Texas has a reputation for many things — cowboys, cattle, oil, football, The Alamo, the saying ‘y’all’, BBQ, boots, ranches, and really, big things. But, it’s rarely associated with fine whiskey. For that, you’d have to head up northeast a day’s drive to the Bluegrass State…until now.
Thanks to the craft spirits movement that’s taken root in all 50 states, Texas is throwing its Stetson in the ring as a whiskey-producing contender. Since the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission issued its first distillery permit in 1995, there are now 90 distilleries throughout Texas. The most internationally known is Tito’s Vodka.
However, because consumers’ thirst for whiskey is soaring (compared to vodka in the past), whiskey distilleries are on the rise in the Lone Star state — from white and bourbon to rye and single malt whiskey. Here are three outstanding expressions you should try right now:
Lone Elm Straight Wheat Whiskey
If you’ve sat around a campfire with friends trading stories, you can probably relate to how Lone Elm whiskey came about. Four fishing buddies after a day on the lake were around a campfire, kicking back with whiskey in hand. In that magical moment, they decided that they could top what they were drinking by making their own and the plans to launch a distillery were set in motion.
Today, just outside Dallas in Forney, Five Points Distillery stands as the realization of the friends’ passion for a well-crafted Texan whiskey. Lone Elm Straight Wheat Whiskey, Five Points’ award-winning signature whiskey, is made with 100% Texan soft, red winter wheat grown nearby on the Trinity River. By definition, it’s considered a ‘grain-to-glass’ operation as the entire distillation process is all on site. (Many whiskey makers around the country outsource everything except the distillation.)
Aged roughly four years in new American White Oak barrels, Lone Elm Straight Wheat Whiskey offers notes of caramelized cherry and vanilla on the nose with a smooth finish. It’s ideal for sipping neat on a camping trip or mixing in a classic cocktail, like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned, at your next shindig.
$50, 90 proof
Distillery tours and tastings available with appointment.
Hot Blooded Lone Elm
¾ oz blood orange juice
1 tsp agave
3 slices of jalapeno
2 oz Lone Elm Straight Wheat Whiskey
1 blackberry (garnish)
Mix all ingredients in a shaker. Shake for 10-15 seconds. Pour over a strainer into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with blackberry on top.
Crystal Creek Classic Moonshine
Moonshine or white whiskey has come a long way since its dangerous, make-you-go-blind reputation (the phrase ‘blind drunk’ isn’t just a figure of speech!) during the country’s Prohibition era. Legalized in the U.S. in 2009, moonshine is now a respectable, award-winning category as craft distillers have emerged on the scene.
Crystal Creek Distillery — in Spicewood, about a half an hour outside Austin — is one of these. Distilled from 100% corn, Crystal Creek moonshine is available in four expressions, including: Classic, Serrano Cucumber, Coffee Pecan and Peach Lavender. Crystal Creek’s flavored moonshines are made by infusing ingredients sourced within 100 miles of Austin.
This certainly isn’t your great grandma’s ‘shine.
$22, 80 proof
Distillery tastings and cocktails available Wednesday – Sunday.
2 oz Crystal Creek Classic Moonshine
4 oz orange juice
1.5 oz French vanilla creamer
Garnish: One strawberry
Pour all ingredients in cocktail shaker over ice. Serve it in a rocks glass. Slice strawberry from bottom tip to about half way up. Place strawberry on rim of the glass and serve.
Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon
A pioneer in premium Texan spirits, Balcones (pronounced bal-CONE-ease), located in Waco, has been distilling for nearly a decade now. Known for innovative processes, such as using smoking whiskies with local scrub oak or distilling honey and figs into booze, Balcones Distilling also created one of the state’s first bourbons. (Bourbons can be made anywhere in the States, as long as it’s made of 51 percent corn, aged in new charred oak and bottled at two or three years old.)
Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon is an original in the bourbon world. Instead of yellow corn like most bourbons, it’s made from heirloom blue corn — the first blue corn whiskey in the country. The result? It’s a big-as-Texas full bodied whiskey with aromas of glazed cornbread and tobacco and explosive sweet-savory flavors, like burnt marshmallows and pretzels-meet-caramel.
To truly appreciate its unique nuances, best to sip the Blue Corn Bourbon neat or with a splash of water.
$48, 122 proof
Tours and tastings available Wednesday – Saturday.
2.5 oz Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon
1 oz sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes aromatic bitters
Maraschino cherry, for garnish
Orange peel, for garnish
Chill your martini glass by filling it with ice. Let it sit as you measure ingredients and prep the garnish. Grab a shaker and fill it with a few large ice cubes. Add whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters to shaker. Stir with a long spoon vigorously for 10-15 seconds. Strain drink into the chilled glass. Drop your cherry garnish in the glass, hang the orange peel on the rim and serve.