An Airpark pair quench their thirst with new spirit

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

ohn McDonnell and Travis Ranville were watching football and drinking scotch when Ranville asked, “Why isn’t there a brand named Scotchdale? I want to live in Scotchdale.”

Immediately, McDonnell trademarked the name online. The former Michigander’s subtle joke led to their latest Scottsdale Airpark-based business venture, which launched in March.

“It grew from that idea,” Ranville says. “We wanted to get bourbon from Kentucky and barrel age it here. We ran into an issue, though, with the Scotch Whisky Association. Anything with the name ‘scotch’ in it has to originate in Scotland.”

They contacted several Scottish distilleries, who sent them samples of three-year, eight-year and 12-year blends. McDonnell and Ranville settled on Angus Dundee as its distillery and an eight-year blended pure malt scotch whisky from the Highland and Speyside regions of Scotland. The spirit was matured in charred American oak bourbon barrels and the result has hints of honey, chocolate, caramel, oak and coffee.

“It’s very unique,” Ranville says. “It’s different from almost every whisky out there.”

McDonnell adds, “If Macallan 12 and Nikka Japanese whisky had a baby and they had it in the desert, that would be Scotchdale.”

Outside the box

Neither McDonnell nor Ranville have extensive food and beverage backgrounds, although McDonnell bartended at Hotel Indigo. Ranville is in finance.

“Getting into the booze business, I love going to bars and talking to people about whisky and maybe just having a drink,” says Ranville, who has degrees from Western Michigan University and University of Phoenix.

A New Hampshire native, McDonnell visited Arizona in March 2004 for vacation and decided to move here. He worked in commercial real estate, renewable energy and now alcohol.

“We’ve had every scotch and whisky, other than the ridiculously priced, 60-year-old stuff,” McDonnell says. “Thirty-year-old scotch is like getting into a time machine for us.

“Growing up, my mom said, ‘Do what you love.’ When Travis said, ‘Why isn’t there a brand called Scotchdale?’ I thought, ‘Do what we love.’ We love scotch.”

As of printing, Scotchdale has taken preorders for 40-plus bars and the men were in the process of getting into Total Wine and Bevmo. They are licensed as wholesalers so they can self-distribute.

“We have a sales guy coming on board. All he does is liquor sales locally. He has a ton of bars that he has great relationships with,” McDonnell says.

Whiskey vs. whisky

McDonnell says the differences between whiskey and whisky are simple. Whisky that originates from Scotland, Canada and Japan do not have an E. Whiskeys are from Ireland and the United States.

“I have family who live in Ireland—my sister and three nephews,” Ranville adds. “They learned Gaelic in school. I’ll have to quiz them on E vs. no E.”

There are three types: whisky, which is geographically trademarked; bourbon; and Tennessee whiskey, like Jack Daniel’s, has to be filtered using the Lincoln County process, or through sugar maple charcoal.

“We were just thirsty for knowledge,” McDonnell says. “We were like sponges. I wanted to know everything about it.”

To hone their skills, they “researched” plenty and then started tinkering with videos and test recipes.

“We did a mash,” he says. “We put our grains in water for an hour and then let it cool off. What comes from the grain is fermentable sugars. That’s what you want.

“You can make booze from anything, anything citrusy. Vodka is made from grapes or potatoes. It’s that starch in the grain that makes fermentable sugars. We made an all-barley mash, which is 25% peated barley and then 75% pale ale barley. We made a scotch, but we couldn’t call it scotch because it’s from America. Single-malt whiskey is what we called it. It was incredible. It was beginner’s luck. The second one we made was a bourbon. It was 55% corn and the rest barley. The flavor profile was there.”

Ranville adds, “It comes out clear. Putting it in the barrels of the maturing process is what gives it its flavor and color and whatnot.”

When the mash is done and cooled off, the yeast “goes to town and eats all the fermentable sugars and turns it into alcohol.”

Celebrating Arizona

McDonnell and Ranville designed the label for the bottles, which are adorned with an outline of Arizona with a cowboy smack in the middle.

The back of the bottle is the Scotchdale story.

“When I’m home, I’ll drink my Scotchdale until it’s gone before I crack open a bottle of other stuff,” Ranville says.

“We have a product we will stand behind. I just had a small glass before we came here; a little nip. We’re passionate about it. We drink it. We love it.”

But the ultimate question for McDonnell and Ranville: Who do they root for? McDonnell quickly says the New England Patriots, while Ranville admits he’s a former Lions and Cardinals fan, who, instead, cheers for his fantasy football team.

Seriously, they’re proud of their company.

“It was $225 to trademark it,” McDonnell says. “I registered everything right there. I feel like if we waited, someone would have come up with it. We just grabbed it and had fun with it.

“We had no idea this journey would take us down that road to Scotland. At the time, we were just sitting around, drinking three or four different scotches and watching football. Those are our passions.”   

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