DogMaster Van Hawxby

DogMaster's "Dog Master" Van Hawxby makes a cocktail behind the distillery's bar.

After Van Hawxby received his MBA, he sat down and thought about how he could use it appropriately. Looking to his years of experience as a bartender, he knew he had a lot of knowledge about spirits and decided to open a distillery with his wife, Lisa Driskel Hawby. 

DogMaster Distillery opened on July 25, 2014, and now sells six different spirits: bourbon, whiskey, white whiskey, gin and whiskey. Hawxby sells his own product, serves it in the DogMaster tasting room and also is his own wholesaler for the spirits.

The distillery gets its name from a term of endearment between Hawxby and his college buddies, but the product comes from the mix of ingredients that he uses. And that's what he says makes his bourbon and gin particularly unique: he makes his bourbon with 60 percent corn, 15 percent wheat, 15 percent malted barley and 10 percent oats, a grain that many do not use in the bourbon-making process. His gin, which is lighter on juniper than many on the market, is made with 12 different botanicals, including hawthorn berries from Missouri's state flower, the white hawthorn blossom.

Hawxby says that to him, owning a distillery is "freaking cool," and that through the job he's met so many wonderful people. We caught up with the distiller to learn more about working with gin, the importance of quality ingredients and other local bartenders he admires.

What is your favorite ingredient to distill with or make cocktails with and why? Currently it is gin. Gin is making a resurgence in the cocktail culture. I think that due to its inherent flavoring ingredient, juniper, which tastes like an evergreen tree, it is challenging to play with to create a cocktail that has a broad appeal. I like, and try not to back down from, a good challenge. In addition, with the emerging craft distilling scene, distillers are creating gins with varied flavor profiles. Distillers are being very creative and moving away from the London dry style gins that people have experienced in the past and are creating gins that focus less on the juniper and more on other botanicals.

Do you have a secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique? Yes, simple syrups and quality ingredients. Just as a chef knows that good food is created out of good ingredients, this is also true with cocktails. Generally, craft cocktails don’t rely on many commercially made products as components and more and more bars are making their own ingredients. Now, with that being said, one of my favorite ingredients to play with is simple syrup. At DogMaster we experiment with different types of sugars and sweeteners and are not afraid to add additional flavors to make interesting syrups. We have found that a great way to introduce strong flavors into cocktails is to rely on interesting homemade syrups. In addition to the traditional sugar-based simple syrup, I like to use other sweetening agents for cocktails such as jams and jellies or maple syrup. I encourage people to be creative with their cocktails; in many cases they don’t have to go much further than their pantry to find something fun or interesting to use in their cocktails.

What's your perfect day of eating and drinking in Columbia? Columbia is such a vibrant community and has a lot to offer. It has many mom-and-pop style restaurants and drinking establishments that are in such close proximity to each other that in many cases it is easy to walk from one to another. A perfect day might include taking time to bounce from eating establishment to drinking establishment with those that are close to me and partake in the food and drink they provide. Basically, it would be one of day drinking and interspersed with eating. It might start at Ernie’s Diner for a big breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast. This would be something reminiscent of the breakfasts I had in my childhood. Bloody Marys might follow at either 9th Street Public House or Teller’s. It would then be time to move on to beer, so a visit to either Logboat or Bur Oak breweries would be in order. Burgers for lunch! If there was a ball game on that I would want to catch, I’d want to go Billiards on Broadway. They have lots of TVs, great burgers, fresh-cut french fries and a great selection of craft beer. Another option would be Booches Billiard Hall. They have cold beer, great chili and the best burgers cooked in the smallest kitchen in town. After lunch, if the opportunity presents itself, it would be nice to take a nap. One of my favorite barbecue places in town is COMO Smoke and Fire. I’d enjoy dinner there. Columbia has two amazing rooftop bars, The Roof and Pressed. They both have solid cocktail programs, and either would be great places for after-dinner cocktails. I would have one more place to stop on my way home. My favorite dive bar, McGinty’s Pub, is only a couple of blocks from where I live. McGinty’s Pub is very welcoming and attracts a wide variety of people. I know that sounds like a lot, but the question was what would be my perfect day of eating a drinking in Columbia look like. Cheers!

How has the local drink scene evolved over the past year? What I see in Columbia within the drink scene is that those crafting cocktails are not afraid to try new things and experiment with different things. There are a lot of damn good bartenders in town and they can be quite creative. I also see the truly talented bartenders in town keep up with emerging trends in the cocktail culture. If something is happening in New York, New Orleans or Las Vegas, not too far behind you will see it in Columbia.

Who are some Columbia bartenders, brewers or distillers you admire at the moment? Outside of the bartenders that are in my employ, I have quite a few that I admire, including Aaron Brown at 44 Canteen. Don’t let his quiet demeanor fool you. I have a theory and that is that he is always thinking about crafting cocktails. I find him to be one of the most creative bartenders in town. I think Rich Tripler at Sophia’s has forgotten more about cocktails and adult spirits than most people know. Rich is one of the first bartenders I met when I moved to town. One of the things that I really appreciate about him is his fondness for and ability to make variations of classic cocktails. I have seen Andrew Ruth at Barred Owl [Butcher & Table] simultaneously put together five cocktails all while talking about sports with one customer and current events with another. Well, I might be exaggerating a little, but this guy is extremely efficient in making quality cocktails and very hospitable. Deb Rust at Teller's is like everyone’s favorite aunt. She is fun and friendly and creates an atmosphere that is relaxing and comfortable. Shaun Blevins is the owner of McGinty’s Pub that I mentioned earlier. He is just an all-around great guy and a huge advocate of the beer, wine and spirits industry. I see him, not only at his place of business working, but also at other drinking establishments around town where he is networking with industry people. These are some of those that are not only damn good bartenders, in that they are friendly, hospitable and consistent in making quality cocktails, but are also not afraid to be creative.

What do you like to drink at home or on your day off? Part of this answer will make me look as though I’m not such a great advocate of my industry, but I like Bud Light, bourbon and old-fashioned cocktails.

What’s your favorite comfort food or drink? Spaghetti. Carbs with salt, spice and grease. For me, I can’t think of anything better. A close second would be pepperoni pizza, for the same reasons.

If you could tell home bartenders one thing, what would it be? I tell people this all the time: Good ingredients make good cocktails, so, make as many of the ingredients you put in your cocktails yourself, and then don’t be afraid to play with your booze.

What is your first cocktail memory? When I was in college I would really only drink beer. One night I’m hanging out with some older guys and they were enjoying cocktails. They seemed quite sophisticated and their cocktail of choice was a Salty Dog. I was curious and wanted to fit in, so I ordered one for myself. That was the first cocktail I can recall that I ever had. Ever since, I have had an affinity for this cocktail, and it will always be on my menu at DogMaster Distillery.

What’s the most intriguing drink you’ve made recently, and why? I like to mimic many of the non-alcoholic drinks that are on the market today. One of the most fun drinks I crafted was a take on a Yoohoo, the chocolate soda. I use a vodka that we infuse with butterscotch candies, chocolate syrup, half and half and club soda. I call it a Yoohooch. This is a cocktail we have on our menu at the distillery in the fall. A couple of years ago I served it to a lady who identified herself as a nutritionist. She made it her goal to calculate the calorie count in this particular cocktail. I don’t recall exactly what that number was, but I do remember it was well north of 600 calories per drink.

What inspires your distilling? How do you approach R&D at your distillery, and what inspires that process? My customers inspire me. They, like myself, are spirit enthusiasts and have definite opinions on different products. For example, when we crafted our gin, I spoke with many of my customers who are gin enthusiasts about flavor profiles and what they found appealing. Once I compiled this information, I had a general flavor profile that I thought would appeal to them. I then went to work researching different botanicals, the flavors they impart on the final product and how they interact with other botanicals in that product. I then started on test batches to try to create something similar to what was dictated to me. Once I completed a batch, I would present it to my customers for feedback. I would take that feedback and try again. It took four different test batches, but I finally got what they were describing to me.

What are your future plans? Growth. Without giving up too much information, I am looking at expanding our production capabilities and product offerings.

DogMaster Distilley, 210 St. James St., Suite D, Columbia, Missouri, 573.777.6768,