In a city that prides itself in local beer, wine and spirits, it’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 100 years since Austin has opened its own whiskey distillery. But in The Yard, an unassuming industrial park off St. Elmo Street, Still Austin Whiskey Co. has broken ground on what will soon be the first whiskey distillery within city limits since Prohibition.
Chris Seals and his business partners (three families, including his own) came together over a love of whiskey a desire to bring the idea of “grain to glass,” or, completely scratch-made whiskey, to Austin. Further, they wanted a place where whiskey novices and experts alike could enjoy the spirit.
Aside from regulations and the increasingly difficult feat of finding open and affordable space in Austin, there are a few reasons why Austin has yet to have a whiskey distillery. Seals explained that before Prohibition, local distilleries were common and there were about 8,000 throughout the U.S. These distilleries used local grains with their own unique flavor profiles, meaning that whiskies varied widely in taste across the country or even state lines. After Prohibition wiped out the majority of local distilleries leaving only 18 big names who had the money to stay afloat, the market for local grains was wiped out. Yellow Dent #3, the grain the surviving whiskey distilleries used, became the default from that point forward. This practice persisted because there has never been a rebirth in the demand for new grains.
Kris Bohm, the production manager and lead brewer for Still, plans to use Bloody Butcher, a strain of grain local to Austin that looks like blood, in their recipe. Bohm snagged the position by sending a resume accompanied by samples of his own whiskey creations that impressed Seals and team. Bohm’s excited to start working with local breweries to create whiskies out of their beers. “Whiskey begins its life as beer,” says Bohm, “and good beer makes great whiskey.” Bohm and Seals are well aware of the wealth of breweries in the city and are excited to work with them.
The distillery has all of the components of an up-and-coming Austin hotspot and whiskey lover’s paradise: a modern tasting room (soon to be stocked with site-made bottles and cocktail accoutrements) with large windows that look into the production area, a spacious Whiskey Garden where a food truck will soon park and an art gallery will set up shop, and a number of activities that will delight those looking to learn more about their favorite spirit. You can even create your very own barrel of whiskey with their Distill Your Own Barrel program. For those who want to be a part of the magic but may not have the funds for that particular activity, Still plans on hosting bottling nights where volunteers can donate time in exchange for pizza and possibly a bottle to take home.
Austinites will also enjoy how truly local Still is. They plan to work directly with Texas farmers for the grain, and will mill, barrel, and bottle the whiskey on site. After the liquid has been extracted from the grains, the mash will be given back to farmers to feed their livestock. They also intend on recycling all the water used in the process of distilling.
An hour with Seals and Bohm would make anyone a whiskey expert, and there is so much more to the process that we can’t cover in a single article. Locals and visitors alike, do yourself a favor and keep an eye on their website and Facebook in the coming months for their official opening date. You won’t want to miss experiencing this new chapter in Austin’s spirit history.
Ashley Blom is a New Englander and haphazard foodie living in Austin, Texas. Her book, “How to Eat a Lobster” is now available, and you can find her recipes and ramblings at forkingup.com