The spirit of the Hill Country is alive and well in Llano County, and you can actually taste it at Llano Craft Distillery. Award-winning vodka is distilled right on the Llano town square and cut with pure water from the Llano River itself. While Llano Craft Distillery is relatively young, coming into being in the fall of 2018, it has grown to be a fixture in the Llano community and been recognized internationally for making a fine Texas vodka.
With its downtown location at 122 E. Main St., Llano Craft Distillery is in the heart of town and within walking distance from restaurants, bars, shopping, and historic structures such as the Llano County Courthouse and Red Top Jail. Locals and travelers alike flock to the distillery to sample craft cocktails, listen to live music, and share stories. On any given visit, you’re liable to meet a wide range of patrons. Musicians, writers, local politicians, inventors, world travelers, old timers, young guns, and bonafide cowboys tend to congregate at Llano Craft Distillery.
Connie and Marion Bishop are the brains behind the distillery, and they have managed to whip up a winning formula for making world-class craft spirits.
The Bishops opened shop at a smaller location on Main Street in 2018 but quickly realized the space would not be enough to accommodate the growing tide of patrons that began to flood their 1,000-square-foot tasting room every evening. When a larger building, just across the street, went up for sale, they quickly jumped on it.
The current Llano Craft Distillery facility is 13,000 square-feet, complete with a large bar, table seating, and booths. A 1,600-square-foot patio wraps around the exterior of the building and doubles as a space for local music acts on Friday nights. An awning stretches out from the main building, providing a covered area for food trucks and space to chow down.
The vodka and craft cocktails are, of course, the stars of the show. Eight spirits make up the backbone of the distillery’s products: Iron City Potato Vodka, Tin Star Gin, The Hatch, Pecan Reserve Vodka, Spice Island Vodka, Arson River, Sweet Tea Vodka, and Llano Ancho. The flavored vodkas like the ultra spicy Arson River and the rum-inspired Spice Island have to be tasted to be understood. The Bishops have invested heavily into making high-quality vodka that challenges all preconceived notions of the spirit.
With a slew of international awards from the London, New York, and Denver international spirits competitions, this small-town Texas distillery is making a name for itself.
Marion Bishop explained that less than 3 percent of vodkas are actually made using potatoes — most are made using grain. His distillation process starts with potatoes and ends with a 192-proof spirit that is shockingly smooth. Most sane folks aren’t looking for a 96-percent alcohol, so it is cut down with water to a manageable 80 proof when it is bottled. The use of potatoes, repeated distillation, and extensive filtration all combine to generate an ultra-polished product.
While the actual distillation process is literally a science, the creation of the distillery’s cocktails isn’t quite so rigid.
“We have a lot of fun. A lot of times, we’ll actually involve people who happen to be sitting at the bar,” Marion said on the creation of cocktails.
Llano Craft Distillery’s cocktail menu has the traditional hits like the Gin-and-Tonic or Moscow Mule, but it also has the Hot Peppermint, a frozen cocktail and crowd-sourced creation that has earned its place on the menu after it was patron tested.
The balsamic-based Black Buffalo is both savory and sweet, the Old Fashioned will fool most bourbon drinkers, and the Honey Mesquite will cool you off during a hellish Texas summer.
If the spirits and cocktails aren’t enough, the distillery itself seals the deal. The space is open, immaculate, attractive, and inviting. The landscaping alone earned a beautification award from the Llano Main Street Committee, and the building design makes it one of the more attractive buildings in Llano. The interior bares an industrial yet refined aesthetic that mirrors the art of the distillery’s bottled vodka. Light pouring in from sizable windows gives the bar a natural glow, especially in the evening as the sun sinks to the west.
Llano Craft Distillery both distills and instills the spirit of the Hill Country, creating a hollow for friends and soon-to-be friends to meet. Stop by and have a drink.
Llano Craft Distillery is not the only spirit maker in town. Here are the details on two Llano-based spirit makers.
122 E. Main St. Llano, TX
Tuesday-Friday, 1-8 p.m.
Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
1255 Texas 29 East, Llano, TX
Stinson Distillery lies on the historic Norton Hill Ranch on the outskirts of Llano. Stop by for an eclectic drink menu using award-winning spirits and twists on Texas favorites.