A Special Blend
Story and photos by By Meda Kessler
The roots of this Texas-made whisky run north to Canada, south to Austin and through Scott Haro’s family tree
Come summer, we lighten up when it comes to sipping our favorite spirits. We still enjoy an Old Fashioned now and then, but definitely save brown liquor with a big bite for cold weather. A smooth whisky with a good story involving family — we’re a sucker for that anytime.
This brings us to Pops’ Famous Brand Blended Canadian Whisky, which we’ll refer to here as Pops’ for brevity’s sake. Its historic roots run near and far, from Spain to Canada and from Fort Worth to Austin.
We meet Scott Haro, founder and owner of the small-batch brand, along with his parents, Lynne and Mike, at Buffalo Bros on the Texas Christian University campus. For them, the spot that is now a wings-and-beer joint is remembered as Fat Harry’s, a daiquiri bar where Scott worked back in his college days and that his parents visited during their trips to Fort Worth.
Lynne spreads out family photos, including a grainy black-and-white image of Mike’s dad (Scott’s grandfather), the whisky’s namesake. Unlike some brand ambassadors, Pops is real. Alfonso Haro was a tomato farmer in Spain who immigrated in 1920 to the U.S. via Ellis Island. He ended up in Chicago, where he worked in the steel mills and got married. Alfonso later moved to the small town of Hamlet, Indiana, and opened a cafe with a four-lane bowling alley.
With Prohibition being enforced in the U.S., he developed a fondness for Canadian whisky. (Canada’s prohibition ended just as America’s had begun.) At work, he stashed his booze in burlap coffee bags but for a single bottle, its label scratched off, that he kept in plain sight. Cafe regulars referred to it as Pops’ whisky.
Scott recalls his first encounter with his grandfather’s booze, which already was legendary within the family. “I was a sophomore in high school, and we had a wet bar in the house. We were moving and Mom decided to get rid of all the liquor, but there was one nondescript bottle with a masking tape label. Handwritten on the strip was one word: Pops. We never touched that one.”
Scott and his brother, who’s now an English teacher in Fort Worth, also found an office drawer full of empty Crown Royal bags in the signature purple velvet. It was the sure tipoff of what he was using to fill the Pops bottle. Today, Pops’ bottles come in a plain but distinctive burlap bag, a nod to the coffee sacks Scott’s grandfather used to hide his stash. “Burlap is just more our family’s jam,” says Scott.
After Scott graduated from TCU in 1999, he moved to Los Angeles, where he started a band and later took a job on the supply side with a liquor maker. “I learned a lot about distilling, techniques, how additives affect flavor.”
He also made enough connections to reach out to a Canadian whisky maker in Quebec, hoping to find a company willing to collaborate on a blend made the old-fashioned way with no additives.
Scott called on his parents and other family members to conduct taste tests. Mom and Dad were not big drinkers; Lynne says she enjoyed a cocktail during her bridge game and Mike says he typically drank beer while at the lake, but they were both game to help. Today, Mike’s affinity for the family brand means hearing Alexa play his favorite drinking song precisely at 8 p.m. for “Pops’ hour” when he has 2 to 3 fingers of the whisky with a single ice cube.
Scott ended up using 14-year-old rye and 6-year-old (minimum) corn whiskys aged in oak barrels with Hill Country spring water to get the flavor that most matched his grandfather’s sugar- and flavoring-free blend. Scott jokes that he and his brother were the two reasons his dad thought it should clock in at 42 percent ABV, 2 points higher than the typical 40 percent.
The magic happens at a boutique Austin distillery that was willing to make time for the small-batch production (around 400 cases). The bottle and label design were carefully chosen to give the brand a nostalgic feel.
“We hope to make it in the Fort Worth area in the near future,” says Scott, but he acknowledges that the Austin partners have been a key part of the Pops’ family. “The line workers put on their Pops’ shirts and hats during the run of the product.”
Scott’s goal is to get Pops’ into small bars and restaurants. “I want to partner with owners who have the same values as we do,” says Scott. In Fort Worth, that includes Hotel Dryce, Thompson’s Bookstores and Clay Pigeon (early fans), Bonnell’s, Provender Hall, Courtside Kitchen and Ático. Scott and his parents enjoy hosting intimate tasting events where they get a chance to talk about the product with guests. He also enjoys drinking it at home.
“There’s a place on the back of the bottle where you can fill in what special occasion you’re celebrating, and we’ve had plenty of those. Every day I get to spend with my dad is special.” Mike, 79, has had some health scares recently but is still active in helping promote the brand, which has won gold medals at several spirits competitions in the last two years.
“We’re small on purpose,” says Scott. “This is a legacy brand that means something to our family.”