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Avonak Distillery Cocktails

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Distilling Local Spirits

Turning grain and sugarcane into liquid gold

When distiller Van Brackin opened Bartletts Distillery in 2018, he founded Montgomery County’s only distillery and continued a 400-plus-year history of crafting American spirits. It's both science and art to take raw ingredients and convert them into alcohol. And it's happening in Conroe!

Van knows firsthand the science and art behind creating craft spirits. He makes small-batch malted whiskey, rum, agave spirits, and seasonal spirits. The entire process stays local. In fact, everything’s done at Bartletts except for cooking and fermenting the barley, and that is done at Copperhead Brewery in Conroe. The barley is used to make Bartletts’ single malt whiskey.

The Old Fashioned made with this whiskey, and the Painkiller, featuring rums made from unprocessed sugarcane, are crowd favorites. As Van makes an Old Fashioned with whiskey and ManBasics bitters, he greets a couple who enters my name. Bartletts’ tasting room is “kind of like Cheers where everyone knows everybody,” he says, “and kids and dogs are welcome!”

Visitors are welcome to bring their own food or grab a bite from the on-site food truck. Play a board game or join a lively conversation with other patrons as you enjoy Van’s handiwork. And if you’re curious about the art and science of distilling, join a distillery tour on the third Thursday of the month.

Tours are a fantastic way to explore other area distilleries. Native Houstonians Caleb and Crystal Butler recently took their in-depth knowledge of distilled spirits and the beverage industry on the road. Here are three distilleries they recommend:

William Price Distilling Company, in Central Northwest Houston, specializes in rye whiskeys, aged five to six years, and single malt whiskeys sourced from Balcones Distilling in Waco. “We enjoyed a flight including their mainstay Straight Rye 101 and the sherry-finished single malt,” Caleb said. From the spacious bar, you can view the colossal 1500-gallon copper still. A food truck serves tasty edibles on weekends.

Further afield, Kooper Family Whiskey blends whiskey in Ledbetter, Texas. Troy and Michelle Kooper opened the state’s first whiskey-blending house in 2015. They source whiskey from Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, and Indiana, age it, and either blend it or bottle it as a single-barrel whiskey. You’ll see barrels aging in the tasting room. “We can vouch for both the Smoked Old Fashioned and Whiskey Sour as well as pours of their limited-edition distillery-only whiskeys,” Caleb said. “Rye drinkers will appreciate the blended Barrel Reserve Rye . . . a rye full of spice, fruit, and a hint of tobacco.” Their single-barrel whiskeys and bestselling Prodigal Son are only available in Ledbetter.

A short drive west on Highway 290 brings you to Giddings. The historic freight depot is home to the Dime Box Distillery Tasting Room and a 3000-strong collection of vintage cocktail swizzle sticks. Friendly bartenders poured Caleb and Crystal the distillery’s Sixth Street bourbons and ryes, named for Austin’s legendary live music scene. The family-owned distillery ages its award-winning Sixth Street bourbons for at least four years, according to owner Peter Leidel. A label on the spirit’s guitar-shaped bottle specifies the number of years it’s aged. “If you’re a little more adventurous, you’ll find barrel strength (higher proof) options aged for six to nine years,” Caleb said, “and a selection of sotol, a close cousin of tequila and mezcal.”  

  • William Price Distilling Company's Still
  • Avonak Distillery Cocktails
  • Zachary Hiller, Toni Hardisty Ph.D., and Bryan Clary (L to R), William Price Distilling Company
  • Barletts Distillery Marguarita made with Blanco Agave Spirits
  • Bartletts Distillery Sign in the Tasting Room
  • Bartletts Rhumajus, a Seasonal Liquor with Rum and Black Spanish Lenoir Grape Juice
  • Bartletts Painkillers on the Way
  • Van Mixing an Old Fashioned
  • Bartletts Old Fashioned with Single Malt Whiskey and ManBasics' Bitters