Crystal Creek Persuasion

Austin distillery reinvents moonshine

Sam Wakefield (l) and Shane Berber
Sam Wakefield (l) and Shane Berber

Crystal Creek may not be the type of moonshine that gives you jake leg, but it does share one thing with Appalachian hooch. When it was time for co-founders Shane Berber and Sam Wakefield to test their recipe, the pair found a small cave in the Hill Country. But instead of upping the octane, the pair were focusing on craft. And their final product (and charitable business model) may just be enough to lull the crankiest revenuer.

"Most people assume that it will be 180-proof paint thinner," says Wakefield. "We are also informing people regularly that it won't make you blind." While Crystal Creek still packs a punch, they dropped the bead a bit. "We cut down our proof to 80 so that it can be consumed like a typical liquor and substituted into favorite cocktails," he says. "Moonshine (especially ours) is one of the easiest drinks to mix with. The taste on its own is like a vodka with the warm follow-up of a whiskey. Citrus flavors do very well as do most fruits. We've had a lot of success substituting moonshine in classic cocktails, but the easiest way to mix it is with lime and soda or some tonic water."

Crystal Creek Persuasion
Photos by John Anderson

At the distillery, the pair experiment with infusions ranging from goji berries to serranos and cucumbers. But the new-fangled flavor combinations doesn't mean that they are forsaking the past. "To us, moonshine represents the epitome of American spirits, which is really why we love it so much," says Wakefield. "We were given an old and dying recipe by a friend of ours in Kentucky. He didn't want to pass it on to his son for fear of legal repercussions, [but he] also wanted it to stay alive as it had been such an old family tradition."

The co-founders kept another family tradition alive too – giving back. Crystal Creek donates a percentage of their proceeds to A Glimmer of Hope, a charity started by Berber's parents that seeks to alleviate poverty in rural Ethiopia. "[Shane] has always said that whatever he did for a living he would like to continue to provide aid there where it is needed and possible," says Wakefield. "I was more than happy to add this into our business model and become a part of their mission as a huge believer in social responsibility in business."

That mission extends to environmental responsibility. The moonshine uses Texas Imperial Sugar and local Good Flow honey. The infusions are selected for freshness at the Lone Star farmers' market in Bee Cave. And the brand's Tumblr page is devoted to reduce, reuse, recycle. "Everything that can be repurposed is being repurposed," adds Wakefield. "The bar and tables at the distillery I have personally created from old pallets, I have also converted one of them into an herb garden for botanical cocktails at the bar. We are working on growing more of our own ingredients. We are also partnered with a local farmer who removes the waste after we've distilled and uses it to fertilize his land."

It's not quite how things were done during Prohibition, when moonshine was called "coffin varnish" or "panther sweat." Crystal Creek may not bring back the slang, but it might just bring back an institution. Don't worry, we promise we won't reveal the location.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Brandon Watson
My Obsession: Therapy With Nineties Supermodels
My Obsession: Therapy With Nineties Supermodels
Escape via the long gay tradition of diva worship

Sept. 15, 2017

Review: Holy Roller
Review: Holy Roller
The personal is edible at Callie Speer’s new hot spot

Sept. 8, 2017


Shane Berber, Sam Wakefield, A Glimmer of Hope

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle