More Than Moonshine: Southtown Gets Its First Distillery

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Labels on the copper still reveal its Serbian origins. Photo by Page Graham.

Labels on the copper still reveal its Serbian origins. Photo by Page Graham.

Page GrahamThanks to recent changes in Texas state law, the local distillery industry is growing at a rapid pace. Just a few years ago, it started out with a handcrafted vodka, then whisky appeared on the scene and now “Rakia,” a delectable apricot-based liquor.

“Kinsman Rakia” is produced by Dorćol Distillery at 1902 S. Flores St. The facility is housed in a new structure located right next to the railroad tracks. Breaking into the industry is definitely a labor of love, and co-owners Boyan Kolusevic and Chris Mobley deserve kudos for their pluck, determination and persistence.

At the opening party, a small crowd awaits Rakia cocktails made by mixologists for 1919 bar. Photo by Page Graham.

At the Dorćol Distillery opening party Friday night, a small crowd awaits cocktails made with the company’s first liquor, Kinsman Rakia. Photo by Page Graham.

Once inside the front door, one enters a comfortable and stylish tasting room with large, glass internal windows that show off the inner-workings of the distillery. The centerpiece of the whole operation is a copper still imported from Serbia, where Kolusevic spent the first 10 years of his life.

Labels on the copper still reveal its Serbian origins. Photo by Page Graham.

Labels on the copper still reveal its Serbian origins. Photo by Page Graham.

Rakia, their initial offering, is based upon Rakija, a traditional Serbian liquor and drink of choice. This type of liquor is common throughout Europe, with variants including Pisco, Eau de Vie and Raki. Kolusevic described Rakija as a “Serbian moonshine,” which doesn’t do justice to the product he and Mobley are making.

Recently updated laws allow distillers to offer tastings and actually sell their product on-site, making the business model for a craft distillery much more practical. Individuals can now buy two bottles per month in the tasting room, but Kinsman Rakia is also available at local liquor stores. This is currently their only product, but other liquors are in the conceptualization phase.

Co-owner Chris Mobley proudly showing off Dorćol Distillery's initial offering. Photo by Page Graham.

Co-owner Chris Mobley proudly showing off Dorćol Distillery’s initial offering, Kinsman Rakia. Photo by Page Graham.

As one can imagine, building a distillery is not a task for the faint of heart. Kolusevic and Mobley broke ground on the facility in March 2013 and hosted their grand opening last night (just in time for the holidays).

They had planned on being up-and-running by August, but there were many snags. Since they decided to save money by being their own general contractors, they found themselves dealing with permits, bureaucracy and recalcitrant subcontractors. Not only that, but both of the owners have maintained their full-time “day jobs.” Needless to say, neither of them have had a good night’s sleep in a while.

Equipment is set up in the middle of the room for a bottling run. Photo by Page Graham.

Equipment is set up in the middle of the room for bottling. Photo by Page Graham.

The most efficient and cost-effective way to build the distillery was, surprisingly, from the ground up. The idea of renovating an existing space was explored, but it was decidedly less viable, owners said. Not only that, but finding sufficient electricity and natural gas capacity for the still and chilling equipment in an industrial park can often be a challenge.

Kolusevic and Mobley finds themselves in the middle of the rapidly-growing Lone Star Arts District. The surrounding neighborhood is now somewhat transitional, but the nearby housing stock is expected to increase soon. The transformation of the outer fringes of Southtown is happening at an increasingly rapid pace.

This Serbian-made hand-hammered copper still from Serbia is the centerpiece of the distillery. Photo by Page Graham.

This Serbian-made, hand-hammered copper still is the centerpiece of Dorćol Distillery. Photo by Page Graham.

The copper still and adjacent condensation unit are the first of two distillation systems planned, but the liquor-making process involves much more than equipment. In the case of Rakia, the process starts out by importing apricots from Serbia at a very specific state of ripeness.

To complicate the matter, apricot farmers require payment in advance. If the crop spoils, the cash isn’t returned. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case for the 2012 crop used at the distillery for current operations.

The apricots are then used to make a mash –- no additional sugar is required, they’re sweet enough — fermented, then distilled. During this part of the process, the distillate changes in character from start to finish of a batch. The early product is called “heads,” followed by “hearts,” then “tails.” The heads are discarded and the hearts are set aside to be filtered. The tails go into back into the still to become part of the next batch.

Bottles of Kinsman Rakia await labeling. Photo by Page Graham.

Bottles of Kinsman Rakia await labeling. Photo by Page Graham.

So what does Kinsman Rakia taste like? In a word: smooth.

The label on a bottle of Kinsman Rakia says “apricot brandy,” but this is completely misleading. You can tell you’re about to drink a quality product simply by sniffing the bouquet. And because the “heads” are discarded, there is no burning sensation on the tongue or throat. Beyond that, you’ll simply have to go to the distillery and try it for yourself (as long as you’re 21 or over, that is).

Tasting room at Dorćol Distillery. Photo by Page Graham

The cozy tasting room at Dorćol Distillery. Photo by Page Graham

Perhaps it’s auspicious to have an opening party on Friday the 13th. Judging from the crowd in attendance, success seems likely. Bartenders Don Marsh of Bar 1919 and Nick Kenna were on hand to produce several different Rakia-based cocktails, although my personal preference is to drink this product straight-up from a small snifter.

Bartender from 1919 bar plying their trade. Photo by Page Graham.

Bartender Nick Kenna and Bar 1919 owner Don Marsh ply their trade at Dorćol Distillery. Photo by Page Graham.

For wine lovers, Bending Branch Winery was offering up its products. Amazing food was served by several local chefs who make up the Chef Cooperative. In addition to this, jazz music with a Latin flavor was provided by guitarist Miguel Angel Garza and accompanist.

For those who missed the grand opening event, there’s another chance to have a taste of Rakia this evening. As part of the December Second Saturday event in Lone Star Arts District, Dorćol Distillery will be opening its doors at 8 p.m. with bartenders Jeret Peña of the Brooklynite and Nick Kenna serving up craft cocktails. The plan is to have guest bartenders in attendance for every future Second Saturday – during which nearby galleries host art openings and special events.

[Read more: “The Gift of Art: Ditching Black Friday for Second Saturday.“]

Kolusevic and Mobley went from conceptualization to grand opening in just a little over a year’s time – an amazing feat. It underscores their youthful enthusiasm, their ability to create a quality product and throw a great party. Živeli!

Partygoers in the distillery room. Photo by Page Graham.

Partygoers at the Dorćol Distillery’s grand opening event. Photo by Page Graham.

 

Page Graham has been a resident of San Antonio – on and off – for over 30 years now. After college he got his start at KWEX-TV 41/Univision as a videotape operator. Before he knew it, he was working in the production department as a Technical Director.  Since that time, he has moved into the corporate world, making a living developing training materials and Powerpoint presentations and all that stuff we need to do in order to make a living. But now he’s back – aqui en el corazón de San Antonio – enjoying life to its fullest. His goal is to share the amazing experiences that are all around us. This city has grown and matured, and it’s time for all of us to be proud of our home. Read more at www.artblogsa.com.

 

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