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Downtown hopping with breweries, distilleries

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Stay thirsty, San Antonio. The floodgates have opened for more booze businesses downtown. Pictured here, a crowd enjoys Geeks Who Drink Trivia Night at Roadmap Brewing Co. Photo by Collette Orquiz

It wasn’t long ago that downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods and business districts sported a few touristy bars and a few gritty or no-frills watering holes for locals.

The growth of urban living in San Antonio and a thirst for artisan alcoholic beverages, however, has led to 10 breweries and five distilleries opening or in the final stages of development south of Hildebrand Avenue.

“I started working off Broadway when I moved to San Antonio in 2009, and I thought, ‘Who would want to be here?’” said Ricardo Andres Garcia, now in the final stages of opening Back Unturned Brewing Co. in the former home of the Brooklynite cocktail bar, in the 500 block of Brooklyn Avenue downtown.

He ultimately decided: “It would be awesome to be down here.”

His 10-barrel brewhouse will soon be cranking out “a broad range from easy-drinking lagers and pale ales to really intense stuff that people can geek out on,” Garcia said. He also expects good foot traffic for pizza at lunch when the new CPS Energy headquarters opens nearby.

Warehouses, office buildings, former bars, shops and even the one-time queen of San Antonio breweries – the former Pearl Brewery — are getting new life with mash tuns, brew kettles and stills behind tasting rooms welcoming tourists and locals.

Blue Star Brewing Co. opened its doors at 1414 S. Alamo St. in the King William Historic District in 1996 with a restaurant, bike shop and live-music venue. Despite some tough times, it survived to take advantage of the influx of residents to the area and the 2013 legislation giving it the right to distribute its beer to other bars and restaurants.

Frio Brewing Co., 1905 N. St. Mary’s St., drew plenty of people to its parties with free beer in the late 1990s, but didn’t survive to see the city’s taste buds start to lean toward small-batch beers that packed more flavor than mainstay mass-produced brews.

It was the 2001 closure of Texas’ oldest continuously operating brewery, however, that served as a catalyst for a downtown-area boom in small breweries and distilleries nearly two decades later.

Pabst Brewing Co. shuttered the Pearl Brewing Co., a sprawling property wedged between lower Broadway and the San Antonio River, that year.

Not long after, San Antonio businessman Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury bought the property and began revitalizing it one building and business at a time as the San Antonio River’s developed portion was extended to the former brewery property.

That spurred a redevelopment of the whole region just north of downtown, which now includes hundreds of new apartments, condos, townhouses and businesses launched to support them. As part of the Pearl master plan, chef Jeff Balfour opened Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery in April 2015 inside the former Pearl brewhouse, where beer was first made in the 1880s.

Alamo Beer Co. opened its brewery and beer garden on the near East Side, at 202 Lamar St. in the shadow of the restored Hays Street Bridge, in December 2014.

“They come from all over,” said Alamo Beer founder Eugene Simor. “We are in an area that is walkable from all over.”

Since then, the floodgates have opened for more booze businesses in the area.

Freetail Brewing Co. debuted its second location, a larger-scale production facility and tap room, at 2000 S. Presa St. Dorcol Distilling & Brewing Co. makes Kinsman apricot brandy and High Wheel beers at 1902 S. Flores St. and Küntsler Brewing is just down the lane at 302 E. Lachapelle St. with numerous beer styles and a German-inspired food menu.

Late this spring, Dos Sirenos Brewing will join the Southtown brewery crowd making classic beer styles — from Russian Imperial Stout to German-style Hefeweizen — at 231 E. Cevallos St. in the former location of The Beach nightclub between Probandt Avenue and Flores.

Perhaps closest to the city’s core is Roadmap Brewing Co. at 723 N. Alamo St., an area that once had very little foot traffic.

“Now there are so many people coming to visit, lots of them walking from the hotels,” said Roadmap co-founder Dustin Baker. “When we moved in at North Alamo, there was a giant black pipe in the middle of the road.”

The prime location between downtown hotels and the Pearl/lower Broadway redevelopment helped them overcome the road construction woes.

A few blocks east of U.S. 281 near downtown, preparations for Black Laboratory Brewing are underway inside the culinary collaborative space Hackberry Market on East Houston at Hackberry streets.

It isn’t just breweries that are producing tasty adult beverages for tourists and urban dwellers of all ages. Distilleries making vodka, whiskey and gin also are part of the mix.

The distillery Artisan on Alamo is in the same building as Roadmap, with a bar at 315 Eighth St. serving up cocktails made with Spike Vodka, which is distilled from Texas-harvested prickly pear cactus.

Alamo Distilling, 621 Chestnut St., is on the near East Side not far from the unrelated Alamo Beer.

Founder Noel Burns and his staff give tours and tastings there by appointment as they make their own line of spirits and private-label products for other companies. He said they are outgrowing the space and looking to move in a few months to a larger facility where they also can host events.

In the heart of downtown, Maverick Whiskey held a soft opening in mid-April and will introduce more public hours during the spring and summer. Owner Ken Maverick is the three-times great-grandson of Sam Maverick, an early Texian, San Antonio mayor and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence.

Maverick said the building at 115 Broadway will have a still for whiskey, gin and eventually a tequila-like drink made from agave. House-made beer will be added to the lineup soon, along with a chef to cater events in the history-filled building.

Devil’s River Whiskey also is working on bringing its distilling operation from Dallas to downtown San Antonio when renovations to the Burns Building, 401 E. Houston St. at Broadway, are finished, said founder and CEO Mike Cameron.

The downtown distillery will include a tasting room and event space, while bottling will be done off-site to provide the product to retailers in 11 states and growing.

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