12 Days of Favorite Houston Food & Drink Experiences in 2020, Part 8: Cocktails & Spirits

Mai Tai at Lei Low

Welcome to the eighth part of a series where we showcase the noteworthy food and drink experiences of a very weird year. In the spirit of the holidays, it’s also a very special collaboration between the food writers of the Houston Press and Houston Food Finder, the online publication founded by former Houston Press restaurant critic and food editor Phaedra Cook. This eighth edition covers some of our writers’ favorite cocktails and spirits. Part nine will cover some of the important organizations that have helped hospitality workers survive this difficult year. In case you missed it, here’s Part 7: Delivery & To-Go. See the list at the end of this article for other installments of the series.

Favorite Distillery

BBQ Bacon Burger at Gulf Coast Distillers. Photo by Gulf Coast Distillers.

For a town with a brewery on seemingly every corner, Houston had, until recently, suffered from a distinct lack of local distilleries. Luckily, that has changed a bit in recent years with a handful of notable spirits producers popping up around town.

Gulf Coast Distillers, 5610 Clinton Drive: There are more than enough reasons to love Gulf Coast Distillers. By far the biggest distillery in Houston, it crafts and bottles over a dozen unique spirits, including the 113 proof Billy Banks Cask Strength Bourbon. Housed in the historic Uncle Ben’s rice silos on the east side, the industrial-scale distilling operation shifted focus earlier this year to produce over 600,000 gallons of hand sanitizer for the Houston-area. As if all of that weren’t enough, the company is now serving a mouthwatering menu of bar fare in its beautifully designed and historic taproom, Ben’s Den. Schedule a facility tour, sip craft Texas spirits, and sink your teeth into a BBQ bacon cheeseburger or cold-smoked wings. What more could you ask for? — Carlos Brandon, contributing writer, Houston Food Finder & Houston Press

Favorite Local Spirit

With distilleries on the rise, Houstonians have an abundance of local craft spirits to choose from. From single malt whiskey to micro-distilled gin and rum, it’s an exciting time for the city’s distilling community.

Single Malt Whiskey, Yellow Rose Distilling, 1224 North Post Oak: Eight years is nothing in the life of some multi-generational whiskey distilleries. It’s less than it takes to age most entry-level Scotches. Yet, in the world of Houston distilling, eight years makes you a veteran. That’s how long Yellow Rose Distilling has been making its beloved Texas whiskey. The distillery opened in 2012 and quickly staked a claim for itself as one of Texas’ premiere whiskey-making operations. While its Texas bourbon is a staple in Houston cocktail bars and a favorite among local whiskey-philes, it’s the Single Malt that took this hometown still from the minors to the majors. Aged in small bourbon barrels to speed up the process and finished in port barrels for added flavor complexity, this bold spirit takes aim at a higher tier of both domestic and imported competition.

Texas Spice Rum, Grateful Dane Distilling Co, 5250 Gulfton: A universal and versatile spirit, rum is often overlooked in Texas distilling where whiskey and vodka have long reigned supreme. The folks at Houston’s own Grateful Dane Distilling Co. have been making small-batch and sustainable craft rum since 2017. While their silver rum won a gold metal at the 2017 Miami Rum Festival, it’s the Texas Spice Rum we’ve picked as our favorite. Made with all-natural whole bean vanilla, allspice, locally-roasted coffee beans and caramel, this sweet and spicy aromatic spirit is the first spiced rum produced in Houston. You can find Grateful Dane products at Houston-area Total Wine and Spec’s locations. — Carlos Brandon, contributing writer, Houston Food Finder & Houston Press

Favorite Virtual Spirits Tastings

Rum and rum flavor wheel ready for a Lei Low virtual spirits tasting. Photo by Ryan Baker.

Backstreet Café, 1103 South Shepherd: Every week, H Town Restaurant Group’s beverage director Sean Beck hosts Whiskey Wednesday, a weekly virtual spirits tasting. The Zoom events primarily feature whiskey. However, Beck has also showcased cocktails, wine and spirits such as rum and mezcal. He also invites speakers from distilleries all over the world. In addition to sampling pours of the featured liquors, each participant also has a choice of an entrée such as Hugo’s Hot Chicken Sandwich or spaghetti carbonara. Though the events are virtual, Beck creates a convivial atmosphere that has led many participants to make new friends.

Lei Low, 6412 North Main: For a few years, Lei Low has hosted rum tastings, mixing history with practical knowledge, for the tiki bar’s regular customers. After the shutdowns, owner Russell Theode took the opportunity to expand the tastings to a larger audience. Using Zoom, Theode took is lessons about rum and the history of featured islands to the wide world of the the internet. Plus, unlike the in-person events, he was able to invite representatives from the distilleries in the Caribbean to speak directly to customers. The locales “visited” include Venezuela and Martinique, with St. Lucia coming soon. Ryan Kasey Baker, contributing writer, Houston Food Finder

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The Other Favorite Houston Food & Drink Experiences of 2020

Part 1: Bars

Part 2: Treats & Trends

Part 3: Wine

Part 4: Beer

Part 5: Chefs

Part 6: Coffee

Part 7: Delivery & To-Go

Part 9: Industry Helpers

Part 10: Innovations

Part 11: Stores & Products

Part 12: Restaurants


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