texas austin brewery distillery cider sotol

A Loop of Local Libations

Five close-in spots offering locally produced
goods of the spirited variety

by Anne Bruno
Photographs by Mackenzie Dunn

If, in your view, the phrase “local produce” refers strictly to fruits and veggies, try stretching your mind a bit and thinking outside the basket. Put a twist on the idea and move from food into the category of beverages, specifically those of the adult variety. If you can embrace such a concept and expand your thinking, dear reader, I promise you the reward of a whole new world of fermented and distilled taste experiences — all locally produced for your delight and enjoyment.

On a recent weekend, I, along with several more-than-willing friends, undertook some taxing research. Mapping out a loop starting and ending in South Austin, we blazed a trail of some of the best locally produced beverage spots, perfect for spending an afternoon expanding your palate.

Our criteria for the route were as follows: Each stop had to offer a distinct beverage, as well as something solid to keep us fortified for the day’s journey; destinations had to be appropriate for travelers of various ages and tastes; the Main Attraction (aka the adult beverage) had to be made on-site; and, perhaps of utmost importance, each had to satisfy the requirement of offering non alcoholic options for our fearless leader, that glorious creature commonly known as the Designated Driver. Let’s begin, shall we?

saint elmo brewing austin brewery

Saint Elmo Brewing Company

An everyman and everywoman’s brewery, St Elmo couldn’t be further from beer snobbery. And that’s not by accident. The two friends who started the popular South Side warehouse-cum-brewery claim they’re not “beer bigots” and prove it daily in the tastiest of ways: The rotating menu includes every style of beer one could hope for under a single roof. Four shiny metal vats labeled “Uno,” “Dos,” “Tres,” and “Cuatro” anchor the brewhouse, which is open directly to the bar, attesting to St Elmo’s philosophy of breaking down barriers between brewer and imbiber. There are no secrets between friends at St Elmo, and if you walk through the door looking for a great beer, you’re a friend.

THE EXPERIENCE

Start at the bar by perusing the beer menu overhead. Owing to the many choices, this might take a while, but rest assured, questions are not only welcomed but encouraged. Your next decision of where to hang out may be dictated by your companions. Solo? Take a stool at the bar. Sports fan? Stay inside and catch a game on the big screen at the back of the beer hall. Music fans, children, or four-legged friends in tow? Head outside to the beer garden, where you’ll find a stage for live music, plus a mix of red and white picnic tables set up for relaxation and lingering.

THE MAIN ATTRACTION

On the day we hit St Elmo, over a dozen brews decorated the menu, with names that offered more than a clue as to the lively personalities of the brewery’s founders. From an almost overwhelming number of taps, we sampled an American pils aptly named Dad; Mahalo, a pineapple pale ale; Zapp!, a kettle sour; a French saison called Evangeline; and Norman, a roggenbier.

SOMETHING TO SNACK ON

What goes better with an ice-cold brew? The answer — in all its spicy Thai Chili glory — can be found conveniently parked in St Elmo’s beer garden at Soursop, one of Austin’s favorite Pan-Asian food trucks.

INSIDER TIP

Leave the ferrets at home (see website. Do we really need to explain?).

440 E. St. Elmo Road in South Austin
Open Tuesday through Sunday.
Check the website for details.

stelmobrewing.com

Desert Door Texas Sotol

Desert Door Texas Sotol

If sotol is something you’ve never tasted or even heard of, don’t fret. The friendly folks at Desert Door Texas Sotol are happy to school you with lessons that are easy to swallow. Just down the road in Driftwood is where you’ll find this relative newcomer to Central Texas’ burgeoning distillery scene. The evergreen plant, sometimes called a desert spoon, is unique to Texas and northern Mexico. While you might make the rookie mistake of confusing the sotol with an agave or century plant, a closer look at the heart of the sotol, from which the spirits are distilled, may bring to mind a shaved-down artichoke on steroids.

THE EXPERIENCE

“Modern meets hacienda” best describes the welcoming vibe of Desert Door’s tasting room and the hospitality of its knowledgeable staff. White plaster dominates the intimate indoor space with an oversize fireplace and a cozy seating nook softened by leather cushions and wool pillows. Warm woods fill out the room with multiple gathering areas, and a bar offers signature cocktails that highlight sotol’s complex flavor profile. A glass wall at the end of the room allows a peek into the distillery as you sip the smoky spirit from handmade tasting cups. Outside, on the covered patio decked out with sofas, lounge chairs, and picnic tables, the Southwestern feel continues with a border of planter boxers filled with heat-loving specimens. Enjoy live music inside or on the patio, depending on weather.

THE MAIN ATTRACTION

The Desert Door Original, comprised of wild sotol, organic yeast, and purified natural Texas water, and a 100-proof Desert Door Oak Aged version distilled from only the most mature sotol plants and aged in white oak barrels.

SOMETHING TO SNACK ON

Order a charcuterie board of artisan cheeses, meats, and sotol bread at the bar inside the tasting room. Nonalcoholic beverages include a locally made spring water.

INSIDER TIP

Don’t mention the t-word. Desert Door is intent on knocking tequila off its pedestal as Texans’ desert-derived liquor of choice.

211 Darden Hill Road in Driftwood
Open Thursday through Sunday.
Check the website for details.

desertdoor.com

texas keeper craft cider austin

Texas Keeper Craft Cider

Ever traveled in your mind to a quaint stone cottage nestled in an apple orchard in the country? Maybe it’s the home of your imaginary best friends, industrious types who take the apples and make their own cider, then invite all the neighbors over for a party every weekend to celebrate the fruits of their labor. Substitute the apple orchard for pecan, cedar, and oak trees and turn the cottage from a house into a taproom and you’ve got the real-life Manchaca headquarters of Texas Keeper Craft Cider.

THE EXPERIENCE

You’ll feel right at home inside the former farmhouse, complete with knotty pine-paneled walls, plenty of chairs and tables, and a big stone fireplace in what was once the living room. Friendly staff behind the bar can help you choose from a surprisingly wide variety of ciders and tell you how they’re made. Outside in the front and backyards, kids play among the neat rows of picnic tables under stringed lights that practically beg you to take a seat and get yourself out of being in a hurry to go anywhere. From a rotating lineup of local bands to the regular Friday-night happy hours to supper club special events, there’s plenty of ways to enjoy your cider adventures. THE

MAIN ATTRACTION

The watchwords here are “small-batch,” “homemade,” and “creative.” That ethos even applies to the cidery itself — the owners describe their cellar as “ludicrously small,” with some equipment having been built by hand. Cider varieties include the Grafter Rosé, GoldRush, and Ciderweizen, to name just a few. Enjoy them in the taproom, then take home a few bottles for later.

SOMETHING TO SNACK ON

Don’t miss the equally creative offerings of Deepa Shridhar’s food truck, Puli-Ra. Set up just outside the taproom, Puli-Ra serves up what Shridhar calls “Low-Country Indian food with Texan inspiration.”

INSIDER TIP

Go for the flight! Who knew there was such a thing as still cider with no bubbles?

12521 Twin Creeks Road in Manchaca
Open Wednesday through Sunday.
Check the website for details.

texaskeeper.com

Treaty Oak Distilling

Treaty Oak Distilling

The numbers alone describing the Treaty Oak Ranch are impressive: 5,500-square-feet of brewing and distilling facilities, a 16-tap tasting room and cocktail bar that comfortably seats 100, and a new, 3,500-square-foot restaurant, all on 28 beautiful acres in Dripping Springs. Throw in the too-many-to-count oak trees, many of which surpass the century mark in age, and it’s easy to see why Treaty Oak Distillery has earned its place as a must-see destination on Central Texas’ spirits trail.

THE EXPERIENCE

As you may have guessed, Treaty Oak Distillery has a little bit of everything, all in a genuine Hill Country setting. On any given weekend you’ll find people of all ages and groups of every persuasion escaping the city here. Family-friendly with lots of open space, a kids’ play area, and picnic tables strewn about the landscape, this spot lets you two-step in the grass to a live band, or simply sit and sip while your kids run around, free of confining concrete sidewalks.

THE MAIN ATTRACTION

While people love to simply hang out at Treaty Oak Ranch, let’s be honest: It all starts with what’s in the bottle. Make that bottles, as Treaty Oak’s line of spirits now includes multiple varieties of award-winning rums, vodkas, bourbons, and gins, plus beer. In the tasting room you can sample the goods straight and order craft cocktails that bring out the best of the distillery’s bounty.

SOMETHING TO SNACK ON

Food options abound with snacks like chips and queso, guacamole, and hummus, as well as something more substantial at Treaty Oak’s Ghost Hill Restaurant. A board features weekly specials, and regular menu items include traditional Texas smoked meats, salads, and kid-centric fare.

INSIDER TIP

Check out the fun swag inside the tasting room. After you’ve sipped on a few samples, find the perfect souvenir to prove that when it comes to Texas distilleries, you’ve been there, done that.

16604 Fitzhugh Road in Dripping Springs
Open Thursday through Sunday.
Check the website for details.

treatyoakdistilling.com

Still Austin Whiskey Co.

Still Austin Whiskey Co.

When you approach Still Austin Whiskey Co., three giant metal can stills and a 42-foot-tall tower rising from the roof of the warehouse building catch your eye. Cool architectural details? Well, yes and no. While the tower definitely lends modern style to the structure, what’s inside is all about substance. To create the first whiskey distillery located in the city of Austin since Prohibition, the three families who founded Still Austin dreamed big, building a first-class distillery from the ground up. The column still that’s located inside the tower comes from Scotland, but everything else about the distillery’s grain-to-glass method is local.

THE EXPERIENCE

The tasting room at Still Austin brings to mind a hybrid of bar and boutique. You can shop for bottles lining the beautifully lit display shelves, or step up to the bar and peruse the menu of flights and cocktails, all mixed with Still Austin’s whiskeys as well as the label’s rye gin. Outside, the spacious whiskey garden is the perfect spot to play games and enjoy happy hour with friends.

THE MAIN ATTRACTION

Three varieties of whiskey entice at Still Austin. The New Make Whiskey comes straight from the still — think whiskey in its purest form — and is made simple and clean of corn, wheat, and malted barley. Two other varieties, Mother Pepper Whiskey (featuring chile pequin, smoked serrano, and aji amarillo peppers) and Daydreamer Whiskey (with a combination of Valencia, Tangelo, and Bergamot citrus) offer a twist on the traditional. Check out the Texas Rye Gin, handmade from a base spirit of Texas-grown rye grains.

SOMETHING TO SNACK ON

Hard work like sipping whiskey calls for a hearty snack, and Emojis Grilled Cheese Bar fills the bill. Melted goodness in multiple iterations is served from Emojis’ food truck, tucked into a corner of the whiskey garden.

INSIDER TIP

The cost of a flight (three whiskies, plus gin) can be applied to the purchase of any bottle. Way to do the math!

440 E. St. Elmo Road in South Austin
Open Thursday through Sunday.
Check the website for details.

stillaustin.com


Read More From the Makers Issue | August 2018

tribeza august makers issue 2018

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