Nick Spink’s hand-harvested cactus-paddle vodka, Spike, can lay claim to being unique — there’s nobody even close when it comes to out-there vodka-based materials. Quinoa might come in second. A distant second, on further thought.
Here’s what I said about it in an earlier article: “It has an appealingly earthy green-ness that’s quite unlike any other vodka — it’s more ‘wine-like’ claims Spink, and he’s right here, too. Its very character means you may not want to put it up against delicate vermouth in a vodka martini (though nobody’s stopping you), but you might really have fun playing with other, ballsier partners such as ginger liqueur or curaçao (think margarita).”
So it should come as no surprise that, after a couple years of producing Spike in his homemade, McGyver-like still (“it looks like the high school science project of a precocious student — Medusa-like tangle of tubes and all”), Spink heeded the call for a more neutral product — more like conventional vodka, in other words. Thus was born Texas Pride vodka, made, I’m told, from milled corn sourced in Texas and Oklahoma. The existence of two spirits both created a need for larger distilling space (his original facility was on the Northwest side behind a music school), and it inspired Spink to open a downtown facility on 8th street just off Alamo. Welcome Artisan (almost) on Alamo.
In typical go-it-alone-fashion, Spink did most of the work himself on the bar, which occupies about a fourth of the warehouse-like space. The walls are a classy mid-grey, the bar top is made of heavily veined black marble, the light fixtures (made by Spink, of course) dangle like tiny stalactites from an exposed timber ceiling. There are a few floridly upholstered pieces of lounge furniture, but otherwise the space is spare — it needs people (preferably very colorfully dressed people) to come alive, though Spink says that Alex Rubio will be curating rotating art shows.
It also needs people who are heavily into vodka cocktails, as liquor-control regulations require that he serve only what he makes. A preliminary menu was divided down the middle between Texas Pride and Spike and included drinks such as a Lemon Drop Martini with a handmade lemon infusion, a cucumber martini with both handmade cucumber and lemon infusions, and the Maggie-rita with house-made sweet and sour. House-made does continue to be key even in infusions, and the practice leads naturally to this question: Do you plan to do any flavored vodkas in the future?
Answer: Yes. Spink contemplates using the tasting room adjacent to the bar to hold seminars, and may experiment with infusions — that might eventually see ramped-up production — in the classes. For the moment, infusions are all the production one is likely to see, as Spink is still “working off of stock,” and the distilling space remains empty. Patrons will have to walk through the future distillery on the way to bathrooms in any case. Spink built those, too. Look for special touches such as glass-bottomed lavatories that project water patterns on the floor.
Artisan’s soft/grand opening takes place on September 8-10. Regular hours will be Thursday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 2 am. Happy hour is from 4-8, at which time craft drinks are $5. Expect to see Spink behind the bar — looking even more wild-eyed than usual. At least to begin with.
315 8th St.