Has Texas Developed Its Own Style of Bourbon?
Written by Jessica Dupuy of Texas Monthly
These five new grain-to-glass releases are proof that the state’s still-young whiskey industry is developing a bold regional profile.
With the recent explosion of the American craft whiskey industry, a wide range of whiskeys have found their way onto retail shelves across the country. With more than 130 spirits distilleries in the state (including whiskey, vodka, gin, and more), Texas now sits among the top five states in number of distilleries alongside California, New York, Washington, and Colorado. But aside from its sheer size, Texas stands out from among the rest for its climate. No one here needs reminding that the weather in the Lone Star State throughout the year fluctuates on a spectrum of hot and humid. But those few months in which we receive winter cold snaps also play a key role in producing spirits, especially those that rely on oak aging, such as bourbon. That’s because bourbons matured in hot climates manage to extract flavors from the oak barrels they are aged in much faster and in higher concentration. Between the predominantly hot seasons offset by the shorter cold spells, the wooden barrels contract and expand while absorbing and extracting the aging whiskey inside. The result is a spirit with richer flavor and complexity. (Note: This temperature differential also causes a high evaporation rate of both the alcohol and water in the spirit. In iconic whiskey-producing regions such as Kentucky and Scotland, the rate of evaporation is about 2 percent. In Texas, it’s more like 10 percent, depending on humidity levels.)
In the last decade, the Lone Star State has experienced a whiskey boom. Ask any bartender, including Caudebec, and they’ll tell you that Texas, particularly Austin and the nearby Texas Hill Country, is home to some of the best craft whiskeys in the nation. And of the growing crop of new distilleries, one of the region’s clear standouts is Milam & Greene: an independent, women-owned whiskey brand.
The Lone Star State, the largest in terms of square mileage in the continental U.S. as well as one of its most populous, encompasses a wide range of home-grown spirits. In other words, don’t mess with Texas.
Marlene Holmes grew up in Kentucky and never planned on leaving. But when a new career opportunity came her way at age 62, she ditched retirement plans to hike and garden more and instead moved to Blanco, Texas. She couldn’t pass up an offer to work as master distiller for Milam & Greene Whiskey.