SEE IT HERE FIRST — Downtown Port Arthur distillery preparing to share its spirits

Published 12:40 am Sunday, March 13, 2022

The mock moonshine still in front of 235 Procter St. looks like it would be at home in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee. That’s because Sean Clifford, owner of Clifford Distilling, patterned the scene after the real thing he saw growing up. In fact, the facility as a whole is a look back in time. 

Inside, the soon-to-open business has a rustic look and feel mixed with modern decor.

The distillery will create whiskey, bourbon and rum, conduct tastings and tours, and sell liquor and other products.

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But it’s not a bar. The tastings are just that — tastings.

They will be done inside the front of the building.

The old west saloon-looking room for tastings has a bar the retired Army veteran created from Hurricane Ida-damaged wood on his sister-in-law’s Louisiana property.

Behind the bar area hangs a mirror made in northern Belgium more than 130 years ago. An antique pump organ has a spot in the room amid other antique or vintage items, such as a Civil War-era cannonball found in Sabine Pass many years ago and a wooden duck decoy.

There are also family photos in which they wore old west clothing with “wanted dead or alive” on it. A child saw the photo, looked at him, then back at the photo and said he was going to turn him in, Clifford said with a chuckle.

“This room needs to be like a walk back in time,” he said.

A wooden stand in the room is a throwback to Clifford’s time in the military.

He had the stand while at Fort Hood and it was used to hold his body armor. He would place his helmet on the top.

“Now this holds a cowboy hat,” he said.

 The tour

The tour moves through the main room, which used to be a basketball court under previous ownership. 

The assembly line is ready to apply labels to the bottles, and shelves hold pods of three large drums that fill the 150-gallon still.

The shiny still uses constantly recycled and cooled water that moves around the equipment.

“The steam never touches the water. It’s only used to cool,” he said.

Large barrels on another wall will be used for the grains, molasses and sugar needed to make the alcohols.

Clifford plans to have live bands and host parties there.

In keeping with the theme, there’s an old front porch area with a raised wooden floor, rustic wood, faux windows and door.

 The opening

He named his products in honor of the State of Texas.

There are the Texas-named spirits: The Gonzales whiskey, the San Patricio rum, the San Jacinto rum, The San Antonio whiskey and The Goliad whiskey. His opening is set to coincide with San Jacinto Day, the last battle of the Texas Revolution, April 21.

Clifford Distilling will be a boost to the city, leaders said.

Pat Avery, president/CEO of the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce, said the distillery would help with revitalization of the downtown area. 

“Sean’s family recipe is handed down from many generations, and we are glad that they chose Port Arthur to open this unique business,” Avery said.  “Join us on April 21 for the ribbon cutting and look for a soft opening coming soon. Welcome to the neighborhood, Clifford Distilling LLC.  The chamber encourages you all to visit soon.”

Tammy Kotzur, executive director of the Port Arthur Convention and Visitors Bureau, said they are excited to see the development in the downtown area.

“Distilleries, breweries and culinary tourism have become a strong force in attracting visitors to an area,” Kotzur said. “Adding a distillery to the area is helping us in the continued growth of this new tourism sector and adds another attraction to those already visiting for other purposes and locals. 

Clifford continues to work toward the opening of his business along with his wife Wendy. 

When asked what it’s like to see his dream come true, he said it hasn’t hit him yet. And though he was previously retired, he is OK with going back to work.

“I come to work in the morning and leave late at night.,” he said. “I don’t see it as work. Like my dad said, if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.”