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“Rye helped fuel a lot of rebellions.” —Troy Kooper, Kooper Family Rye


roy and Michelle Kooper didn’t grow up in Austin, but

Springs. “We sit on a limestone shelf and all those wonderful min-

they swear they got here as fast as they could. When the

erals contribute to the complexity of our whiskey,” says Michelle.

couple finally arrived in 2011, they didn’t know a soul and

“And the climate—the humidity and heat—gives it the depth of

didn’t have jobs lined up. But it didn’t take long for them to settle in with their five-year-old son, Phoenix, make new friends, land some freelance gigs and…start making whiskey?

flavor. We’re really lucky. Texas is in our barrels.” With the boom in local craft spirits in recent years, it may come as a surprise that Kooper Family Rye is one of only a few

Yes, the couple were admitted bootstrappers by necessity back

local rye whiskeys on the Central Texas scene. Perhaps fueled by

then, but also, that’s just the way they’re wired. “Michelle was

the rising popularity of mixology, the cultural taste for the spirit

making her own dish soap, laundry detergent and toothpaste, and

is making a meteoric comeback on the national stage after a slow

we were gardening,” says Troy. And after a long day’s work, they

decline that began just after the end of Prohibition. But in fact,

often found themselves dreaming about their next venture while

rye was the first style of whiskey distilled in the U.S. and has deep

sipping rye whiskey. “So we decided to make that, too.”

roots in our national history. George Washington had his own

Why rye? When the couple met in the Bay Area years ago,

distillery at Mount Vernon and Alexander Hamilton, treasury

Michelle was working in the restaurant business. “Back then, she

secretary after the Revolution, imposed a tax on the popular and

got me into red wine,” says Troy. “That was our first big thing.

ubiquitous spirit in an effort to reduce the national debt. This, of

Then we started drinking scotch; that was our first whiskey. But

course, resulted in the Whiskey Rebellion. “It’s the whiskey of

once we were getting into scotch and really liking it, we tried

defiance,” says Troy. “Rye helped fuel a lot of rebellions.”

some rye and we thought, ‘Wow! This is so much better than

Fitting then, that the label on each bottle of Kooper Family Rye

scotch.’” Michelle agrees. “It’s a very smooth, mellow, even

features a boxer with fists up, ready to rumble. And it turns out,

spirit,” she says. “And there’s not a lot of burn, so you can sip it.”

that fighting spirit is in both of the Koopers’ blood: Troy’s grand-

Enamored of the taste of rye, they started brewing and mash-

father was the U.S. Armed Forces light-heavyweight champion in

ing at home, trying to perfect their own recipe. In order to be

1944, and Michelle’s cousin was the WBC welterweight champion

labeled American rye whiskey, it must be made with at least

of the world from 1976 to 1979. Lucky for us, both families’ pen-

51 percent rye, but the Koopers were after a smooth, palatable,

chant for pugilism is now channeled into the couple’s pure love

100-percent rye whiskey. As with all things related to whiskey,

for rye whiskey and the place where it’s aged, bottled and en-

this took time—and a lot of trial and error. “A LOT of error,” Troy

joyed. Not only did their whiskey recently win a gold medal at the

says with a laugh. “Each time you mash, it takes eight hours—an

2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, arguably the most

eight-hour day with Phoenix running around getting into every-

influential spirits competition in the world, but it has also quickly

thing. And then, we would ferment for a week, and then distill—

become a favorite among local bartenders and mixologists. The

that’s another eight hours.” Troy admits that in the beginning, 70

Driskill Hotel, for example, has created two signature cocktails

percent of the time they would screw up, but that they learned

that highlight Kooper Family Rye, including The Driskill Julep to

something each time.

celebrate the hotel’s 130th anniversary. “Austin is so great,” says

All that learning eventually paid off. In 2015—after the birth of their daughter, Olympia, and a lot of research and stints training

Troy. “There’s no way we could have done this anywhere else. We wouldn’t have had the courage to try.”

at a small distillery in Chicago to learn the ins-and-outs of a more scalable operation—they started selling their first batch of Kooper

For more information about where to find Kooper Family Rye,

Family Rye.

visit or call 512-934-7685.

It’s the aging process that makes Kooper Family Rye distinctly Texan and truly tasty. Their barrels are made from American

While the Koopers—and many bartenders in Austin—believe

white oak that’s been left outside for two years in all the elements

their rye whiskey is best sipped straight, they have a few

to remove the tannins. Then, once the barrels are filled with

tricks up their sleeves when making the perfect old-school

the whiskey, it ages in the warehouse/tasting room in Dripping

rye whiskey cocktails. Find their recipes at EDIBLEAUSTIN.COM



Edible Austin: Beverage 2016  

Learn about Kooper Family Rye Whiskey, Hops & Grain Brewery, Railean Rum and much more!

Edible Austin: Beverage 2016  

Learn about Kooper Family Rye Whiskey, Hops & Grain Brewery, Railean Rum and much more!