San Antonio expanded its beer, spirits and cocktail landscape in 2019. We saw new breweries and distilleries make their debut, while the bar scene gained some significant and creative new players.
Next year promises to be yet another winning year for those who imbibe. To get a sense of what to expect, we corralled a local mixologist, a local distiller and a local brewer to inquire about what’s ahead.
Benjamin Krick | Jet-Setter, Pastiche
Benjamin Krick last year opened both downtown’s Jet-Setter as a celebration of international cocktail culture and sister bar Pastiche, which offers a taste of Europe on the East Side. He projects the Alamo City’s craft cocktail scene will bring it attention as a true travel destination.
“I truly believe San Antonio is going to have a breakthrough moment to where all of a sudden, it’s just a cultural hotspot where everyone wants to be,” he said. “With that, we’re seeing a demand for elevated style of service that people can be proud of and call their own.”
To be sure, local bartenders such as Krick — along with popular events such as the San Antonio Cocktail Conference — have expanded the kind of experiences travelers can expect from a city that was once all about Riverwalk beer and margaritas. Meanwhile, they have helped residents discover new spirits and flavors available in their own backyards.
Krick also expects to see new and classic cocktails made with cognac and numerous brandy varieties become hot additions to menus next year. What’s more, he predicts bars will improve sustainability practices, whether that means eliminating sugar from the menu or partnering with local organizations that help them compost and recycle.
“We’ll also see more bars offer their version of sober or spirits-free cocktails,” Krick said. “There’s more people looking to enjoy themselves with less alcohol.”
Up Next: Krick will open two new bars in 2020 — one celebrating San Antonio’s unique bar culture, and a second inside historic St. Paul Square.
Noel Burns | Alamo Distilling
There were only a handful of local distillers when Noel Burns and Daniel Taylor decided to create Alamo Distilling Co. in 2015 and introduce a vodka line. Since then, the duo has added bourbon to the lineup.
While distillers have proliferated across Texas in recent years, they’re facing unprecedented challenges in 2020, Burns cautions.
“I think the craft spirit industry is following the craft beer industry by five to 10 years, and the bubble is bursting,” Burns said. “There are a lot of brands collapsing and going under, and it’s a very expensive and difficult industry to be in right now.”
The biggest challenge? Bigger brands.
Bars and liquor stores are less likely to take a chance on unknown products, while craft distillers are fighting win over new customers.
On top of that, the future of craft distilleries is cloudy. Lawmakers did not extend a temporary tax break essential to the industry, and it’s set to expire in January. (See page 37 for a more detailed look at that issue.)
“We’re a smaller brand turning into a medium-sized brand — we have a lot of opportunity and we’ve had great support for the projects that we’ve done,” Burns added. “We rely on word of mouth and people giving us support because they like who we are, where we are and what we stand for.”
Up Next: Alamo Distilling Co. will early next year open a new, 15,500-square-foot production facility, complete with a tasting room.
Joey Villarreal | Blue Star Brewing
Blue Star Brewing Co. launched within eponymous Southtown development in 1996, becoming one of the few local craft breweries to survive into the next decade. Joey Villarreal and his wife Magdalena, who also run the popular Joey’s on North St. Mary’s St., helped to lay the foundation for a new crop of local breweries that came onto the scene in recent years.
Though plenty of experimental beer flavors and methods popped up among local breweries, Villarreal predicts traditional beer styles will remain popular among locals in 2020.
“Like everything else, I think beer tastes go through cycles. I still hear a lot of people say, ‘just give me a traditional beer,’” he said.
In the coming year, San Antonians can expect to see more brewpubs rather than production breweries, according to Villarreal. He expects to see more neighborhood operations creating small batches of locally produced beers.
In the meantime, Villarreal is concentrating on upgrading and caring for his existing businesses, adding new equipment and initiatives like a bottle cleaning machine that will allow Blue Star to clean and reuse beer containers.
“We’re just focused on taking care of the businesses, both the bars and the restaurants, without changing [what makes us unique],” he said.
Up Next: Folks can sip and shop at Blue Star Brewing Co.’s new kiosk at Northstar Mall, which is serving the small bites and a variety of brews found at the original location.
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