Austin Chapter member Georgian Whitenight, CPA files this report.
The cold, dreary weather could not dampen our spirits as we gathered at Still Austin Whiskey Company for a behind the scenes tour and tasting.
Our tour started with Lisa Braunberg, co-founder of Still Austin, noting that theirs is the first legal whiskey distillery in Austin since Prohibition, and that all their whiskey and bourbon is made from scratch using non-GMO products sourced exclusively from Texas farmers.
As we were led into the 10,000 square foot production facility, we were immediately met with the aromas of yeast and grains. Lisa showed us the cooker where they make 2,000 gallons of mash at a time, and the fermentation tanks where they add yeast to the mash, allowing the yeast to chemically change the sugars in the grains into alcohol over a 4-day process. Once the fermentation is complete, the alcohol is held in a beer well to process a bit longer. Lisa stopped at this point to mention that many of the skills needed in whiskey-making are the same as in beer-making and that Austin is ripe with beer-making talent. The next stop on our tour was the 42-foot-tall still named Nancy that was custom-made in Scotland. It is in this still that the alcohol is vaporized and then cooled back into liquid form. From here, the whiskey is either bottled or barreled. Whiskey that was made from at least 51% corn, aged in a new white oak barrel, and made in the US can be called bourbon.
As we ended the tour, and Lisa was answering our questions, I wondered how different a group of CPAs’ questions were from her other tours. Did other tour groups seem so concerned with the cost of the barrels? (Approximately $350 each.) Were other people concerned about recovering the cost of the bourbon barrels by re-selling or re-using them? (Since they only opened in September, they don’t have any to resell or reuse yet.) Was it typical for other tour guests to ask if they were able to purchase used equipment to help save costs? (Some equipment was used but most was new.) Typical or not, she answered each question patiently and thoroughly as we walked past the rows of newly-barreled bourbon in to the tasting room.
As we sampled three of their whiskeys and an Old Fashioned, Lisa told us the backstory of Still Austin’s founders. They were three couples who met at a convention and bonded over the fact that they were the only Texans at the convention. None were in the whiskey business – one was in marketing, one was in high tech, one was an attorney, one was a structural engineer, and one was a former executive in the beverage industry – but their passion for whiskey and their skills made for a successful partnership. We joked that the only thing missing is a CFO, and Lisa promptly let us know that a CFO will be their next hire.
I thought to myself of how challenging that industry would be to work in. Maybe I’ll just volunteer at one of their bottling volunteer events for now.
Georgian Whitenight, CPA