Craft Distillery Proves Startups Can Be a Family Affair


The smell is potent. It's apparent as soon as you walk in. The tinge of distilled mash is unavoidable, and a pleasant reminder that this building is more than just a beautiful space that people now host weddings and events in. It's also a startup. A startup craft distillery, that is.

When Damian Garcia, and his three other siblings decided on the idea of starting a distillery in Kansas back in 2010, they knew it wasn't going to be easy.

"First, we knew if we wanted to do whiskey, it would be at least two years before any product would be ready," Damian, director of sales and marketing, said. "And secondly, if we wanted to be a place that made spirits and allowed people to taste them at our facility, there were some laws we'd have to fight through first."

First things first, how do you bring in capital while you're waiting on your product to reach completion? The answer came in two forms. Master distiller and brother Patrick Garcia knew the whiskey would be a long road, so in the meantime Dark Horse created another spirit to be their first product--this one on the lighter side. Dark Horse released Ryder Vodka, liquor that doesn’t take near the time of bourbon. Next up was a try at something a bit daring. Ever heard of a white whiskey? While not as common, Dark Horse took a turn at bottling their Long Shot White Whiskey. This liquor is clear and sits in a barrel a mere 24 hours, allowing it to be called whiskey. So while they waited for their prized products to finish, the siblings pushed out their other spirits to local distributors and restaurants in hopes of making a name for themselves in Kansas City.

This wasn’t the only way they found to supplement capital while they waited. One look around their space, and they knew it could be more than just a tasting room or meeting space. With rustic wood paneling and agrestic chandeliers, the space was perfect for small to medium weddings and parties. Just one problem: In Kansas, Dark Horse was considered a manufacturing facility, which means no selling liquor to people or distributing their spirits on the property.

Luckily, when you have a lawyer for a brother, legal struggles become much more manageable. Eric Garcia helped walk them through all the paperwork required to make sure they were on the up-and-up both federally and within the state. Dark Horse even went as far as to push for new legislation that would change Kansas law and allow them to host events and provide their spirits to patrons. Sometimes entrepreneurs and the government can work together. The legislation was passed, and, with it, brought the beloved pastime of happy hour back to the state after a 27-year ban. (You can all lift your glasses in thanks.)  

The legal struggles subsided just in time to welcome a healthy batch of Dark Horse’s Reserve Bourbon Whiskey and Barrel Strength Reunion Rye Whiskey. With these troubles behind them, Dark Horse was ready to really open their space to the public. This paved the way for their fourth and final sibling Mary Garcia’s role as director of events for the space. From weddings and holiday parties to the occasional whiskey and donuts event, Dark Horse was running full time with a full set of spirits in their production channels. And in 2013, it was named the Best Wedding Venue in Kansas City.     

With distribution in Kansas, Missouri, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the biggest problem now is what to do next. Damian says there are talks of adding another spirit to their roundup, and possibly another distillery as well.

“But like a good whiskey, things can’t be rushed,” Damian said. “We’re taking it one sip at a time.”

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  • Amanda Schnieders