Dark Horse Distillery Proves Startups Can Be A Family Affair | Top of Mind Episode 50


“Top of Mind” with Jonathan Robinson, May
16, 2014, Episode 50

>>>This week on “Top of Mind” we’re at Dark
Horse in Lenexa, Kansas to talk about some of the unique challenges associated with starting
a distillery. I’m Jon Robinson. And this is “Top of Mind.”
>> Today on “Top of Mind” we’re on location at
Dark Horse Distillery. And I am joined by Damian Garcia, Co‑Founder and Director of
Sales and Marketing. Thanks for having us, Damian.
>>Well thank you for coming out today.>>Why don’t we get started by you talking
a little bit about how you co‑founded Dark Horse Distillery.
>>Okay. Well I co‑founded Dark Horse Distillery with my three other siblings that‑‑ we
started back in 2010. It’s my brother Patrick, who’s our Master Distiller. My brother Eric,
who’s our General Manager. And my sister Mary, who runs our events space here. So we got
started back in 2010. And started construction on the space here, mostly on the production
side of things, making sure our equipment was good to go in here. Started ordering equipment.
Started getting all the pipes, drains, everything done. And roughly about June of 2011 is when
we started producing our first batches of our, what would be now called our Dark Horse
Distillery Reserve Bourbon Whiskey and our Dark Horse Distillery Reunion Rye.
>>Uh‑huh.>>Shortly thereafter we saw how nice the
space looked and everything as far as the production standpoint. And then we ended up
putting our event space in and started construction on that. Started doing all the cosmetic stuff
on the other side of where we’re sitting in this room right here.
>>So you were open for business as an events space and a beautiful event space‑‑
>>Uh‑huh.>>‑‑ before you were able to pour one
glass of product?>>That’s correct, yes. So we started‑‑
kind of later in 2011 is when we hosted our first, you know, kind of an initial run of
a couple of events here.>>Uh‑huh.
>>Just to make sure we worked out all the kinks and all of that type of stuff.
>>Uh‑huh.>>And yeah. So after that 2012 is when we
kind of ran full steam with the events.>>Sure.
>>In that year we also‑‑ it was March of 2012 is when we launched our Dark Horse
Distillery, our Rider Vodka.>>Okay.
>>And our Long Shot White Whiskey.>>Uh‑huh.
>>So these were actually the first two items that came out to market.
>>Uh‑huh.>>And then 2013, April of 2013, is when we
launched our bourbon and our rye.>>Great. Talk to me about the kind of the
unique experience of co‑founding a company with three siblings. Is your Monday morning
meeting kind of like Thanksgiving dinner where you’re all coming together and squabbling
and that kind of thing?>>No, actually it’s not like that at all.
>>Yeah.>>We all get along here.
>>Yeah.>>Everything goes well with us. We all have‑‑
we all have our own roles‑‑>>Uh‑huh.
>>‑‑ that we play within the company. And we really come together‑‑
>>Uh‑huh.>>‑‑ and kind of talk about what’s going
on within our own segment of what we’re doing.>>Uh‑huh.
>>And everything goes‑‑ everything goes well.
>>Uh‑huh.>>And that’s what‑‑ when we came together
to form this company we all knew we had‑‑>>Uh‑huh.
>>‑‑ set roles.>>Sure, sure.
>>I came from a sales and marketing background.>>Uh‑huh.
>>My brother, Patrick, didn’t come from that sales and marketing background, but he was
in financial planning and stuff.>>Okay.
>>But back in the day he worked at a microbrewery.>>Right. Right. And then took a lot of courses
or put himself through some experience to learn the distilling process.
>>Correct.>>Didn’t break ground here never having touched
a still before presumably?>>That’s correct. That’s correct. I mean,
he went‑‑ he toured other craft distilleries.>>Uh‑huh.
>>He did a lot of hands‑on workshops with a lot of other distillers. And really was
the man behind the scenes of what was going to go on here‑‑
>>Uh‑huh.>>‑‑ as far as the production and all
the equipment and stuff goes. And then my brother, Eric, came on. And he’s our general
manager, of course.>>Uh‑huh. Uh‑huh.
>>And he had‑‑ he was actually‑‑ he’s a lawyer.
>>Uh‑huh.>>And he came on to help us. In this business
there’s a lot of laws and a lot of‑‑>>Sure.
>>‑‑ a lot of paperwork, mountains of paperwork. You have to be, everything has
to be, you know, legit, taxes, all of that type stuff. So he was able to help us maneuver
a lot through that.>>Uh‑huh. Uh‑huh.
>>And actually coordinate a lot of what was going on here‑‑
>>Uh‑huh.>>‑‑ internally.
>>Uh‑huh.>>My sister, Mary, came on and at that particular
time we really weren’t sure yet if, you know, about the event space.
>>Uh‑huh.>>But she came on. And she was going to be
kind of, you know, help us, helping us out here.
>>Uh‑huh.>>And then when the event space idea kind
of, that light bulb came off in our head‑‑>>Yeah, yeah.
>>‑‑ it was a natural fit for her.>>Great. Great. So you mentioned the importance
of having an attorney as one of your co‑founders.>>Yes.
>>And the spirit or the craft distilling, craft spirits industry‑‑
>>Uh‑huh.>>‑‑ is one that is highly regulated.
>>Uh‑huh.>>For good reason. Can you talk a little
bit about your early experiences? Every startup has certain legal hurdles that they need to
overcome.>>Yes.
>>They need to become familiar with the regulatory environment. But I would think that the burdens
would be a little bit greater on a new craft spirits company. So can you talk a little
bit about your early experience there?>>Yes. Yes. And when we first started this,
I mean, we had to, we had mountains of paperwork‑‑>>Uh‑huh.
>>‑‑ that we had to go through. We had a mountain of documents that we had to fill
out. And that’s the one thing that he was able to kind of help us out in doing.
>>Uh‑huh.>>And then also it kind of came up when we
started looking at what Kansas state law required from us.
>>Uh‑huh.>>We had to go through that paperwork again.
>>Sure.>>The first paperwork was all Federal. Second
one was all Kansas state. And when we first started we were a‑‑ I mean, in lack of
a better term, we’re a manufacturing facility.>>Sure.
>>Okay. So we started as a manufacturing facility of spirits.
>>Uh‑huh.>>And we wanted to though really bring people
to this spot. We wanted to bring people to this place. But we weren’t able to do tastings
or samplings within our, within our place of business here.
>>Uh‑huh, uh‑huh.>>And that was due to the law of Kansas,
state law of Kansas. So what we did was back in 2011 is we started the process of trying
to get the law changed within the state of Kansas to help us be able to do samplings,
bring people here.>>Okay.
>>With the craft distilling experience, with the craft distillery movement, it’s all about
showing people what you do. Telling people, you know, sharing in what you do. And showing
people the product, the process‑‑>>Uh‑huh.
>>‑‑ letting people taste your spirits.>>Uh‑huh.
>>And so we started that‑‑ started doing the‑‑ hired a lobbyist. Started working
behind the scenes for the state, within the state of Kansas.
>>Uh‑huh.>>Going to Topeka‑‑
>>Uh‑huh.>>‑‑ frequently.
>>Uh‑huh.>>And we ended up actually getting a micro
distillery license that was passed by the state.
>>Uh‑huh>>And we ended up getting that micro distillery
license. And what that micro distillery license tells us is that anything‑‑ at 100,000 gallons,
proof gallons or less, we’re considered a micro distillery.
>>Uh‑huh.>>And with that license we were able to now
be able to bring people through here.>>Uh‑huh.
>>Give them samples of our spirits, be able to do tours.
>>Uh‑huh.>>Having people be able to buy souvenir packages‑‑
>>Uh‑huh.>>‑‑ of our spirits when they leave here.
>>Uh‑huh.>>We also had applied for a liquor license
for our event space as well. So we also have that license that we have now as well.
>>Okay. Okay.>>So it’s been a‑‑ it’s been a long,
a long process.>>Yeah.
>>And a long bunch of different hurdles that we’ve had to overcome.
>>Sure.>>‑‑ to get this thing started.
>>Uh‑huh.>>And we just hope that we can continue to
help out a lot of those other craft distilleries that are going to make their way through Kansas‑‑
>>Sure.>>‑‑ eventually and stuff, too.
>>Can you‑‑ can you talk a little bit about how craft distilling is both disrupting
the spirits industry but also maybe how it’s a reflection of or a driver of change in consumer
taste?>>Uh‑huh.
>>I mean, you know, in the popular, popular notion of spirits is that bourbon comes from
Kentucky.>>Uh‑huh.
>>And vodka comes from Russia.>>Uh‑huh.
>>And tequila comes from Mexico.>>Uh‑huh.
>>But that’s not necessarily now the case. And why is it important that Kansas City has
its own craft distillery?>>Uh‑huh. And that’s, that’s the one thing
about what craft is.>>Yeah.
>>You have a lot of craft distilleries.>>Uh‑huh.
>>That movement has started within this nation. And it’s just continuing to, more craft distilleries
are continuing to open their doors.>>Uh‑huh.
>>And what we do is very different from the guys that have been in business for years,
the bigger companies‑‑>>Uh‑huh, uh‑huh.
>>‑‑ the bigger brands. We kind of, for craft distilleries, they try to keep everything
as local as possible.>>Uh‑huh.
>>Everything as local as possible. They do a lot of different things with their spirits.
>>Uh‑huh.>>They do a lot of different mash bills.
They can tweak things here and there. The big guys, the big brands have been around
for many years.>>Yeah.
>>Those mash bills have never changed.>>Yeah.
>>And it’s really for that consumer to, to look maybe at something that’s a little different
from what they’ve been drinking for‑‑>>Uh‑huh.
>>‑‑ you know, their whole adult lives.>>Yeah.
>>And it’s something what craft is all about.>>Yeah.
>>I mean, when you have something like this here in Kansas City, or you, you’re able to
come and see the process, you’re able to come and see what we do.
>>Uh‑huh.>>And that’s what a lot of the craft distilleries
are doing across the nation.>>Yeah.
>>Bringing people in, showing them their process. Showing them that, you know, showing
them the grain‑‑>>Uh‑huh.
>>‑‑ everything. And I know you can do distillery tours‑‑
>>Yeah.>>‑‑ in Kentucky and all of those, and
some of the bigger, bigger guys. But, you know, but their process is a lot different
from what a small batch distiller’s process is.
>>Sure.>>And this really kind of goes hand‑in‑hand
with the craft brewery movement.>>Uh‑huh.
>>Okay.>>Uh‑huh.
>>When you see a pilsner a particular brewery is doing, micro brewery‑‑
>>Uh‑huh.>>‑‑ it’s going to be different from
the big guys, what their flavor is‑‑>>Sure.
>>‑‑ from one that’s been out there for many, many years.
>>Uh‑huh.>>So that’s kind of like what we do.
>>Yeah.>>It’s making that bourbon whiskey different
from the guys that are putting it out in Kentucky.>>Uh‑huh.
>>Same thing with the rye whisky as well.>>Yeah.
>>It’s making it different from what’s been around for, since, since prohibition.
>>Uh‑huh.>>The vodka. And then doing something that’s
new and unique like the white whiskey.>>Yeah. Here’s to your future success.
>>Well thank you very much. Cheers.

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