There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the distilled drink, moonshine. I, for one, thought most of it is made in bath tubs (not true … these days that is). If you avoid drinking it for fear of going blind — that would be a more popular anecdote for the drink, too. But a lot has changed in the moonshine distillation game in the last few years.
Essentially moonshine is high-proof spirits that are made at home in small quantities — sometimes illicitly. In the past and in the early 1800s many farmers made their living distilling moonshine or “white whiskey” in the Appalachian area. Corn farmers could turn their crop into a more valuable item, and cut down on shipping costs in the process. But a lot of fermenting and early distilling was done under the cover of darkness to keep their operations secret.
Crystal Creek Distilling
Fast forward to today when distilling at home is now an option and many crating distilleries have made their way into Texas. One such distillery is Crystal Creek Moonshine out in Spicewood, Texas. Take a scenic drive down Bee Creek Rd. and out to their tasting and distilling room in the beautiful Texas Hill Country for an education in moonshine you won’t forget.
Shane Berber and Sam Wakefield, both naturalized Texans who are Londoners by birth, are here to guide you through the maze of spirits out there. It’s as crystal clear as their moonshine how serious they are about the drink from the get go. Before Shane can even start describing the whole distilling process he has a sample ready for us to try, their Classic Moonshine. Some things you just have to taste to believe.
Their story goes back to 2009. Moonshine became legal to sell for the first time and Sam had an idea: to open a moonshine distillery as soon as possible. But the timing wasn’t right yet — and Shane convinced Sam to go to college and return to the idea later. In 2013, as both guys graduated, Sam had a business proposal ready, one he had been working on throughout his years at the university. Yet there were a few hold ups in the beginning, and in true moonshine tradition, the guys had to conduct their earliest forms of the distilling in secret.
“We were terrified about getting caught, you need licenses to start distilling, you need about 50 or 60 licenses to even get started. So we decided to be a little sneaky about it and started distilling in a cave in West Austin.”
This early practice of fermenting and distilling left them with many of the same recipes they still consult today. And now with all of their permits and licenses in order, they’re way more open to distill.
From simple corn, water, sugar, yeast and honey comes the complex and surprising flavors of moonshine. After 10-12 days fermenting the mash the team at Crystal Creek spends a grueling 75 hours straight trading off the main distilling duties, turning the early mix into the drink you can buy on shelves today. They bottle everything by hand in their humble home for moonshine. It’s a labor of love that’s brewed from the ground up and with good intentions.
A Drink with a Bigger Goal
A Glimmer of Hope, a local charity that is well-known for aiding in the construction of water wells, recreation centers, schools and a whole host of other good endeavors in Ethiopia, also comes into play here. Shane’s passion to help the group has extended to every sale of every bottle of moonshine; 5% is given to the charity to go towards building new water wells in impoverished areas, which helps numerous Ethiopians.
“My parents have been involved in A Glimmer of Hope for 12 to 13 years now and I’ve been fortunate enough to go to Ethiopia 9 times now — building wells, building schools, helping them with micro-finance. And it’s super important to me, because I knew I could never work for someone else, and I knew I wanted to build water wells. We donate 5% to the charity and we’re already halfway to building our first water well,” Shane goes on to state. As the business grows so will their ability to positively help the group.
Tours and Tasting
With 4 flavors currently available, including their Classic Shine, Serrano Cucumber, Blackberry Mint, Coffee Pecan and soon to be released Peach Lavender, you have some catching up to do on the moonshine front. Be prepared to soak up a few original recipes for drinks with which to mix their ‘shine, like the Rise and Shine or the Honeymooner — an original drink made with bitters they also make in-house. Clearly it’s not your Grandpa’s moonshine anymore.
“We’re going for smaller niche markets — they’re fun and they’re smaller and becoming trendy. We don’t want to be the old moonshine, backwoods drink — we want to be the new, trendy, chic — the hipster drink.”
When the guys at Crystal Creek aren’t running around distilling, they’re more than likely giving a tasting and a tour. And not only do they offer bottles of their moonshine for purchase, but also do-it-yourself moonshine infusion kits for home distillers willing to give it a try. In the future they plan to offer your own aged whiskey kits, too. I can see that catching on!
Although you can visit for a tour and tasting now at their Spicewood location, look for them in the future in Dripping Springs off Highway 290. They already have plans in the work for their expansion on that side of the Hill Country.
In the meantime, reserve a spot and visit one of their Tour and Tasting days, where you can walk away with a more advanced and hands-on knowledge of moonshine — and maybe even an infusion kit for later.
Crystal Creek Moonshine (map)
804 Bee Creek Rd
Spicewood, TX 78669
Tours & Tastings
Monday & Wednesday 4-8 pm
Friday & Saturday 2-8 pm