Celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month with Texas Whiskey, Austin Cocktails

Kentucky Bourbon for National Bourbon Heritage MonthWe have a wealth of opportunities to celebrate bourbon in this country, and for that we can thank Congress. Not only did that esteemed body pronounce the homegrown whiskey “America’s Native Spirit” in 1964, but a 2007 Senate bill declared every September hence to be National Bourbon Heritage Month. This is one time when we can get behind the decisions of our government.

Some boozy history
Of course, whiskey in general isn’t an American product, but the specific type known as bourbon is. There are old-world whiskies, such as Scotch or Irish, and new-world whiskies — bourbon, Canadian, Tennessee, rye, corn, wheat and blended.

We owe a debt of gratitude to a Baptist minister from Kentucky, Elijah Craig, who first made bourbon in 1798. The processes Craig set in motion have evolved into standards that make bourbon a unique distilled spirit.

Ever since, we’ve had the happy luxury of dreaming dreams that fatten on the vapors of bourbon. Ah bourbon.

Whiskey must comply with stiff regulations to qualify as bourbon. It is made from fermented mash of grain — which includes not less than 51 percent corn — that is distilled to no more than 160 proof; entered into and aged in charred, brand-new oak barrels at no more than 125 proof; and bottled at no less than 80 proof. There can be no colors or flavors added — ever.

Within the strict rules, distillers can coax an array of flavors by creating their own mash bill, or grain recipe. Increasing the corn percentage can give it sweet flavors; adding rye gives it pepper, spice and bite; wheat brings out mellowness; and malted barley adds chocolate with fermented sugars.

The use of sour mash — that thin, watery part of a previously distilled batch of whiskey mash that is added into the next batch, a step Dr. James C. Crow developed in 1823 — also affects the flavor.

The biggest impact on flavor, though, is the barrel. It’s all about the oak. The wood seasoning (“toast” or “char”), along with conditions in the warehouse where the barrel is stored (the “rick house”) — including its size, the location of the barrel, and temperature swings and extremes — contributes to the flavor as much as the age, proof, blending and batch.

Many people think that bourbon can be made only in Kentucky; others think it requires water from a pure limestone aquifer in Kentucky. Both conceptions are myths. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States — including Texas.

Accidental birth of a fine Texas spirit
One night in Waco, Chip Tate set out to make a Mediterranean knock-off of bananas Foster. He concocted a treat of figs, honey and sugar, letting them giggle in the delight of a splash of whiskey that would inflame them. The result was so good that Tate wondered what they would taste like fermented and distilled. That night, with ideas fatten on the vapors of caramelized figs, Tate decided to distill those figs, honey and sugar and the first Texas-made whiskey was born; Balcones Rumble.

Tate’s Balcones Distillery started selling its whiskey in 2009 and has been making original Texas whiskey with Hopi blue corn ever since. Its lineup is, for the most part, distinctly different from bourbon, having a lot of similarities to Scottish malt. But the ever-tinkering Tate made a small batch of bourbon to satisfy his thirsty fans.

“We made a bourbon that is cask-strength at 64.2 percent alcohol,” Tate says. “We only made a few barrels of bourbon, which equates to 42 bottles for sale in Texas, and only 18 were sent to off-premise [not at a restaurant or bar] for sale. Our bourbon aged a little more than two years in the barrel.”

It tastes of honey, baking spice, toast and pepper, with a tannic tightness on the palate. The spice of the bourbon might make one assume that the mash contains rye, but it’s 100 percent blue corn — an indication of how much impact the barrel and aging conditions can have on the flavor.

Balcones whiskies are available in Austin at select retail stores and bars, including TenOak, the Tigress and Fino.

Serious Texas distillery
A little farther south, Dan Garrison started his in Hye, Texas, distillery in 2006 and bottled his first batch in 2010. Garrison Brothers makes the first vintage dated bourbon ever produced.

They consider the limestone substrate of the Texas Hill Country to be similar in many ways to the bedrock in Kentucky, producing a similar style of water for bourbon-making. Garrison Brothers follows regulations to the letter and hand-bottles every bit of bourbon that it ages in the Texas heat.

That dedication to craftsmanship means that it is available only in limited supply in Austin stores and sold by the bottle at The W Austin.

Many people contend that the only proper way to drink bourbon is straight up, on ice, or with a splash of water. Purists, please avert your gazes at this time. Bourbon is fantastic in a variety of cocktails. Several fine Austin establishments have generously shared their fantastic recipes for National Bourbon Heritage Month.

Drink.Well., The Cat’s Pajamas

  • 2 oz. Four Roses Single Barrel
  • .75 oz. Savory & James Cream Sherry
  • .5 oz. Cynar
  • 2 dashes Barkeep Chinese Five Spice Bitters
  • Apple slices

Add all ingredients together and stir. Pour into a chilled Leopold’s coupe and garnish with fanned apple slices.

Contigo cocktail Contigo, The Dancing Outlaw

  • 1.5 oz. Bulliet bourbon
  • 5 oz. Domain de Canton Ginger liqueur
  • .75 oz. lemon verbena syrup
  • .75 ounce lemon juice
  • 3 dashes of Bad Dog Fire and Damnation bitters

Shaken, strained over cracked ice, then garnished with a lemon zest and a lemon verbena leaf.

Put lemon verbena syrup in a saucepan. Add 1 quart water, 1.5 quarts brown sugar, stir and bring to a boil. Then add 3 bunches (handfuls) of lemon verbena leaves. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool, bottle and store up to two weeks.

Lucy's Fried Chicken Cocktail Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Texas Whiskey Revival

  • .75 oz. Balcones True Blue Whiskey
  • .75 oz. St. Germain
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 bar spoon simple syrup (1:1 ratio hot water and sugar)

In a rocks glass, add all the ingredients plus ice. Shake and pour back into glass. Garnish with your favorite cherry and citrus combination. Our favorite is garnished with candied orange peel and bourbon cherries when they are in season.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen, TX Whiskey Shandy

  • 1.5 oz. TX Blended Whiskey (Fort Worth)
  • 2 muddled lemon wedges
  • 1 oz. Round Rock honey-fig syrup
  • 3 oz. of Original Sin Hard Cider

Muddle lemon slices and honey-fig syrup in Collins glass. To avoid bitterness, be sure not to overmuddle. Add scoop of ice and whiskey. Top with hard cider (or fill to top). Roll in and out of shaker tin back into glass until fruit is not on bottom.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Eagle Rare Manhattan

  • 2 oz. Eagle Rare 10-Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon (JAK’s hand-selected barrel)
  • 1 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters
  • Luxardo maraschino cherry

Place maraschino cherry in bottom of chilled 10 oz. martini glass. In a shaker with ice, stir whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters 10 times with bar spoon. Strain into glass over cherry.

 

This story originally ran on CultureMap. Photo credits:

DRINK.WELL. The Cat’s Pajamas – Haley Dawson
Contigo, The Dancing Outlaw – Haley Dawson
Lucy’s Fried Chicken’s, Texas Whiskey Revival – Kelly Rucker
Jack Allen’s Kitchen, TX Whiskey Shandy – Kenny Braun
Jack Allen’s Kitchen Eagle Rare Manhattan – Kenny Braun

All other photos are mine.

What are you drinking? 

4 after-dinner drink gift ideas for Father’s Day

Blandy's MadieraIn his essay on gifts, Ralph Waldo Emerson poetically asserted that it is better to give a present that reflects the true spirit of the receiver. “… The rule for a gift… is, that we might convey to some person that which properly belonged to his character, and was easily associated with him in thought,” he wrote.

Father’s Day is a great opportunity to put that concept into action. Why not give Dad the gift of a little extra time to reminisce about fond fatherly memories? There is no better accompaniment for a stroll down memory lane than a fine after-dinner drink.

This Father’s Day present him with a bottle of the good stuff and invite him to loiter after dinner and relish in memories of fatherhood, or at least baby making. Here are four recommendations for lovely evening libations that are bound to conjure fond images. Set the tone for Pops by writing one of your favorite memories on the card, or present him with a bottle that is wrapped in a hand written note that simply says, “Linger.”

Memories of how it all started over a glass of Madeira

Before I had kids, I thought the best part of having kids was the part where we got to make them. I still remember that day and the smell of the nape of her neck; a spirited scent of sun kissed daydreams balanced with unrealized intent.

A glass of Madeira is sure to transport him back to fond memories of how fatherhood began. Like a lover, Madeira has the poignant acidic taste of sweat intertwined with the sweetness of honey. It’s created by inserting grape brandy into the fermenting wine and once made, it rests in the heat, letting the flavors cook together.

The venerable Madeira company, Blandy’s, has four distinct varieties of five year old Madeira ranging from dry to sweet sold for $24 each. While each wine is made with different grapes, they are all aged in the cantiero process where it is stored in oak casks in the hot attic of the family’s lodges in Funchal on the island of Madiera, located about 540 miles off the coast of Portugal.

The driest and highest in acidity, Blandy’s Madeira Sercial, has woody apricot, melon and peach flavors with a long nutty finish. It’s light in color like the sun going down in late summer. The second fortified wine in the lineup, Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho, balances acidity with a little bit of residual sugar. It’s a bit rounder, fuller — full of opportunity. It has floral scents and dried fruit, raisin and butter toffee flavors. Both are typically served slightly chilled in white wine glasses as aperitifs, but they are also great as dessert with an assortment of hard cheeses and Lester Young crooning on old vinyl.

Moving up the sweetness scale, Blandy’s Madeira Bual, has a darker amber color and dried fruit, vanilla and wood scents. The sweet raisin and toffee flavors are balanced with acidity. The sweetest in the batch is Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey. The Malmsey is full bodied, dark brown and full of honeyed raisin and almond flavors. Serve this with dark chocolate cake, a red velvet smoking jacket and Lou Reed on the stereo. Let’s hope you won’t have a new brother or sister in nine months.

Grahm's 20 Year Tawny PortRemembering the firsts with port

There is nothing sweeter than the first time baby coos “dada.” I remember that look in your eyes, that delight on your lips as you stroked my chin and called out to me. I am your dad and you knew it. Nothing will ever compare to that first acknowledged connection. Our bond was forever cemented in that moment.

Bring dad back to the sweetness and simplicity of the baby’s first moments with something equally as stirring and sweet without being overly sugary. Port fits that bill. The classic fortified wine has been revered for centuries for its elegance, hefty structure, complex fruit flavors and round sweetness.

A few ports to consider Warre’s Otima 10 Year Old TawnyCockburn’s Special Reserve Porto, and Graham’s 20 Year Tawny Port. The Warre’s Otima, made by the oldest British port company in Portugal, has a lovely rose and tea tawny color with bright cherry flavors rides on top of a racy alcohol engine. It goes for about $26. The Cockburn’s Special Reserve has crazy ripe fruit, lush, velvety texture and is super charged with attitude for $17. If you are willing to spend a little extra — around $63 — go for Graham’s 20 Year Tawny Port.

Graham’s makes this prototypical, classic port with a wine blend that has been aged an average of 20 years in oak barrels giving it vanilla and almond essence layered on top of the raisin and dried orange peel flavors. Serve it slightly chilled in a classic port or white wine glass big enough to let him stick his nose all the way in to breath in the sensuous aromas. The rich tawny loves creamy dessert. Serve it with vanilla ice cream or crème brûlée for a delightful treat that will go well with memories of early parenthood.

The apprentice besting the teacher calls for gin  

He finally did it. Look at him sitting next to the fire with hot chocolate; his smile as bright as the fresh powder and as broad as the first run was steep. He conquered the double black. He did it with grace. He did it 300 yards in front of me. He’s on the edge of being a man. I can’t put him back in the bottle.  

In every father and child relationship, there comes the moment when the child bests the father in skills that the father has taught. That might come first in video games, move into cards and finally into sports and possibly intellectual pursuits. It can be a father’s greatest joy to see his offspring excel. Well, as long as he is manly enough to accept this as a victory.

Gin is a man’s drink that says accomplishment with every sip. It’s the perfect spirit to accompany memories of the first time she beat her dad in chess. Fortunately for us in Austin, Genius Gin is hitting the shelves of local bars and restaurants this month. CEO and president, Mike Groener, is passionate about aesthetics with a tech exec’s attention to detail. He developed a unique flavor profile for Genius Gin using a cold steep in the base for some of the heat-sensitive botanicals like lavender, angelica root, elder flower and lime leaf for a highly aromatic flavor. Others ingredients like juniper, cardamom and coriander are heated in the distillation to impart flavor.

Dad should have a standard 94 proof gin or a 114 proof Navy Strength gin on hand for Father’s Day dinner. The Old Fashioned has been synonymous with American whisky since the early 1800s. Drink.Well.’s owner and bar wizard, Jessica Sanders, puts her stamp on the Old Fashioned by making it with Genius Gin instead of whiskey, which helps to accent the beautiful cardamom notes of the gin. She shared her recipe so you can make it at home.

Gin-based Old Fashioned

  • 2 ounces Genius Gin
  • .25 ounce fich demerara simple syrup (2:1 ratio)
  • 1-2 dashes Scrappy’s cardamom bitters
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • Orange peel

Express an orange peel over a double old fashioned glass and drop it in to release the essential oils over the glass. Add simple syrup and bitters. Stir to combine. Add Genius Gin and ice (preferably a large cube to slow dilution). Stir gently until chilled and serve.

Angle's Envy Rye WhiskeyCelebrate coming of age with whiskey

Watching you throw your cap into the air was such a shared moment of pride in your accomplishment. You did it! Your graduation night was the first time we ever drank a bottle of whiskey together. That was a moment, a shift in our relationship from father and child to father and grown child taking on the world together.

Whiskey just feels right as an accompaniment to major milestones. Its simplicity, its carmely sweetness, its bracing alcohol burn that reminds you of the flame of life. Treat it with respect and it pays you back with a contented grin.

Angel’s Envy has introduced a limited release Rye whiskey just in time for Father’s Day, and it is available in less than a dozen states, including Texas. Master distiller, Lincoln Henderson, uses 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley and ages the whiskey for at least six years in oak barrels. It is then finished for 18 months in Caribbean rum casks, which began as French cognac barrels. The result is a fun mix of the spicy and earthy rye notes along with vanilla, sherry and hazelnut flavors with a touch of sweetness from the rum barrels.

It’s a smooth finished to dinner, even at 100 proof, so serve it neat or with a set of frozen stones rather than ice. This will set you back about $70, but your dad is worth it.

No matter which bottle you choose or which memory you hope to evoke, give your dad the gift of a little extra time to remember why he loves being a father.

This article was previously published on CultureMap.

Disclosure: Samples were provided for review at no cost and with no expectation of coverage. 

What are you drinking? 

When You‘re in That Bourbon Mood: tenOak

“You, please bite this apple.”

“You! Bite my ear.”

I gazed into the painting an imagined the woman on the left gently feeding the robotic horse with compassion, while commanding her cyborg lover to bite her harder. Balancing dissimilar dispositions is what makes us human. It’s what makes life interesting.  

Like the provocative paintings that titivate the walls in tenOak, the bar coyly invites you to try on a mood or two and maybe another one later. tenOak is a bourbon house, and nothing stirs the passion to distinct veins than a good whiskey buzz. You know what I’m talkin’ about. The way you dance with whiskey is the way it dances with you.

Sip a fine small batch, single barrel bourbon with reverence and soon enough you’re awash in a reflective, thoughtful, poetic, erudite or maybe even a melancholy mood. Now go and take that same spirit, but in a slightly dressed down, less pretentious form and shoot it with a pickle back. What’s going to happen? You might start off gregarious or flirtatious, then you do a few more shots and you move into rowdy, feisty and yeah even furious.

It’s like listening to a song by Boston, it’s “More than a Feeling.” That’s whiskey. When you’re ready for whiskey to fan the flames of emotion, tenOak is there for you.

It starts before even taking a sip, tenOak envelopes guests in bourbon. The bar is warm and comfortable with rich charred wood paneled walls reminiscent of the inside of whiskey barrels and copper accents on the bar are indicative of copper stills, mightily turning corn into dreams. Cold steel is juxtaposed with soft leather chairs and booths belying its intoxicating wish to have us hover between different temperaments. The design of the bar was influenced by its owner, Michael Girard’s travels and personal taste. I think he has spent some time with a bottle of bourbon.

Mr. Girard, who also owns Austin hot spots Cuba Libre, Imperia and Speakeasy, was kind enough to tell me about his latest business venture. He opened tenOak in March during SXSW and it really got going in April. The bar is situated in the heart of the Warehouse District on 4th and Colorado in downtown Austin and has the feel of a causal, neighborhood bar. It draws an after work happy hour crowd looking to dissolve the day with one of the more than 150 North American whiskeys and bourbons and signature cocktails while noshing on creative nibbles like a tempura fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Later the bar attracts a younger crowd ready for a party. To accommodate a livelier mood, tenOak just opened the Elixir Lounge, an extension of bar in the back with darker lighting, louder music and a DJ spinning until 2:00 am. The night club attracts people walking over from Dirty 6th and 4th street clubs.

Whether you go early or late, you won’t be disappointed by the huge selection of bourbon and whiskey. General Manager, Orion Ondriska, has assembled an impressive menu of booze and several signature cocktails based on bourbon, including Martini style drinks and a twist on the Moscow Mule. They are also in the process of making a barrel-aged cocktail, which will be available in about six weeks. It’s made with Gin and orange bitters and other secret, shelf-stable ingredients. It should be worth the wait.

I asked Girard what his favorite drink is, and he chose Garrison Brothers Texas Bourbon on ice. tenOak serves its whiskey with a single, solid hand-made 2” x 2” cube of ice so the ice doesn’t water down the whiskey. Ondriska explained that this is a precious commodity. They are pouring bottles from the second batch of Garrison Brothers. They have an annual allocation of 12 bottles, but they’ve been through 19 so far with a long time to go before the third batch is ready.

I was fortunate enough to get a glass of the oldest whiskey distilled in Texas (Dan, I’m angling for a visit to your distillery very soon. This is fair warning.). It was a perfect mood setter to start the weekend.  

Look Deep amber and copper like the evening sun rays streaming into the front of the bar. The iceberg jutting out was a pronounced landmark to guide me in drink after drink.
Smell A gentle sniff produced a nose full of spicy, peaty caramel with enough heat to wake up the senses.
Taste This true Texas lovely has pucker and a touch of sweet with a balance of tannins, spice, caramel, fig and toasted corn flavors. Its glycerin smooth with plenty of alcohol kick to keep the finish going long.  
Price $16 a glass

 

The Garrison Brothers had me settling into my seat ready to swim through a few moods. To keep it going I tasted a Balcones Brimstone Smoked Texas Whiskey made with 100% blue corn. Holy cow, it’s smoky like a scotch and honey sweet on the end. I’m going to have to go back and drink more of it and wander through the huge list of bourbons. tenOak is Austin’s Mecca for whiskey.

What’s your mood when you drink whiskey? Want to go to tenOak with me and find out?

tenOak provided a sample of Garrison Brothers Texas Bourbon for this review.

What are you drinking?

Whiskey Tinged

Some nights call for a fine wine and other nights call for a belt of whiskey. You know that mood – mischievousness fighting with melancholy tainted with mirth. When you have a gleam in your eye that would read “trouble” in a retinal scan, it’s time to grab a rocks glass, your favorite brown elixir and head out to the back porch swing. Dog at your feet is optional, but a nice touch.

I like Irish whiskey, Scotch whisky and Canadian whiskey, but bourbon says love to me. Love American style. It tastes like home. Like its fancy-pants cousin, Champagne, bourbon is closely associated with a small region; in this case, Kentucky. It’s so American, that it has been declared the official spirit of the United States by Congress in 1964, when it was recognized as “distinctive product of the United States.” That fine designation comes with a whole boat-load of regulations on content and qualities which keeps it true to its character.

Recently I picked up a bottle of Bulleit Kentucky Bourbon. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for packaging, and Bulleit comes in an antique looking flask-shaped bottle with raised glass lettering. I felt like I was buying a bottle of snake oil from a transient peddler of the back of a horse-drawn wagon. It’s a great nod to the   “frontier whiskey’s” heritage.

The lore of Bulleit is that Augustus Bulleit first began making whiskey in 1830. Augustus’ potion was popular on the wagon trains headed west, but in 1860 Bulleit died and his whiskey died along with him. That is until his great-great-grandson Tom Bulleit came along. In 1987 Tommy-boy resurrected Bulleit Bourbon purportedly using the original recipe.  That’s likely just a quaint marketing story. The original recipe was probably pretty harsh like white lightning. Anyway, Bulleit Bourbon is now made in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky and is owned by Seagrams. It’s so big-time, it even has its own Facebook page.

Great bottle, great legend, but does it taste good? Yep.

Let’s start the inspection. It’s a gorgeous dark copper color like a bottled sunset. I gave it a big swirl and a snort like a wine and breathed in floral scents, juniper, oak spices and hay.

It’s not overly alcoholic like some of the 100+ Proof premium bourbons on the market. Clocking in at 90 Proof, it still billows out through the body like a warm thunderhead growing in intensity.

Bourbon is required to be at least 51% corn. Bulleit takes the sweet edge of that mash with a wicked high rye content of about 30%. Rye is the most important flavor grain for bourbons, which gives Bulleit some complexity. Let’s not confuse it with rye whiskey though, which must have at least 51% rye.   All of that rye doesn’t make it taste like a Rueben, but it does give it a slightly sharper taste than wheat filled bourbon.  The front of the sip tastes like honey, apple and spices, which gives way to smoked sweet-corn and vanilla for a decently long finish, but it doesn’t over stay its welcome.

I typically like my bourbon with a few lumps of ice and nothing else. However, my bro introduced me to a delicious mixed drink over the holidays made with rye whiskey. Here it is:

  • 2/3 rds rye whiskey
  • 1/3rd ginger beer (or to taste)
  • just a little squeeze of lime
  • a large pinch of fresh ground ginger

Stir that up and throw in a few cubes of ice. Deelish!

Like I said at the top of the post, there is definitely a whiskey drinkin mood. When I’m in that kinda mood, I want a soundtrack to accompany it. Here’s my latest mix, Whiskey Tinged:

  1. Busted, The Black Keys
  2. Peaches, The Stranglers
  3. La Grange, ZZ Top    ZZ Top
  4. Pill Bug Blues, The Gourds
  5. Sugar Never Tasted So Good, The White Stripes
  6. 50,000 Unstoppable Watts, Clutch
  7. Search & Destroy, The Stooges
  8. Stuck In Thee Garage, The Dirtbombs
  9. Bitch, I Love You, Black Joe Lewis
  10. Diggin’ My Grave, William Elliott Whitmore
  11. Cold Water, Tom Waits
  12. The Desperate Man, The Black Keys
  13. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Led Zeppelin
  14. Me And The Devil, Gil Scott-Heron
  15. Gypsy Woman, Jonathan Tyler and The Northern Lights
  16. Too Many Drivers, Lightnin’ Hopkins
  17. Always a Friend, Alejandro Escovedo
  18. Can’t Let Go ,Lucinda Williams
  19. Tuesday’s Gone, Lynard Skynard

OK, so do me a favor, let me know what your favorite whiskey is. What’s your favorite whiskey drink? What do you like to listen to when you’re in that whiskey mood? Give me some good ideas, and I might just burn you a copy of my mix and pour you a glass of Bulleit.

DRINK RESPONSIBLY. IT’S THE MARK OF A GENTLEMAN