Interview with Garret Janko of Scissortail distillery.

1796704_418092278328370_706112627_n Garret and I have known of one another for a couple of years now and have immense respect for one another’s work in the distillation industry.  Garret is the owner and founder of Scissortail distillery which he founded in 2013.  A consumate distiller interested in the diversity of spirits his company produces Garret has expanded his line to include bourbons, rye whiskey,  rum and gin.  Scissortail has also had a hand in contract distilling products for others. If you find yourself out Oklahoma way be sure to stop in for a dram.

Garret, tell us a little about what got you interested in distilling and how the distillery came together?

I got interested in in distilling around 2010. I was running a small store in Norman OK and I was always looking to expand my revenue stream. I was actually not interested in Beverage spirits but more fuel ethanol. I started by doing what felt like massive research at the time, (really nothing compared to what it takes to make a good business plan on distilling and marketing a Beverage product). I quickly found out the entire industry was in decline and was largely subsided by my fellow taxpayers. During the time, I was looking into this, I came across the ADI and several other industry sites. My younger brother and I began discussing the idea of maybe getting into the vodka markets. Now you have to remember we were very green and had little knowledge of the markets back then. It took little more than a wink and a hand shake and we were off filing TTB and state permit packets. 7 short months later we were standing in front of a hand built (by our father) 200gal plate still distilling Rye based distillate. While our time there was short, it was very educational. We had a very disappointing partnership with an investor that ended with us selling our shares and starting anew. We opened Scissortail Distillery in 2013 and through the Grace of God we are thriving with 8 different product lines. We take exceptional pride in know we are self-funded and slave to none. We are currently opening a brewery called 1774 Brewing Company to accompany our private label successes with whiskey.

I’d love to hear some details on your dryland rum project and how that came about?  What kind of preferences do you have for raw material?

Our first rum was a white rum distilled from molasses. I can tell you that rum is finicky and takes time to actually develop a true rum flavor. I have always felt that a pure sugar cane wash that is not run continuously but pot distilled has always turned out poor for me. So, I turned to molasses. It is really a great feed product. It has high brix value and you can achieve a faster rum flavor with it. Molasses must be boiled and racked off before fermentation! That is a must. Molasses wash will create a slimy sludge on the bottom of mash tuns after a boil. Once you have let the wash sit for an hour rack off everything but the bottom four inches. At least that’s the height on my 15bbl mash tun. Rums need two things to be successful. Plenty of the previous washes backset and what a lot of Distillers call “Rum Oils”! These are the natural oils that come over in the distilling process by running at the end of every run very hard. These “oils” will not come over in a normal run as they usually come off at around 205 degrees and well past the point of collecting usable stillage.


I know you teamed with Article 15 to produce Leadslingers Bourbon tell us a bit about the background of that project.

We teamed up with the guys with Art15 early 2012 for a one off project to commentate a fellow fallen soldier/friend. After that we spoke more and more and the project officially kicked off in the fall of 2013. We have had an amazing response to our project. It’s truly liberating working with these gentlemen as their views align with my own. Unapologetic on our love of America/guns/police and whiskey.

How does contract distilling differ for you from producing one of your own distillates?  Do you find contract distilling and the money that comes from that venture allows you to relax a bit more on paying the bills associated with the business and put more into your own products since there is another line of income?

The prospect of contract distilling never really crossed my mind until a friend of a friend asked us to private label some Gin for him. He wanted a vapor infused Gin with heavy notes of honey. Very difficult project btw. But back to contract distilling. It is difficult in the sense that you are creating someone else’s idea. It can be extremely challenging to extract an idea from someone else’s head. You must not take any offense to your clients lack of knowledge or if they don’t like your suggestions. I was never one to get offended so this influenced my decision making little. I also learned that the products I make are not everyone’s idea of what they want. I offer my products first and foremost, as I have the most control over them and the greater profit margins. If that fails, I can usually source just about anything that they request. I’ve done Canadian whiskey to imported rum. Whatever gets the job done. I never turn down work if I can physically do the job. If you do, that’s the first step to not running your distillery to its fullest potential


 I think that a lot of young distillers have a hard time understanding balanced botanical distillations tell us a little about your “Black Kettle” and how you go about balancing botanicals and creating a profile for a botanical spirit that works? 

Balancing botanicals in Gin or any other liquor requires great attention to detail. You must understand that a pound of let’s say juniper berries in October most likely won’t give you the same profile as a pound in July. Fruits; herbs, grasses, nuts and everything else that someone has put in liquor needs to be carefully inspected, researched from point or origin and TASTED. Yes, physically put them in your mouth and taste them. That is the only way to ensure you get the taste you want. Our black kettle Gin was vapor infused with grapefruit and lime peel in the Gin head. I loved it but it never really caught on in Oklahoma


If you were to give one piece of advice to entrepreneurs or aspiring distillers what would it be?

My one piece of advice would be to bring more money to the table than you expect to receive. Distilling is an expensive long game. I worked two jobs for 5yrs before I did distilling full time. It’s a game measured in inches.

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