Mike Selberg has a love of chemistry and what he calls, a “real appetite for good whiskey.” He uses both to bring a variety of distilled spirits to Cannon Beach, a place he has lived and worked in since childhood.

Selberg’s family bought a house in Arch Cape when he was 6 years old, and it was a place the family visited whenever they had the opportunity.

“I spent every summer out here as far back as I can remember,” he said. 

Cannon Beach even offered him his first job, as he worked four summers at Pizza a’fetta, which gave him, he said “an important education.”

The Selbergs moved around a lot as Mike grew up, including Washington, Hawaii and Colorado, where Mike finished high school. But he always knew the Oregon coast - and Cannon Beach specifically - would be his ultimate landing spot.

“Two days after graduating high school in Colorado, I jumped in my car and drove to Pizza a’fetta,” he said.

After taking a year off from school to decide what direction his studies should take, Selberg enrolled in the University of Puget Sound in Seattle.

There, he attained a degree in natural sciences.

“It was a broad field of study,” Selberg said. “It covered the whole spectrum of sciences, like biology, chemistry, geology. Basically all of the things I was interested in.”

Selberg discovered he had a knack for chemistry, particularly the distilling process.

“You actually learn the distilling process very early in chemistry,” he said. “It was something that really fascinated me.”

A friend of Selberg’s who was studying to be a chemist introduced him to beer brewing. From there, Selberg began seeing the possibilities.

“I’ve always enjoyed spirits,” he said. “The technique for extracting grain to brew beer is the same as for distilling spirits.”

As college wound down, Selberg began exploring how to apply his chemistry background to a business model.

“I had been in the service industry all of my life,” he said. “Between bartending and waiting tables, I was pretty well burned out. I decided to start playing with some distillery ideas.”

The desire to create his own distilling business led him to California where he took classes at the American Distilling Institute in Petaluma. This opened new doors and made Selberg realize he was ready to strike out on his own.

“I had the chemistry background, but the classes really helped me understand the small-business aspect of distilling,” he said.

Looking to further expand his knowledge, Selberg attended distilling conventions in Chicago and Kentucky. 

“I got to meet some new people, try some new things and visit some great distilleries,” he said. “I felt like I was getting closer to going out on my own.”

To develop his venture, Selberg approached friends and family for financial and informational support, calling on their expertise in business development. 

“My dad and my brother are both businessmen,” he said. “They were really a big help. It was very annoying to start with their million questions about my business plan, but I couldn’t have gotten my place started without that.” 

There was also the concern about distilling equipment, which can often prove cost prohibitive to small operations. Luckily, Selberg solved his biggest initial need early on from an unlikely source.

“My grain masher was actually a milk pasteurizing machine,” he said. “It was in a bar on Sauvie Island, and the owner sold it to me for 500 bucks. Normally, those things can go for as high as 15 grand.” 

With components and business plan in place, the Cannon Beach Distillery opened last July. The distillery makes its own rum, gin, vodka and whiskey, including several different variations of each. It also features a tasting room and retail area.

“I try to keep a wide variety of spirits,” Selberg said. “I have seven gin barrels, and I also do an Agave spirit, something that there is only a handful of in the United States.”

But Selberg’s passion is for whiskey, calling it his “pride and joy.”

“I work on a different whiskey every three or four months,” he said. “Each one is unique. I have a special one coming out in 16 months for my 30th birthday.”

While the distilling process comes naturally to the chemist in Selberg, he admits that his first year in business has been a whirlwind.

“It’s been intense,” he said. “I can’t make the stuff fast enough. People tell me it’s a good problem to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless.”

That has also led to the realization that his current one-man operation may have begun to take on a life of its own. With the need to keep his spirits readily available, Selberg has begun exploring the idea of adding staff.

“Alone, I only do about 30 to 40 percent of what I could be doing,” he said. 

Selberg is quick to point out that, despite the flurry, he is not completely without help. His mother assists at the front of the shop, keeping customers feeling welcome and happy.

“Mom makes the tasting room,” he said. “She helped design it and lay it out, and I’d be lying if I claimed responsibility for any of that.”

As Selberg looks ahead to his second year in business, he tries to stress what makes his small operation stand out. He also likes the fact that unlike the beer-brewing industry, distilling is still in what he calls, “its infancy.” This allows for more personal creativity. 

“The cool thing is my small-scale focus,” he said. “I get to try new ideas and new ingredients. It doesn’t taste like anything else, and I don’t want it to. I’m really just beginning.”

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