“If you want to start a distillery, learn to brew beer.” Mark McDavid, one of three owners and Sales/Marketing Director of Ranger Creek, says this over and over to anyone who will listen. Ranger Creek is located in historic San Antonio, TX which has a very long tradition of brewing beer. However, it does not apparently have a deep culture of whiskey drinking. There aren’t many cultural obstacles to enjoying whiskey here, but no real avenues for naturally tapping into large pre-existing groups simply waiting for high quality whiskey.
The original plan was to do a brewery or maybe a distillery or maybe both. Two totally separate operations was one of the considerations. Three guys, TJ Miller Operations/Head Distiller, Dennis Rylander Finance/Accounting along with Mark, found themselves in the corporate world building new relationships with each other while pursuing their hobby of enjoying good beer and high quality whiskey. After experimenting with individual and collaborative home brewing, they began dreaming about creating their dream come true “brewstillery.” With MBA’s and solid business experience in their back pockets, they put together a careful plan to create something for which they could be proud. Not to mention products which they could really enjoy.
Several important factors led to a brewstillery: 1) startup expenses; 2) cash flow; 3) there was room for both beer and whiskey in San Antonio. They discovered initial expenses were lowered doing both due to shared equipment. In addition, there’s lots of crossover between brewing and distilling and even similar taste profiles. (Check out La Bestia beer and whiskey!) Cash flow, which will make or break a business particularly during startup, would be improved with brewing coming online much more quickly than distilling. San Antonio was a very good market for beer with educated consumers while Texas was just beginning to open to distilling which would need more educated consumers. Ranger Creek began operations in late fall 2010. They got in early with adequate funding and a very good business plan. The “A Team” taught us that it’s a good thing when a plan comes together. You can now sample excellent beer, whiskey made from beer and whiskey at various stages including white dog, small barrel aged 10 to 18 months, and currently 4 year old large barrel bourbon as well as rye and single malt.
Of course, the “fog of war” causes all plans to change once the realities begin to assert themselves. One of the positives was the State of Texas deciding that distilleries could sell their goods in limited quantities at the brewing/distilling location. This immediately brought additional revenue to the bottom line. The owners also decided to age their whisky in different sized barrels including 5 gallon ones. The idea was to “speed” up, at least theoretically, the aging process for the whiskey. There is much more oak available per the amount of whiskey which allows it to have greater influence over a shorter time period. At the same time, they were aging some whiskey in medium sized and the larger 53 gallon casks. Don’t forget the impact of the South Texas sun on the aging process.
Ranger Creek began with their values wrapped up in the concept known as “grain to glass.” This involves high standards at every level of production for both beer and whiskey. It’s also about using local products keeping everything in house. They do it all from emptying the bags of grain, to milling, to brewing and distilling, aging, vatting (combining barrels), bottling and even labeling. The only thing they aren’t doing is making their own casks and they would do that if they could. Make no mistake…this is a craft distillery.
Ranger Creek has a super strong, award winning portfolio on both sides of the business. They have an innovative business model and are taking advantage of all the similarities between brewing and distilling. One final point they make is that their products are genuine, authentic, locally produced Texas expressions of both beer and whiskey. They have very strong opinions on sourcing. It was a business choice for them and a matter of pride. No one else made any part of their products. Their ire doesn’t seem to be directed at providers that admit they are sourcing, but the anger is palpable towards those businesses trying to hide this fact or trying to mislead the consumer. They openly welcome other genuine breweries and distilleries who are doing all their own work. Ranger Creek, the brash startup, has now become a respected source of information and experience on how to do it right.