An Interview with Adam von Gootkin

Author & Co-founder of Onyx Spirits Company

Adam von Gootkin

Failing out of college after one semester, Adam von Gootkin chose to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure that has traversed e-commerce, muscle cars and the music industry. Now, at 32 years old, he and his business partner have resurrected his family moonshine legacy 78 years after it’s inception, successfully introducing the world to the first ultra premium American moonshine.

Adam’s ancestors were arrested in 1864 for tax evasion on a shipment of moonshine bound for Canada, resulting of the collapse of Chafee & Co Distilling. Undaunted by their demise, the family opened the grand Chafee’s Hotel in Middletown, Connecticut at the dawn of the Roaring 20’s, hosting an opulent and infamous speakeasy.

He has appeared on numerous national and regional media outlets, including Bloomberg, Fox and NBC, hosted a regular radio show on Howard Stern’s debut radio station, The Rock 106.9.

Adam is sometimes accompanied by his ghost Rockwell, the original inhabitant of his historic home in Bristol, Connecticut.

In this interview, Adam shares his insights on entrepreneurship, on having an authentic product, on the importance of execution and what can we learn from his book, ‘Living Proof: Onyx Moonshine’s Journey to Revive the American Spirit’.

For those who are starting a business, his advice:  Ask yourself why you want to start a business. Get down to the deep psychology of what is driving you.

To learn more about what he has to say about entrepreneurship, keep reading. Enjoy!


What does it mean to you to call yourself an entrepreneur and when did you first realize that was the path for you?

To me, being an entrepreneur means having the freedom to create. To build things from scratch that challenge the status quo, that alter reality and help society progress.

It’s the epitome of professional freedom in my opinion. I had been running businesses since I was very young. In my book Living Proof, I tell the story of how my pet mouse had babies. Of course, we weren’t allowed to keep them, and so my brother and I started selling them back to the pet store.

After failing out of college, entrepreneurship became the only way I knew how to earn a living – especially without a degree. Building a distillery and liquor brand from scratch has been a fantastic adventure, and while entrepreneurship certainly has it’s challenges and ups and downs, the ride is worth every second and is incredibly fulfilling.


If you could just give one piece of advice to someone starting a business, what would it be?

I would urge people to be incredibly real with themselves. Ask yourself why you want to start a business. Get down to the deep psychology of what is driving you. If you’re not in a place to say, nothing is going to stop me, I will embrace every challenge and overcome them – then you may not be ready for the bumpy entrepreneurial road.

Entrepreneurship takes 110% commitment. There are varying levels of risks and there will be stumbling blocks.  Like Winston Churchill famously said, “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” To overcome these challenges you have to know what’s driving you. Stay real to your motivation and harness that energy.

As an advocate for finding your passion and taking action, where should someone without any direction just yet get started?

Brian Tracy says the average person has four ideas in a given year on the way to and from work, any one of which could be wildly successful. Unfortunately, most people aren’t willing to take action.

And action is all that matters. I would suggest starting with an idea notebook. It’s amazing what happens when we put our ideas down on paper. There’s like a magic there, whereby writing your ideas, you’ve taken the very first step of action in getting them out of your head through the physical act of writing them down.

Next, I would look at what you’re passionate about. What interests you most? What is the one thing you would do if you were a billionaire?  That’s a great starting point for creating your new reality and starting on the path to entrepreneurship.


Where did the inspiration for ‘Living Proof: Onyx Moonshine’s Journey to Revive the American Spirit’ come from?

Having not had much entrepreneurial help when I was younger, I’ve always had an interest in helping other entrepreneurs or those that aspire to be one.

My intent in writing the book, is to walk people through some of the wins and failures we’ve experienced and share some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way. I wrote the book I could have used. Especially for those looking to get into the beverage industry, whether it’s in opening a brewery, distillery or winery. But the principles and experiences can really be overlaid onto any start up business.


What are the 3 biggest lessons you hope readers will take away from your new book?

  1. Believe that you can do whatever you set your mind to, even if you have no knowledge, resources, or money.
  2. Focus on the authenticity of your business. We live in a world where many corporations have lost their way – selling us unhealthy, cheap products that sometimes even hurt us. Be authentic, customers will love you for it and vote for you with their dollars.
  3. Focus on your people. All a company is, is a team of people working towards the same goal. Take care of your team and they’ll perform for you. Obsess over your customers and they’ll keep you in business.


What is the biggest obstacle that you have encountered as an entrepreneur?

I am addicted to building and creation. To execute our ideas, we are always in need for more capital.  I have found raising funds to be a regular part of my job, and a lack of funds to occasionally hold back some of our initiatives. Ideas are great but execution is all that matters. To execute, you need capital.

If you time travel back to the day you started your company, what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

I would have hired the best in the industry sooner, regardless of their price. Hiring those better than ourselves is a lesson that took a while to learn. If I’m the smartest person in the room, I’m in the wrong room.


Your days no doubt can be pretty crazy. What one thing would you say motivates you to keep pushing forward?

I’m highly motivated by my family. I think family comes first and having the resources to care for them and create the life we desire keeps me going. I believe to my core in everything we’re doing and know the reality we want is an inevitability. That helps to not lose focus or feel down when plans change or something isn’t working.


Thanks so much for your time Adam. Where can our readers find you and get your book?

Living Proof can be purchased in book stores around the country. If the store doesn’t have it, they can certainly bring it in for you.  It can also be purchased online at Amazon and through Barnes and Noble.


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About Ryan James

Half hardworking hermit, half avid adventurer, Ryan founded Startup Savant to simplify entrepreneurship and pay it forward by donating a portion of all revenue to support children's education via