When it comes to the history of Texas Whiskey, you’re talking about 14 years, tops. The category is basically a blank slate, still working out the details and figuring out its identity, according to Texas Whiskey book author Nico Martini.
“I think that we’re going to spend the next 20 years figuring out what whiskey works best here, and that’s going to be different answers for different distillers, but right now we’re still just figuring it all out,” says Martini. “I could very easily see American Single Malt being kind of the primary driver of Texas whiskey, just because of the nature of the amount of wood interaction that we have down here, and if it’s an American Single Malt, you don’t have to use a new barrels, and so I think that there’s a lot that can be said about that. At the same time, we’ve also made some very, very, very good Bourbon down here, so it’s not to say that Texas can’t handle new barrels, it’s just we’re figuring out all of the things that we need to do to make it work the best way possible.”
While Bourbon is currently the most popular style of whiskey being made in Texas, according to Martini, that’s mainly because of the popularity of America’s Native Spirit. Many distilleries are still trying to figure out how the climate and other regional variations will impact whiskey made in the Lone Star State. But there was a time when non-distilling producers were flooding the market with whiskeys not even produced in Texas, which spurred the creation of the Texas Whiskey Association and a certification for Texas Whiskey.
“When the Texas Whisky Association started, there was this influx of brands hitting the market that would throw some cowboy boots and a spur on a label and say that it’s from Texas, and, well, there’s your marketing plan, regardless of which Kentucky or Indiana distillery they were actually buying the whiskey from,” Martini recalls. “The whiskey makers down here really needed to find a way to quantify the locality of the whiskey that was coming out of the state.”
According to Martini’s book, Certified Texas Whiskey must be:
- Produced at licensed distilleries located in the state of Texas
- Follow all TTB rules about Whiskey
- Processed, fermented, distilled, barreled, matured, and bottled entirely within Texas
- Verified independently by the Texas Whiskey Association
According to Martini, there are many Texas distilleries that are underrated, but there are two that are at the forefront.
“I would say Andalusia, Ty Phelps is making the single malt that is just spectacular, and he’s very clever in the way that he does it. Lone Elm, which is a wheat Whiskey, I think is the best wheat whiskey in the United States. It’s incredibly underrated.”
If you’ve not had Texas whiskey or you tried it a few years back and didn’t like it, Martini urges you to take another look.
“The majority of the people who just sort of have this blanket opinion, I don’t like Texas whiskey,” he says. “They either haven’t had it in a while, and the whiskey now is a lot more impressive than the whiskey that was happening five, six, seven, eight years ago. Or they don’t recognize the fact that 24 months in the barrel in Texas is a very different experience for the whiskey than 24 months and the barrel in somewhere like South Carolina or California or Colorado. I think that people just need to try it again, especially if they had mediocre Texas whiskey five years ago and wrote the entire state off. The diversity of this state is unlike anywhere else in the world, frankly, and we’re making pretty damn good whiskey right now, and we’ve only been doing it 14 years, so give us another 14 years and we’ll see how good we are.”
Rather than a whiskey history book, Texas Whiskey is a yearbook anthology of the beginnings of a completely new industry, a snapshot in time for posterity of an industry that is barely into its teen years.
“Texas Whiskey is a journey through some of the best whiskey makers in Texas highlighting the various styles that are coming out of the state.”
Texas Whiskey is full of photos and maps of distilleries throughout Texas, as well as tasting notes for some of the state’s best whiskeys. Published in July of this year, the list price is $35.
(Check out my previous story about Texas distillery Treaty Oak.)
Photo Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl