Award-winning vodka at Llano Craft Distillery
Llano Craft Distillery is a smooth combination of quality, class, and authenticity. What started as a practical passion project has quickly become a high-integrity hangout for Llano locals, Hill Country explorers, and anyone lucky enough to walk through the doors.
On the main drag in downtown Llano, Marion and Connie Bishop craft high-quality spirits and operate a warm and welcoming tasting room where you can sample the fruits of their labor.
I met with the Bishops for the afternoon and was able to experience the quality of their product firsthand. This is not a bar; it is a tasting room attached to the distillery where the product is made. The product: vodka.
This is not just any vodka. A ton of skill and development have honed this into a shockingly good drink. Marion walked me through the process of distillation. Without getting too specific or technical, he uses potatoes in an increasingly rare technique that cuts the traditional harshness of the spirit, making an overall smoother product.
I tried a few cocktails off of their extensive menu and sampled each of their reserves to taste for myself. I had an Old Fashioned that substituted the traditional bourbon/whiskey with the distillery's Pecan Reserve, and it went down smooth. If I hadn't known it was vodka, I would never have guessed.
Marion's approach to the spirit has exposed its versatility and ability to adapt to any number of roles. The distillery's cocktail menu is impressive. Through crowd testing of their patrons and the keen palates of the owners, the menu boasts a solid list of drinks that can appeal to anyone and everyone.
The quality of the vodka itself is apparent to anyone who tries it, but it is also internationally recognized as being pretty darn good.
In the 2020 Denver International Spirits Competition, their base vodka, Iron City, took home the silver medal and their Pecan Reserve won bronze. At the 2020 New York International Spirits Competition, their green chile-based vodka, The Hatch (great in a Bloody Mary), won silver for Texas' Best Flavored Vodka.
What all of this means is that a small-batch distillery in rural Texas that has only been operating since 2018 is competitive on an international scale.
While the quality of the vodka is important, the tasting room is an essential part of the overall experience. The warm lighting, rustic-modern decor, and simple aesthetics create a classy but welcoming atmosphere.
The distillery equipment isn't hidden; it is in clear view of anyone sitting at the bar, which lends an industrious authenticity to the space. Llano has maintained the old-school feel of its town square, and the distillery blends right in.
I spoke with a group of family and friends, locals, and visitors who felt the distillery was a serious boon to the town.
"It's a great thing for the city, and we need more places like this," said Karl Tatsch, a city of Llano employee.
Megan Riley was visiting her hometown from college and had this to say: “I come home on the weekends, and Llano is definitely growing. It has become a great place to hang out."
Llano Craft Distillery is rooted in family. I can't tell the story of the distillery without mentioning someone integral to its foundation: Danielle Carmichael, Connie's daughter and Marion's stepdaughter.
Carmichael was responsible for the overall aesthetic and, as a graphic designer, created the artwork on the bottles, each piece an homage to Llano's history. As a certified sommelier, she gave critical feedback and shaped the flavor of the vodka. Her motto: "If you can't drink our product straight out of the bottle, then we haven't done our job.”
In the summer of 2020, Carmichael passed away from unforeseen medical complications. This, combined with the economic devastation of COVID-19, threatened the existence of the distillery; however, the Bishops, Llano, and the distillery pulled through.
Carmichael was a quick-witted, multi-talented, and well-respected member of the Llano community. I knew her personally, and she was a genuine light that brightened the lives of the people who were lucky to know her.
The Bishops set out to create a high-quality product and a place for locals and visitors alike to enjoy the city of Llano. They certainly succeeded.
Find more articles like this in Eat & Drink