Neither Boyan Kalusevic nor Chris Mobley hopped out of bed one morning thinking, “What South Texas needs is a good Balkan brandy!” But that’s their current story, and they’re sticking to it.
Kalusevic, 32, and Mobley, 32, are the business partners behind Dorcol, “an urban boutique craft distillery” newly opened next to the train tracks in the South Flores Arts District. They met in 2003 at University of Texas-Austin, and each went separate directions upon graduation. But they retained a bond, and apparently a hankering, that eventually led them on a couple of trips to Serbia, where Kalusevic has family ties, and to the inevitable tours of rakia bars.
We now pause for a brief definition of rakia: Bulgaria, Serbia and even Turkey all claim to have first produced this potent brandy, or eau de vie, but it is made all over the Balkans and beyond, known for containing fruits from apricots and plums to grapes and mulberries. Familiar side effects related to its enthusiastic, and apparently patriotic, consumption are said to be “you may start to sing, you can’t find your way home…” according to Urban Dictionary, all reinforcing its reputation as “Serbian moonshine.” At least as produced in home stills.
“The rakia bars are all family-oriented, they work with local [fruit] growers, and you can often get a flight of different versions,” says Mobley. “But everybody makes a wine or a rakia at home, and everywhere you go they are offering it to you—it’s a part of life.” Kalusevic adds, “Prohibition killed anything like that here.” Liquor laws here also meant that Kalusevic’s parents could only bring home a couple of bottles apiece when they traveled back from the Balkans, but this was apparently enough to plant a seed in their son. “We realized we had [access to] expertise that could be traced back at least three generations on the farm—likely more,” says Kalusevic. An idea was born. In 2010, the pair started formulating a business plan. It was also, says Mobley, a way to determine “What do we really want to do with ourselves?”
Through a combination of diligence and dumb luck, and after having explored the notion of renting warehouse space locally for their distilling operation, they happened on an unbuilt site on South Flores. It was Second Saturday, the ‘hood was hopping, and the hook was set.
Fortunately, changes in state liquor laws allowing on-premises sale of beer and liquor at microbreweries and distilleries were in the works. And the City cooperated as guidelines for the emerging Lone Star Community Plan, finally approved in March of 2013, were being developed. (If the partners have few flattering words to describe some aspects of the construction process, they have nothing but praise for the City’s help during the phase leading up to the implementation of the neighborhood plan and the constituent infill development zoning designed to “facilitate redevelopment of neglected and bypassed inner city properties.“) The day before Thanksgiving 2012, they submitted plans by JMS Architects for a building permit.
Little more than 12 months later, during private, press and grand opening festivities, the fruits of their labors were on figurative and literal display: The copper still made for them by a traditional coppersmith in Serbia gleamed, the storage and mash tanks from Germany sparkled and the spirit itself, an apricot rakia baptized Kinsman, dazzled. True, straight out of the still, the brandy, distilled a second time here from an initial, stabilizing distillation made for them in Serbia of Serbian fruit, is a tad palate-blowing; it’s 126 proof (63 percent alcohol), after all. But once bottled, the subtleties of the fruit emerge, laying to rest any of their “will they like it?” concerns.
Touches such as the hand-dipped wax cap and cleanly designed label also don’t hurt (“We agonized over every detail,” says Mobley), but in order to educate an unfamiliar public on the spirit’s potential (other than straight sipping, which the partners recommend), Mobley and Kalusevic have hired a bartender, Nick Kenna, to run their tasting room/drinks laboratory. The Belgrade Buck with ginger beer is just one example. For now, the rakia is available at the tasting room during regular hours at $60 per bottle.
As for the future, “We need to decide what’s right for us in terms of new products,” says Kalusevic. But look for “a grain product” and maybe “other seasonal expressions.” Apparently they’re zeroing in on what they want to do with themselves for some time to come.
1902 S. Flores
For daytime tours or tours Mon-Wed, call (210) 229-0607