6 Tips for Visiting the Texas Hill Country Whiskey Trail
Everything is bigger in Texas. There are 28 distilleries on the Texas Whiskey Trail. This eclipses the 18 Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries. The artisanal whiskey distilleries delight travelers. Texas has four regions, and I chose to visit the beautiful Texas Hill Country region in the east-central state.
This part of the Texas Whiskey Trail stretches from Fredericksburg and Blanco, east to Austin. There are 10 distilleries in this area but don’t expect to hit them all at once. The whiskey is to be savored and there are too many fun things to do in the heart of Hill Country or Austin to spend all your time in the bottle shop.
1. Less is more when tasting whiskey
Whiskey tasting is not like wine tasting. The alcohol content is much higher in whiskey and what you taste in the distillery can consist of 100 to 150 proof batches. Plan to visit no more than two or three per day. Flights range from $ 10 to $ 15 for 3 to 5 samples. Cocktails cost $ 5 and up. Bottles on site range from $ 50 to over $ 100.
2. Take advantage of all the activities of the distilleries
At Hill Country, you’ll find that the distilleries have more land, more recreation, and more scenery than tasting rooms in big cities. One of the largest distilleries is the Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye, Texas, halfway between Fredericksburg and Blanco. It has a large working ranch as well as a large “front lawn” where you do your tasting. Take a tour of the ranch, see the distillery and barrel aging area, as well as the working maturing area, all from the comfort of your seat in the back of a tractor-pulled open-top wagon . The staff are knowledgeable, Texas friendly, and dripping with an attitude about their famous product. Sit on the lawn in large wooden rocking chairs or at picnic tables. You order food (sandwiches and barbecue), cocktails and tasting flights using a scan code and a waiter brings them to you. Relax, sip, eat and relax in the beautiful countryside.
Twenty miles down the road you will find the Andalusia Whiskey Company, the first of three Blanco stops. Comfortable sofas and tables fill two floors. There is also seating inside in a reading room and at the bar to enjoy your drinks. Outside there are tables under a roof (shade is essential in Texas) and a food truck is on site. You can sit outside and admire the working ranch that is owned by the owners of the distillery.
Ten miles further south is the town of Blanco, where you can visit Milam & Greene Whiskey and Real Spirits. Milam & Greene is run by two women distillers from Tennessee. The exterior of their distillery is rustic and decorated with many flowers. There are picnic tables and lawn chairs under a huge oak tree, and comfy club chairs inside to soak up your spirit. Their ambiance is relaxing and savoring the taste of what they offer. Of course, they also have one of the largest stills in Texas, holding 1,000 gallons. Everything is bigger in Texas.
The Real Spirits distillery started out as a brewery and it still makes beer and ages some of its whiskey in beer barrels. You can do a whiskey and beer tasting and tour the distillery and brewery.
For a pleasant interlude, visit the historic town of Blanco. You can stop at the Buggy Barn Museum and see vintage buggies, cars and wagons as well as a movie field on the Old West with a replica of a western town, ready for your close-up. You can also visit the Blanco Pioneer Museum with local exhibits. A history museum is also open at the Old County Courthouse. There are plenty of local restaurants available to refuel for your next stop.
3. Plan to spend more time visiting Hill Country
I think the Hill Country is the most beautiful part of Texas. Gently rolling hills, lush spring wildflowers, and acres of ranching can be found on back roads that wind over streams, rivers, and through small towns. There is so much to do in the area that you may need to make multiple visits. The old German town of Fredericksburg is charming. German immigrants settled here and today the Main Street is full of shops, restaurants and interesting places to browse. One of the city’s favorite stops is the National Museum of the Pacific War. There are many wineries in the area offering plenty of wine, food, and entertainment. Weekends can be crowded.
If you’re looking for a natural setting, head to one of the area’s many Texas state parks. Pedernales Falls and Marble Falls are a short drive from a comfortable Fredericksburg inn or hotel. You may want to visit the nearby Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. You can walk to the top of this pink granite rock dome for spectacular views of the Hill Country.
For history buffs, don’t miss the LBJ Ranch and family owned property west of Johnson City and just outside of Hye Town. The state park commemorates the birthplace of President Lyndon Johnson and the region’s agricultural origins. The National Historic Park has restored and preserved the western White House where LBJ and Lady Bird lived before, during and after his presidency. You can tour the house, enjoy exhibits, and take a self-guided tour of the ranch. The Pedernales River connects the two historic areas and has been a place of respite for the President throughout his life. There is no charge to visit the ranch as directed by LBJ.
4. Head east to Austin for some whiskey and some fun sights
The Hill Country Trail wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the iconic Still Austin Whiskey Company. Located in the city, it’s a tribute to all that is Austin. You can tour the distillery, have a cocktail or catch a flight on its patio and sample dishes from this cultural staple of Austin – a food truck. The company hosts daily fun events at Still Austin, including trivia games and live music.
There is a lot to do and see in Austin. After the distillery, stop in downtown 6th Street to enjoy the best of live music and bars. Head to the Columbia River for a hike or a boat ride. Watch bats come out at dusk from the Bat Cave near the Congress Avenue Bridge.
5. Get out of the hill country and visit Waco
Well worth the drive a few hours north of Waco for a fun day or weekend. You can visit Balcones Distilling in the North Texas Trail area and sample one of Texas’ most popular whiskey brands. Her distillery is housed in an old multi-storey factory building that she has refitted. The tasting room has an industrial vibe, very different from the Hill Country distilleries, but very cool. You can enjoy cocktails, flights and small plates of food. Of course, the other big reason to visit Waco is Magnolia – the small, village-like shopping and entertainment complex built by Chip and Joanna Gaines from Upper Fixator TV show fame. It’s a lovely place in the middle of downtown that has food trucks, picnic tables, and lots of green space. A few miles away you can visit Baylor University on the Brazos River or visit the Woolly Mammoth National Monument.
6. Plan ahead to make your visits memorable
The Hill Country is very popular in the spring when the bounty of wildflowers blooms. Reservations can be scarce and there will be crowds at all attractions. But the crowds are worth seeing the riot of colorful flowers.
If you prefer a more complex distillery experience, book a location to visit. Due to COVID, not all distilleries offer tours. Tours give you insight into the still and barrel aging processes and often include a visit with one of the distillers who will explain how they create unique flavors. The price of your visit may also include a tasting.
Check the limited release dates to grab a bottle that will only be available at the Distillery. While many of the larger distilleries have their most popular bottles available at liquor stores, some limited edition bottles can only be purchased on-site. You might find plenty of aficionados on these dates, but who better to drink with and learn a thing or two about your new acquisition.
To learn more about the Texas Hill Country, read these articles: