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Rebecca Creek Distillery Has a Simple Philosophy

Mike Cameron of Rebecca Creek Distillery
Owner: Mike Cameron
Add a couple of ice cubes, and you're good to go.

by

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.

"We're old friends from college," Cameron adds, "and we've both worked in the insurance industry. We came across the idea of getting into the liquor business a few years ago, maybe in distribution. But then someone suggested we open a distillery. We started doing a little research and found out there are actually whiskey conferences and distilling classes. We just tried to educate ourselves on the process and what needed to be done to size the equipment and that sort of thing. "Steve is the marketing guy and I'm more of the operations, process type."

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 Love

They'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."

Rebecca Creek Distillery whiskey
Vodka making is as much about what the distiller takes out as what he puts in. Enchanted Rock is distilled six times and then cold filtered to remove impurities and unwanted forms of alcohol giving the final product a smooth, clean taste. "It doesn't have that harsh, medicinal bite you get with a lot of vodkas. Enchanted Rock has a medium body with a sweet finish." Consumers agree. Based on case sales, Enchanted Rock Vodka is the fastest-growing craft spirit in the United States. Production capacity at Rebecca Creek is approximately 50,000 cases a year, a goal Cameron and his sales team are pursuing aggressively. "Texas has 2,500 liquor stores and more than 50,000 restaurants and bars. It's a huge task to try to get into all those places. Vodka is something that takes a lot of marketing. We have to work hard everyday to separate ourselves from all the other spirits out there.

"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

"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.

Rebecca Creek Distillery
26605 Bulverde Rd.
Suite B
San Antonio, TX 78260
(830) 714-4581
Tours available Saturdays noon to 5pm.

Website: http://rebeccacreekdistillery.com/




"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

  • 2-1/2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
  • 4 Tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup Jack Daniel's Whiskey
  • Pecan halves or marshmallow for topping
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

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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