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Bourbon Whiskey

Maverick Whiskey blends Texas tradition with an eye on the future

Samuel Maverick had a tradition: When he bought a piece of land, he sealed the deal with a handshake and a barrel of whiskey.

In 2019, Kenneth and his wife, Amy, opened the Maverick Whiskey distillery — celebrating his family’s legacy — in the former Lockwood Bank building on Broadway Street in downtown. The business is on the site of the old Maverick homestead and is a block from the Alamo, where Samuel Maverick had been among the rebels before he left with a message seeking help a couple of nights before the famous battle, leaving him with a case of “survivor’s guilt,” Kenneth said.

Maverick Whiskey also functions as a brewery, with six house brews on tap, and offers a menu with small plates such as deviled eggs and a charcuterie board, as well as main dishes such as a cheeseburger, fried chicken, and steak and potatoes.

Earlier this year, it released its first agave spirit — it isn’t officially tequila when it’s made in Texas, Kenneth cautioned. The spirit, Agave Blanco, “amounts to the first Texas tequila that’s made in-house,” he said. This summer, the distillery shared a recipe for a Whiskey Bourbon Slush that Amy stumbled upon in an old recipe book from her family.

A flight of whiskey is available for testing at Maverick Whiskey, a downtown distillery, restaurant and brewery.

A flight of whiskey is available for testing at Maverick Whiskey, a downtown distillery, restaurant and brewery.

Jessica Phelps

Kenneth and Amy are both doctors; he’s an ophthalmologist, and she’s an internist. They hope their three children will carry on the business someday.

They recently sat to discuss Samuel Maverick’s legacy, the process of creating a distillery and downtown’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: Years ago, you received a stack of Samuel Maverick’s papers. Tell me about them.

Kenneth: They’re a bunch of old letters that my grandmother had passed along — almost love letters going back and forth. That got me interested in the genealogy, so I did a bunch of research. That’s kind of where the idea of trying to preserve this history came about.

Q. Did you learn anything unexpected?

Kenneth: The interesting thing was about daily life and how hard it was. A lot of the daily struggles were just keeping your kids alive — you know, worried about your 2-year-old encountering a rattlesnake. Indian attacks.

Q: People have a strong image of your ancestor. Do you feel it’s accurate?

Kenneth: He was definitely a maverick by the modern sense of the word. Even just coming to Texas at the time, which was unsettled. He came from a family in the Carolinas that he probably didn’t have to be adventurous, but he carved his own path. He did the same thing with the Alamo, where he joined this band of rebels. He was not a revolutionary by any means; he came out west to seek his own fortune. Ultimately, he became one of the messengers who left the Alamo to get help a couple of nights before the Alamo fell. So he always harbored this survivor’s guilt. That’s why he built his homestead next to the Alamo, is he always wanted to pay homage to their memory.

Cosme Flores works the bar at Maverick Whiskey, a downtown distillery, restaurant and brewery.

Cosme Flores works the bar at Maverick Whiskey, a downtown distillery, restaurant and brewery.

Jessica Phelps

Q: Tell me about the bourbon slush beverage you’re offering.

Amy: We started making it last summer. There’s a history element, that it was my actually my family recipe. I had a family recipe book that had been given to me probably when I was in college. At the time, I didn’t like bourbon. I remember my family making it, but I never got to try it. A few years ago, on a Sunday afternoon, I was looking through the book and it popped up. By that point, I had developed a love for bourbon. So we thought we’d give it a try.

Kenneth: Amy’s family brought the slush, my family brought the bourbon, and it was a true marriage, just like us.

Q: When you were starting out, would you have called this a passion project, versus something you expected to be profitable?

Kenneth: I think with any project, to make money you have to be passionate about it. It certainly is a passion project. By the same token, you don’t survive unless you put a good product out there and have something people like. There’s passion behind everything we make. Hopefully, that that comes through.

Q: Is your whiskey recipe based off a recipe your ancestor had?

Kenneth: It’s based on grain bills and descriptions from the time. There’s a history of distilling going back to South Carolina and before. They did brandy. They did wine. They did it because you couldn’t just go to a liquor store at the time. It was usually made on-site.

Q: Do you plan to broaden the distribution of your whiskey?

This fried chicken and biscuits plate is on the menu at Maverick Whiskey, a downtown distillery, restaurant and brewery.

This fried chicken and biscuits plate is on the menu at Maverick Whiskey, a downtown distillery, restaurant and brewery.

Jessica Phelps

Kenneth: We’re concentrating on Texas initially. We have had a lot of national interest through the e-commerce site. That seems to be the way spirits sales are going, so we’re prepared to do that, but right now concentrating on both our local market and Houston, Dallas, Austin.

Q: Was it difficult to rehab the building? How much did it cost?

Kenneth: We probably won’t offer a dollar figure, but putting a distillery in downtown San Antonio had never been done before. We worked with the fire authorities, and virtually every local, federal and state agency has some sort of permitting to do it. We designed safety systems and fire suppression systems, customized to the building, because we did want to keep the character of the 100-year-old Lockwood Bank. We wanted to keep it true to the time period, but we also installed a modern still apparatus that is monitored 24/7. You can control it from an iPad, basically.

Q: How does one go about making whiskey? Did you have to hire experts?

Kenneth: A lot of research on our own. Ultimately, when we scaled it to a bigger still — and we have a 500-gallon still — we got experts involved who did it on a larger scale. By most scales, we are an extremely small craft distillery; everything is still moved around by hand.

Q: Do you have a professional distiller on staff?

Kenneth: Yes — several, really. We have a professional, and then we have a ton of experience on our team. One of our distillers, really the assistant, is studying for a PhD and has a master’s level in distilling and brewing. It really is a science, and it really is a highly educated skill level to maintain the high quality and the systems we have in place.

Q: When you set out to do this, did you have a particular taste of whiskey in mind?

Kenneth: The whiskey we make is what we like to drink. It’s really the whiskey that on a Friday night, after a long week, I would sit down with myself, and ultimately my wife ended up liking it too. We’ve done some variations on that for different taste profiles, but they’re all things that basically we enjoy. Our board meetings are the two of us and the distillers, and we go through some taste profiles and decide what we like, and that’s what we put out.

Q: Do you have an idea of what portion of your customers are tourists versus local?

Kenneth: It’s starting to bend more tourists now. I think travel and conventions in San Antonio have started to rebuild again. It’s probably about 50-50, or maybe even a little more toward the tourist side.

A charcuterie board is on the menu at Maverick Whiskey, a downtown distillery, restaurant and brewery.

A charcuterie board is on the menu at Maverick Whiskey, a downtown distillery, restaurant and brewery.

Jessica Phelps

Q: As we emerge from COVID, how do you feel about downtown?

Kenneth: I think the city has some work to do with regard to making sure tourists feel safe.

Amy: You know, we opened right before COVID, so we never really experienced what summer tourism was, but certainly we’ve seen a pickup in people visiting the distillery. I would say we’re still not back to where it was before COVID.

Q: You mentioned tourists feeling safe. Has there been an issue with crime?

Kenneth: During the last couple of years, there just wasn’t as much foot traffic. Recently, the city has increased patrols. We hope our downtown can be like Nashville; I’m trying to think of other world-class tourist cities.

Q: I read that the restaurant was a last-minute addition. Is that right?

Amy: Yes, it was. It just became really clear that people need to eat food when they’re drinking beer and spirits. It made sense to open up a full restaurant so that people can come and eat a full meal while they’re enjoying spirits and beer.

Q: How did you decide which dishes to offer?

Drs. Kenneth and Amy Maverick are the owners of Maverick Whiskey, a downtown distillery, restaurant and brewery.

Drs. Kenneth and Amy Maverick are the owners of Maverick Whiskey, a downtown distillery, restaurant and brewery.

Jessica Phelps

Amy: We wanted a menu that was very approachable. We didn’t want straight-up pub food; we wanted something a little bit more upscale. We kind of called it upscale Texas fare — just something that would feel very approachable, so that no matter who you were, walking in the door you would want to come in and sit down with us.

Kenneth: We want to make it so if a tourist convention or cheerleading convention is downtown, they can walk in and still be family-friendly. Have an approachable menu that doesn’t break their bank.

Q: Do you plan to make this a legacy project for your children?

Amy: Absolutely. They’ve been involved; they had to be. When we were in the renovation project, we took the kids down on weekends. We uncovered a little bit of the original terrazzo flooring from when it was a bank. We didn’t have tons of money to throw at it, so we started doing a little bit of work on it on our own. We were super proud of our kids, because we were down there Saturday and Sundays, scraping the layers and layers of carpet and whatever sort of goo off the floor to get down to the terrazzo. So they’ve been involved from the very beginning.

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