In the last decade, craft beer has exploded. Since 2005, nearly 200 craft breweries have set up shop in Texas, a beastly 990 percent increase. But one Houston man is introducing another craft game to the Lone Star State rum distillation.
Having lived in Golden, Colorado in the early ’90s while his dad worked at Coors Brewing Company, Ian Mook has always been fascinated with the brewing process. Inspired by craft beer industry trailblazers such as Jim Koch, who co-founded the Boston Beer Company, the makers of Samuel Adams, Mook eventually decided to pick up home brewing as a hobby, though it quickly went south when he discovered he’s allergic to dust particles from the grain, the essential ingredient in beer-making.
He realized that although he could still fulfill his dreams of opening a brewery, he wouldn’t be a part of the actual process, a deal-breaker for Mook. But after researching the art of beer brewing, Mook discovered an alternative to satisfy his bespoke brewing fix—distillation.
“When you’re making beer, after it’s done fermenting, you take that out and put it into a bottle. That’s your beer,” says Mook. "I realized I’m not going to be able to do this, brewing, [but] I realized [it’s] just the first step of distilling. Distilling is so much more complicated. I really appreciated it, and it drew to me more because there’s something new to learn every day.”
And in 2012, Mook founded Grateful Dane Distilling Co., Houston’s first rum distillery. Set in a garage warehouse in Gulfton, Mook’s brainchild, whose name is inspired by his Great Dane, love for music and Danish heritage, boasts three types of pirate drink: A standard white rum, a spiced variety, and an aged golden rum.
To create these rums, Mook starts with raw sugar and a 3,000-pound vat of molasses. From there, the molasses-sugar mixture is pumped into four giant tanks and combined with a “proprietary” yeast that gives his hooch its signature flavor. The yeast then eats the sugar mixture and is then pumped into the distiller, a metal spaceship-like contraption. Then the magic happens. Mook then repeats the distilling process a second time for a cleaner flavor. At this stage, the liquor is more gasoline than it is rum, so Mook dilutes it to produce an 84-proof white rum, Texas Silver.
Texas Silver highlights the grassiness of sugar cane, the mother plant of all rums, while Texas Spiced is Mook’s Silver steeped with a zesty spice blend, which includes ingredients like sweet whole-bean Mexican vanilla, Jamaican allspice, and locally roasted coffee. Mook’s Texas Gold, though, is a more time-consuming process; he barrels his Texas Silver in 10-gallon wooden drums for at least two years–hence its hefty price of $40 per bottle.
You can swing by the tasting room, a small space carved out of the distillery, Saturdays from 1—5 p.m. for a spirit sampling and tour. In his hole-in-the-wall bar, Mook serves a variety of classics, including the Houston Libre and the Dank N Stormy, as well as a daiquiri made with locally sourced ingredients. I have to say the best thing on the menu, though, isn’t the drinks; it’s their prices—almost all of his drinks are $4 to $5, with the exception of his rum flight, which includes all three cane-based spirits. And, rest assured, Mook says they “make them boozy.”
If you aren’t able to swing by the “little Houston secret,” you can always pick up his white and spiced types at Spec’s, Total Wine & More, or in numerous bars around the city. To procure his Texas Gold, however, you’ll either have to hunt down a bar or restaurant that has it or pay Grateful Dane a visit, one you won’t regret.