Crafting Spirits: An American Craftsman Story

Benay Shannon is standing next to the 500-gallon bronze pot still while describing the tedious process of turning grain into whisky. “Craftsmanship is everything in a place like this. You really have to stand on the quality of your spirit,” she says before lifting the lid to check on the grain. Benay and her husband, Michael, opened Restless Spirits Distilling Co. in 2016 in industrial Kansas City. Their quality gin, vodka, and whisky result from meticulous dedication to the craft and heritage that stands on the shoulders of innovation—two things Dan Wesson Firearms embodies very well.

Benay grew up near the alpine valleys of Southwest Colorado in the town of Gunnison. Benay recalls her family’s early days of hunting and taking firearm safety courses during these formative years. These skills would help her in the following years when she began competing in Cowboy Mounted Shooting—barrel racing with .45 revolvers. “I wasn’t an experienced ranch hand, but I did have experience with firearms,” she recalls her first days in the sport. After her rugged upbringing, Benay became a high school science teacher, but her greatest experiment was still yet to come.

The Shannon’s had an adventurous heritage: a family of Irish immigrants who fled to the United States during the Great Irish Famine, the Shannon’s spent the next 150 years working on the Intercontinental Railroad, establishing businesses, and inventing. “That entrepreneurial spirit sticks with the Shannon family,” she says. This tradition can be seen in Benay and Michael’s products, so much so that it attracted the management of the Boston Red Sox, and the Shannon’s Builders Gin became the official gin of Fenway Park.

The same importance of heritage runs deep through Dan Wesson Firearms’ veins. The company’s founder, Daniel B. Wesson, had the art of firearm manufacturing in his blood; his great-grandfather, D.B. Wesson, was the co-founder of one of America’s most legendary companies: Smith & Wesson. After Dan Wesson’s founding in 1968, the company continued to improve the building of revolvers and 1911 handguns. One of its classic pieces, the Pointman series, holds to the classic shape and finish of the 1911 with a stunning stainless slide, dust cover swoop and square butt profile.  

Benay recognized similar passions within the two industries immediately. “The thing that impresses me most about Dan Wesson is the hand-crafted part. Hand tooled, hand fitted—that’s what we do here, too,” Benay explains. 

Every Dan Wesson firearm that leaves the factory today is carefully designed, hand-fitted, and never uses MIM parts. This dedication to tradition and quality bears the same ethos as the Shannon’s in their distilling, with each batch of spirits mashed, distilled, aged and bottled right in Kansas City. 

“We tied all the products into the craftsmanship and trade work that the Irish did,” explains Benay. Duffy’s Run Vodka memorializes the railroad work done by the Irish and those who lost their lives during the process, while Builder’s Gin and Stone Breaker’s Whiskey are nods to other high-quality work of the Irish people and their contributions to American industry and infrastructure. 

At the end of the distillery tour, Benay brings us into the barrel room where batches are being aged, some for over a decade. “Small things make a big difference in small batches,” she explains as she rolls one barrel back into place. “From the type of grain to the malting, the stills, the barrels…quality makes a huge difference all the way through,” she says. “It’s a work of art every time.” This runs true to Dan Wesson products small batch quality over quantity. 

Hand-built, built to last.
The Craftsman Journal.