Visiting distilleries in the Austin area often means a day trip to Dripping Springs or other nearby towns — but driving the distance won’t be so necessary with the opening of a new urban distillery by the end of this year.
Still Austin Whiskey Co., which is transforming an industrial space just south of Highway 290 off South Congress Avenue, is going to make it easy for locals to try Texas-made spirits right from the source. It’s one of the businesses opening at the Yard at St. Elmo, a collection of creative spaces that will include artist studios, a recording studio and offices, as well as other boozy producers. The two-year-old Austin Winery is moving in, and St. Elmo Brewing also plans to launch there.
The distillery, as its name suggests, will focus exclusively on making all types of whiskey — from bourbon to rye to single-malt to a moonshine-like whiskey called new make, which will come fresh off the still and go into bottles without time in barrels. Named for the 50-foot column still stretching upward in the center of the distillery, with the capability of producing a barrel of whiskey an hour, Still Austin Whiskey plans to both bottle and serve the spirit onsite.
And if the founders of Still Austin Whiskey have their way, their whiskeys will be made with as many Texas grains as possible. Farmers in Central Texas grow many of the necessary ingredients, including corn, wheat and even rye.
“Everything is here in Texas,” Lisa Braunberg, head of marketing for Still Austin Whiskey and one of the six founders, said. “So we thought it was not only a huge opportunity to connect with those resources and meet farmers around Central Texas and beyond, but also see if we could do something interesting with the grain bill, which is (head distiller) Kris’ specialty. He takes some really unusual, sometimes even heirloom, grains and sees what we can do with them. Because they taste really different.”
Because most whiskeys require barrel-aging, the distillery will launch with the new make whiskey that Kris Bohm, as the mastermind behind each recipe, has already started to craft and gotten good results with so far.
“It doesn’t have any color, like vodka, but it does have a lot of flavor where you can taste the grain that went into it, the fermentation,” he said.
He joined Still Austin Whiskey after Braunberg and her husband Andrew, along with Chris Seals, his father Cleveland and another couple, Sal and Joanna Salinas, formed the business upon taking a whiskey class together and finding they had a similar passion for it. They patched together a business plan and searched the city for a viable place to put their distillery — a tricky find until the Yard came along.
Similarly difficult for the business partners was coming up with a name that represented their dream. They chose Bohm, who had distilling experience, to run the production side because of his desire to make whiskey “all the way from the grain to the glass,” Chris Seals said, and they wanted a name that denoted this concept.
“There are so many whiskey distilleries that buy whiskey already made, already aged, already ready, and then they say they made it,” he said. “So we wanted a name that would nod at our authenticity without spelling it out. We wanted something that was also fun, letting people know they could be part of it. We went with ‘Still Austin’ and added ‘Whiskey,’ so people know that’s all we make.”
Once Still Austin Whiskey is open — which the founders anticipate might be later this fall — visitors will be able to come in and help make the whiskey. They’ll also get to enjoy cocktails and whiskey tastings inside in the tasting room or outside in the whiskey garden.
In addition to the new make whiskey available at the start, Bohm wants to offer a handful of flavored whiskeys made from the new make and local ingredients.
“One of the things I’m working on is incorporating peppers that are grown in Texas and doing a spicy whiskey,” he said. “We want to make whiskeys that represent the flavors around us. Have a whiskey with terroir to it.”
He and each of the founders of Still Austin Whiskey are open about the process of making whiskey: “We first brew a beer, then distill it, then barrel it, then age it, then blend it because each barrel tastes a bit different. Then, we bottle it,” Seals said. Educating people about how it’s made is important to them, especially in a city like Austin where authenticity is so highly valued. And none of the founders — most of whom live in one of Austin’s central neighborhoods, Bouldin Creek — could have imagined opening a distillery anywhere else.
“Austin has this amazing brewery life, but it’s missing this important element,” Braunberg said. “So we said, ‘Let’s bring it to the city instead of going out to the country.’ There are some nice distillers out there doing some interesting stuff, but wouldn’t it be great to be part of it right here in the city? That’s the heart of it.”