Blue Ridge Aromatics Q&A

My name’s Ian Montgomery. I founded Blue
Ridge Aromatics in March 2015. We started with an IndieGoGo campaign. For those
that are unfamiliar, that’s crowdsourcing for start-up businesses. Our goal was
10,000. We only raised 5200 but with IndieGoGo, you take what is pledged. So our
family and friends and business school colleagues just really rallied together
for us and helped us put this together. So with that fifty two hundred
dollars we built Dante. We got a little bit of seed money to just kind of roll
for a while and get our bearings and get our systems worked out and for the last year
we’ve just been distilling and distilling and learning and just making it
happen. It’s made of recycled materials for the most part. This was a stainless
steel essential oil drum for a beverage maker. It contained cinnamon essential
oil when I got it. The water is about here. It’s heated by an
electric heating element. The element boils the water. There’s a basket inside
here that contains our plant material. The boiling water forces the steam
through the plant material into this basket which is a second basket for
plant material. They’re gaskets that keep the steam
inside not outside. Ultimately the steam comes up through
this plant material as well, collects through our gooseneck here and comes
into the condenser. This condenser has internal tubes that the vapor comes
through with the oil that’s picked up by the steam and then this is cooling water
which we source from the creek, pump it down here. Cooling water comes up through here and
heats up as it goes up, in turn cooling the vapor and turning it into a
condensed distillate. This distillate has hydrosol and essential oil. Here we can
see it’s separated: hydrosol on the bottom, oil floats on top. The unique design of
the essencier allows the hydrosol to come out the bottom into this container
and the oil to come out the top into our other container. Well we can distill all kinds of things.
We are currently limited because you can’t dial back the temperature that much so fleshy plants like basil and mint are
more difficult to distill in this because they go faster, they’ll cook, but
conifers and other heavier-duty plants we do with these. A lot of our plants are
collected and harvested from fallen trees or pruned trees. So we go fresh, mulch it up… here’s an example of what we’re
distilling right now. That’s white pine that’s been mulched. You can see the
needles and the woodchips and the bark. It all goes together and so that is what fills
our two baskets. I found that a smaller particle size allows for better
collection of the oil. It also allows me to put more in here so I can do a lot
more in one run which is more energy efficient than doing five runs for the
same amount because each time we run the still with conifers it takes anywhere
between three and six hours sometimes up to nine. So you can imagine with two or three runs you’re looking at an
extra well fifty cents an hour to run the still. So that will add up. Well, in regards to how we collect the
material, this particular batch was from a third of a white pine tree that had
fallen off in the woods. We found it on the property and said, okay, we’re going to distill that. We also will collect saplings for instance from our
agricultural field. When we are distilling a species that is growing at
somebody’s house or is not a native like for instance we leyland cyprus or thuja also known as arborvitae, we’ll do pruning at the base of the tree – just the bottom four to
six feet depending on how much the homeowner wants it trimmed. That helps keep vines out of the trees, keep a little bit of health because those branches are
tending to die off anyway. We really make a point not to harm what we are harvesting.
The point is not to just make oil. The point is to use what we have in
abundance and not have a negative effect on it. We also try to source waste material as
much as we can, for instance we had 24 Christmas trees recycled – they were in
people’s homes, they were thrown out on the curb. We collected them, mulched them and
turned them into essential oil. Another product we do a lot of is
ginger. We source this material from a local kombucha maker named Buchi
kombucha. There’re gracious enough to let us try it and now we purchase it for a low
price and distill every little thing that can give us. So really waste products, so
many businesses make waste. We really like to find businesses that are willing
to let us into their waste stream and follow the cradle to cradle model which
would be instead of waste being waste, waste equals food for another process. In this
case, distilling for essential oils and our ideal customer is somebody that’s going to
take those oils and put them into another process, make soap or salves,
massage oil, medicinal blends. So really it’s not about making
something, it’s about being part of a bigger process and so that’s why we’re
so glad to be at this farm because we’re not just going to grow things or harvest
from the forest, we’re going to cultivate. The bee balm that
we find along our creeks, we are going to take cuttings and plant more and help
the population, not devastated it. I started my career in this after business school –
sustainable business was the concentration and that’s really where I come from from
the beginning is just really trying to, it sounds cliché but harmony with the
world around us. So hydrosol is a byproduct of the
distillation. Some people distill in smaller quantities just for the
hydrosol because it can be used as a skin toner. It can be used as deodorant for households, a spray – freshening spray, linen spray. It can also be used as a cleaner
especially if you put a little bit of alcohol in it. One of the issues with
storing, selling, marketing hydrosol is the fact that it’s perishable. So it’s
going to need to be refrigerated or diluted with some alcohol to become
shelf-stable therefore it’s a somewhat difficult market for people to source it
because it’s perishable and it can also be difficult for the distiller to
maintain an inventory of it without a large storage room that’s refrigerated. I think the most important caution about
distilling is is we’ve already touched on is the sustainability. The second
being safety. If you don’t know what you’re doing with
wiring, building a still can be dangerous. If you don’t know about
pressure, one milliliter of water expands to a liter of steam. When you boil that
water, it has to go somewhere but if this isn’t big enough, you can have a time bomb on
your hands. This whole thing could explode. So research – very important. Another
important thing would be to properly identify the plant material that’s being
distilled. There’s the obvious concerns where you might get poison ivy thinking
it’s something else. A lot of people know poison ivy but do we
know all the poisonous plants in the woods? No. Do we know what could be
poisonous on the skin? Not necessarily. It’s important to do the research. It’s
important to properly identify the plant, find out about the plant – research it before distilling it. That’s something we take very seriously – properly identifying,
researching, and then distilling while making sure there’s a sustainable population before
ever harvesting.

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