To become the first whiskey distillery in Austin since Prohibition, Still Austin Whiskey Co. had to fight against the architect of Prohibition himself. Long-dead Senator John Morris Sheppard of Texas not only penned the 18th Amendment (Prohibition), he also left behind a legacy of local laws and regulations that made it nigh impossible to distill spirits within Austin city limits. But after two years of persistence and a combined know-how in law, finance, the alcohol industry, engineering and other fields, the three families behind Still Austin won approval to launch a “grain-to-glass” distillery in South Austin. “It took a determined set of Austinites to get it done,” says Chris Seals, co-founder and CEO.
Though Still Austin’s massive 42-foot still comes from Scotland, the resemblance to Scottish or even Kentucky/Tennessee whiskey-making traditions ends there. Still Austin has forged a uniquely local approach to bourbon by mashing, fermenting, distilling, barreling and bottling all its whiskies completely in-house with grains from nearby growers like Richardson Farms; water filtered by Central Texas limestone; and an aging technique suited to our hot climate (using barrels made with locally harvested wood, no less). Beyond ingredients, the craft distillery embraces an Austin sense of innovation with a line of “new-make” (unaged) whiskies, such as the spicy Mother Pepper and the meaty Smoked Briskey, to complement its standard bourbon.
Customers seeking even bolder beverages will be able to eventually make their own on site via the upcoming “Distill Your Own Barrel” program. “Because it’s still a felony to make whiskey at home,” notes Seals, “whiskey isn’t a craft that’s been open-sourced. There’s so much creativity in Austin that we wanted a lab to give people the tools to learn the whiskey-making process.” Those who’d rather experiment with their mouths instead of their hands can join Still’s Whiskey Geek club, whose members will get to taste and critique the distillery’s latest creations.
Still Austin fought hard to launch in Austin, and it plans on making deep roots here. Set to open in May, the distillery will serve its bourbons, whiskies and one-offs exclusively in its tasting room and “whiskey garden” before eventually ramping up distribution around Austin’s bars and stores. “Our first focus is our backyard,” says Seals. “This is our community.”
By Steve Wilson.
For more information, visit stillaustin.com or call 512-276-2700.