Nothing completes a trip to Austin like drinking some Texas whiskey. And for years, trekking out to Hill Country was the only way to get some local spirits. But there’s actually a distiller within the city, and while they’re still kind of new, they absolutely make up for quantity with quality… and an incredibly fun facility.
Locally owned and operated in Austin, Texas, the Still Austin Whiskey Co. first opened its doors in 2017.
And while distilleries in Texas are as thick as grackles in an HEB parking lot these days, this is the only one operating within the Austin city limits. They actually have the historical distinction of being the first distillery in the city limits of Austin, Texas since prohibition. Keeping it local, their plan was to try and use locally grown “heirloom” grains to make a craft spirit that would be unique to Austin.
Still Austin took a different approach to most distillers, in that they decided to offer only product that they themselves have distilled (not re-bottling someone else’s whiskey) and to keep the business afloat while their first batch aged, they would rely on infused “white lightning” unaged whiskey. Their plan worked, producing a number of delicious whiskey concoctions and the business finally produced its first 100% locally grown, distilled, aged, bottled, and distributed bourbon in 2019.
Things To Do At The Distillery
There’s not much in the local area where Still Austin calls home. Historically, the area was a warehouse district; and while there aren’t a whole lot of other bars in walking distance, there are some other businesses that have moved in to make the whole place much more inviting. It doesn’t make things much better that the area is a good 10 minute drive from downtown, which makes it mildly inconvenient for tourists staying downtown.
While the area might not be very exciting and is somewhat out of the way, the good news is that once you’re there, the facility is pretty self sufficient. Where most distilleries only have a small tasting room that they treat like a storefront, Still Austin runs a full service bar that serves cocktails in addition to whiskey flights. And for those warm Texas evenings, there’s an outdoor courtyard with market lighting and a food truck where you can play games and relax with a good drink.
The Distillation Process
Still Austin Whiskey Co. is a “grain to glass” distillery, meaning that the entire process of making whiskey takes place within their facility. They take it a step further by only using grains from the “local” area (within a 100 mile radius counts when you’re in a state as big as Texas).
Those grains are stored in the silos outside until they are needed, and Still Austin uses their own on-site grain mill to process the raw grains into a usable product. Most distilleries send their grains out to be processed elsewhere, but Still Austin prefers to control the size and consistency of their grains to improve the flavor of their spirits.
Once the grains are milled, they flow through a pipe above the entry way and into the cooker. Here the grains are added one at a time, coordinated to ensure that the different cooking time for each of the grains is accounted for and the whole mess is “done” at the same time.
Following the cooking process, the mash is flash cooled and transferred into one of six stainless steel fermentation tanks. These tanks, each named after a famous whiskey drinker, are custom designed by local university students to keep the whole thing at a constant 74-ish degrees while only wasting about a gallon of water per day. For a distillery located deep in the heart of Texas, that’s a remarkable accomplishment — especially given the scale of what they’re trying to cool.
After fermentation, the distiller’s beer is added into a beer vault and then placed into one of two stills to be turned into liquor.
The smaller of these stills is a pot still, designed after a Scottish still and used primarily for research and development as well as producing gin. The still takes high pressure steam piped into the jacket surrounding the copper pot, and then condenses it into delicious whiskey.
Just on the other side of a rather thick wall is Nancy — the 42 foot column still named after the 50 foot woman from the cheesy sci-fi movies. The still is clearly visible through some thick glass windows from the tasting room, and there’s even some sight glasses on the column still that are intended to let patrons watch the whiskey getting made but unfortunately, thanks to the overly cautious lawyers, they aren’t allowed to process whiskey while the tasting room is open.
What’s left after distillation is the grains, and those are returned to the farmers surrounding Austin, Texas. Some use them to feed their livestock, others till them into the soil to replenish the nutrients on their farm. Either way, every part of the product is used.
Similarly, the “heads” and “tails” of the whiskey (the parts that aren’t useful in whiskey drinking and potentially deadly) are sold as industrial solvents. Again, making use of every bit of the whiskey.
Once the whiskey is produced, one of two things happen.
For the unaged spirits, some of the whiskey is infused with things like hot peppers for their white lightning offerings. Others are added to new charred oak barrels like these pictured and then aged to perfection to make bourbon.
The barrels aren’t aged at the distillery — instead they are shipped out to a rickhouse in the country where the barrels are left to the Texas temperature swings. There’s huge differences in night and daytime temperatures, and that temperature shift makes the barrels expand and contract which transfers the flavor of the barrel into the whiskey more effectively.
Once the whiskey is properly aged (or not) it is returned to the distillery where a group of volunteers bottle (and sample, for quality control purposes) the whiskey for distribution.
I really like this distillery and take every opportunity to head down and check it out. But as I mentioned, getting here isn’t exactly convenient for the average tourist.
For Austin, Sixth Street and South Congress are typically the big attractions in town, easily walkable and with plenty of scooters or other forms of transportation. Still Austin is even further south on Congress than Lucy’s Fried Chicken, just on the other side of Highway 71.
The best way to get there is through ride sharing apps like Lyft or Uber. There’s plenty of drivers around Austin — and bonus, no drinking and driving!
If you do decide to drive, be aware that there is significantly limited parking at the distillery. It’s often hard to find parking in the lot, and because of where the distillery is located there aren’t many other options within walking distance.
Despite the distillery being a little far from downtown and with limited parking, it’s still one of my favorite places in Austin.