Booze You Can Use: A Few Choice Local Views

Sufficient Texas tipples to topple any tedium

Okay, so not everyone wants to imbibe alcohol-centered beverages while enjoying a brief respite from the day’s cares. And of course no one has to. There’s always water or juice or maybe even, depending on how Vlad the Impaler you want to be about it, the blood of your enemies.

Especially these days, there are plenty of nonalcoholic options everywhere.
There are even those, whatayacallit, mocktails.
And we get that, we really do.


*cracks knuckles, sips an Old Fashioned, gets down to bidness*

Austin’s cups runneth over, obviously, with all manner of spirits. Tito Beveridge is a downright legend in this town, and his empire of “vodka-flavored vodka” is international in scope and nonpareil in power. Why, they’re so big and bold now that they even like messing with booze industry tropes for the lulz.

Texas Saké Company in The Yard at St. Elmo is a unique establishment where toji Curt Christian continues to bring the rice-born wonderments to perfection, with the venue’s bar – managed by the affable Justin Kizzart – abetted by chef Michael Carranza and the delights of his Texas Sushiko food truck, and the steady saké production occasionally dazzled by collabs with St. Elmo Brewing, Spokesman Coffee, Still Austin, and who knows that they’ll do next?

And that same Still Austin, which continues to almost Texas-selfishly not sell their potent elixirs outside the Lone Star state, continues to impress casual drinkers and whiskey aficionados alike with their limited-edition bourbons and ryes, their HQ in that abovementioned Yard supercharged nomswise since seafood mongers Huckleberry moved into their popular courtyard. And: Still Austin has sequeled their award-winning 2020 “The Musician” straight bourbon with the recent release of “The Artist,” a 100% straight rye whiskey – both the labels of which were beautifully illustrated by Texas State Artist Marc Burckhardt.

Yeah, the Still folks don’t sell beyond Texas – but the much younger Fierce Whiskers crew doesn’t even sell beyond their own distillery yet: As co-owner Tri Vo tells us, they have a while to go before their imminent straight bourbon makes it to local retailers. Meanwhile, the Fierce Whiskers tasting room is a good place to sample those barrel-aging wares (but be careful, ’cause you’ll want to steal all the gorgeous furniture in that big space) and their tree-bordered backyard, although in a Southeast Austin industrial zone, stretches out like some lost Hill Country vista.

Speaking of the Hill Country … you drive out to Dripping Springs and suddenly it’s like you’re in adult beverage heaven. Like maybe Fitzhugh Road should appear as a shining ribbon of gold in your GPS. Now, we’re still talking about the hard stuff here – we reckon the other parts of this Austin Chronicle Drinks Issue have sufficiently championed the Jester King Brewery – and of course Nine Banded Whiskey’s made a hell of a quick name for itself out in Dripping, starting up in 2019 and, with their Cask Strength Wheated Straight Bourbon, winning a double gold medal at the 2021 World Spirits Competition in San Francisco. And you can rarely get us to STFU about what an incredible grownup playground (yet so kid- and pet-friendly) Treaty Oak Distillery is, with its cocktail lab and rickhouse and that barbecue-forward Alice’s Restaurant and all the outdoor concerts and, yeah, the place’s 27 acres are like a somewhat smaller Ponderosa, except run by actual whiskey savant Daniel Barnes instead of any fictional Cartwright, and much more about smoked bourbon than about Gunsmoke. And we like the idea of Tito’s, and the award-winning Dripping Springs Vodka is also a worthy compadre by any means; but tbh we’re not all that into straight vodka. And most flavored vodkas are, um, well … they just taste wrong, you know? Like they’re trying overly hard to not actually be vodka? But then there’s Frankly Vodka off of Fitzhugh, too, and those flavored vodkas – the variations featuring all-organic strawberry and apple and lemon and grapefruit and pomegranate – are precisely the kind of potent refreshments you want wetting your driest whistle on any day or night of the year.

If you go a little farther out that Highway 290 way, extending your westward jaunt just a few more klicks down the road, eventually you’re getting high. No, hold on, we mean “You’re getting Hye.” Because that’s the town’s name: Hye. And if this was the wine section, you know we’d be shouting about the splendors of William Chris Vineyards at this point. But we’re definitely keeping with the spirits flow here, and so Hye equals, first and foremost and possibly forever, Garrison Brothers. Yes, those guys. Dan and Charlie Garrison, badass bourbon philosophers and beneficent philanthropists. And Donnis Todd, master distiller, whose carefully wrought and aged expressions of whiskey win awards and fervent loyalty all over the world. Surely you’ve already had one or more of their excellent bourbons – the Garrisons don’t mess around with other spirits, bourbon’s their focus and their destiny – and if you’ve toured the compound, you’ll know what true Texas hospitality is like. But, friend, have you met the Cowboy?

[Note: Well, look at that: We’re scoping Hye right now, but damned if we didn’t leave a little Hye back in Dripping Springs. And we haven’t even mentioned rum so far, so before we move on, let’s tip our battered Stetson to (and maybe wave our ancient Best of Jimmy Buffet 8-track cartridge at) the sugarcane-fueled gang at Hye Rum. Because, whether you’re craving straight-up old-school rum or one of their boldly flavored varieties – pineapple? coconut? orange? – this distillery founded in 2016 by Stephanie Houston and James Davidson will set you up just right.]

Next, head a ways south on RTM Road 1320 and you’ll wind up in Blanco – around which town Milam & Greene and Andalusia Whiskey Company and that distillery spinoff of Real Ale Brewing are the most potent delights among the ranchlands and riverfronts. No, we’re not suggesting that you need to drive all these miles – any of the spirits mentioned here are available at retailers across the Lone Star state – we’re just giving you a map’s-eye view of where all this goodness comes from, see? But we can understand you being like, “Hye? Blanco? Hell, hoss, I’m not likely to go any farther than Driftwood more than a few times a year.” But even that restriction falls strongly in your favor, because Driftwood is where Desert Door Texas Sotol is located. Yes, sotol: The spirit distilled not from the agave plant, but a close cousin of agave. Sotol: Tasting like you always wanted mezcal to taste like, but mezcal’s smokiness was always a bit too redolent of a tire fire? And now here’s this much more subtle, almost floral sotol being distilled only at Desert Door. And the distillery’s a gorgeous place where the folks are glad to welcome you for tours, and the dedicated food truck is nothing less than Lo Salvaje – an outpost of Jesse Griffith’s Dai Due – and so much of what they do also supports their Wild Spirit Wild Places initiative, and – ah, we can never say enough good things about Desert Door. Hell, even bottle-designwise, they’re the graphic professionals’ true blue hero.

Of course there’s no way to talk about locally crafted spirits without noting the excellence of the Violet Crown Spirits company. That’s because nobody else in these parts is making absinthe – yes, actual absinthe – and few people in the world are making it as well as Matt Mancuso and company are producing their top-shelf tipples out in Bastrop. You want a singular experience that’s unlike all the whiskeys, no matter how fine? An excursion that’s somehow beyond gin and rum? Something that's become downright mythological among certain creative adventurers and societal miscreants and such folk? Then that green fairy as embodied within Violet Crown’s Opal or (especially) Emerald is going to provide it for you. Powerful, yet sublime. On the other hand, their Jasmine Liqueur is a much more affable option that even your alcohol-shy Uncle Horace would enjoy sipping on a Texas evening. Pro tip: Grab a bottle of any of these when you can, from The Austin Shaker.

And before we exit this roundup and leave the keyboard to return to our own loose agenda of relaxation, if we’re even going to say the word “gin,” then we’re going to crow about Molly Cummings and her WildGins Co. Because there are a lot of gins out there in the world – and even Treaty Oak and Still Austin and others offer their own takes on the stuff locally, and Andrew McClellan up in Georgetown does nothing but gin – but there is simply no other gin on the planet like WildGins. That’s because Cummings, a professor of biology at UT Austin, often goes out and hand-forages the local juniper berries herself and builds the spirits from there. (No, for real – as covered in this recent article by Veronica Meewes.) Also, like how Still Austin boasts labels illustrated by that talented Burckhardt, there’s at least one variant of WildGins that’s graced by the stunning visual work of still-better-known-as-a-musician Bob Schneider.

Yeah, some people are just too good at too many things, aren’t they? Kind of makes you feel like, what’s the use, I should probably just chill and never mind my own occasionally impassioned but ultimately vague ambitions, right? Well – a little good booze can definitely help with that chilling. And that – and refreshing flavors and enhanced camaraderie and supporting local community – is what this roundup’s about, after all.

Note: For a similar, but even briefer roundup of local ciders and meads, click right here.

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