Last Fall, Distillers Bar made its grand debut at Dripping Springs Distilling in Texas.
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Last fall, Distillers Bar made its grand debut at Dripping Springs Distilling in Texas.

Why Distilleries are Suddenly Opening their Own Restaurants

Amid the craft spirit craze, there's room to cash in.

Over the past decade, distilleries have moved from being exclusively in small country towns to occupying whole blocks in cities across the country. At the same time, consumers are increasingly planning vacations around tours and tastings—even journeying to some of the more remote distilleries.

The emergence of alcohol-driven tourism has been a boon for distilleries, many of whom are eager to capitalize on the growing foot traffic. For some, this has meant opening bars and restaurants on the same grounds they distill spirits, even if they’d never seriously considered the idea.

When Dripping Springs Distilling opened in 2005, an on-site bar—let alone a kitchen—wasn’t in the cards.

“It started out as just that, a distillery,” says Kristi Quick, venue operation manager at Dripping Springs, which is located half an hour west of Austin, Texas. “People showed up and asked for tours and tastings so [we] built a tiny little bar in the front office area. As it became more popular, it became clear we needed more space.”

During construction of the new venue, which would later be named Distillers Bar, back-and-forth conversation led the team at Dripping Springs to expand the project further with an on-site kitchen to accompany the bar.

Quick says Dripping Springs wanted to be more than a brief stop on a distillery tour. A restaurant presented the opportunity to keep guests longer and also bring in local business. That’s why Distillers Bar made its debut with both a bar and a kitchen.

“We wanted to be a hangout spot. And it’s really hard, especially as a local, to go out to your favorite place and sit down and enjoy live music under an oak grove and be drinking hard alcohol all day and then have nothing to eat,” Quick says. “So, really we built that kitchen space to get people to stay longer and to make sure people stayed safe while they were here.”

Distillers Bar opened this summer, and so far, business has been promising.

“We’re still in the beginning stages … [and] figuring out what works within our market,” Quick says. “On Labor Day weekend, we sold 50 shrimp boils and that increased the per-person average from $35 to $52 per ticket.”

Distillers Bar bills its fare as elevated comfort food with offerings like bacon biscuits with a bourbon-maple butter, gluten-free mini jalapeño cornbread muffins, and made-from-scratch chicken pot pie.

One of the biggest advantages the restaurant provides, Quick says, is that it has created a space unique to the area and thus differentiated itself from other nearby distilleries.

Quick says that while formal events and catering aren’t in the future for Distillers Bar—that’s left to Distillers Hall, the on-site wedding and special events venue—the restaurant does welcome groups and more casual gatherings. In fact, these informal events give the kitchen a chance to mix up its standard a la carte format.

“We’re hosting a women’s club luncheon every third Wednesday of the month where we have a sort of buffet setup, and we’ve decided we can do that for other parties as well,” Quick says. “We’re working on establishing what those buffet-style catering menus look like and then we’re going to start moving forward with that.”

Stitzel-Weller, a nearly 90-year-old distillery located in Louisville, Kentucky, also recently added a foodservice component to its operation. Named the Garden & Gun Club, the cocktail bar marks a partnership between the distillery and Garden & Gun, a monthly Southern lifestyle magazine.

“This new collaboration embraces the exceptional spirit that flows from the historic distillery and brings to life the essence of Garden & Gun’s defining Southern brand,” says Colleen Glenn, associate publisher, marketing, at Garden & Gun. “The club fits right in within the historic confines of the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery.”

The Garden & Gun Club in Louisville is the second location Garden & Gun has opened. The first G&G Club debuted in Atlanta in 2018. The venue is located in the Battery, a mixed-use development about 10 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta and directly across from Truist Park—home of the Atlanta Braves.

The new location is also well-situated; Stitzel-Weller is just south of downtown Louisville. And while this club is the second Garden & Gun has opened, it marks the company’s first joint venture with a distillery.

Compared to the Atlanta restaurant, which offers heartier dining options such as a country-fried pork chop smothered in peppercorn gravy, the Louisville club focuses more on distilled spirits and smaller plates.

Part of what made the partnership so attractive was its already established consumer base within Louisville’s bourbon scene, Glenn says. With traffic already guaranteed at Stitzel-Weller, it made more sense to team up with an established name rather than open a standalone restaurant.

And for Stitzel-Weller, partnering with Garden & Gun, a brand with a loyal following, meant welcoming new guests who might be unaware of the distillery or choose a downtown Louisville restaurant over a trip to Stitzel-Weller.

The partnership also allows the two parties to split duties. “The Stitzel-Weller team is spearheading operations on the ground in Louisville, and the Garden & Gun team is guiding marketing efforts,” Glenn says.

The publication’s elevated style is reflected in the restaurant’s craft-made cocktails and food. Under the direction of chef Ann Kim, the bar menu features refined Southern classics, like hot and spicy boiled peanuts, pimento cheese with crudités, and a country ham and cheese board that features local products.

Guests can also enjoy cocktails made from Stitzel-Weller’s own Blade and Bow bourbon, as well as other celebrated labels including Bulleit and George Dickel, just to name a few. Classic spirits such as gin, tequila, and rum are also on hand.

“The historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery holds a special place in the hearts of Garden & Gun readers and bourbon aficionados around the world,” says Christian Bryant, Garden & Gun vice president and publisher. “We know this new and unique Garden & Gun Club experience will be a must-stop.”

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