Get a sneak peek of Fierce Whiskers Distillery in Southeast Austin
The first thing you notice at Fierce Whiskers Distillery is the soaring black structure out front. It’s their rickhouse, and community growth marketing manager Greg Johnson says it’s the only one of its kind in Austin.
While the distillery is not open just yet, they've been distilling since the fall, and curious Austinites can book a private tour of the facility that borders a verdant green belt.
Fierce Whiskers is owned by two childhood friends: Tim Penney and Tri Vo, both of whom have backgrounds in energy companies. The distillery, which set up shop at 5333 Fleming Court in industrial Southeast Austin in 2018, is next door to ATX Studios and near Meanwhile Brewing Co. Like that brother in booze, it’s a sign of a growing presence for drink-makers in the area.
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A rickhouse, by the way, is the place where barrels of whiskey are ricked, or stored on top of each other. “Texas heat is an elemental part of the process,” Johnson says on a recent afternoon tour of Fierce Whiskers, pointing out that the building is black to catch the sun. Inside, you’ll find where wind foils are operated by crank, helping Fierce Whiskers drop the rickhouse temperature as much as 15 degrees. The rickhouse, production facility and land were about a $10 million investment, Johnson says.
The rickhouse — OK, actually, we should stop and explain that name before going any further.
“The 19th president of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes, came to Austin,” Johnson says. “Sounds like he didn’t like it very much.” Hayes, the story goes, was “talking trash about all the things that makes Austin great. He says Austin is an 'inconsiderable village' full of discharged Army rangers, dancing and drinking, and 'fierce whiskers' abound.” The distillery’s name is meant to flip that sentiment on its head and embrace the wild ways of the capital of Texas.
As we were saying, the rickhouse at Fierce Whiskers has the capacity for 5,400 barrels, though there were only about 350 of those 100-percent white oak beauties when we stopped by. Each one of those barrels can make about 240 bottles of booze.
Right now, Fierce Whiskers is working on bourbon, rye, gin and rum. During the historic winter freeze in February, Fierce Whiskers didn’t lose any barrels, Johnson says. And temperature variation is good for the process, too.
In the main building, there’s a lot of empty space where the tasting room will eventually go, and natural light pours into the space bordered by a dark, textured wall. Behind the would-be tasting room, the distillery works hum along, and head distiller Mike Baker does some heavy-duty science. Baker, who came from Colorado, actually has a doctorate in nuclear engineering. Not necessary for his current job, he says, but it helps.
Fierce Whiskers has automated a lot of the distilling process out of sustainability concerns, Johnson says. Heavy machinery processes the grains (all Texas-grown), and the mash eventually ferments in giant vats that make a raised platform area smell strongly of bread. The giant still from Vendome Copper and Brass Works in Louisville, Ky., looms large.
The distillery doesn’t filter its water first, wanting to keep a “unique Austin flavor.” Water that interacts with the area's limestone is good for spirits because of the salts and other characteristics it comes with, Johnson says.
Coming soon: actually bottling the product, which will be done by hand. The crew is testing out an agave spirit, too. The taproom will serve cocktails, and Fierce Whiskers plans to add external seating on the 6-acre property. Live music and events will follow in time. They'd also like to start a multiyear barrel program with Meanwhile Brewing Co.
Fierce Whiskers hopes to be open in time for Labor Day weekend. In the meantime, find information about the distillery and its tours at fiercewhiskers.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mentioned that Fierce Whiskers' rickhouse was a $10 million investment. That total also includes the land and the production facility.