Kiepersol - a Distillery Rises in Ranch Land

I'll be frank: there aren't many reasons to be in Tyler, TX. It's beautiful, rolling farm and ranch country, sporadically dotted by lakes, cricks, but mostly flat blacktop roads straight out of country songs. Speaking of which, I pass by a high school whose digital marquee reminds me that Miranda Lambert, singer and Blake Shelton's ex-wife, spent her formative years there.

When you finally get to Tyler, be sure to drive straight through it. When you come out of it's south side, you will take a few more bendy backroads until you see signs for Kiepersol Estates Winery. Driving to their tasting room and restaurant will automatically give you a tour of the grounds, which includes a sprawling vineyard and a new housing development.

There are actually two tasting rooms, one for spirits and one for wine, connected by a patio overlooking a spectacular vista. You will know you are close even before you surmount the stairs leading up, from the squawking of quail hens running around.

I'm greeted by Angie, who leads me into the tasting room. One of the benefits of getting there right before closing (at 6pm) is we have the place to ourselves. She gives me a little of her backstory: she's been working at Kiepersol pretty much since the distillery opened three years ago (the winery is about twenty years old). She lived in the Virgin Islands for eighteen years, bartending, and is still partial to making her own rum concoctions. She takes Kiepersol's rum and infuses it with spices and had a bottle for me to try. The overpowering note is clove. There's something like sixteen different cocktails on the menu, all of them designed by Angie. I eventually order the Co-Pilot Old Fashioned at the bar of the restaurant, but I'll get to that in a bit.

First, I try Dirk's Vodka. All three of Kiepersol's spirits are commemorations of family members. Dirk was the father of the winery's founder, Pierre de Wet. Pierre passed away earlier this year, and the winery remains operated by his children.

The vodka is made from any of the fourteen varietals grown on the estate. It's triple filtered and proofed to 80 using underground well water. It has a very clean taste, and you could maybe convince yourself you're getting the faintest notes of grape.

There's Pierre's rum, made from a blend of three types of Texas sugarcane molasses: light, medium and dark. It's then aged for twenty-two months in syrah barrels and finished for four months in port barrels. The result is a spirit that's even darker in color than their bourbon. It has a deep grapey nose and the palate hints at vanilla. At 80 proof, it is very enjoyable to drink on its own.

Last, in order only, was Jimmy's bourbon. It's named for a grandfather who served as a Navy pilot in WWII, so the bottle is marked with his goggles. The mash is 75% corn, with the rest being equal parts barley, rye and wheat. It's aged for twenty-six months in charred oak and finished for one and a half months in port barrels. It's 90 proof and I found the notes to be mostly grainy and sweet.

Since there doesn't seem to be much to do in Tyler (unless hanging out at Whataburger is your jam) I decide to get a drink at the bar down he hill.  But it's not as simple as you would think. The young hostess (I think she is a relative of the De Wets) has to first lead me through a procedure that I don't quite come to understand. She takes my drivers license and goes away to scan a copy. Then she comes back with a 'membership' form for me to fill out. I've heard of strange dances like this performed in Utah, due to the Mormons' fear of earthly fun, but this is Texas we're talking about here. What happened to hard drinking cowboys? To her credit, she is apologetic throughout.

Now seated at the bar (I'm the only one there), I order that Co Pilot. It is delicious and unlike any old fashioned I've had before. I tell the bartender, Mike, that I'm getting a strong taste of chocolate. He says there's no chocolate in it, but maybe it's the almond syrup mixing with the muddled fruit. It's sweet enough for me to finish with vodka sodas the rest of the night. Just when I think I'm finished, this group shows up:

Did I mention how friendly Texans are? Well, they go into instant buddy pal mode and are adamant I stay for another drink, on them. How could I say no? They order another Co Pilot for me and I settle back in.  They school me on cattle herding (more affordable to graze on rented land than owning) and local real estate (not booming), until it's closing time.

Granted, I've been there a couple hours; but I can tell this lot had started drinking way before me elsewhere. As I work on napping off my buzz in my car, I can hear the rest of them spill out and into their trucks (it's always trucks out here). Then the peel of tires on gravel.  I can't help but think of those windy roads and cattle roaming about, and wish the best for them all.


  1. I am one of the blondes in that pic!! Great visiting with you Seth! I wish you the best of luck on your adventures! Come back and see us sometime!!


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