Keeping it Texas at Ranger Creek Brewstillery
There are some people you meet, and you can just tell right away that they are decent folk. That's how I feel about Josh and Allen, two distillers from Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling.
Ranger Creek is in San Antonio, but I met Josh and Allan at the tasting room of Andalusia Whiskey Co. That's just how these Texan distillers roll. Everyone is real supportive of each other (and you've got to sample what's out there). One of the first things Josh says to me when I meet him, and I tell him of my journey, is that I've gotta come down and visit them. Already on my list!
Here I am, half a week later, ringing the doorbell at Ranger Creek. And there he is, Josh, my host for the next hour. He dutifully sets me up for a tasting at the bar.
Ranger Creek is all about whiskey (and beer, but I'll be sticking to the hard stuff). There's quite a variety. First I try their white (unaged) whiskey, at 100 proof, which is distilled from a 70% yellow corn, 16% rye and 14% barley mash. The nose is mellow and oaky, and the palate is of sweet wood.
They have two distinct bourbons, even though they come from the same mash bill as the white whiskey. The only difference is the straight bourbon is aged at least two years, while their Texas bourbon is aged for less time. Both go into new American oak barrels and both get bottled at 96 proof.
The Texas bourbon I try is aged thirteen months, and is their most popular product. It has a nose of grain and wood. It's not sweet, but as if someone just got done sanding furniture. The palate is more enjoyable: subtle fruits like green apple accompany a slow burn. It finishes with a mellow grain.
The straight bourbon's nose is more apple forward, along with some spice. The notes are deep chicory and earthy.
There's a 100% malted rye whiskey, the grain imported from Canada. It's aged sixteen months in new oak and bottled at 94 proof. The nose is like a spicy bread. Imagine if someone cracked open a fresh-baked loaf of whole wheat and then stuffed it with cloves. The palate isn't as much of a mash up, but just as complex: deep, musty wood.
I try a single malt that's been aged a year in used bourbon barrels and bottled at 86 proof. It's made from the barley that would otherwise make Ranger Creek's mesquite-smoked porter. Josh tells me about 30% of the barley that goes into the mash gets smoked by mesquite wood. The nose is a faint char. The palate is a lot stronger, with notes of smoke and spice that come on slowly, but develop wonderfully in the finish.
Josh busts out an umarked bottle from the back that is an alluring deep caramel color. He tells me it's a cask strength version of the single malt, at 128 proof, and pulled out of the barrel about an hour ago. The barley in this mash is not smoked. Additionally, it has been vapor-infused with coffee, chicory, cacao nibs and vanilla in a second and final distillation. The nose is a mellow mashup of candy flavors: rich and chocolatey. The palate is chocolate and spice, with a considerable burn.
On my way out, I get introduced to Mark, one of the co-owners. I ask him, as I ask most distillery owners I meet, what inspired him to get into the business. He says he was a home-brewer with a corporate day job, and one day decided it was time to become a full-time distiller with no job.
Unique to distilleries in Texas, Mark started Ranger Creek as a brewery and distillery at the same time (hence the name "brewstillery.") Usually, one will get established and running before adding the other. A law was passed after Ranger Creek opened, stating that a company must keep their still(s) and brewing tanks in separate facilities. Luckily, Ranger Creek was grandfathered in, or that would have been one awkward-looking drywall job.
Mark is also a Texas history buff, just like everyone else in Texas. Specifically, Ranger Creek is named for a real creek in San Antonio, which in turn is named in honor of the Texas Rangers (guns not baseballs).
Speaking of guns, every spirit derives it's name from a different caliber weapon. You can not see it well in the photo above, but those are authentic framed guns on the wall behind us. It's hard to believe that a people I've found to be so friendly and helpful ever had a need for so many guns, let alone their own army. Or maybe I just have yet to overstay my welcome.
I'm happy to keep the streak going as I say my many thanks and farewells, and find my way to the car.