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Texas’ Best Bourbons — The Lone Star State Emerges as an Underrated Distillery Mecca

For National Bourbon Heritage Month — or Just Because

BY // 09.23.20

We are nearing the end of September, and that means the end of National Bourbon Heritage Month ― but there’s still time to take a tasting tour through some of the best bourbons that Texas has to offer, and raise a celebratory glass. While the rest of 2020 has largely thoroughly stunk at least we can stop to sip to America’s only native spirit.

National Bourbon Heritage Month was first celebrated after Kentucky’s Republican Senator Jim Bunning sponsored a bill to honor one of America’s greatest accomplishments ― bourbon.  On August 2, 2007, the US Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent ― quite possibly the last time they’ve agreed on anything. But, who can argue with the appeal of bourbon?

According to the American Bourbon Association there are some very strict rules that designate what a true bourbon whiskey is and what it isn’t:

― The whiskey must be produced in the United States.

― It’s ingredient list must be comprised of 51 percent corn, along with a combination of other grains such as rye, wheat and malted barley.

― The whiskey must be distilled at no higher than 160 proof.

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― To become true bourbon, it must then be aged in new, charred oak barrels at no more than 125 proof.

― The finished product, must be a minimum of 80 proof at the time of bottling.

Typically, bourbon is aged for at least four years, so today’s bourbon production has to account for tomorrow’s demand. And that’s tricky, because demand for bourbon has reached its zenith this year. It seems that the coronavirus pandemic has put fuel to the fire. As detailed by Newsweek, sales of hard liquors and spirits have increased by 75 percent compared with the same period last year. And your priority centered around stockpiling toilet paper?

Still, Texas distilleries are coming on strong ― whether or not what we call bourbon meets Kentucky’s strict standards. There is something special that the Lone Star State’s extreme climate imparts in a bottle of bourbon. Here are some of Texas’ best bourbons:

Balcones – Texas Wheated Bourbon, Texas Blue Corn Bourbon, and Texas Pot Still Bourbon
Balcones – Texas Wheated Bourbon, Texas Blue Corn Bourbon, and Texas Pot Still Bourbon.

Balcones

Texas’ second oldest distillery first came on the scene in Waco in 2009. That’s how recent distilling whiskey and bourbon are to Texas. With a wide range of award-winning whiskeys, Balcones has three notable bourbons as well: Texas Wheated Bourbon, Texas Blue Corn Bourbon and Texas Pot Still Bourbon. The latter includes 51 percent roasted blue corn and is a deep copper color, with sweet smelling spices and notes of vanilla, nutmeg and cocoa.

Garrison Brothers

This brand from Hye in the Hill Country is another Texas bourbon leader. While many others produce whiskeys as well as bourbons, Garrison focuses on aged bourbon alone. It currently has eight in its lineup. One standout is the Balmorhea. It is twice barreled in American white oak to achieve its deep mahogany color.

Named after a little swimming hole in Pecos, Texas, Garrison Brothers master distiller Donnis Todd says, “Simply put, Balmorhea is bourbon candy in a bottle.” It has notes of brown sugar, molasses and chocolate.

Herman Marshall Borbon
Herman Marshall’s “delicate” Bourbon.

Herman Marshall

Herman Marshall comes from Garland and it only produces one bourbon. Herman Beckley and Marshall Louis met at a coffee shop and quickly found they shared a love of whiskey and bourbon as well. Their distillery became the first one in Dallas County since prohibition.

The first thing you’ll notice about Herman Marshall’s bourbon is its light appearance. That carries over into a smooth, even “delicate” bourbon, in part due to its high corn content ― it is 77 percent Texas corn, and 23 percent malted barley. The nose is described as mild caramel and light wood, with hints of gingerbread and apple. It has a creamy, vanilla and butterscotch appeal with a long, smooth finish.

TX Bourbon
TX Straight Bourbon debuted in 2016.

Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co.

Firestone & Robertson was established in Fort Worth in 2010 by Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson. It is now part of the Pernod Ricard spirits family. The brand launched TX Straight Bourbon in 2016 ― a spirit that showcases the unique terroir of North Texas. Firestone & Robertson has recently begun rolling out different batches of it TX Straight Bourbon Barrel Proof as well.

TX Straight Bourbon is made with yellow dent Texas corn, Texas soft red winter wheat, six-row distiller’s malt, pure Texas water and F&R’s own proprietary strain of yeast called the “Brazos” that was captured from a Texas pecan. The dark amber TX Straight Bourbon was recently awarded a Gold Medal in the “Small Batch – Up to 5 Years” category at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Tasting notes include rich flavors of fig, allspice and brown sugar, with floral, maple and cinnamon scents.

Blackland Bourbon
Blackland Distilling’s small batch Bourbon.

Blackland Distilling

This is a Fort Worth brand, chock full of Fort Worth’s TexMalt ― locally sourced Texas grain. A tiny upstart, Blackland Distilling has quickly made a name for itself. Along with its bourbon, Blackland also distills a small-batch vodka, rye whiskey and an outstanding gin, all produced with a tech-focused approach. A pour of Blackland Bourbon is a deep caramel color, and is described as corn, barley and wheat forward, with a rich creamy body.

Some things are worth celebrating, and Texas’ growing bourbon proficiency is clearly one of them.

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