A new distillery has debuted in Dallas, making two uncommon spirits using a distinctively artisanal approach: Called New Artisan Distillery, it's one of the few operations in Dallas making gin and bourbon, and it's from two food & beverage titans: Don Short, a former top executive at Coca-Cola Co., and award-winning Houston-based chef Robert Del Grande.
The distillery is at 8202 Chancellor Row, just north of the Design District, where their portfolio begins with two releases:
- Roxor Artisan Gin, featuring 12 botanicals: juniper, coriander, Texas grapefruit zest, orris root, hibiscus flower, cocoa nibs, pecans, fresh lime, grains of paradise, sarsaparilla, cubeb peppers, cinnamon, and boasting notes of grapefruit, lime, hibiscus, juniper, and pecans
- Roxor World's First Botanical Bourbon, featuring 74 percent corn, 21 percent rye, and 5 percent malt, with notes of maple, forest fruits, chocolate, and cola
A large part of the innovation is due to the recipes, created by Del Grande, one of the most celebrates chefs in the U.S. and co-founder (along with CultureMap co-founder Lonnie Schiller) of renowned restaurant concepts such as Cafe Annie in Houston and the Cafe Express chain. In addition to being a chef, Del Grande has a PhD in biochemistry, possibly the perfect background for creating spirits.
New Artisan stands out because they use fresh ingredients during their steeping and distillation process, such as fresh lime zest and fresh grapefruit zest, rather than the dried citrus used for most gins.
"We aim to be the 'real plant people of spirits,' because to us, real plants make better spirits," Short says.
The duo launched the concept about 10 years ago, but stepped it up when the location — previously home to Silver Nickel Distillery — became available, with brewing equipment part of the deal, including beautiful copper stills.
They left the back of the house intact, but renovated the tasting lounge in front, adding vintage furniture, graffiti, and custom-made sculptures to give the space some warmth and style.
"That's my side of the project, and hopefully we've created a slightly elevated experience for a distillery," Short says. "It should be about art and culture and spirits. We put all this together in the way we would like if a guest came to our home."
Some of the appeal of doing spirits in the first place for the highly creative Short was that design element.
"Beer is somewhat overdone, and with wine, the package is almost always the same, other than the label," he says. "But with liquor you can differentiate with your package. We took our skyline idea — inspired by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and others — to artisans in Mexico City who make glass and asked, 'Can you pull this off and turn it into a bottle?' Our iconic Skyline bottle shape adorns the outside of our building and is a toast to the architects that create the skylines of our lives."
The distillery also gives Short the opportunity to work with family; his youngest son Will is overseeing the day-to-day operations, including Thursday night tours, where you have a cocktail, tour the distillery room, and learn about their unique gin-making process and the botanicals they use.
Eventually they'll have charcuterie and other snacks.
"Visitors will get to see and smell the sarsaparilla and the cocoa nibs," Short says. "We're getting our grapefruit peels from Buda Juice, so we pick up that waste stream, and that's what gives our gin those bright, citrusy notes."
And that’s just the gin, which retails for $30 and is available at most liquor stores in Texas. They're firing up the pre-release of Roxor Botanical Bourbon, which Short suggests is "perhaps the world's finest," and is currently available only at the distillery for $60. (Call 713-677-3265 to buy a bottle, set up a tour, or book an event.)
"Dallas is a good place for innovation, and we're taking that to the realm of booze," he says. "Consumers have a growing interest in ingredients, in knowing what's in their food and drink. You don't see nutritional info on your liquor bottle label, but maybe you should."
"We said, 'Let's take the idea of real plants and apply it to spirits,'" he says.