Still Austin Whiskey co-founder Chris Seals openly admitted that he was unqualified to start a whiskey distillery – he was an economist by trade.
If you still haven’t experienced Still Austin’s whiskey – they opened at the Yard two years ago with the mission of bringing heritage Texas grains into the élevage of the local whiskey scene – it’s somewhat defensible if you’re unsure about the success of such a bold career move. But that’s only because you haven’t tried the whiskey.
While the Chronicle has already worked to help you imagine the gymnastics that the not-so-subtle flavors of chili-infused Mother Pepper and citrus-laden Daydreamer Whiskey demand of your taste buds, there are even more wonders from this boutique distillery in the heart of the city limits you should know about.
Still Austin sets itself apart not by aging whiskey for decades and competing for the attention of vintage whiskey snobs – as a brand new distillery in a hot climate, that’s not even realistic – but by working to offer whiskey varieties that haven’t been seen in Texas since before Prohibition. Called the 1919 Heirloom Grains Project, “The idea is to rebuild a local grain economy,” explained Seals. Doing so, however, requires a serious investment of capital. Still Austin works with partners like Barton Springs Mill, TexMalt, Maverick Malt House, Blacklands Malt, and local Texas farms to rebuild a local grain economy. Seals put it into numbers saying that while he could easily pay 5 cents a pound for rye from Canada, instead he pays 45 cents to get it from Texas farms. Although these heritage grains are currently in the experimentation phase, the distillery still strives for quality through small batches production. With about 60 barrels a week of both whiskey and gin, one would expect the prices to rocket out of the realm of affordability, but surprisingly that’s not the case. Good thing, too, because that means that you’re able to sip all the varieties as you try out the latest food truck addition to the distillery grounds: Pairings.
The food truck was parked here to give whiskey and gin enthusiasts a menu of options to help absorb their spirits. Of course, purists will assert that the liquor needs to be appreciated for its own merits, but unless you live that particular life where smoking jackets are acceptable attire and you make it a habit to sit in wingback chairs, the reality is that most of us like to consume our beverages while we’re out enjoying a meal with friends.
Longtime Texans Josh Epstein and Jason Seiter, the guys behind the wheel of the new food truck, wisely brought this to the attention of Still Whiskey and the result is a carefully paired menu of food and drink offerings. With six options to sample, only one of which resembles a dessert, you won’t lose yourself in making an overwhelming decision between selecting appropriate flavor profiles and listening to your cravings.
The menu features several chicken-based sandwiches inspired by different world cuisines. There’s the DOC, and ode to traditional Southern dining with lemon-garlic smothered chicken breast on a French baguette; the Tatonka features everything you’d need for a football game including buffalo sauce, queso, and frontier vibes; and for acid-heavy cuisine lovers, there’s the Asian-inspired Karaage sandwich. Salmon and pastrami also make appearances on the menu, but it’s the Orchard Bruschetta paired with the Daisy Pepper cocktail that really reps their creativity. This combination elegantly arranges bitters, prosciutto, pear, and peppers into a pleasantly intense mouthful.
As an aside, keep your eyes open for the first-birthday release of Still Austin’s single barrel 100-proof whiskey this spring. From someone who had the privilege of being one of the first dozen tasters, I can tell you to expect bright tropical overtones to complement the velvety caramel that is characteristic of Still Austin.
While the chefs are still perfecting their work, Pairings will open to the public just in time to feed hungry SXSW crowds on March 13. Speaking of SXSW, Still Austin is hosting Whiskey Rocks on March 15-16, featuring a big list of musical showcases, a craft marketplace, a Balanced Breakfast community gathering, and the unveiling of a new mural by Austin artist Jaime Zuverza. A portion of the proceeds will go to HAAM.
[Editor's note: We fixed the grain sourcing info.]
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