From 2012 to ‘17, according to the Brewers Association for Small and Independent Craft Brewers, the number of craft breweries grew by 158 percent. Those are the facts, but if you think about all the breweries that have recently opened around you, the eye test checks out: breweries have launched at a breathtaking rate over the last five years.
Now the spirits industry is poised for that same kind of growth. The Craft Spirits Data Project, which collects information from various national organizations, found an 18.5 percent increase in craft cases sold from 2015 to ‘16. Moreover, in 2017 they found growth in spirit tasting-room construction and equipment investment.
So it’s all happening. And 8th Wonder Brewery, one of the more secure and reliable breweries in the Houston metro area, has taken the leap, opening the 8th Wonder Distillery in early July.
“It’s the natural evolution and progression from brewing,” says 8th Wonder president and co-founder Ryan Soroka about opening the distillery, the first inside the Loop. “It’s the next step in diversification.”
Just across the currently under-construction Dallas Street from the brewery, the distillery is showcasing vodka and gin, typical of new distilleries because they don’t require aging and can be served immediately. The vodka is distilled eight times, stripping away harshness and leaving a relatively clean, smooth sip. The gin is produced with hops used at the brewery, with the first batch including Cascade, and is lighter on the juniper profile that defines the spirit. A taste of the gin revealed a combination of fruity and earthy notes, with the sharp sweetness of black licorice pushing its way to the front.
The distillery will be changing the featured hop for its gin, allowing variations that might bend it to a more citrusy profile, or to something more bitter and herbal. Soroka says 8th Wonder plans to produce white brandy and absinthe, and will soon dive into whiskey, rye, and bourbon, which all take longer to produce.
And you can drink all this liquor inside the distillery’s post-industrial, extremely 2018 tasting room. There's subway tile and brick walls, high ceilings with exposed beams, bourbon barrels sprinkled across the floor, and a chalkboard describing special vodka and gin cocktails, plus standard neat pours ($5 each).
Soroka calls it “an intimate, elevated experience,” different from the broader, casual experience of the brewery, where pets roam in the outdoor beer garden and kids can cackle as loud as they want. But that’s the evolution: A brewery decked in Astros nostalgia and Houston memorabilia here, a cool subway-tile distillery tasting room there. From these eyes, seeing the evolution take shape in other parts of the country, what 8th Wonder is doing totally matches up. Others will probably follow.