Texas is famous for so many things, the Texas BBQ, hot weather, even the home to Dr Pepper. Only a small percentage of people know Texas as an excellent whiskey producing state. Like many states, whiskey has deep roots in the culture of Texas, but before we start talking about the history of Texas whiskey, let’s look at 10 of the best whiskeys produced in America’s second-largest state.
Ironroot Harbinger Bourbon Whiskey
Ironroot has a great history. In the 1800s, the town of Denison, Texas suffered from a phylloxera outbreak. One grape breeder managed to save the grapes from the outbreak, and they became known as the iron grapes. Some 200 years later and the Ironroot Harbinger Bourbon was named the World’s Best Bourbon at the World Whiskies Awards 2020, not to mention a number of other impressive awards.
The mash combines purple corn, bloody butcher corn, flint corn, and non-GMO yellow dent corn, as well as rye. The nose will detect a lovely sweet aroma of syrup, oranges and red fruits. The red fruit scent is continued into the flavor, combined with spices and dark sugar. This particular whiskey is 57.5% and it is recommended that you look out for other blends of Texas whiskey from Ironroot.
Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon
Balcones didn’t take long to build a name for itself. What started as a small distillery out of Waco now has a range of 100% blue corn spirits, varying in barrel selection and the aging process. The one that caught our attention was the Blue Corn Bourbon at an impressive 64.5% ABV.
You might not notice a difference in color to the other Balcones bourbons with its rich amber color. When compared with some of the other blends, you will notice that despite its kick, the smell isn’t too overpowering. Rather than spice, you can smell creamy custard. The blue corn provides an amazing flavor, an explosion of sweet and savory with the right amount of heat and a touch of salt.
Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon
Of the 2019 batch, there are just 6,440 Garrison Brothers Cowboy whiskey bottles. Each one is individually numbered by hand and signed by Donnis Todd, a master distiller. The bottle is then rested on a satin pillow and carefully stored in a custom oak box. It is an amazing gist for any whiskey lover.
This particular whiskey came about by accident. After practicing with various mash bills, the creator couldn’t illegally dump all of the unsuccessful attempts, so he started blending them together. The mash consists of 74% corn, 15% soft red winter wheat and 11% two-row barley. This mash gives the whiskey a reddish-brown look. It is aged for 5 years and the final result is a 68.65% Texas whiskey. It has a rich taste of toffee, cherry, and vanilla, the vanilla is also one of the most predominant aromas too.
Treaty Oak Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon Whiskey
Treaty Oak Distilling can be found in Dripping Springs, the same place that provides all of the grains for the whiskey. The mash bill is 53% yellow Texas No.1 corn, 36% Texas wheat and 11% American barley. The distillery noticed a rapid maturation process because the warehouse isn’t temperature controlled. The extreme weather changes meant that the flavor from the American white oak #3 char barrels was extracted faster.
The one thing that really made us notice this whiskey that the pure wheated fragrances. It was like rolling around in the hay in summer. There is also a sweetness to it. When sipping the whiskey, we appreciated its depth, the oak, and a touch of honeycomb. There was a surprising amount of heat for just 47.5%.
Iron Wolf Select Bourbon
At Iron Wolf, they wanted to focus on the experience of whiskey as well as creating a fine drink. A couple of years of research went into the concept before building a world-class distillery in Spicewood, where whiskey lovers could visit. The distillery produces a range of flavored whiskeys, but all are based on the Iron Wolf bourbon.
The distillery has managed to keep the mash blend under their hat. We do know that each stage in the process is carried out at the distillery and that the whiskey is aged for three and a half years. Bottled at 45% ABV, we loved the sweet toffee caramel on the nose and the palate. At the same time, we detected some rye in the blend with a nice peppery heat. This was a great choice neat and for cocktails.
Ranger Creek .36 Texas Straight Bourbon
The name did have us wondering! It is a reference to the .36 caliber pistol used by the Texas Rangers; an original idea and we like things that add to the experience. Ranger Creek began a new series of whiskeys in 2011 called the SCS or Small Caliber Series. The SCS uses smaller barrels that the traditional aging process, so it basically brings the whiskey to maturity faster.
At 48%, it still has a bit of a bite to it. The first experience is the warmth of spices, a little cinnamon and pepper but it is well balanced with brown sugar and caramels. Considering the Ranger Creek .36 Texas Straight Bourbon has only been aged for 9 months, you will be blown away.
Herman Marshall Texas Bourbon Whiskey
Herman Beckley and Marshall Louis make a great team, building and running Dallas Distilleries in Garland. Herman focuses on what goes into the bottle while Marshall takes care of what happens outside the bottle.
It is a lovely rich golden color. As soon as you open the bottle, you can tell that there is a high level of corn in the mash. It’s a smooth whiskey, easy to drink at 46% ABV. Each flavor is there yet delicate. You will detect hints of vanilla, butterscotch and even a little coffee. If you are looking for something with a bit more heat, you can try the Herman Marshall Rye Whiskey.
Ben Milam Straight Bourbon Whiskey
The design of the bottle tells this story. The silhouette of a man holding a rifle in the air and the dedication at the bottle of the label is for a military hero named Ben Milam. Milam would have been proud when the whiskey won a double gold medal at the 2018 Sab Francisco World Spirits Competition.
In the bottle, it looks like a dark amber color but still quite clear. There is no information about the mash or the aging period, but it smells like fresh-cut grass in summer and the warmth of cinnamon along with the sweetness of vanilla. When tasting, we could almost pick up some rye but most definitely brown sugar, oak and spices. We noticed that the flavors came into their own once the whiskey had been allowed to air.
Firestone & Robertson TX Straight Bourbon
Possibly one of the first whiskey distilleries in the North of Texas, Firestone and Robinson keep their mash bill disclosed. We do know that it contains Texas Yellow Dent Corn, Texas soft red winter wheat and 6.row distillers’ malt. They have created their own strain of yeast from Texas Pecan nut. As a straight bourbon, we know it has been aged for a minimum of four years.
The unique rich red color was the first thing to catch our attention. Opening the bottle released a wave of corn and a lovely touch of pecan. The freshness on the nose reminded us (in a good way) of youthfulness. There is an interesting combination of tastes with the pecan, brown butter, and a little vanilla, on the contrast, there is just a touch of pepper and oak.
Yellow Rose Outlaw Bourbon Whiskey
Yellow Rose is here today thanks to a Kickstarter campaign which helped the company to open a tasting room. They now produce blended and rye whiskeys as well as the Outlaw bourbon. It has only been aged for five to seven months; the dark copper color surprised us.
Yellow Rose uses 100% organic Texas corn for this whiskey. It uses traditional pot stills and very small barrels. This combined with the heat from the Gulf Coast means the charred oak is absorbed quickly. It smells sweet, oaky, and floral. The smoky wood flavor lasts for just the right amount of time. We also tasted caramel, molasses and warm buttered popcorn. Overall, this left us pleasantly surprised.
It’s a tricky question. We don’t want to say that officially, there is no such thing. But rather than it being defined by its location, it is defined by the passion of the distillers and their ability to focus on individuality.
Texas whiskey is a bourbon. Bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States, but the bill mash must be at least 51% corn. It also must be distilled at below 160 proof. What makes bourbon different from other whiskeys is the barrels that are used. Each batch must use new oak. There is no reusing of barrels which can lead to a loss of flavor over time.
The History of Texas Whiskey
The Texas Whiskey industry is a very young one compared to some of the other states and their whiskeys. That’s not to say that the state hasn’t been producing it for longer. It just means that the concept of Texas Whiskey wasn’t born until 2006. This is when Garrison Brothers were granted the first distiller’s permit for bourbon outside the states of Kentucky and Tennessee. So, this is the oldest legal distillery in Texas.
And it wasn’t an instant success. The young distillers struggled to make Texas whiskey an actual thing for the first few years. But soon after, things began to change, a few more distilleries where created and brands began to experiment with flavors. Over the last decade, production has increased by over 300%. Although still young today, Texas whiskey has now become well established and winning some of the most significant whiskey awards around the globe. There are over one hundred whiskey distillers in Texas today.
How Is Texas Whiskey Made?
As there are no legal requirements for a Texas whiskey (except those that are implanted regarding bourbon in the States), the distilleries are able to experiment more. The basics are always the same 51% corn, yeast, water, and American oak barrels. It’s the grain mash that plays a role in the variations of color and flavor. But then there are both subtle and huge differences when it comes to the yeast and water. Some distillers will use limestone water. As we saw Firestone & Robertson, their pecan yeast makes all the difference.
Each distillery will have their own production methods. Garrison Brothers uses only 100% food-grade Texas corn rather than feed-grade. Regardless of the type of corn, most distillers insist on sourcing their ingredients locally. This is seen more with Treaty Oak, the distillery that is now using Texan oak for its barrels.
The Texan climate also has a huge impact. We all know that Texas is famous for its high temperatures but there are also great fluctuations in the summer months. Then you have to factor in the humidity. Some areas of Texas are very dry, while others are more humid. This will affect the time it takes for the whiskey to mature in the barrels. The traditional full-size barrels take years to allow for maturity. During this time in Texas, a barrel could lose up to 30% of its content due to evaporation.
This is why some Texas distilleries are switching to small barrels. Maturity is faster and therefore; many Texas whiskeys are considered to be young. As we learnt, this is far from a bad thing as we tasted some amazingly full-bodied, rich whiskeys that you would never have guessed had aged for just months. In a very short timeframe, Texas has been able to surprise us and produce whiskey that some would have thought to be impossible.