At first glance, sure, Maverick Whiskey – it’s a small startup. Founded by a couple of San Antonio physicians with three children under age 14. In 2017, they bought a building two blocks north of the Alamo, and invested heavily in distilling and brewing and kitchen equipment. They hired food and alcohol experts. They are busy building their business’ brand with the tagline: “Unbranded since 1836.”
That’s a clever slogan, because we remember 19th Century land baron Sam Maverick famously didn’t brand his cattle, inspiring the word we still use today for a person unbounded by convention.
Doctors Ken and Amy Maverick celebrated their business’ official opening in July 23rd, the 216th birthday of Sam Maverick. Ken is the great great great grandson of Sam.
And so upon closer inspection, no, this is no small startup business. This is a family legacy project.
What is a legacy?
To quote my family’s favorite musical1 a legacy is “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”
To receive a legacy from a family member who preceded you is to have your identity shaped in ways you didn’t necessarily choose, at least initially.
Ken received a collection of old diaries and letters from his grandmother and father. Long after becoming an ophthalmologist, he became immersed in the 18th and 19th Century stories contained there.
Says Ken, “I felt compelled to preserve and help tell some of these stories and aim to pass them on to my children. Some are filled with murder, separations, and drama (like all families). Some we will keep private (per my grandmother) and some we will tell.”
Ken and Amy Maverick transformed a largely empty bank building into a distillery, brewery, high-end restaurant, and historic tour-destination, all in the service of the legacy of Sam Maverick. The walls of Maverick Whiskey are covered with the official announcements, historic pictures, documents and maps from Ken’s family legacy, as well as his research.
Quick refresher on 19th Century Texas history: Sam Maverick left the siege of the Alamo in March 1836 to join the Texas independence convention, urging the convention to send reinforcements. We all know how that turned out. He later signed the Texas Declaration of Independence, served as mayor of San Antonio twice, then as a Texas legislator, and in the meantime accumulated vast land holdings in Texas. Those holdings were once estimated between 300,000 and a million acres. Ken says that Sam’s stated goal was to be able to ride from San Antonio to El Paso, all without leaving his own private property.
The Maverick family name continued to dominate the San Antonio scene long after Sam. His sons Sam Jr, Albert, William, and George were involved in real estate development, especially downtown on Houston Street. During the 20th Century, Maury Maverick, son of Albert and grandson of Sam Sr., served two terms in Congress and one term as mayor, as a staunch Roosevelt New Deal-supporter of the 1930s.
His son, Maury Maverick Jr. in turn, was a Texas state representative, and then became Sunday newspaper columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. Many people in the best social circles believe the latter to be the most honorable of all professions. (But I digress.)
Ken and Amy built Maverick Whiskey to answer the following question: “For adults interested in 19th Century Texas history, what’s the most fun and historic way to spend a few hours in San Antonio?”
Fun, because whiskey and beer and food. All of them very good.
I purchased and sampled bottles of their Maverick Whiskey, Maverick Light Whiskey, and Maverick Gin. I have further sampled four of their brewed beers. Plus dinner. (All of this strictly for research purposes because, you know, journalism). Rum and Tequila-style spirits are planned at the distillery as well.
Palimpsest Set In Stone
Historic, because like a palimpsest set in stone, 115 Broadway offers layer upon layer of history lessons, starting from the underground up.
The building sits in a corner of the original Sam Maverick homestead, within site of the Alamo ruins. Later 115 Broadway was the location of the Lockwood Bank, formed in 1865, which in the early 20th Century built a massive classical Greek-Revival structure that implied the bank would last forever. It lasted just a few years.
Inside, on the walls, Maverick Whiskey has preserved the optimistic bank announcements of 1929, as well as the more sobering announcements of re-opening during the Great Depression, a few years later.
The Mavericks now store and age their newly distilled whiskey in barrels in the old Lockwood bank vault underground. Underground, below the dirt of Sam Maverick’s homestead – this is where symbolism and word play converge.
Ken and Amy have literally sunk their liquid assets into an old bank vault, in the hopes that it will, over time, compound in value. Ken told me his legacy to his children may someday be that aged whiskey and his great great great grandfather’s recipe. Alcohol is one of the few physical assets – unlike cars or jewelry or even gold – which may increase in quality over time.
For physicians to take on such a huge legacy project raised questions in my mind about expected return on assets. From the seeds they have planted underground in their garden, all in the service of Sam’s legacy, how will the Mavericks realize a return on their investment?
Whiskey takes time, after all, to age.
Some new businesses decide to do one small thing. That is not at all what Ken and Amy Maverick have taken on with Maverick Whiskey. This is a historic building telling the story of a historic family that profoundly shaped early Texas and San Antonio history. It’s also part food and drink place, part event space, part tourist destination. I bought the t-shirt too.
A version of this post ran in the San Antonio Express-News.
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- Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” Duh ↩