I went to a hoedown and a distillery broke out
Only by chance did I pick the perfect day and time to visit Rebecca Creek Distillery in San Antonio, TX. You wouldn't think Wednesday around 11am would be a particularly exciting time. But on this day, the country duo Smithfield are performing, promoting a reality show they're in the process of filming. There's also a camera crew for a syndicated network show called "Best Of." The show is about to name Rebecca Creek the best Texas craft distillery for 2017, so they are capturing footage. Local TV news and a country music station have joined in as well. Add a decent bbq food truck (I'm sorry I was surprised by how good they were) and a tasting bar run by lovely Helena, and you've got yourself a party.
Because this is a big event for Rebecca Creek, I get to meet quite a few of their folk.
At the top of the totem pole there's founder Steve Ison. He tells me how once he conceived the idea of Rebecca Creek, he knew he would need the business acumen of friend John Morrow, who comes from the beer distribution industry, and added him shortly after the distillery's founding in 2006.
Steve starts about twenty of us on a tour of the fairly large facility, giving a little more background on the place, before handing off to Brad the distiller, for the operations part.
There's the saying, "everything is bigger in Texas." You can also say "everything is bigger at Rebecca Creek." Brad leads us past millers, mash tuns, fermenters, tanks and, finally, a pot/column still hybrid - all bigger than most I've seen. It makes sense when you learn of the volume of output here: fourteen pallets per day of booze. I don't know exactly how much spirit fits onto a pallet, but I know it's enough to turn down the job of lugging it around.
Back outside, I meet Matt Appleby, Rebecca Creek's head of marketing. He has a very interesting background, to say nothing of being as friendly as they come. He was formerly at Jack Daniel's marketing, and tells me of the events they'd throw on "Barbecue Hill" in Lynchburg. It sounds amazing and I can't help but wonder out loud why he ever left. Matt chuckles and gestures at the stage where Smithfield's getting started. "To build something from the ground up." Touche, Matt.
The tasting room is a mob scene, as all twenty or so visitors try to order a cocktail at once. Luckily, I have an in. Sweet Helena, who I met and chatted with earlier. She comes right up to me, plastic sampling cups at the ready.
Rebecca Creek is best known for its whiskey, so that's what I try first. It's made from a mash of 75% corn, 21% rye and 4% barley, and aged in new oak barrels between four and twelve years. I would think this spirit would be classified as a "bourbon" and the website does make occasional reference to a bourbon. But the bottle says "Fine Texas Spirit Whiskey" so I'll stick with that.
The proof of my sample is 80. It has a complex nose of grain, grass, apple and some melon. The palate is much more straightforward, and really enjoyable. I'd describe it simply as mellow wood, with a slight finish of pepper.
Rebecca Creek also makes a whiskey blended from other distilleries' whiskeys, called Texas Ranger Whiskey. It is 80 proof and has strong notes of vanilla and caramel.
They were all out of their single malt. I try both the vodka and peach vodka. They derive from a 16-hour distillation that involves cooling the liquid down to 28 degrees Celsius for filtration. Science! They are both accordingly smooth, though the peach flavor was accompanied by a slightly bitter note.
I have to hit the road soon, but not before downing some more barbecue. I simply can't pass up a truck with a double-barrel smoker on the back. It's not bad: some firm brisket and turkey with a decent smoke flavor, and mashed potatoes of an orangey-peach color I haven't seen on anything that wasn't fruit. The taste isn't as strange as I was bracing myself for, but I can't, for the life of me, figure out the flavor of whatever's coloring it. It's subtle and sweet. Maybe pecan, the old man across the picnic bench suggests. Maybe - they do love their pecans around here.
That's a big farewell to both Texas and barbecue (for a while). Both have been very good to me. Only seven hours of driving til I see another state.