Interview with Mark McDavid of Ranger Creek Distillery, San Antonio, Texas
By Richard Thomas
Micro-distilling has spread like wildfire in recent years, and craft brewing is already a fixture in America, but very few companies combine them. One such outfit that produces both beer and whiskey under one roof, sometimes called a “brewstillery,” is San Antonio’s Ranger Creek, who have been staking out their place among the booming craft beer and micro-distillery scene in the Lone Star State.
RT: Your story says that Ranger Creek started with three business guys and a manager from The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium getting together for some homebrewing. That’s a good base for making beer, but where does your whiskey know-how come from?
MM: Myself and our head distiller were huge whiskey enthusiasts before Ranger Creek (and still are, obviously). He was a bourbon guy, I was a single malt guy. We loved whiskey and we loved beer, but we didn’t really understand the relationship between the two until we started making them. We started as homebrewers, then learned that whiskey is just distilled beer, so we took our homebrewing knowledge a step further. We got all the books on making whiskey you can get and started attending every hands-on distillation conference we could find. It turns out that if you know how to make beer, you already know a lot about making whiskey, so we caught on pretty quick. None of us had made beer or whiskey professionally, and we thought that was important because we were doing something new. We didn’t want to bring any preconceived notions about how whiskey was made in Kentucky or other places because we believed that Texas whiskey should be different. We weren’t trying to replicate Kentucky bourbon, we were trying to make our own whiskeys using local ingredients and the local climate to create something unique to Texas.
RT: Despite beer and whiskey being interrelated, Ranger Creek is one of only a few brewery-distillery outfits in America. How does your beer-making interact with your whiskey-making, and visa versa?
MM: We are fascinated by the relationship between beer and whiskey, and we are committed to releasing products that showcase it. Our first release that did this was our Small Batch Series No. 4 beer – our first beer aged in OUR OWN bourbon barrels. How many people can do that!? Our next release is Rimfire, which showcases our Mesquite Smoked Porter beer distilled into a whiskey, then aged in our own used bourbon barrels. We also have an unaged white whiskey planned for release this summer that is distilled from our Belgian Dark Strong Ale. We’re using some innovative distillation techniques to create something very unique that I’d like to call something like a Belgian White Whiskey. We’ll continue putting out interesting products that showcase the relationship in fun and delicious ways. As our consumers learn more about the relationship, we seem to be turning a lot of beer drinkers on to whiskey drinkers. I hear this a lot “I don’t normally drink whiskey, but I like your beer so I thought I would give this a try.”
RT: You have the Small Caliber Series, the first of which was your .36 Bourbon, and now you have your Rimfire mesquite single malt. What’s next?
MM: We’ll be releasing our 3rd Small Caliber Series product in October of this year. We’re keeping it quiet for now, but more to come!
RT: The .36 Bourbon was basically a small barrel early release of the Texas Straight Bourbon you put in 53-gallon barrels for traditional aging. How is the big barrel stuff coming along? Is the hotter Texas climate speeding things up?
MM: Our straight bourbon aged in the more traditional big barrels actually turns 2 years old this month. We’re going to sample it and assess where we are. We’re definitely going to be patient with it, and we can be since we have beer and our Small Caliber Series bringing in revenue while we wait.
RT: Can we expect to see Ranger Creek whiskey in any new markets any time soon?
MM: We are actively looking at adding one new market this year, but we haven’t decided which market it will be. We’ve narrowed it down to a few markets and we’re getting a lot of requests from out of state consumers, but we don’t want to stretch ourselves too thin. We are interested in talking to distributors that feel like they may be a good partner for our craft Texas whiskeys, and they can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.