To cap off a year of big changes and a week of 12th anniversary festivities, Uncle Billy’s Brewery & Smokehouse now offers two spirits — vodka and bourbon — available exclusively at the Barton Springs Road restaurant, along with its beer.
Uncle Billy’s is launching a menu of 10 on-tap cocktails made with the vodka and bouron that you can enjoy during this week of anniversary celebrations and beyond. The boozy business has also started a crowdfunding campaign to help with a planned expansion.
The move to a "brewstillery" — one of the few places in Texas and the only one in Austin proper making both beer and spirits — was a natural progression for Uncle Billy’s, according to owner Bob Leggett. Uncle Billy’s moved from a brewpub to production brewery license last year and lost its ability to sell spirits from other companies.
"It’s a logical extension to go from craft brewing to craft distilling. And obviously Uncle Billy would have been a whiskey drinker," he joked in a reference to William ‘Billy’ Barton, the early Austin settler whose name has become indelibly tied to local landmarks and the brewery itself.
At the moment, the vodka and bourbon are made using spirits from other sources, but the plan is to soon use the Uncle Billy’s brewing system to produce its own grain bill and whiskey mash that will then be distilled at a local distillery, which Leggett declined to name. (Uncle Billy’s is within 500 feet of a residential area, prohibiting the business from doing on-site distillation.)
Rest assured the resulting spirits are truly Uncle Billy’s booze, he said.
"We can develop the character of our product by doing the first steps and the final steps in our brewery. There's plenty of opportunity for us to put our footprint on our product," Leggett said.
Both the vodka and whiskey are proofed, following distillation, using the same water sourced from the Edwards Aquifer that the beer is made with.
Uncle Billy’s Barton Springs Vodka, comprised entirely of corn, has notes of basil, mint and anise, while the 96-proof Uncle Billy’s Bourbon Whiskey — featuring a mash bill of 60 percent corn, 36 percent rye and 4 percent malted barley and aged for 18 months in charred American oak barrels — is layered with flavors of "baked apple, bright orange zest and white pepper spiciness," according to the brewery.
You can try them neat, of course, but they’re also in draft cocktails at Uncle Billy’s thanks to beverage manager Josh Mabrey, formerly of Road Soda and Rainey Street’s now-shuttered No Va. He has created easy sippers like the Night Swim with the vodka, grapefruit juice, hibiscus water and rose water; and the Texas Twister with the bourbon, blueberry, grape and cinnamon dust.
Working previously for Road Soda, a traveling cocktail bar, gave him valuable experience making large batches of each drink, which are then placed on draft at one of Uncle Billy’s two bars. The other bar, closer to the street, houses all draft beers.
Along with head brewer Stephen Wagner, Mabrey has been working with distilling director Mark Shilling, formerly of Dripping Springs’ Revolution Spirits, to get the spirits program up and running. Shilling has provided valuable know-how with both the vodka and whiskey and is in the process of formulating a gin recipe with Texas botanicals. The gin is not quite ready yet.
"Vodka and whiskey are the most used styles in a bar setting, the best known, the two we needed the most right here, right now to get some regular bar business for spirits. We'll add others as we have time to develop them," Leggett said.
Head to the brewery this weekend to taste the cocktails and also to celebrate the launch of Uncle Billy’s crowdfunding campaign, which aims to raise money for the distribution of "its spirits and craft cocktails and line of house-made barbeque sauces, rubs, beef jerky, ribs, sausage, root beer, and more," according to the campaign.
The MicroVentures campaign kicked off yesterday and has raised $5,210 thus far, promising a series of perks in addition to the revenue each investor will receive for providing money. It will be live for 61 more days, and Uncle Billy’s aims to have at least $50,00 funded.
Other local breweries that have successfully held crowdfunding campaigns include Hops & Grain, which is close to opening a second brewery in San Marcos as a result, and North by Northwest, which has launched a line of canned brews and aims to expand outside of Austin. The NXNW campaign is ongoing.
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