is a pretty big deal. It’s like religion here.”
But in a region already awash in big-name booze, they knew it would take more than just their flagship Oak Eye Bourbon to set Second Sight Spirits apart. So Waggoner and Couch drew on their own histories as prop makers for theatre and circus shows to turn their distillery and lounge into an experience itself—starting with their mystical still. Inspired by the Zoltar machine from the Tom Hanks movie Big, the copper boiler was designed to evoke an early twentieth-century carnival fortune teller, complete with crystal ball. Even its origin is a feat of misdirection.
“That’s all bartered lunches for parts,” says Waggoner. He used to take a friend out for pho once a week, and would get a piece of scrap cut in return. “Food, booze, and respect go miles. That’s one of our sayings,” Waggoner says. “There's so many screens nowadays that actually sitting down and having a meal with somebody and asking them how they're doing blows their mind.”
Call it the craft distillery that bartering built—with a little help from Dropbox along the way.
Some assembly required
Waggoner and Couch always dreamed of having their own shop—but not for selling spirits, not at first. “Originally we wanted to do special effects,” Waggoner says. “We always were big movie fans, and kids of the ‘80s, and loved Ghostbusters and all the good stuff.”
They grew up in Northern Kentucky, met in high school, and became friends. After graduating, Couch became a mechanical engineer and Waggoner an industrial designer. They worked odd jobs on nights and weekends, mostly making props, “to either get enough money to buy a new tool or learn a new technique,” Waggoner recalls.
For the past decade, the pair have used Dropbox to manage practically every aspect of their business
Though they wouldn’t know it at the time, it was one of those odd jobs that set Waggoner and Couch on the path of craft distilling. The pair had been doing custom fabrication work for a production manager at The Cincinnati Ballet when the manager was asked to helm a new show in Las Vegas—Cirque du Soleil’s "LOVE,” a tribute to The Beatles. The manager asked if Waggoner wanted to help build the show from the ground up. Couch joined a year later. Together they handled maintenance for the props department—and things went well enough that they got to run the department for “Viva Elvis,” Cirque’s next show. They never did open a special effects shop, but they also never stopped making things in their spare time.
One of those things was an apple brandy made from a stovetop still in Waggoner’s tiny apartment. The stuff didn’t taste half-bad, which only emboldened them to make more, distilling whatever fruit they could get fresh from neighboring California. Things escalated further when they heard an entrepreneur named George Racz was planning to open Las Vegas Distillery, the first craft distillery in Nevada. Sensing a kindred spirit also new to the world of distilling, Waggoner and Couch cold emailed Racz, and the three became fast friends.
They started working with Racz in their spare time, and even helped assemble Racz’s brand new still; the parts had arrived, but not the still manufacturer’s technicians. “So [Couch] and I ran back to the circus, grabbed a couple more tools,” Waggoner remembers. “In three days we put together this whole $180,000 still.”
Organizing the chaos
Waggoner and Couch worked with Racz on the side for three years before deciding to leave the circus and strike out on their own. While craft distilling was gathering steam on the west coast, they couldn’t help but notice their home state was farther behind. They saw an opportunity, moved back to Northern Kentucky, and founded Second Sight Spirits in 2012.
Waggoner remembers signing up for Dropbox that same year on the recommendation of a friend. “It seemed like a good way to share knowledge between each other,” Waggoner recalls.
Second Sight means "having visions of the future,” says Waggoner. “We think the future is a great universal. We're all thinking about our next steps"
For the past decade, the pair have used Dropbox to manage practically every aspect of their business. They work with local artists to design labels for their bottles, and use Dropbox to organize and share all the assets with their designers and the print house. Waggoner likes not having to deal with email attachments. “I go right click, it says ‘copy link.’ Like, yes. Done. I send it off,” he says. “I can confirm whether they got it right away […] while I have them on the phone.”
It also helps with the live events side of Second Sights Spirits’ business. When the distillery hosts drag and burlesque shows in the lounge, the performers upload songs, videos, posters, and scripts and Waggoner uses Dropbox to keep it all organized. “It's so much easier to put together a show run in one folder,” Waggoner says. “Dropbox really helps me organize that chaos into one place.”
From scrap to still
Dropbox has also helped the distillery in its ongoing quest for spare parts and found items. Almost everything in Second Sight Spirits was bartered or sourced from scrap—from the fixtures in their bar and lounge, to the mystical still itself. Waggoner and Couch found the still’s stainless steel pot on Craigslist. The crystal ball is actually a streetlight globe. And the copper boiler? Repurposed Timpani drums.
“It’s more fun that way,” says Waggoner. “You make a lot more connections, and everything has a little bit more soul.”
When he goes to collect parts, Waggoner doesn’t have to worry about bringing his laptop or a flash drive with all his files into industrial shops where his tech could get damaged. He just logs into Dropbox and shows them what he’s working on and what he needs.
Leveraging their past careers as circus show prop makers, Waggoner and Couch have also built a haunted two-way mirror, a fortune-telling fish tank, and a mysterious vending machine (“If you pick a number and a letter, may the odds be in your flavor,” Waggoner says). They hope these flourishes make the distillery feel fun and more accessible—and more memorable for followers of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail on their third or fourth tour.
Early on, Waggoner and Couch knew they didn’t have the century-spanning heritage of the big Kentucky distilleries. They also didn’t want to name themselves after their location, in case they had to move. “So we decided to look to the future. And that’s what Second Sight means—having visions of the future,” says Waggoner. “Because we think the future is a great universal. We're all thinking about our next steps.”
When Second Sight Spirits was founded, Waggoner estimates there were only a handful of craft distilleries statewide. Today there are 31. So where do they go from here? Waggoner and Couch are planning to grow Second Sight Spirits into a regional distillery. And they’re already designing their second still—to be built with scrapped and bartered parts, of course.