Beer, Wine & Spirits

Come for SXSW, stay for the booze: Austin’s hipster cachet is being greased by a craft liquor boom

Gavin Valle, special to
Meridian Hive Meadery in Austin, Texas.
Source: Lea Hendry-Valle

To the probable delight of revelers attending this year's annual South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, craft distilleries are becoming a growing feature of urban culture.

As of August 2016, there were 1,315 active craft distillers in the U.S., according to a joint study released last year by the American Craft Spirits Association and the International Wine and Spirits Research. According to the report, those distillers account for approximately 12 percent of cases of spirits sold each year.

As it happens, more than 70 of those establishments are located in Texas — and several are concentrated in and around the rapidly growing Austin area. The craft liquor boom is partially an exponent of Texas' strong reputation for cultivating small business and entrepreneurship.

Austin, a university town with offbeat appeal and an entrepreneurial spirit, provides spirit makers with a ready-made customer base of young customers and hipsters — many of whom are known to gorge on artisanal foods, coffee and liquor.

The city's motto, "Keep Austin Weird," is reflected in its burgeoning craft distillery industry. Recently, CNBC took a look at some of the more noteworthy establishments that have sprung up around Austin, and regardless of one's preference — be it whiskey, gin, tequila, moonshine, or even mead — there's something for practically everyone.

Revolution Spirits in Austin, Texas.
Source: Lea Hendry-Valle

Revolution Spirits Distilling Co.

During a trip to Kentucky in 2007, Revolution Spirits co-founder Mark Shilling had an epiphany while sampling some high-quality, homemade moonshine. In 2014, Shilling and his partner Aaron Day opened Revolution, a craft liquor business that offers a dizzying array of specially blended gin, whiskey and liqueurs that are popular with Austin's faithful.

"Being small and independent gives us the freedom to be experimental," Shilling told CNBC — and that spirit of experimentation is apparent in Revolution brands like its Single Barrel Series gins and "Farmhouse Series" of fruit liqueurs.

Deep Eddy Vodka Distillery and Tasting Room, Austin, Texas.
Source: Deep Eddy Distillery

Deep Eddy Vodka Distillery

Nestled on Highway 290 between Austin and Dripping Springs, Deep Eddy's spacious glass and timber distillery and tasting room is a well-trafficked tourist attraction. Named after the historic, man-made Deep Eddy swimming pool (the oldest public pool in Texas), the distillery was founded in 2010 by Chad Auler and Clayton Christopher, two Texans who wanted to develop and market premium, high-quality vodkas made with all-natural ingredients.

Deep Eddy's first release was a Sweet Tea Vodka, which was a hit with locals and led to more flavors like lemon, peach, cranberry and the store's current top seller, Ruby Red Grapefruit.
Although Deep Eddy Vodkas are now distributed in all 50 states and Canada, the company remains ingrained in Austin's unique culture.

Treaty Oak Distillery in Austin, Texas.
Source: Lea Hendry-Valle

Treaty Oak

The Treaty Oak owns an important place in the history and folklore of Texas, with its namesake partly derived from a landmark treaty in the 1830s between local Native Americans and Texas' first colonists.

Located just outside of Austin, the spacious property includes a tasting room, a gift shop, a bar and a restaurant in addition to the distillery. The brand's primary products include a range of vodkas, rums and gins that include Graham's Texas Tea, a sweet tea vodka; Starlite Vodka; Red-Handed Bourbon; and Waterloo Gin. In addition, Treaty Oak markets an experimental brand of spirits produced in limited quantities and only available in Austin.

A sampler of Meridien Hive Meads.
Source: Lea Hendry-Valle

Meridian Hive Meadery

Made from a fermented mixture of water and honey, Mead is considered the world's oldest alcoholic beverage. Although often associated with Vikings and Norse gods like Thor as opposed to cowboys, one of largest, top-selling "meaderies" in the U.S. is located deep in the heart of Texas.

Meridian Hive Meadery was founded in 2012 by Eric Lowe and Mike Simmons, both engineers by trade, who saw tremendous marketing potential for high-quality mead within the growing craft beer scene, where an estimated 80 percent of craft bars also serve mead.

Meridian Hive currently offers three carbonated draft meads (Discovery, Rhapsody and Haven), as well as several traditional uncarbonated versions and limited- run special batches. Meridian is available throughout Texas, and can be ordered online.

Austin’s Argus Cidery
Source: Gavin Valle

Argus Cidery

Texas's first Cidery, which opened its doors in 2010, is named after the Founder's Father, Argus Delbert Mickel. Argus's son Wes Mickel (also named Argus; Wesley is his middle name) and his older brother Jeff now serve as co-Owners of the business, which has been influenced by Wes' culinary training.

Available nationwide, Argus Cidery produces artisanal ciders and fruit wines that are 100 percent natural, with no sugar or additional added ingredients. Unique offerings abound, like "Vinho Pearde" (fermented, lagered pear juice) and "Tepache" (made with pineapple juice). Argus also offers a host of apple-based ciders, including the dry and tart Ciderkins and Ginger Perry.

"It's fruit as it ferments, all natural and no tricks," Jeff Mickel told CNBC.

Dulce Vida in Austin
Source: Dulce Vida Tequila

Dulce Vida

Tequila is not officially tequila unless it's produced and bottled in Mexico — primarily in the state of Jalisco. Austin's Dulce Vida assortment of handcrafted versions of the potent liquor is definitely made in Mexico, but features a distinctly Austin twist.

Established in 2009, Dulce Vida offers an assortment of handcrafted, organic tequilas, including 70-proof Dulce Vida Lime Tequila and grapefruit tequilas, and the small-batch, 80-proof Blanco Tequila.

Dulce Vida tequilas are currently available in Texas, California, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Tennessee, Georgia and Colorado, with plans to expand to 25 total states in 2017.