Episode 181 – Stephen Mann – MannCave Distillery

Aug 19, 2021 | Positively West Virginia


powered by Sounder

Stephen Mann, born in Takoma Park Maryland, commuted regularly to Weston, WV where his parents purchased and maintained a 450-acre farm, spending almost all of his summers there. The summer prior to entering 6th grade, his parents moved to WV and Stephen started school in Lewis County, now living full-time there. In a high school science class, he learned how to distill spirits during a class project involving a milk jug, peaches, and a glass. Little did he know, this was the basis for the distilling that led to MannCave Distillery being born.  

Over the years in WV, there was always a large spring on his property; it made the area of the spring useless as it flooded the area and you could not go anywhere near it due to the deep mud. However, the water was always cold and made for a good stop to get a drink in the summertime. Stephen always wanted to use the water for something but never could come up with anything that was viable. This turned out to be another sleeping bit of knowledge to be used later… 

Fast forward to WVU and taking a random class for an elective that was “Fluid Dynamics”, taken during an engineering attempt in which the advanced math proved to be a bit more than Stephen wanted to do as a career, he decided on changing over to a “Business Information Systems” degree; another critical juncture that proved to be critical knowledge. It took 8 years for Stephen to get through college due to not taking any loans, and working a minimum-wage job to pay for it, leading to Stephen meeting his wife Wendy (who was actually his tutor) as well as being an exchange student. They got along great but went separate ways after graduation, or so they thought… 

After graduation, Stephen entered the IT industry doing systems administration and research projects involving new technologies. At this point, this is where Stephen ran into Wendy again in VA and married her, after many years of this and learning the security aspects of the industry, he came to work for Homeland Security where he was one of the founding members of CISA (CISA.DHS.gov) with Mark Bristow and 3 others. During that time, it was a hobby to make whiskey at home. 

On the 10th iteration, MannCave Whiskey was born. At the time, it was really born in the Mann Cave using the play on words, but it would come to have a different meaning eventually. He took some of the whiskey to his boss’s house warming party as Mark decided to move to VA in support of DHS. During that party, he and his father (in his 60s) and who was an avid single malt drinker but very particular, tried Stephen’s whiskey and really liked it a lot. It was near the end of the party when there was about an inch in the bottle and Stephen was taking the rest home, or so he thought… 

Mark’s father came running out the door to the sidewalk (about 40 ft. long) yelling, “I need one for the road!”. To which I responded, “But you live here!” while laughing at him and his response was, “I don’t care!”; at which time, I upended the bottle to his glass and made him happy. The next day, Mark walked into Stephen’s office and closed the door behind him. His first thought looking at him was “Oh crap.”… and his first words did not help things. Mark started out, “You are probably the best IT person I have ever had, and as much as it pains me to say this, you need to quit this job and go make drinks for a living! I have had whiskey from all over the world and your stuff is better than most of it! That whiskey was the bomb!”. Then, they continued to talk a bit and he left. 

That night, Stephen went home and asked his wife, Wendy, if they should open a distillery; to which she said, “Well, let’s run some numbers…”. They started to develop the water in early 2016, with their 3 kids, pickaxes and waders. The spring was located at the edge of a strip job and there was a pit of muck surrounded by a wall of clay and coal. The only way to get to the spring was to drain the water, and no equipment could get close enough to the water without sinking out of sight. In other words, manual labor… It took them about a year to manually dig out the drainage to try to get to the water source, as you could not even walk to the spring without sinking to your neck in soft mud. Once they did, it revealed the source being a hand-dug coal mine (actually 3 mines).MannCave, then, had a totally different meaning…as the water is essentially coming out of caves that were submerged. From this point, the story is on the website under https://www.manncave.com/our-story.

Stephen has not had any formal training in the spirits industry. All of his knowledge comes from his chemistry, engineering, and life experiences living on the farm in WV and in northern VA; which are admittedly unique. As far as the spirits industry, it is more of a compliance with the excessive taxes and regulation than any industry. However, they hope to change that in WV to help bring business in and expand the distilling industry in the Mountain State. Since prohibition, WV has had laws in place to prohibit or kill the spirits industry as it has been seen as a “sin”.  

With the advent of the marijuana industry, this has slowly been changing — as it should! MannCave is actively working to change the laws in WV that are prohibiting business (not just the distilling industry) from taking off, as well as not bringing big business here that has no tie to WV; but grow it here! Distilleries are not a local business, they are either a national or international business

depending on the distillery. If they survive the first several years, they pull in money from the entire country or the entire world to the local area.

Currently, MannCave is only in WV, but that is scheduled to change as soon as paperwork can be done to expand into other states. The goal of MannCave is to get Lewis County, as well as making WV known across the world as the moonshine capital of the world — as it should be!

  • 3:06 Stephen, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that brief intro and give us a little behind the curtain look into your business.
  • 3:49 Can you tell us more about how you were making spirits in 2016 as a hobby?
  • 4:45 What is your background? What were you doing prior to making spirits?
  • 5:15 Can you tell us more about the moment when you decided to start your own distillery?
  • 6:32 Did you have to have a lot of capital investment to get started?
  • 7:24 Did you ever imagine yourself being an entrepreneur in the distillery business?
  • 8:05 Can you tell us more about the history of the farm your distillery is on? How many acres is it?
  • 8:23 You weren’t born in West Virginia, is that correct?
  • 8:36 How did you come upon this family land?
  • 9:19 Can you tell us more about the water you use to make your spirits?
  • 10:33 Did you know that this source of water was going to be the backbone for MannCave Distillery at the time?
  • 11:56 Was finding that water on your property a gold mine in a sense?
  • 12:17 How much water do you need to distill your spirits?
  • 12:56 What is your 30 sec. pitch for MannCave Distillery?
  • 13:49 What are you most excited about for your company right now?
  • 14:19 Where are your customers coming from?
  • 14:58 How many employees do you have?
  • 15:27 Can you tell us more about what your recent accolades mean to you?
  • 16:42 Can you tell us more about your Cinnamon Moonshine?
  • 17:20 Is your Cinnamon Moonshine currently available in WV?
  • 18:56 What has been your best business moment so far?
  • 20:15 What has been your worst business moment so far?
  • 20:27 Can you talk a little more about the challenges you’ve experienced due to the laws in WV?
  • 22:35 PWV Commercial Break
  • 23:00 What is the long term vision you have for MannCave Distillery?
  • 25:09 How do you attract new customers?
  • 26:44 Are your products available in bars and restaurants?
  • 28:13 What sets MannCave Distillery apart from the competition?
  • 29:29 What is one of the biggest challenges you’re facing right now?
  • 30:43 Are you allowed to disclose what your pricing/ taxes are?
  • 32:29 What is one piece of advice that you’d give to young people who are thinking about starting their own business?
  • 34:32 Do you have a space in your distillery to do tastings?
  • 35:34 Do you have tours?
  • 35:38 What is your website?
  • 35:57 Is your website a good way for people to get in touch with you?
  • 36:21 Is social media a marketing platform for you?
  • 38:31 What is one book or podcast that you’d recommend for aspiring entrepreneurs?
  • 38:50 What is your degree in from WVU?
  • 40:21 Is there anything else you’d like our listeners to know about your company or your story?
  • 41:34 What are some of the other products that you carry?
  • 43:50 Who comes up with your flavor profiles?
  • 45:31 Outro




Book Recommendation:

Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard

Be a Guest on Our Podcast

Are you a business owner in West Virginia looking to share your story? We feature well-known company success stories, as well as the hidden gems of our great state.