Spiritual Journey

Revolution Spirits reinvents the distillery


Mark Shilling (l) and Aaron Day of Revolution Spirits (Photo by John Anderson)

If you thought the algebra for figuring out the local craft brewery scene was complicated enough, here come the small-batch algorithms of Central Texas' distilling talent making headways into your cabinets and cellarettes. While devotion to small beer sometimes borders on niche market snobbery, the tiny, local handmade spirits industry – as demonstrated by the skilled and capable distillers of Revolution Spirits – is a branch of consumable artisanship only the coolest are allowed to know about.

Founded in 2013 by Mark Shilling and Aaron Day after Shilling's serendipitous business trip to Kentucky in 2007 where he was introduced to genuine (and by his own admission, "very tasty") homemade bluegrass hooch as a remedy for a broken ankle, Shilling asked, "If something is this good, why not get a permit and sell it?" Upon Shilling's return to Texas, he and Day realized that there weren't very many local distilleries in the area. After several years of deliberation and trepidation, Shilling asked his business partner, "Are we gonna talk about this shit until we get old, or are we gonna do it?"

From that query, Revolution Spirits was formally founded. "We gathered a team of five – the two of us, and three distillers – and we just all seemed to be on the same page on what we wanted to do," says Shilling.

Primarily, Revolution's focus is on a handsomely botanical, yet stripped-down version of a gin called Austin Reserve that utilizes juniper, rosemary, lavender, lemongrass, pink peppercorn, and Texas grapefruit that marches down a long boulevard of Texas terroir. But the distillery is quickly expanding to a full spectrum of munitions similar to the way craft breweries might offer a range of styles from pale ale to stout. In fact, only one of Revolution's two flagship products is a gin; the other being an infusion liqueur bathed in the fresh grounds of Cuvée's Mezzanotte coffee and Madagascar vanilla, Cafecito.

"Most distilleries have a very specific focus and don't do a lot of recipe development for new products," states Brian Meola, distiller and former beer buyer at Black Star Co-Op Pub & Brewery. "Coming from a beer background, I prefer that model of experimentation. We are only a little over 2 years old and we've already developed eight products. All but two of those were only available as one-off spirits. That's obviously very reminiscent of what a lot of breweries do."

As an experimental distillery, Revolution features several series of inventive liqueurs, including their Farmhouse Series sourced from the spent pulp of Jester King Brewery's globally renowned fruited sours. "The Jester King fruit has a ton of character left, and we were able to do some cool things with something that was just going to get thrown away," states Meola. "We captured the essence of some of their house character and put it into a spirit form. You get a lot of great depth. It is really just a cool way to encapsulate what they do and put it in a different format." Thus far, Revolution has bottled a liqueur made from the apricots of Jester King's Aurelian Lure, the cherries of Montmorency vs. Balaton, and the raspberries of Atrial Rubicite (with secondary refermentation in La Vie en Rose). Currently in the works for this series is a liqueur made from the recycled blueberries of Jester King's Colour Five.

But aside from collaboration with fruit recovery, Revolution and Jester King have also swapped barrels for the inoculation of potables. Revolution's Single Barrel Series, of which yielded a second batch of a mere 338 bottles for sale at the distillery only, started with a base neutral spirit that was added to a RU55 Sour Red Ale barrel for 11 months. In turn, Jester King received a Revolution gin barrel which the brewery used to age their most recent batch of Nocturn Chrysalis, a blackberry sour beer. The results of each are the familiar "catch me if you can" refrain of booze collecting.

Apart from petting the lion that is Jester King, Revolution has developed emerging relationships with Craftsman Park neighbors Argus Cidery and Last Stand Brewing Company, trading ingredients and vessels alike in a revelry of imagination. Next up on the summer release slate is Eris Malus, an eau-de-vie, or fruit brandy, using Argus apples.

"Our location has become indicative of who we are as a distillery," states Shilling. "One of the things we've become known for is collaboration with our neighbors."

Indeed, collaboration with their neighbors appears to be a fortuitous coincidence for Revolution as well as the casual day-tripper in the Hill Country. "Most people visit Last Stand and Argus and then pop on over here," recommends Meola. Revolution opens their warehouse to a complimentary tour and a tasting on Saturdays from 1-7pm.

"The way we look at it, is we just want to make cool stuff," states Meola. "Ultimately we are taking that craft brewery model of 'let's just experiment, do things seasonally, do some collaborations,' things that are less common in the distilling world. We want to be interesting."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Mark Shilling, Aaron Day, Jester King Brewery, Brian Meola, Cuvée Coffee, Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery

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