What do you get with a chemist who loves to drink? Alamo Premium Distillery
I park where my genius phone tells me Alamo Premium Distillery should be, but I'm sure I have the wrong place. All I see is this young man out in the parking lot, chopping wood. Keep in mind, I'm not out in the sticks somewhere. This is a shout from San Antonio International Airport. Hell, I see planes landing at the end of the street.
"Hi, I'm Patrick," he comes over with outstretched hand, once he looks up and has spotted me. Patrick is twenty-four and an apprentice for Noel, the owner, who I soon meet once we head inside.
I don't say this as a knock against Alamo Premium Distillery, just setting the context: it is housed in a garage not meant for visitors. I squeeze my way through loaded up pallets. A woman sits at a table off to the side, sticking these little test tube-looking bottles into parcels. Noel explains that a couple of businesses are run from the distillery, including a spirits of the month club. I think that's a great idea and want to sign up. Noel douses me with cold water by saying they're not permitted to ship to California. Damn states' rights!
Speaking with Noel -or more like listening keenly and struggling to keep up- is both an exhausting and exhilarating venture. His background explains a lot. He was a water engineer and chemist, and he's clearly taken to distilling like a worm to tequila. He's describing, in vain I'm afraid, how one gets starches to convert to sugar in different types of grain when my eyes gloss over. Forget the microbiology, can't we just try some spirits? Wish granted.
Alamo Premium's whiskeys and rums come from the same 140-gallon pot still and are bottled at 80 proof.
First up, their whiskey, made from Texas yellow corn and malted barley mash, then aged in containers with oak staves for about six months. Those were the staves Patrick was chopping off from a larger block when I arrived. The joy of being an apprentice is that he gets to do a little bit of everything. Try finding a twenty-four year old dudes this happy who doesn't have an Xbox controller in his hand.
The nose on the whiskey is a deep chocolate or cherry, with a hint of grass. The palate is similarly grassy, and there are notes of dark candy and spicy finish. I'm enjoying this whiskey as much as I've enjoyed moving into the air conditioned office from the garage. All those propane burners firing at once made it toasty.
Speaking of toasty, I get to try a bourbon before it's ready for bottling. It's on month five of an anticipated six. It's straight from the barrel -which is a #2 char American oak- so the proof is 110. Noel wants to get the proof down to 80 when they barrel. (Only using the most expertly filtered water, of course). He also plans on changing the brand name for this and all the other spirits to simply Alamo Distilling. Stay tuned.
The nose on the bourbon is grassy and sharp, with some floral notes. The palate is of spicy wood, with a bit of light fruit on the finish.
Noel makes two types of rums, aged and white, from a mash of granulated white sugar and black strap molasses, which is as dark as molasses comes. He likes using that type for the bacteria that comes with it. The bacteria simply need the addition of water to activate.
I sample an aged version of the rum, at 115 proof coming out of the barrel. I say "barrel" but really it was in a plastic container for three months with those famous oak staves. Noel says this is their most popular product.
The rum has a sweet caramel nose, with considerable spice. The palate is woody and reminds me of bbq. In fact, it's making me hungry and wish that there was somewhere close by to eat.
If I had come a couple weeks later, that wouldn't be a problem. Not only is Alamo Premium changing their name, they're also relocating to a larger space in a more visited part of town: Dignowity Hill. At 7,000 square feet, I'm sure it will have a much different vibe than the storage container over which Noel currently holds court. I just hope visitors to the new space are still treated to his mind-melting factoids about enzymes - as well as tongue-melting samples of Alamo's barrel-proof best.