Houston has a thriving brewery and cocktail bar scene, but the distillery crowd is still small. Unbeknownst to many there is a distillery on 5750 N. Sam Houston Parkway called Avonak, which is currently putting out vodka and gin spirits. I had the opportunity to meet with one of the owners, Kyle Wray, to get the lowdown on this under-the-radar distillery.
How did Avonak start?
Avonak is owned by a group of diverse Houstonians. We have a seventh generation Texan, and combined we speak 11 languages, so it’s a microcosm of Houston. We have people from Central America, Asia, Europe that all call Houston home. We wanted to do something that is unique and honest and made right here. So the name Avonak actually comes from a small town north of Houston.
How long has it been open?
The company itself was formed in 2016. We got all of our distilling permits in ’17, and that’s when we started operation. We then launched our first product to the public in mid 2018, maybe around June.
What has the reception been like?
For the gin it has been pretty good; no one else is making "grain-to-glass" gin, and we’re the only ones doing that. Vodka is an extremely difficult market; there are some big Texas players and it’s challenging. Personally, I think a lot of the managers and bartenders like what we’re doing and it’s a matter of slowly getting it in one place at a time.
Can you give us insight to the saying "grain-to-glass"?
"Grain-to-glass" means we start with raw grains for the product. We work with a small farmer from Iowa for corn and wheat, so we bring in whole corn and wheat, we mill it ourselves, then mash and ferment and distill everything in house. So the saying is to declare that those products are completely made by us, we didn’t source or buy anything.
Besides gin and vodka, is the distillery working on anything else?
Bourbon. I would expect to have limited amounts of bourbon next year. We have a fairly sophisticated barreling program so right now we are using medium-sized barrels, and eventually we will be on larger-sized barrels maybe next year, if not the one after. As of now we are aging our bourbon and are working with quite a few oak barrels, and after we are finished aging we will use those barrels for single-malt whiskey. Future products will be single-malt whiskey as I am a huge, huge fan of Japanese single-malt whiskey and the art and production of it, so we will have different varieties and styles. I really admire boutique wineries as they get to enjoy a slightly different vintage every year, and something I want to do is create different style of whiskies. Being craft, I don’t want to just make one thing and make it consistent. Me, I want to have more art and try new things all the while having different styles.
Is the distillery open for tours?
Yeah, right now we are open for private tours, which can be scheduled on our website or via email, and we are looking to have set open hours too.
Where can people buy Avonak?
We are in a few Spec’s, also in a few independent stores north of I-10, and working on growing in the south side. We are still trying to get into Total Wine and Twin Liquors, but we are in the Midtown Spec’s and a few others.