Desert Door, Still Austin, Treaty Oak, Milam & Greene, Andalusia, Real Ale, Garrison Brothers, Revolution Spirits, Planet Rock, Spirit of Texas, Cypress Creek, Fierce Whiskers
In 2008 there were just nine distilleries in Texas. By 2019, there were 162. Our insatiable appetite for home-distilled liquor continues to grow, with new distilleries opening regularly across the state, and the great Austin area has been no exception. While bourbon and whiskey remain dominant, they are by no means the only game in town, and some of my top selections include vodka, gin and – unique to Central Texas – our very own sotol, distilled from a Texan desert plant. The taprooms I’ve selected offer not only exceptional liquor but a great visitor experience, including decor, service, choice and atmosphere. Visiting a distillery, like visiting a brewery, is as much about the quality of the experience as the product itself, the special nature of consuming a beverage direct from the source, being able to sample and compare a selection of on-site choices and really getting to know the style of the brand. With so many distilleries to choose from, it can also be about finding a way to stand out from the crowd, to offer something different and exciting to make your visit memorable, or in fact to make you so hooked that you become a regular. This year’s two exciting new entries are further proof of how dynamic and engaging our spirits scene is. I hope that you enjoy exploring our local distilleries as much as I do, and agree that these are all exceptional spots to put the Austin area on the spirits map – happy drinking!
A trip to Driftwood’s Desert Door Distillery is essential for any spirits aficionado visiting or residing in Central Texas. Desert Door are, to the best of the knowledge of the internet, the only US distiller of Sotol, a spirit made from the Dasylirion plant, a desert evergreen native to Central Texas and Mexico. If you’ve never tried Sotol, you’re in for a treat. Understandably comparable to Tequila and Mezcal, Sotol has a unique mineral-herbaceous flavour with hints of aloe that tastes as though it’s been sucked directly up from the desert-scape around you. The taproom itself is stunningly chic, a veritable oasis of clean-lined chrome and wood with outdoor canvas shades lapping in the breeze. Whether you prefer the fresh-distilled original or gently smoky barrel-aged version, you can indulge in quality cocktails or sipping pours while grazing on high-end snacks from the Eden West food truck. The Desert Door experience is rustic at its most fancy, but you get what you pay for, and it’s clear few visitors are disappointed – expect to queue on the weekend or if there’s a live show on. While Desert Door Sotol can be found at many bars and restaurants in the city and further afield, it’s definitely worth heading out to the source.
211 Darden Hill Rd, Driftwood, TX 78619
We had just moved to the city when Still Austin opened their taproom doors for the first time, and we were in there straight away. The first distillery to operate within Austin’s city limits since Prohibition, Still Austin set up home in The Yard, South Austin’s hip food-n-drink hangout that also houses St Elmo Brewing, Spokesman Cafe and The Austin Winery. With a sleek cocktail-bar interior and woodchip-floored fairy-lit garden matching those of their neighbours, the Still Austin taproom has perfectly captured the local vibe while remaining unique in producing all its liquor onsite using a fully Texan grain-to-glass distillation process, where 100% Texas-grown grains are milled, mashed, fermented, barrelled and bottled on-site. Pretty impressive, no? Not only are these spirits ultra-sustainable, they taste fantastic. I fell in love with the clean, biting Mother Pepper, an un-aged ‘new make’ whiskey infused with fresh chile pequin, smoked serrano and aji amarillo peppers, immediately. With last year’s release of The Musician, their gorgeously creamy-spiced flagship Straight Bourbon Whiskey and this year’s The Naturalist American Gin, Still Austin have not only produced some top-class spirits, they have proven that their fully-in-house methodology can work. A must-visit.
440 E St Elmo Rd unit f, Austin, TX 78745
Treaty Oak are something of an Austin institution – when they first opened back in 2006 they were only the fourth distillery in the entire state. Now settled in their immense Dripping Springs ranch, which has been home to them since 2016, Treaty Oak has become nothing short of a ‘destination’. With its own barbecue restaurant, sports bar, live music stage and tasting room on site, as well as home-produced wine and beer in the mix, Treaty Oak has an identity that far out-strips that of its popular bourbons, whiskies and gins. Named for the famous 500-year old tree under which Stephen F. Austin signed agreements defining the borders of the state, everything about Treaty Oak emanates Texas, including its size and the amount of time you’ll need for a full visit, tour, meal, drinks and exploration. With a full range of bourbons, whiskies and gins to explore, a $10 spirits flight is an excellent place to start. I’m a big fan of the earthy-oaked Antique Gin and you can’t go wrong with the Ghost Hill Bourbon, well-respected and easily available around the city, but obviously tasting best on its own terroir. Unlike a lot of distillery taprooms, Treaty Oak is very family-friendly, and with so much to choose from this is a great place to kick back, relax and settle in for an afternoon.
16604 Fitzhugh Rd, Dripping Springs, TX 78620
Milam & Greene
Blanco TX has recently become a Central Texas distilling destination, with three fantastic taprooms to visit, each with its own personality and all absolutely worth visiting. Plan your trip carefully to ensure you get to all three, which are conveniently located within a stone’s throw of one another. Milam & Greene launched in September 2019, bringing together the team behind the Ben Milam whiskey brand and dynamic master-blender Heather Greene. Milam & Greene are all about blending. They distil on-site and in their original Kentucky location, and combine whiskies of differing age, barrel and terroir to create precise, distinctive flavour combinations, including their rare ‘grain-to-glass’ releases. Milam & Greene are all about science meeting art – expect to flex your palate to make the most of these delicately nuanced creations, and don’t be afraid to take time reading the tasting notes thoughtfully provided. There are three tasting menus available, and we went for the premium option, plus a serving of Provision Spirits gin for an extra $2, and sat happily ruminating over the subtle flavour layering in their sun-filled garden. The taproom interior is happily Texan, all rustic hide ‘n’ horns, and will be nicely cosy in winter. I particularly enjoyed the lush candied-toffee-fig Barrel Proof edition, but all were very tasty, and I would also recommend their excellent Port-finished Rye and remarkable Distiller’s Edition.
208 Carlie Ln, Blanco, TX 78606
Blanco natives Andalusia Whiskey have an airy, spacious taproom just minutes from Milam & Greene and Real Ale, and here it’s all about the whiskey. A flight of all four regular varietals, ranging from un-aged Andalusian White to the Irish-style Andalusian Triple-Distilled will set you back just $11, while we opted for the special flight of three Madeira-cask-aged drams for just $10. I love the depth and complexity that the Madeira brings to the whiskey and all of these went down a treat, especially the Scottish-style smoked-malt Stryker which picked up the rich sweetness from the cask to perfection. The taproom is friendly and laid-back, decorated with love in a modern-rustic style, and even has its own library area in the style of many a sophisticated English pub, plus a cool upstairs balcony. There’s also shaded seating outside, although we went straight for the sunniest seats, visiting on a breezy Spring day. This is a popular local spot, and was happily yet safely busy during our visit. Andalusia have also recently released the first Texas brandy, although it wasn’t available during our visit, but definitely something to look out for, and there’s a cocktail menu of whiskey-based staples for those not in the mood for neat sipping. Be sure to stop in.
6462 US-281, Blanco, TX 78606
Best known for their outstanding brewery, Real Ale branched out into distilling back in 2017 with their initial release of a Signature Whiskey, Single Barrel Whiskey and Gin, all of which are only available at their Blanco taproom. Real Ale have been brewing since 1996 and their beers are some of the best-loved in the state, with good reason. The discipline and care that have gone into producing superb brews running a vast gamut of styles can be seen in their spirits production. The gin is earthy with firm floral-herbaceous flavours that make for happy sipping but would certainly ramp up any mixed drink of choice, and the smooth, light-bodied toasty Signature Whiskey is an easy day-drinking dram and makes a mean Manhattan. A visit to the rolling hills of Real Ale’s stunning ranch is the only way to get your mitts on these, and cocktails and shots are available in their second-floor tasting room. Real Ale’s annual birthday bashes have been sadly missed during the pandemic and are definitely recommended for spirits fans as well as beer lovers once they resume – it’s an absolutely brilliant day out and the cocktails are certainly flowing. Don’t miss out on trying these treats on your Blanco visit.
231 San Saba Ct, Blanco, TX 78606
Hye, Texas is just over an hour’s drive from Austin, but it’s a journey worth taking to hit up the stunning Garrison Brothers taproom, sink into one of their huge wooden rockers and stare out into the vast rolling hills of Central Texas with a tot of tip-top bourbon in hand. Garrison Brothers is also proper Texas old-school, founded in 2006 and proud producers of the state’s first legally-produced bourbon in 2010. Garrison Bros are the lobsters of distillers – you won’t find anything but bourbon at this taproom. And that focus and dedication has paid off. Winners of more awards than you can shake a stick at, Garrison Brothers’ speciality bourbons have a phenomenal reputation, attracting visitors from across the US, and even further afield, all of whom are greeted in person on entry in true Texas-hospitality fashion. A tasting flight of three bourbons, including their latest small-batch release, is just $10, as are neat bags of potent cocktails – I would highly recommend the tangy-orange-cherry-preserve Old Fashioned. Garrison Brothers keep to strict daytime opening hours, even at weekends, so be sure to factor this into your visit. Food can be purchased from the Whiskey Shack bar, and children are welcome – there was even one having a birthday party there during our visit – she’s off to an enviable start in life! As Garrison Brothers can only sell their bourbon on-site, you are permitted to bring in other beverages, or partake of their honesty box system for beer, wine and soft drinks. Check social media for live music on the weekends, and come thirsty!
1827 Hye-Albert Rd, Hye, TX 78635
Located just off the Dripping Springs alcohol-artery that is Fitzhugh Road, Revolution Spirits is tucked into St Paul’s Valley Road’s neat nub of taprooms, also including Last Stand Brewing’s original location and the Argus Cidery. We first visited back in 2017, and I was immediately taken with their richly botanical-infused Austin Reserve Gin, whose delightful mix of fragrant lavender, spiced pink pepper and lingering juniper-rosemary absolutely insist that I consume it neat in most circumstances. The warm, potent Cafecito Coffee Liquer is also a winner (and will certainly ward off any mid-afternoon slumbers), and the chocolate variety will suit those sweeter of tooth. Revolution are also producers of Texas’ first home-distilled Amaro liquer – smashing in a Negroni. Revolution has a simple, friendly taproom with plenty of outside seating. Reservations are available but not essential, and Penninger Meat Co are onsite offering smoked meats in sandwiches or plates. Mixed spirits flights come in at $15 and for $20 you can pick up a flight of three off-menu cocktails, while a tasty selection of individual mixed drinks cost between $6-$10. If you fancy a Gin Hibiscus Soda or Nitro White Russian with Cafecito and Almond Cream you are so in the right place. Check the rotating cocktail menu in advance for special seasonal delights.
12345 Pauls Valley Rd Building H, Austin, TX 78737
Planet Rock Vodka
Apple pie vodka, anyone? Yes – I thought as much. Get yourselves out to delightful Hudson Bend for the new best thing to hit Austin spirits. The Planet Rock tasting room is Fun with a capital F, a relaxed, unpretentious expanse of picnic tables on woodchip, streamers, fire pits, swings and climbing ropes – all the outdoorsy excitement you could possibly need after whacking away a few of their way-too-smashable cocktails. There’s also a generous stage with regular live shows, a barbecue food truck, and their very own ‘glamping ground’ which you can book to ensure you don’t need to drive anywhere at the end of the night. I was delighted to discover my namesake cocktail, the Smoked Amethyst, a super-moreish concoction involving mandarina orange vodka, lavender and pink lemonade, and the Planet Rock take on the Pina Colada disappeared in minutes – what can I say? And in case you’re not already leaping into your vehicle in the direction of Hudson Bend, Planet Rock have their very own BLT-infused vodka to crank up their Bloody Mary’s to 11 and beyond! All I need now is for them to bottle it – but until then I guess I’ll just have to keep going back. While you’re visiting Hudson Bend, be sure to look in on Planet Rock’s super-awesome beery neighbours Infamous Brewing, and don’t forget to pack your tent!
5401 Hudson Bend Rd, Austin, TX 78734
Spirit of Texas
Despite having lived in Austin for over three years, Spirit of Texas managed to elude my extremely fine-tuned taproom radar until remarkably recently. Make sure this does not happen to you. Located in Pflugerville TX, just north of Austin, Spirit of Texas is a super-friendly spot with spacious indoor and outdoor areas. There’s a large purpose-built stage for their lively music events (pre-Covid, now beginning to re-start) and rotating food trucks at weekends. Spirit of Texas distil high quality rum and malt whiskey, and offer an extensive, expressive range of cocktails prepared by bartenders who know their spirits inside-out. Don’t be afraid to go off-menu – we rattled off flavours we were in the mood for and just minutes later were presented with a frankly superb concoction including mango, habanero, serrano and rum – while I will certainly try to replicate it at home there’s no doubt we’ll be going back for more. Their ultra-smooth Pecan Street Rum went down a treat, as did the gently sweet and delicately spiced Single Malt Whiskey. I totally fell for the ultra-limited 10*4 Distiller’s Reserve Whiskey, aged six and a half years to utter perfection – there’s not much left so if you’re reading this check their Instagram and haul ass down there if it’s still available. Spirit of Texas also brew their own beer, in a growing distillery trend that I am so in favour of, and we had a tasty flight, including a full, creamy Vanilla Porter and robust, floral-hopped Kolsch. Spirit of Texas are currently open til 10pm on Friday and Saturday and you’ll want to stay til then.
1715 Dalshank St, Pflugerville, TX 78660
Cypress Creek Rum Distillery
A visit to Cypress Creek is a true only-in-Texas experience. Wimberley’s best kept secret, the Cypress Creek taproom is easiest found when you’re not actually looking for it and stumble upon its cute neon-lit tiki-hut-style bar and treehouse-canopy patio off a winding country road. Owner and distiller David Watson got into rum while diving for treasure off the coast of Mauritius, as you do, and wanted to create his very own slice of boozy paradise back home on his Wimberley property, and there’s no denying he’s done a bang-up job. A self-taught distiller and former welder, Watson built his equipment by hand and even the vanilla beans for his vanilla rum are hand chopped by his wife Laura – everything here is made with love and care, and the simple but tasty cocktails allow the quality of the spirits to shine, and are perfect for a long lazy Texas Hill Country afternoon. There’s nothing quite like sitting in a Texas treetop overlooking a quiet pool with a cool long drink that’s travelled just a few feet from grain to glass. A joyful spot to visit – if you can find it of course.
1400 Jacobs Well Rd, Wimberley, TX 78676
South Austin is, rather joyfully, taking off as a drinking destination, and just a few minutes from hot new favourite Meanwhile Brewing, Fierce Whiskers Distillery opened their doors last September. Their heaving launch party was the place to be seen for Austin’s hip, savvy drinkers, all admiring the minimalist modern-Western chic interior with a view straight through the bar to a gleaming working still. This is more than an impressive feat of design. Former energy industry professionals Tri Vo and Tim Penney have worked hard to make Fierce Whiskers as sustainable as possible, installing solar panels, using reclaimed timber and recycling their spent grain as animal feed, among other initiatives. But don’t let any of this distract from the comprehensive (20+) and sophisticated cocktail menu, all made using in-house-distilled ingredients. With their own young whiskey (aged versions are coming in the next 2 years), gin, rum and agave plus clever home-made syrups and tinctures, this is as hyperlocal as Austin cocktails get, and they do not disappoint, especially as they fall in the most reasonable $8-12 range. With Char ATX Texas yakitori food truck on site and regular live music, this is an excellent new addition to the Austin spirits scene.
5333 Fleming Ct, Austin, TX 78744
Other distilleries to visit:
- Deep Eddy Vodka
- Crowded Barrel Whiskey
- Dripping Springs Vodka Distillery
- Hye Rum
- One Shot Brewery and Distillery
- Coppershot Distillery