Beverage & Bar Features
Rebecca Creek Distillery Has a Simple Philosophy
Owner: Mike Cameron
Mike Cameron admits when it comes to business models, there aren't many worse than a whiskey distillery. "You couldn't get a bank to loan you a penny by walking in and saying, 'I'm going to make something but first I have to spend all this money and it's going to sit there for a period of time while we pay taxes on it.'
"So we had to come up with a different plan," explains the owner of San Antonio's Rebecca Creek Distillery. "We stuck our necks out in the beginning because we felt confident about the appetite Texas has for craft spirits." As if opening a distillery wasn't risky enough, Cameron and his partner Steve Ison, did it with no experience in the liquor industry.
To lessen the financial risk of producing Rebecca Creek Whiskey, which won't be ready for consumption for months, Cameron and Ison, are repurposing that expensive distilling equipment while they wait.
From Germany with LoveThey're making vodka – but not just any vodka. They're making what they call an ultra-premium vodka named after a giant pink granite exfoliation dome called Enchanted Rock in nearby Fredericksburg.
Part of what puts the "ultra" in Enchanted Rock premium vodka is the Rebecca Creek production process. "Most of the world's vodkas are produced very quickly," says Cameron. "They're made using what's called a ‘stainless steel continuous dripping column.' There's nothing wrong with that. It makes vodka. And it makes it very quickly.
They're making vodka – but not just any vodka.The whole process takes only a couple of hours. We wanted to go back to the old-world German distilling techniques. That means you start with a copper pot still."
The 3,000-liter still at Rebecca Creek was handmade at the Christian Carl factory in Germany before being shipped piece-by-piece to Texas where it was reassembled. "The Carl family has been in the still-making business since 1869. It's all they've ever done," Cameron adds. "Our distiller, Jeff Murphy, gets here very early and works until very late. His days are 14-15 hour runs and that's the difference. That hand-crafted product takes time and during that long distillation day, Jeff is doing separations of different alcohols. You want to take out the undesirable alcohols. That's what we do that a lot of companies just don't bother with."
"We've probably done close to 500 tastings all over the state. We're very aggressive about our promotions. We have a commercial bus that drives around the state. We park in front of liquor stores, bars and restaurants and do promotions. It's that kind of marketing. You have to get out in front of the masses and let them know about your product. But once you do, once they try it, they love it. We've gotten great feedback."
And while Cameron is passionate about his company's vodka, it's clearly the whiskey that's closest to his Texas heart. "To me," he says, "whiskey and Texas just go together.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Distillery
Bourbon Recipes"Before prohibition in 1918, there were literally hundreds of distilleries in the United States. Most of them went out of business when they couldn't produce spirits anymore. It's a shame because we lost a lot of great recipes that came over from Europe and the rest of the world that are just gone forever now.
"Had prohibition never happened the public would have had so many other choices beyond what we have today. That's kind of the passion behind the movement in craft distilling. The distilled spirits industry is just now recovering from prohibition. There are so many other things you can do beside what's out there today."
Cameron and Ison are on the leading edge of the Texas craft distilling wave, among a handful of entrepreneurs trying to define the Lone Star state versions of bourbon and whiskey.
"We're looking for something that's not too sweet but not as harsh as a Kentucky bourbon," Cameron says. "Something smooth but with character, kind of a hybrid. Not overly sweet, but with a little hint of caramel, maybe some leather notes. Just a full-bodied whiskey you can sip. Just add a couple of ice cubes, and you're good to go."
The partners worked out their recipe in a borrowed distillery in Petaluma, Calif. before installing their still and beginning production.
"We went out there to work out our flavor profile before we had our Texas distillery license," explains Cameron. "We wanted to try a couple of different recipes and some different types of barrels before we started production." What Rebecca Creek is producing today is as close to 100 percent Texan as whiskey can get.
"You can't grow barley in Texas so we had to import that from Canada but everything is made and bottled right here using Hill Country limestone-filtered water. This is fine Texas sipping whiskey we're creating."
Tipsy Sweet Potatoes
Combine sweet potatoes, butter, brown sugar, salt, and whiskey. Spoon into a greased 1-quart casserole. Top with pecans halves or marshmallows. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until bubbly.
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