All the Cool New Bars Are in Texas Hill Country
Texas Hill Country is a beautiful, mostly rural region with a deep cattle ranching tradition. Vineyards have been part of the landscape for several decades, but it’s only in the last few years that wine has really stepped up its game, thanks to a handful of quality-minded producers.
William Chris Vineyards, which has been around since 2008, is one of them. In summer 2019, they unveiled a swanky new welcome center and tasting room to add to their constantly expanding winery operation in Hye. It offers educational and food and wine pairing events by reservation. The team also opened an on-site bed and breakfast, Hye-Way Haus.
This is just one of the many investments in the region, which has increasingly become a stellar place for tourists to spend an afternoon tippling in the sun. While wine tourism is on the rise here, many recently opened venues are diversifying Hill Country, offering beer, whiskey, and even spirits you've probably never heard of.
While Texas Hill Country had no shortage of tasting rooms, it was missing a really solid wine bar—until now. The Parlour, the latest venture from Southold Farm + Cellar, opened in a former barbershop in Johnson City in November 2019. The Southold winery itself is quite new. Regan and Carey Meador started operations in the area in 2017, making natural wine from a range of grapes with the aim of defining what Texas wine actually is. Their forward-thinking approach is showcased at The Parlour, along with some small plates.
Bear King Brewing
If you follow the Colorado River northwest from Austin, you'll come across the small town of Marble Falls, where Bear King Brewing opened in February 2019. Run by four siblings, the taproom serves a variety of beers, such as your standard ales—IPA, blonde, wheat—and even a pecan porter. They put out a great spread too, with a half-dozen taco options and a wonderful delicacy called Texas poutine: fries topped with smoked brisket, pico de gallo, and ancho cheddar gravy.
12 Fox Beer Co.
Dripping Springs, just a 40-minute drive from downtown Austin, is the epicenter of the booze revolution in Hill Country. It's where 12 Fox Beer Co. landed in May 2019, founded by Army buddies Aaron Luelling and Joe Hogge, who were stationed together in Germany in the '90s. Their stint in Europe influenced their brews, which focus on German and Belgian styles, but the raw materials are all-American. They source 100 percent of their malt from a grain farm in Madras, Oregon, run by Luelling's cousin.
Family Business Beer Co.
This one's for the fans of the CW show Supernatural (and all the rest of us, really). Husband-and-wife actors Jensen and Danneel Ackles opened Family Business Beer Co. in Dripping Springs in January 2018. Variety is the motto here, as they brew pretty much every style of beer imaginable across the ale and lager spectrums, but the selection rotates regularly. You'll find about a dozen beers on tap at one time, and probably a handful of superfans wandering around the airy space looking for Dean Winchester
This newcomer arrived on the scene in April 2018 in Driftwood and is unique for its ties to the local wine industry. Vista Brewing repurposes freshly dumped barrels from nearby wineries to age some of their beers, but also makes a range of more conventional brews as well. They often host live music and ticketed dinners. Their food program is a notch above typical bar food, incorporating produce from the on-site farm the team is currently restoring and expanding.
Ben Milam Distillery
Texan entrepreneur Marsha Milam unveiled Ben Milam Distillery in Blanco in March 2017. She recently tapped Jim Bean veteran Marlene Holmes as master distiller, and launched a new flagship brand in partnership with writer and whiskey expert Heather Greene, Milam & Greene. On top of regular tastings and live music, the distillery also holds educational events in its whiskey lab.
Crowded Barrel Whiskey Co.
Founders Rex Williams and Daniel Whittington are behind two very popular whiskey-centric YouTube channels. In September 2018, they opened their own whiskey operation, Crowded Barrel Whiskey, and its Fang & Feather tasting room on the southwestern edge of Austin. Their concept is a little different: They make what they call "crowd-sourced whiskeys" by soliciting the participation of their many Patreon members in the production.
Desert Door Texas Sotol
It ain't all about whiskey in Hill Country. Desert Door, which opened in November 2017 in Driftwood, is introducing drinkers to sotol, an earthy, grassy clear spirit made from the plant of the same name. The tasting room, with its desert-chic vibe, is the perfect place to get to know sotol better, through guided tastings and tours. They also serve cocktails and snacks, and often have live music.
Frog Pond Distillery
Frog Pond Distillery opened its doors in June 2018 in Dripping Springs, adding to the clear-spirit roster in this whiskey-dominated state. They make gin and vodka, which are showcased in simple but hit-the-spot cocktails that rotate regularly. A barrel-aged gin will soon be added to the range. Of course, in typical Hill Country fashion, the distillery also hosts plenty of live music events.