I had the privilege of hosting Treaty Oak Distilling’s first ever media event to announce that Daniel Barnes has received the prestigious 2014 Distiller of the Year award by MicroLiquor. He was selected among a field of more than 400 distinguished craft distiller entrants in the United States.
The event felt like a party with friends as a group of bloggers and journalists were greeted on the front porch with a refreshing La Mariquita cocktail made with Graham’s Texas Tea mixed by David Alan, the Tipsy Texan. The group then gathered in the cozy Lenoir dining room to nibble on incredible charcuterie, like octopus pastrami, prepared by Chef Todd Duplechan.
Barnes shared the news of a few more awards that Treaty Oak has collected. It has won:
1. Triple Gold medal in the MicroLiquor Spirit Awards competition for Treaty Oak Barrel Reserve Rum. Treaty Oak Rum is made with molasses sourced from the last sugar mill in Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley that is brewed into rum beer with an initial fermentation that takes four days and then distilled. The Platinum Rum is aged for two years in 60 gallon new American white oak barrels to make the Barrel Reserve Rum.
2. Triple Gold medal in the MicroLiquor Spirit Awards for Waterloo Antique Gin, a barrel aged gin. Waterloo gin was one of the first modern Texas-made gins when it was released at the end of 2011. It’s made with 11 botanicals including juniper, lavender, rosemary, pecans, grapefruit, lemon, and orange zest, coriander, ginger root, licorice root and anise in is a juniper-forward London Dry style gin with a Texas twist. Waterloo Antique Gin is made by aging the original product for a full year in a first-use heavy-charred barrel, giving it rich whisky notes of cinnamon, clove and anise flavors, while letting the juniper and floral flavors come through.
3. The Fifty Best awarded a Double-Gold medal to Graham’s Texas Tea Vodka in the “Best Flavored Vodka” awards for 2014. Graham’s Texas Tea is made with premium Nilgiri tea blended with turbinado sugar, Hill Country water and vodka. Barnes tasted around 50 different teas before picking and Nilgiri because of its intense flavors, strong fragrance and balanced body. It’s starkly different from the American and English breakfast teas.
After describing the awards and how the spirits are made, we all had the opportunity to sip both the Platinum and Barrel Aged Rum side-by-side, followed by the Waterloo Gin and the Waterloo Antique Gin. Good stuff.
David Alan showed off his cocktail acumen by preparing a classic daiquiri with Treaty Oak Barrel Aged Rum and a twist on the Old Fashioned made with Waterloo Antique Gin. Both were fantastic.
Treaty Oak Distilling partner, Nate Powell, ended the evening by sharing a little glimpse at what’s next for the distillery. The current Treaty Oak distillery in north Austin is bursting at the seams. To keep up with demand, Treaty Oak needs a lot more space and a lot more capacity. The company recently broke ground on new facilities that will be located on the 30-acre Ghost Hill Ranch near Dripping Springs right up the road from Jester King Brewery. Its going to be quite the booze tourism destination featuring a state-of-the-art distillery capable of increasing production allowing the brand to continue to expand nationally, along with a brewery, tasting room and cocktail house.
Thanks Treaty Oak for a fun night of cocktails, nibbles and news.
Disclosure: Treaty Oak Distillery hired me to organize the media event and to provide PR consulting. They did not request this post and are not sponsoring it.
In its third year, the Austin Food & Wine Festival drew some of the biggest names in the culinary world to demonstrate their talents. It wasn’t just the national celebrity chefs who drew applause. Homegrown beverage experts had the juice to attract crowds in Butler Park.
True Texas Spirits
At mid-day Sunday, cocktail expert and author David Alan, aka the Tipsy Texan, hobbled on stage with a crutch and his foot in a medical boot. He swore the injury was from a skiing accident rather than a drink-induced mishap. A likely story.
He quickly changed the subject by offering a birthday toast to his sister with a mixed shot made with Treaty Oak barrel-aged gin for the crowd. It was a fantastic way to start his session.
Alan shared anecdotes about Texas spirits pioneers and cocktail recipes from his recently published book, Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails from the Lone Star State. The Texas spirits industry is just a baby. Despite prohibition ending in 1933, the state did not have a legal distillery until Tito Beveridge started Tito’s Handmade Vodka in 1996. When he applied for a distilling permit, there wasn’t even a process in place to get one. Beveridge had to work with state and federal regulatory bodies to get it going. Alan lauded Beveridge for inspiring other distilleries to follow.
“He is the one that got the industry started,” Alan said. “He is the reason we are here today. Independent distilling is one of the biggest movements in the beverage industry. There are now more than 50 licensed distilleries in Texas and business is booming. In 2013, Tito’s hit a milestone that few independents will ever hit. The distillery sold more than a million cases of vodka.”
Tito’s was the lone distiller in the state for a decade. In 2006, Daniel Barnes started a distillery to make Treaty Oak Rum, which Alan described as “quintessentially Texan” because it is completely made in Texas, starting with the raw materials. Treaty Oak Distilling now makes rum, aged rum, Waterloo Gin and barrel-aged gin, and bottles of Red Handed Texas Bourbon.
With the rapidly growing thirst for local, independent distilleries, there are bound to be some corners cut to meet consumer demand.
“Some Texas spirits are all hat and no cattle,” Alan said in an impassioned discussion of the virtues of authenticity versus marketing shenanigans. “How many people believe that when you buy a product, you should know what the hell it is? Nobody wants to be misled.
“If a bottle says ‘Texas whiskey,’ we expect it to be from Texas. The problem is that about half the whiskeys on the shelf that say Texas aren’t from Texas. Balcones, Garrison Brothers and Ranger Creek are all made right here with Texas ingredients. We need to support the folks who are actually making a product here. To make sure its Texan, check the bottle to make sure it says ‘distilled in Texas’ rather than just ‘produced’ or ‘bottled.’ ”
Alan describes the cocktail culture in Texas as being very similar to our culinary influences in that it is a melting pot of Tex-Mex and Southern, with bold flavors, spice and smoke. He encouraged the crowd to be adventurous in their choice of drinks and to use local ingredients in season like grapefruit, homegrown mint and watermelon.
“You wouldn’t eat the same food every day or listen to the same music every day,” Alan said. “So why would you drink the same thing every day?”
To demonstrate fresh approaches to cocktails that feature Texas spirits and seasonably appropriate local ingredients, Alan created two refreshing summer cocktails.
2 750-milileter bottles of sparkling rosé wine
1/2 bottle Tito’s Handmade Vodka
2 cups St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1 quart cut up melons (watermelon, honeydew) and seasonal fruit
Large block of ice
1 cup of carbonated water
Marinate the fruit in the booze for several hours, then it’s ready to serve.
4 large sprigs fresh mint
1/2 cup cubed and seeded watermelon
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1.5 ounces Treaty Oak Rum
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1 ounce carbonated water
Watermelon wedge for garnish
Gently muddle three of the mint springs and the watermelon with the simple syrup. Add the rum and lime juice, and shake the hell out of it. Strain into an ice-filled glass. Top with carbonated water and garnish with mint and watermelon.
The final wine seminar of the Austin Food & Wine Festival featured Austin’s only Master Sommeliers, Devon Broglie and Craig Collins. In their third year presenting at the festival, the renowned wine experts chose to showcase a wine region that they feel is experimenting with non-traditional grapes and new methods in winemaking: California.
“California is one of the regions leading the charge for a new revolution in wine,” said Collins, the beverage director for Arro and ELM Restaurant Group. “In the 1960s and ’70s, Robert Mondavi and others were experimenting with making new wines but retaining European influences for making wine with balance and quality. In the 1990s, the region gained notoriety for pursing big, bold, fruity wines with high alcohol. Now we have pioneers in the industry making sophisticated wine with less prominent grapes with lower alcohol.”
The sweaty and slightly intoxicated crowd at the California Enlightenment session was treated to a tasting of six wines that were selected for new approaches to a well-known grape variety or unheralded grapes. There was one other factor in the wines’ selection.
“The criteria for wines in this tasting is they had to be wines that are loveable,” said Broglie, the Whole Foods Markets associate global beverage buyer. “We’re talking about wines that after you have slammed back half a glass, you stop and realize, holy shit, I love this wine. We wanted to present wines that are enjoyable and that are drinkable with food.”
2010 Seghesio Arneis
The Seghesio family settled in California from Italy in 1895 and has been producing wine ever since. Seghesio is well known as a pioneer and major producer of Sonoma County Zinfandel, but less known for its Italian white wine varieties. Arneis is a white grape from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy that makes clean, crisp wine that is high in minerals. Seghesio grows its grapes on small acreage in the Russian River Valley, which has a cool climate. The result is fresh, bright, medium-bodied wine with guava and tropical flavors that is perfect for a summer picnic. It’s available for about $23 at Austin Wine Merchant or Whole Foods Markets.
In 2008, Matt Licklider, a wine importer, and Kevin O’Connor, wine director at Spago Beverly Hills, partnered to start an urban winery to make pinot noir and chardonnay that reflect the terroir of California. They chose to break the mold of California wineries making overblown wines. Rather than age the wine with new oak barrels that can hide the flavor of the wine with vanilla flavors, Lioco uses stainless steel and neutral barrels to create a full yet crisp wine that lets fruit and acid shine through, for a citrusy wine with grapefruit and lemon flavors that pairs well with shellfish. The Sonoma County chardonnay is available for $22 on the Lioco website.
“Cappellet is one of the founding fathers of the Napa Valley, starting the winery in 1967 in storied Pritchard Hill vineyards,” Collins said. “The area is considered a grand cru of Napa because the magical mountain makes the cream-of-the-crop wines.”
The volcanic soils stress the grape vines, and the high elevation allows for a large swing between nighttime versus daytime temperatures, which helps grapes ripen better. Not only is Chappellet making wine with a less popular grape, chenin blanc, it is also taking a non-traditional route to make the wine. It is fermented in a combination of neutral French oak barrels, stainless steel tanks and a concrete “egg” that gives the wine extra weight and richness while retaining high acid levels that give it massive zippiness. It has vivacious floral scents and honeydew, lemon zest and hazelnut flavors that bring roast quail to life. It goes for about $30 a bottle.
Everything about Donkey and Goat is non-traditional. The winery got its start when Tracy and Jared Brandt decided to make natural, Rhône-style wines with minimal intervention.
“They put 50,000 miles on their Toyota Prius looking for the right grapes to make wine in an urban winery in a warehouse in Berkeley,” Broglie said. “This is an example of a new trend in California winemaking where the winery doesn’t need vineyards or a fancy château.”
The grenache was made with grapes grown in El Dorado County using natural yeast to ferment them, and it was left unfiltered, giving it a slight haze. The red berry flavors and earthiness will go well with grilled meat.
“This wine makes me want to bury a goat in the yard and roast it in the pit,” Broglie said.
The Food & Wine Festival was fortunate to land a handful of cases to serve, but the 246 cases made have sold out immediately.
California zinfandel has earned a reputation for being inky dark with enough alcohol to give you a buzz by just smelling it. Broc Cellars throws that playbook out the window. The Vine Starr zinfandel is true to its intended character, a gorgeous translucent ruby color, bold aromas of ripe fruit, cream strawberry flavors and the zip of black pepper on the finish. And its only 12 percent alcohol.
“It’s all of the things I like about zin without the things I hate,” Collins said. “I like the bold aromatics and ripe fruit, but not the high alcohol.”
Broc is another one of the small-production urban wineries and only 800 cases of this juice were produced. It sells for about $30.
The last taste of the day, which I’m sure some of the drunks in the tent downed in one lustful gulp, was Stony Hill Napa Valley cabernet 2010 from Spring Mountain. Stony Hill Vineyard has been making wine since 1952. They are predominantly a chardonnay producer. No matter the type of wine, they have not chased the big scores of some wine reviewers by making wines with big flavors, and instead have stayed true to their heritage of making refined, balanced wine. The 2010 cabernet is only the second vintage of cab Stony Hill has produced. It has blackberry, ripe, juicy red fruit, green pepper and herb flavors with a subtle earthiness. Less than 400 cases of this wine were made and only six of those cases made their way to Texas, one of which was poured at the festival. This was my favorite wine of the entire festival.
Whether you are in to obscure grapes, natural wine or inventive approaches to winemaking, Collins summed up a solid maxim for drinking wine (and maybe for life).
“What do you want to put into your mouth now?” he asked. “It’s not about what is right. It’s about what is going to make you happy.”
There is nothing light-hearted about cancer. However, even the most serious subjects deserve a serious party. Sometimes gathering like-minded souls together to fight a shared villain is the right thing to do. This weekend we hosted our third annual Mellow Yellow Benefit to raise a glass, and raise money and awareness for the LIVESTRONG Challenge for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
We set out to raise $5,000 by inviting people to attend our party and make a donation to LIVESTRONG as their ticket to entry. We asked for donations of services and food and beverages to keep our costs down and to be able to donate all proceeds to the Foundation. I am moved by the outpouring of generosity I found every time I asked. To date we have raised $6,000!
Three Texas spirits companies — Republic Tequila, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Treaty Oak Distilling Company — gladly donated for a third year in a row. Heck, Republic Tequila also sent two beautiful bartenders and Republic Spirit Blends to set up and staff a margarita bar! They made Twisted Margaritas. Here is the recipe:
1 ½ ounces Republic Tequila
1 ½ ounces Republic Jalapeño-Lime Spirit Blend
1 ½ ounces Republic Prickly Pear Spirit Blend
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice Shake and pour into a rocks glass
Josh Hare, brewer at Hops & Grain, sent over 10 cases of beer on the eve of his brewery’s first anniversary.
Ed and Susan Auler of Fall Creek Vineyards donated wine for a second year in a row and came to the party to wish us well and enjoy the fun. Miguel Lecuona of Fredericksburg Wine Road 290 was a tour de force gathering four cases of donated wine from seven Texas wineries and delivered them with a smile.
The house and yard looked glamorous and the food fast fantastic thanks to Suzanne Court Catering & Events, who hustled favors to get donations of goods and services. Our photography sponsor, Steve Rogers Photography, donated his time and talent to capture the fun in our LIVESTRONG photo booth (the well lit photo booth pictures below are from Steve and the candids are fom me). Chris Brewer from the Lance Armstrong Foundation made the photo booth look official by loaning us an amazing LIVESTRONG backdrop.
It sucks getting older. My knees hurt after every bike ride. One too many comes one too soon; and the mornings after are always less forgiving. What’s worse is that my dream of becoming an NBA star slips further and further into implausibility. Getting old only leads in one direction. It’s not like I’m crying about it, but I’m faced with daily cues of my slow decay and finite morality.
The other day I entered a place that reminded me that many things get better over time. I entered a place where aging is not only encouraged, but demanded. I entered a place where paradoxically silver ages to mellow amber. I entered the fragrant, warm and pragmatic Treaty Oak Distilling Co. where Chris Lamb, the lead distiller, gave me a ride in a time machine to see what is in store for those who look forward to maturity.
It all started a handful of years ago. In 2005 an entrepreneurially spirited Sommelier, Daniel Barnes, started experimenting with 200 recipes of rum. He established Graham Barnes Distilling (recently renamed Treaty Oak Distilling Co.) in Austin, Texas with a passion for drink, a copper pot still with a column, and a bent on refining his rum recipe to find the taste he was looking for. Treaty Oak Rum was introduced in in 2007.
Actually the inspiration started before that. Not far from the center of downtown Austin stands a majestic Live Oak. Treaty Oak is reportedly been alive for more than 500 years. Treaty Oak is the legendary meeting place where Stephen F. Austin met local Native Americans to negotiate the first boundary for Texas in the 1830s. Treaty Oak is the namesake for Treaty Oak Rum.
Actually it started before that. Not far from the border with Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley, the last sugar mill in Texas boils off sugar cane juice to make molasses as dark and sticky as tar. Molasses is older than my knees, it’s older than the United States with roots dating to the 1500s. Molasses made in Santa Rosa, TX is the main ingredient in Treaty Oak Rum.
Armed with Daniel’s time-tested recipe, Chris brews rum beer made of molasses and yeast in an initial fermentation that takes four days. He then distills the embryonic rum in a custom made pot and column still that has a unique distillation process that produces the equivalent of six to eight standard pot distillations per run. In the Treaty Oak still, the beer is boiled in the pot releasing vapors into the column where it cools and drips back down into the pot. It then begins the process all over again. The rum is then filtered twice for a smooth, round flavor.
Chris explained the process with the casual ease of Yoda. Despite his proficiency, he’s only been at this for a couple of years and he learned distilling on the job through trial and error. Oh and he has a story about a doozey of an error. Chris, can I tell them about the time you imploded the brand-new still?
As he talked, we dipped our fingers into the run-off from the still to test the alcohol to sugar balance in the flavor. Daniel and Chris have a very specific flavor profile they are striving for consistently in each batch. For the Treaty Oak Platinum they want rum that is not as sweet as some others. The molasses from Santa Rosa is bitter sweet to start and the double filtration cuts down the black strap molasses flavors and leaves behind the desired dark chocolate and vanilla flavors.
The Platinum Rum is delicious, but for those who are willing to wait, we will be treated to Treaty Oak Aged Rum, which is slated for a December 2011 release. The genesis of the Aged Rum is an experiment Daniel and Chris did with a one gallon barrel of platinum and aged it for 2 years. The aging brought out an amazing up-front sweetness that they knew they had to bring to market.
They decided to expand it to 60 gallon new American white oak barrels with a custom select char that results in soft buttery, vanilla blends in the production runs of the Aged Rum. They chose a heavy char on the barrels to get more natural filtration and tannins from a new barrel. Initially Treaty Oak Aged Rum will be produced in small batches aged for about 8 months; just enough aging to bring out fantastic qualities.
The guys at Treaty Oak have great recipes for the Platinum Rum. Not so for the Aged Rum. This rum should be enjoyed chilled, served in a snifter. Don’t mess with it. No ice, no juice. Just enjoy the flavor.
Treaty Oak Aged Rum
Is it worth the wait? Hell yeah. Let me tell you what it’s like. When it’s introduced, the Aged Rum will be 40 percent alcohol, but the pre-release batch I tasted was a heart-warming 49 percent alcohol.
Like looking into deep amber eyes caught in the sun, glistening, bright and sleek, yet deep. The eyes of an old soul looking back unblinking and unashamed of the sticky tears slowly rolling down.
A vibrant smell of brown sugar, sweet corn and an invigorating rush of alcohol vapors straight up the nostril (remember, I tasted the high-test).
The aged rum has lush flavors of chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla. Oh and mine had lots of kick. Chris encouraged me to add a dash of water to get it closer to the alcohol levels that will be released at production. That did the trick. It was smooth and sweet as a lasting kiss from a lover. A kiss I wanted to experience again. A kiss that could linger for a long time.
Some things are worth the wait. Sometimes it’s preferable to get old. Will Treaty Oak Aged Rum reverse the degeneration of my knees? I doubt it, but I might forget about my dreams of the NBA after a couple glasses.
Treaty Oak Aged Rum will be available at bars, restaurants and retailers in Austin and surrounding areas starting in December 2011.
Have you ever wondered what kind of hooch would go best in a cherry Slurpee at 7-11? Here’s your chance to experiment with a free mixer. The ubiquitous 7-Eleven convenience stores are celebrating their 84th birthday on Monday, July 11th, by doling out free 7.11-oz size Slurpees.
What’s a birthday party without a few games? Pop on a party hat and join a series of competitions, including timed Slurpee-drinking contests, one-minute 7-Eleven-themed challenges and a Twitter popularity contest. You could win some killer 7-11 prizes. Not sure what they are, but I’m hoping for Twinkies and Mt. Dew.
Where: 2600 Guadalupe, Austin, TX 78705 (check your local store if you don’t live in Austin) When: Monday, July 11, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Place mint leaves and 1 lime wedge into a sturdy glass. Use a muddler to crush the mint and lime to release the mint oils and lime juice. Do not strain the mixture. Fill the glass almost to the top with the Slurpee. Pour the rum over the Slurpee, stir and taste. Garnish with the remaining lime wedge.
Get one of those extra fat straws so you can suck it down fast enough to get a brain freeze, and a buzz.