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Craft Distilling: Dark Horse Distillery

Julie Denesha

In Lenexa, Kansas, a local, family-owned distillery is producing craft spirits in a micro-distillery. Dark Horse Distillery was established in 2010, and since 2011, the Garcia clan has been producing bourbon, whiskey, and vodka hand-crafted in small batches. 

A recent edition of Central Standardfeatured guests from three distilleries, including Dark Horse Distillery.

"We make three kinds of whiskey and one vodka," said Patrick Garcia, Chief Operations Officer and Artisan Distiller at Dark Horse Distillery. Patrick and his siblings (Damian, Eric, and Mary Garcia) started the business.

Dark Horse interview highlights

Finishing Strong

"The name 'Dark Horse' came to us," said Damian Garcia, director of sales and marketing at Dark Horse. "We knew we had a long road ahead of us when we started in this business.

"When you see the tons, the many brands that are lining not only retail shelves, but on the back bar, we knew that we would be one of thousands and thousands of spirits that are out there. Dark Horse kind of spoke to us as kind of that back of the pack and, hopefully, finish strong."

Ten Fermentations Going At Once

"We have ten fermenters, so we can have ten fermentations going at once," said Patrick Garcia. "The mash will sit in the fermenter for roughly around five or six days. During that time, when it is fermenting, we do have to monitor the temperature. We don't want the temperature to get to high because it starts to produce bad flavors. During that time, in fermentation, the yeast are producing alcohol. The still is the last step in the process.  Once the temperatures start to get up around 205 degrees, roughly, the first alcohol will start to vaporize. That alcohol is currently coming out.

"We have a hydrometer sitting there so we can tell what the proof is, what the temperature is. That has a big role to play in how good the taste is coming off.  So if I come back here and I see that the proof is not where it should be, or the temperature is not where it should be, then I have to make some adjustments."

The Devil's Share

"The key to aging barrels is actually the change of temperature," said Patrick Garcia. "That fluctuation of temperature helps the barrels expand and contract. What that does is that liquid inside of there interacts with the wood.

"During that expansion and contraction from 100 degrees down to 50 degrees in here, that does cause sometimes a small leak on a barrel, so we do try to check the barrels just to make sure we are not losing a lot of spirits on the ground. Sometimes we call that the Devil's share, because it does fall on the ground. But then we will also have evaporation of alcohol and that's called the angel's share. We definitely try to keep as much as we can here, our share."

Hard Work Coming Through In The Bottle

"We are going, going, going every day," said Patrick Garcia. "Monday through Fridays, so there's a lot of hard work that goes on here. It is not an easy job, but we love it.  We all love working hard and that is really going to come through in the bottle, I think."

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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