While Kentucky usually gets the most attention, you can find great American whiskey in just about every state these days. One of the most interesting is Texas, both from a flavor perspective and from the fact that distillers in the state went from essentially zero to world-class in such a short period of time. Tito’s got the state’s first distiller license in 1995. The first bourbon didn’t come out until 2010. You’d never guess by tasting what’s out there.
“One of the most terrifying and liberating parts of what we get to do is that there isn’t a significant Texas Whisky history,” Jared Himstedt, head distiller at Balcones, tells me over email. “It seems like a no-brainer that there would be, but we have found very little historical evidence for Texas making any legal whisky at all.”
One reason might be the challenge of making spirits in the state. First of all, it’s hot. Really hot. Without the diurnal swings and seasons seen in a place like Kentucky or Oregon or Colorado, the barrels are exposed to high temperatures throughout the entire aging process. Texas whiskeys, regardless of style, pack a lot of condensed flavor into the liquid, Himstedt says. But with adversity comes community. And that’s where we all win.
American single malt is officially the newest whiskey category in the country, with examples being made from coast to coast. Texas is no exception. Lineage pays homage to the Scottish single malt tradition with a Texas twist. Both Scottish- and Texas-grown barley is used, and aging happens in refilled casks (like what’s done in Scotland) and new oak (like what’s required for bourbon). It’s also distilled in pot stills, which allows for more grain flavors to come through in the process than what happens with a column still. For a more full line up, follow this bottle up with the Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky, peated single malt, and Mirador single malt.
Garrison Brothers Small Batch
It’s not easy aging spirits in Texas. When Garrison Brothers first tried to put whiskey in barrels, they broke and spilled out hundreds of gallons of raw spirit. It took finding a cooperage that could make thick-stave custom barrels to build something to handle the high of 130-degree heat in Hye, Texas (a place where it’s about 100 degrees nine months of the year, the company notes). This is a distillery that’s defined by its special releases — Balmorhea, Guadalupe, Cowboy Bourbon, and Laguna Madre, to name a handful — and those can be hard to come by depending on where you live. For an intro to what the distillery is capable of, seek out the Garrison Brothers Small Batch. It’s 47 percent ABV and made with corn, red winter wheat, and two row barley. The strength is there without being overwhelming, and the cake batter and red apple make it almost too easy of a sipper when enjoyed neat.
Firestone & Robertson Texas Straight Bourbon
Firestone & Robertson earned the right to use “Texas” in its Texas Straight Bourbon. It’s made entirely from Texas corn, wheat, and barley (grown by a fourth generation farmer), and is fermented with a proprietary yeast strain the brand sourced from a Texas pecan. Not to mention the Texas water and Texas climate the whiskey ages in — the latter of which the brand appropriately describes as “volatile.”