New and established whiskey distilleries in Texas are blazing the Texas whiskey trail, ensuring enthusiasts’ glasses are always half full of the best artisan spirits.
There is much dispute when it comes to dating the earliest process of distillation. Mesopotamians and Babylonians may have created and utilized an early and basic form to make perfumes, likely as far back as twelve centuries B.C.E. In terms of chemistry; the Greeks recorded early distillations as far back as the first century C.E. Records show that this information likely spread far and wide. But it was not until somewhere around the thirteenth century that history begins to show the use of distillation to create delicious spirits.
This may seem a bit off, considering that wine and beer go much further back. However, wine and beer take very little human interaction to create, when compared to distilled beverages. So the development of the process likely took a while. From what can be taken from written records, monasteries seemed to be producing whiskey first and brought it to present-day Ireland and Scotland at the latest by 1300 C.E.
The production of whiskey, specifically, took off when King Henry VIII of England dissolved the monasteries in his kingdom in the mid-1500s. However, the monks did not stop making it altogether: they just began to do so privately. This took the production into individual homes, where the love of whiskey was born and continued to thrive.
Almost two centuries ago in Texas, during the time when the Alamo was an active mission and the site of an epic battle, it was common practice for folks to make their own small-batch whiskey and use it as currency. It traveled well, and early settlers and cattlemen enjoyed a swig or two of whiskey to warm their bellies when camping out under the stars on a cold Texas night.
Maverick Whiskey | San Antonio
Fast forward another century, and the great-great-greatgrandson of the last Texian rebel left alive has revived the whiskey recipe of his late ancestor, Sam Maverick. In fact, whiskey seems to have permeated the Texas landscape in the past several years with more and more distilleries opening, showcasing the Lone Star State’s love of the craft and the unique influence Texas has on it.
Maverick Whiskey is one of the newest whiskey distilleries to open its doors in Texas, in San Antonio to be exact. The operation is housed in a historic bank building that sits on a lot once owned by the Maverick family, not far from the Alamo. Owners Ken and Amy Maverick were inspired to take on this venture after Ken discovered a collection of diaries and old newspaper articles that had been passed down through the family and recorded his
ancestor’s whiskey recipe.
“It kind of inspired me to dig deeper,” Ken explained. “There are passages that talk about a land deal that involved a handshake and a barrel of whiskey. I started making the historic family recipe, and it turned out pretty good so . . . I decided to tell the story surrounding this area, the history of my family and of San Antonio.”
Maverick Distillery has revived this historic beverage, what they call Alamo Whiskey, perhaps minus a few traditionally-used ingredients. “Back then, whiskey had a lot of different stuff in it,” he said. “Some would even use gun powder.” While you will not have the opportunity to consume gunpowder-infused spirits at Maverick Distillery today, there is much more delight in their current product.
The company also produces a Light Whiskey, which is distilled at a higher proof and approaches the smoothness of vodka.
The small batch distillery focuses on making handcrafted spirits from Texas-sourced ingredients and also features a tasting room, bar, private event space, and retail shop. Delicious whiskey-infused and inspired eats allow guests to enjoy a well-rounded experience that incorporates food, drinks, and a big bite of Texas history.
Blackland Distillery | Fort Worth
Blackland is yet another brand-new distillery on the Texas whiskey trail, located in the Foundry District near Downtown Fort Worth. “We call it a modern urban distillery,” Owner Markus Kypreos said, whose culinary background brings something to the table that is a little bit different than most.
After being a lawyer for fifteen years, he decided to pivot and attended culinary school in 2010. “After going to culinary school, one of the things I learned is I don’t want to work in a kitchen,” he said. However, what he learned has served as a foundation for the spirits that he makes.
Their bourbon, for example, is made up of 80 percent red corn, sourced from a local farm, and 20 percent of something unique: triticale, a newer grain that is a cross-pollinate of rye and wheat. Kypreos described it as “creamier rye.”
Thanks to the accommodating Texas laws, Blackland is also able to offer mixed drinks and cocktails on site. “We’ve really put an emphasis on our tasting room, a sophisticated bar or cocktail lounge if you will,” he said. “We offer ten cocktails that feature our spirits and a little food, such as charcuterie plates and cheese boards. So far, the response from Fort Worth has been amazing!”
The focus at Blackland is on the quality and the ingredients. “We respect the tradition of whiskey and bourbon, but we want to take the classics and try to elevate them to a more sophisticated level, due the technology,” he said.
“We’re now sort of in the midst of a distillery craze, but in general, Texas is still far behind places like Portland and Denver, or traditional places like Kentucky and Tennessee,” Kypreos said. “My hope is one day Texas is known as ‘The Whiskey State,’” which might just be a safe bet.
Firestone & Robertson Distilling Company | Fort Worth
Established whiskey entrepreneurs Troy Robertson and Leonard Firestone make a variety of whiskeys, with their TX Blended Whiskey and TX Straight Bourbon already on shelves.
Also located in Fort Worth, they started selling their blended whiskey in 2012 and now have a stunning facility called Whiskey Ranch that opened in 2017 and sits on 112 acres that include a fully functioning golf course. “By capacity, we’re the largest whiskey distillery left of the Mississippi, and we’re one of the top ten fastest growing brands in the state,” Robertson said. “We have a dedicated event space for private events and happy hours for
F&B is also committed to sourcing ingredients locally; they have a farmer that grows for them just north of Waco. “We’ve built a relationship over the years curating and cultivating grain,” Robertson said. “How it’s grown and how it’s handled makes a difference. We believe the quality of the grain contributes to the flavor of the whiskey, so it’s hugely important.”
Interestingly, even the type of yeast can have a big impact on the flavor of the spirit. “A hundred years ago, all major distilleries had their own unique yeast strain,” he said. “We spent a lot of time researching that component and decided we wanted to too, which is something no one’s really been doing for 50 years.”
F&B was a project of passion for both partners, who had spent most of their adult lives sampling different whiskeys and learning about them. “The more I was learning, the more I was falling in love with the idea of creating something,” Robertson said. “We didn’t know at the time that we’d be on the front end of this resurgence in whiskey.”
Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling | San Antonio
Ranger Creek, which is located in San Antonio, is easily a fan favorite of local whiskey lovers, created by Dennis Rylander and TJ Miller, another soon-to-be-famous whiskey duo, no doubt. The company makes a bourbon single malt, rye and white whiskey, a vintage series of barrel-finished products, in addition to a full line of beers.
“We’re a grain to glass distillery; everything we make is made on site,” Rylander said. “We bring in mostly Texas grains that we mill, mash, distill, and age on site in the Texas heat.”
A fact perhaps only local whiskey enthusiasts know, the sometimes-sweltering summers in Texas make for good whiskey, as it enhances the aging process. “The interesting part about making whiskey is that you have to make beer before you make whiskey,” he explained. “Whiskey and beer start with exactly the same raw ingredients.”
For those who like to sample what is new before everyone else, Ranger Creek also has a whiskey club where their biggest fans can see what they like before it becomes a future release. The distillery features a tasting room (bar) and has a spacious outdoor patio and bar that are often used for events. For those out of town, Ranger Creek spirits can be found at retailers and craft cocktail bars across Texas. “Oh, and in Sweden,” Rylander said. “Because that’s where I grew up.”
Rylander is one of the founding members of the Texas Whiskey Association, which was founded in 2018. Starting a Texas whiskey trail intent on promoting and educating consumers about Texas whiskeys is no joke.
“Our vision when we started is to one day have a Texas whiskey category,” Rylander said. “I think it’s exciting that consumers are looking for more local options and expressions in aged spirits and starting to recognize the benefits of aged whiskey in Texas.”
So whiskey lovers looking for a true taste of Texas (by the jigger or the bottle) no longer have to travel far to find it!