Posted Wednesday, Apr. 03, 2013
In the foodie vein of neighborhood microbreweries and eating local, Texas liquor has gone native in a big way.
No better example is the jackrabbit start of TX Whiskey, the smooth blended whiskey mixed up by Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. in Fort Worth.
It will be at least a couple of years before the microdistillery's aged bourbon hits the shelves, but North Texans weren't willing to wait to claim their hometown whiskey.
Last fall, demand for the TX's initial release forced area liquor stores to start waiting lists in order to dole out the distinctive bottles topped by boot-leather caps.
"We never expected the product to be as well received as it has been. It's been beyond our greatest hopes and expectations," said Leonard Firestone, who opened the distillery last year with partner Troy Robertson.
It helped that the TX taste equaled the local buzz, said Stewart Hellman, manager of Kings Liquors on Berry Street in Fort Worth.
"It was our No. 1 gift item over the holidays. It was what I gave," said Hellman. "TX has gotten everybody's attention; now people are looking for other Texas whiskeys like Garrison Brothers."
Not to mention Texas vodkas, gins, rums and spirits like Rumble, a fig and honey liquor from Waco's Balcones Distilling, or Paula's Texas Orange Liqueur from Austin.
These days, you can stock a very respectable liquor cabinet with nothing but Texas spirits.
The appeal is simple, said Bill Owens of the American Distilling Institute. The little guys "produce products that taste better," he said.
The upstart Texas distilleries owe a jigger of gratitude to Tito Beveridge, the aptly named grandfather of Texas distilleries who has been producing Tito's Handmade Vodka in Austin since 1997.
Tito's success seems to have inspired a steadily growing list of artisanal vodka producers in Texas that includes Deep Eddy Vodka and Sweet Tea Vodka from Austin, Cinco Vodka from San Antonio, Dripping Springs Vodka from Dripping Springs and Enchanted Rock Vodka from San Antonio's Rebecca Creek Distillery.
One of the latest to hit the North Texas shelves is Nue Vodka from Lewisville, a well-priced vodka produced by two 20-somethings from Dallas.
Another new Lewisville craft operation, the Quentin D. Witherspoon Distillery, rolled out its River Rum in January. It joined Treaty Oak Rum from Austin's Graham Barnes Distilling and Railean Rum from San Leon on the rum to-do list.
Graham Barnes Distilling also produces Waterloo Gin and Graham's Texas Tea, a flavored vodka.
The growing awareness and availability of local spirits prompted Derek Allbrook to start a Texas section at his City Wines & Spirits in Lewisville.
"There's a lot of interest in Texas liquors," Allbrook said. "Treaty Oak's Rum and Waterloo Gin, Tito's, TX and Nue Vodka have been flying off the shelves."
The talk of the Texas spirits world has been the innovative craft liquors from Chip Tate's Balcones Distillery. Last year, Balcones was named Whisky Magazine's craft whiskey distillery of the year and world distiller of the year in the Wizards of Whiskey competition.
Tate started in 2009 with Baby Blue, a short-aged whiskey made from Hopi blue corn, and Rumble, a 94-proof fig and honey concoction that has elements of Scotch, a young cognac or even a rum. Both one-of-a-kind liquors are matured in small five-gallon oak casks to increase the wood-to-liquid ratio and speed up the aging process.
In 2011, Tate added Texas Single Malt Whiskey and Brimstone, a unique smoked whiskey, to his mash bill. Tate uses Texas oak to flavor Brimstone, but he won't reveal how he smokes the whiskey.
Tate further deepens his line with high-potency cask-strength versions like True Blue, Rumble Cask Reserve and True Blue 100 Proof.
If that weren't enough, he plans to release his own rum later this year.
Tate's bold and powerful spirits aren't meek measures for the masses.
"It's like a piece of art; it's not for everybody," he said. "We're not trying to do something that everyone likes; we're trying to make something that some people love."
Like Balcones, Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling in San Antonio, which bills itself as Texas' first "brewstillery," is producing small batches of whiskey that are aged in small casks. The distillery is also producing bourbon that will have to be aged at least two years before it hits the market.
Ranger Creek's first small-barrel whiskey release was Ranger Creek .36, named after the Colt revolver that the Texas Rangers first carried. The brewstillery's latest offering is Rimfire, which takes its name from the Winchester 1866 "Yellow Boy" repeating rifle. The Scotch-styled whiskey is based on the brand's Mesquite Smoked Porter beer. Instead of using Scottish peat to smoke the whiskey, Ranger Creek uses Texas mesquite.
One of the most widely available Texas whiskeys is Rebecca Creek Fine Texas Spirit Whiskey, which had its second release late last year. The smooth sipping whiskey from the biggest of the new Texas distilleries won a gold medal at the 2012 Denver International Spirits Competition.
Of all the Texas distillers, Dan Garrison of Garrison Brothers is the most single-minded in his pursuit of poured perfection.
All the Hye-based distiller wants to do is make the best bourbon in Texas, or to hear him tell it, the best in the world.
He freely admits that his 3-year-old Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey is not for everyday drinking. And at $75 a bottle, he's probably right.
Besides, he doesn't produce enough of the stuff for that sort of imbibing. There were only 9,000 bottles in his fall 2012 release, and that's likely to be gone by the time the spring 2013 vintage hits stores.
Garrison says he has no plans to ever market his whiskey outside the Lone Star State.
"If someone wants to taste the best bourbon in the world, they'll have to come to Texas to taste it," he said.
Then they'll have to get in line behind the Texans.
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