The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2010

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A LONE STAR LIFE The Savvy Secrets of Chad Auler’s World by Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddle ou’re looking at one eighth of the workforce behind Savvy Vodka, an Austin-based micro- distiller. But this one eighth—founder Chad Auler—carries a lot of the load for Savvy, and he keeps nearly all the secrets behind the brand. He’s the guy who visited vodka distilleries around the country and read every book on the spirit. He developed the recipe and chose the south Texas corn. There are two additional things you should know: 1) Chad’s wife gets full credit for the name “Savvy.” 2) Chad’s an honest fellow. Y “It was an easy transition from wines to spirits,” Chad tells me while sitting in his office, begging me to let him clean it up before my buddy Kirk snaps his photo. If he’d said it was so hard to do this, I would have thought he was being disingenu- ous—after all, it’s vodka, it’s not a balanced budget. He then promptly reveals the three secret things that everyone knows are needed to making vodka: water, distillation, and filtration. water H2 O can truly be a signature for alcoholic beverages. And for Savvy, there was never a doubt about the water Chad would use. He grew up in a part of the Texas Hill Country that sits atop the Hickory Aquifer, which bubbles right up to the surface. The Auler family business, Fall Creek Vineyards, is out there, too. It’s one of Texas’s premiere wineries and the rea- son Chad’s been a professional in alcohol culture since 1993. (He still runs the sales and marketing side of the winery.) Fall Creek’s vineyards have flourished with Hickory’s water since the mid-1970s. “I’ve been drinking that water straight out of the ground since I was a kid,” Chad says. “And anyone who gets to taste it begs us to bottle it.” In a way, he kind of did: This is the water he uses to cut Savvy down to 80 proof. Distillation Stills are really only pretty to the people who build them and the people who work with them. It’s clear there’s some affection between Chad and his still, which surprises him more than anyone else: “Because of tradition, I originally wanted to produce Savvy with a pot still. But the company I contracted to build a pot still insisted that for the quality I wanted it was better to go with the column.” The “column” is 20 feet of state-of-the-art technology Chad Auler. that’s more efficient and uses far less energy than pot stills. It can hold the temperature constant and indefinitely—to the degree—in order to cook off the bad stuff and keep the good. That’s especially important because Savvy isn’t done after two or three or seven or twenty distillations. The 400-gallon batches are distilled in a continuous loop for two full days. filtration “We don’t disclose how we actually do it, but I can tell you that we’re applying some of our winemaking expertise to filtering Savvy,” Chad says. “And I can tell you that this process doesn’t strip the vodka of even its subtlest flavors.” So all I can disclose to readers on this point is that Savvy is filtered gently and slowly five times in order to reach its sweet spot. But Chad’s coyness actually leads me back to my point about him being honest. He could have spun a wild tale about how he had no idea what he was doing in the beginning and how Savvy got to be a favorite Texas vodka (of the more than a dozen now made here) through equal parts dumb luck and divine intervention. But that’s just not the truth. “It wasn’t foreign to me. I knew the alcohol industry. I had the distribution network in place; I had the retail network in place and a lot of on-premise contacts already,” he says, referring to his work with Fall Creek. The truth is that together with his three secrets of vodka, Chad has simply achieved what hard work and know-how typically accom- plish: success. september 2010 / the tasting panel / 67

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