Houston’s Largest Distillery Is Now Serving Comforting Bar Fare
Gulf Coast Distillers, Houston’s largest spirits distillery, is now serving food at Ben’s Den, its onsite tasting room. Located at 5610 Clinton in east Houston, the distillery is best known for Giant Bourbon and stepping in to produce hand sanitizer when there was a nationwide shortage.
Gulf Coast originally planned to start food service prior to the second COVID-19 bar shutdown. After that state-mandated closure, adding food became imperative because modifications to state regulations made it easier for bars offering food to reopen as restaurants. To facilitate the transition, the distillery hired former Snooze A.M. Eatery chef Patrick Ellis to develop a food program and serve as general manager of Ben’s Den.
Under Ellis’s direction, Ben’s Den now serves a wide selection of classic bar fare. Houston Food Finder was invited for a tour of the facility and to taste several new dishes now being served.
The menu at Ben’s Den showcases many favorites, such as burgers and tacos, which are prepared with a higher level of execution than one might expect at a distillery. Ellis says that his passion is barbecue and cooking meat. It shows, especially in the smoked pork that is available as an add-on for several dishes — it’s worth the $2.50. The pork’s smoky flavor and the combination of textures, from the tender center to the crackly exterior, heightens the enjoyment of the Crispy Garlic Brussels Sprouts. The Brussels sprouts are deep fried and tossed in a soy garlic dressing just before serving.
The cold-smoked chicken wings, on the appetizer menu for $7.25, also showcase Ellis’s skills with texture. Guests have several dipping sauces from which to choose, including Buffalo, blue cheese, honey mustard and ranch. We also tried the tacos with Korean-style chicken and gochujang ($7.50) and crispy, braised pork belly bites($8.75).
In addition, the menu features four specialty burgers, which can also be ordered as sliders. We sampled the Classic Burger, featuring a beef patty made of 80% brisket and 20% sirloin, pickles, heirloom tomato and a bun from Kraftsmen Baking.
The distillery created Ben’s Den to showcase its ever-growing spirit program. At the tasting room, guests can order five different flights featuring the companies various brands, which include three whiskey labels — Giant, Billy Banks and Hickory Hill — and two vodkas — Round Rock and BJ Hookers.
We tried the flight featuring Gulf Coast Distillery’s signature Giant Bourbon ($20). It included three housemade bourbons at differing strengths and a rye. Visitors can also opt for pours of the distillery’s new, citrus-forward, Bluebonnet Gin, which has not made its way to stores yet.
A trip to Gulf Distillers is incomplete without a tour, which is led by head distiller Julian Giraldo. During World War II, the complex was originally an Uncle Ben’s rice factory. Later, it was a coffee production facility. The location transitioned to a distillery in 2015. In 2019, Gulf Coast Distillers opened its doors to guests for the first time. While on the tour, we were able to sample the distillery’s soon-to-be-released brandy, which will be labeled under the Giant brand. It is definitely worth looking for when it hits the shelves.
Gulf Coast Distillers is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and until 8 p.m. on Saturdays. Tours are at set times throughout the day. Check out the company’s website for times and to book a tour.