My introduction to Still Austin’s new Texas Rye Gin was like one of those movie mix-ups. A friend had poured gin into our water glasses after a dinner party one evening, but I had been away from my seat and didn’t know what he had done. As I got back to my table, I popped a third of a glass in one swig. Colossal surprise; not water (throat seizing a little bit) but actually; really good. It turned out to be his company’s latest product due to come out at the end of June.
Still Austin Whisky Co. has only been in production since July of 2017 and just opened their tasting room in September, but they join a rapidly growing industry in Texas. In the last 10 years, there has been a 1,400 percent increase in permits growing to over 120 in the state in 2018.
Located in an industrial park in South Austin, Still Austin’s neighbors are an up and coming new winery and hugely popular brewery established in distant 2016.
Wanting to find out more about this tasty gin, I sat down with Still Austin’s Head of R&D distillation. Ali Bloch’s vibrant look and functional style fit perfectly with a woman whose previous career in global health and science took her around the world regularly, and to some places where being shot at or bombed was a definite possibility.
Hailing from Boston and only in Austin for the last two years, Ali decided to answer the question “What would I really like to do?” She had limited distillation experience but a good anchor in food science and a strong passion for food and drink. At a friend’s suggestion, Ali applied for and got a job as an assistant distiller with all the sweaty hard work that involved.
Quickly her passion and background moved her to head up the R&D portion of Still Austin. Talking with her, you quickly realize that she gets genuinely excited by how botanicals, aromatics and playing with different grains enhance that experience of enjoying food and beverages.
Still Austin is, at its core, a team operation with Head Distiller John Schrepel collaborating on products and managing day to day production with a small group of equally passionate assistant distillers. Most of the production happens in a 42-foot, state of the art, column still, affectionately known as “Nancy.” The classic copper pot, hybrid still, used for smaller batches and product development is simply known as “The Queen.”
Most days Ali works at her picture book chemistry lab extracting compounds and planning future products and she remains close to the production process.
Ali talks about her work as “mad science with lots of trial and error mixed with bit of gut instinct, a willingness to try anything once and support a great team.” She’s been closely involved with most of the company’s products to date including Mother Pepper (Spicy Whisky) and Daydreamer (Citrus Whisky) and lately much of her time has been spent crafting the just released Texas Rye Gin.
It is a credit to the whole team that that Mother Pepper, Daydreamer and New Make (Unaged Whisky) medaled at the 2018 San Francisco World Spirits Competition; an impressive achievement for a company that has only been in production for about a year.
Recently in their tasting room, Ali, Co-founder, and Marketing director Lisa Braunberg and assistant distiller Harry Jarvis, introduced me to a dozen fragrant samples of Juniper berries, angelica, and many other spices that in proprietary proportions make up their new gin.
We tried various cocktails that showed the uniqueness of this new gin. Unlike some traditional mainstays, Still Austin’s new player works better with lemon than lime in a classic gin and tonic. It’s just a bit more floral; still undoubtedly spicy aromatic, but not quite as overpowering as some.
Ali explained that she wanted to try to create a gin using Still’s unaged rye-whiskey as the base which yielded a rounder and more complex end product.
Given the success that the first offerings have had, I think the new Texas Rye Gin will start to show up quickly in local bars and beyond.
By Richard Arebalo
OTL Food and Wine Editor