When Chatham’s Jeff Schamahorn retired two years ago, he knew he’d be spending a lot of time puttering in his woodshop. Little did he know his hobby would lead to a new business.
What’s more, it essentially evolved out of a fundraising effort for his daughter Amanda’s stag and doe.
Schamahorn and partner Melaina Craievich are now running The Whisky Jack Company, and handcraft very unique liquor dispensers.
They are made with a wood base, galvanized steel plumbing parts, braided rubber tubing and a brass tap.
Put them to work behind a bar, and the dispensers become quite the conversation piece.
Schamahorn said the idea evolved out of something Craievich saw online and challenged him to make.
“Melaina saw something that was basically a liquor dispenser made out of plumbing. She said, ‘You can build this,’” he said. “It became a curiosity thing. I looked at it and saw it as a challenge. The first one I made would absolutely violate every food and beverage regulation. I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Schamahorn said the problem is what they saw online didn’t show any of the internal workings. As a result, the liquor was exposed to the galvanized steel.
“The challenge for me was to get the liquor from the bottle to the glass without touching the galvanized steel,” he said. “I use braided food-grade rubber tubing inside.”
Schamahorn had his workshop built several years before his retirement. He knew he’d be out there regularly working on projects for other people.
“I like working with my hands. I’ve made chessboards, guitars, and built a cabinet for my daughter to have her wedding dress in,” he said.
The guitars, mostly electric, occupied a lot of his time at first, as he said he’s build nearly two dozen over the past three years, customizing the finish and build to suit each person.
That was before he’d built his first liquor dispenser.
Craievich said the business pretty much started itself. Schamahorn built five for the stag and doe purely for fundraiser items. They were a hit and people began asking for Schamahorn to build ones for them.
“When we saw the response from the stag and doe, we knew it was of interest,” she said of the Whisky Jacks.
Soon, Tricia Xavier, owner of the Purple Pansy in downtown Chatham, asked if they’d showcase some Whisky Jacks in her shop for her to sell. Schamahorn said he delivered a few to the flower and gift shop, and they all sold within a few days.
Since that time, Sticker That on St. Clair Street and Lady Blackbird Boutique downtown also started selling the dispensers.
Schamahorn and Craievich also started a Facebook page for the company. Requests came pouring in.
“We also started to get requests on Facebook and built about 20 for people from that,” Schamahorn said. “We received suggestions as well.”
Such suggestions led to a Double Jack, where two Whisky Jacks are housed in one mounting shoe, and the addition of a light that’s placed right behind the Whisky Jack to illuminate the bottle in the dispenser.
Schamahorn has made Whisky Jacks with the brass of spent shotgun shells as part of the base, others with labels laminated into the base, and some with a person’s favourite liquor added into the wood stain.
He said he likes to remain in contact with customers throughout the build process, and seeks feedback and sends them photos during the construction process. For him, it helps with creativity.
After each Whisky Jack is built, Schamahorn runs water through it to test it.
“I never put alcohol in anyone else’s Whisky Jack. That’s for your maiden voyage,” he said.
Schamahorn advises customers to not leave bottles in their Whisky Jacks for an extended period of time, as the sugar in the alcohol can gum up the line. Hook it up for a party or gathering and rinse it out with warm water 10-12 hours after its use.
“It’s a conversation piece. You pull it out and use it, and rinse and put away when done,” he said.
All from something the couple saw online.
“It was just a cool idea that needed revamping,” she said. “Jeff made it work just for gifts. It has turned itself into a company.”
Rather than a hobby, it has now indeed become a company, all in just a couple of months.
Parts are purchased in quantity – lumber from Goodreau Sawmill and Woodworking and plumbing parts from McKeough Supply and Chatham Plumbing. Supporting other local businesses is important for Schamahorn and Craievich.
“We like the more traditional companies who have been in Chatham-Kent for a while,” Schamahorn said. “It’s fun when you can work at a level with other local businesses. We can all work together.”
The Whisky Jack Company now has added help, as Craievich and Schamahorn have reached out to three family members for woodworking and plumbing assistance as needed.
Craievich said the company continues to have a mind of its own. Aside from making a few signs to advertise the brand name and to start the Facebook page, she said they haven’t even had a chance to plan any marketing.
As for what the future holds, Schamahorn said he just wants to continue to have fun in his shop.
“It’s a place to build fun stuff and make people happy,” he said. “I just want to grow it into a family business so eventually my daughter and her husband can get more involved.”
Craievich said she has one request.
“Maybe one day we’ll own one.”
Despite building more than 80 Whisky Jacks to date, Schamahorn admits they have all been for other people.
To learn more, visit www.facebook.com/whiskyjackcompany/