Whether your preference is neat, on the rocks, or in a well-executed cocktail such as the Tejas Ponche from the Hill Country’s Treaty Oak Distillery (recipe below), don’t let September pass by without raising a glass to an authentically American spirit. We tasted nearly two dozen bourbons from around the state to bring you our top six Texas bourbons for the fall.
$80, Balcones Distilling, Waco
Leaning on its long-established reputation for using Hopi Blue Corn for its Baby Blue whiskey, this annual release bourbon reveals the elegance a single heirloom corn varietal can bring to whiskey like this. Notes of sweet corn soufflé and cherry pipe tobacco commingle with that of baked crème caramel. On the palate, flavors are delicate, with hints of fresh spring flowers, toasted marshmallow, fine black pepper, and fragrant peach tea.
$50, Firestone Robertson Distilling, Fort Worth
Rather than using commercial yeasts to ferment their bourbon recipe into distillate, head distiller Rob Arnold has developed a wild yeast strain from the native pecan tree to distinguish this unique Straight Bourbon. The use of red winter wheat adds a soft, silky character to this bourbon, which leads with notes of summer yellow flowers, tangerine, and vanilla cream and finishes with red berries, bitter orange, and honey.
$70, Garrison Brothers Distillery, Hye
Dubbed as bourbon candy in a bottle, this Straight Bourbon is a bit of an indulgence. Taking Garrison Brothers’ high corn recipe backed by a little bit of wheat, this bourbon is sweet and silky. Having spent three years in small 15-gallon barrels, followed by another two years in 27-gallon barrels, this spirit is rich with warm vanilla bean and notes of baking spice. Aromas of butterscotch cream and nutty toffee are also present, leading to rich flavors of orange marmalade and smooth caramel. Due to its limited availability, it’s packaged in a 375-ml flask-sized bottle, but at a high 115-proof concentration, a little bit goes a long way.
$55, Ironroot Republic Distillery, Denison
The flagship bourbon for this Denison-based producer, the Harbinger is an overproof whiskey, meaning it’s packing a little more heat, or alcohol, in it than the standard bourbon by about 15 to 20 percent. Leveraging extensive knowledge of both whiskey and brandy production, head distiller and owner Jonathan Likarish uses a variety of heirloom corn varietals to add nuance to his whiskies. This bourbon offers sweet dark berry flavors from Bloody Butcher corn, warm notes of cinnamon and clove from purple corn, peppery spice from the rye, and notes of vanilla sugar cookies from oak aging. The concentration of flavor and aroma from the corn varieties, along with its average two to three years in barrel, makes this bourbon an absolute showstopper. But just add a few cubes of ice to the glass, and you’ll be happily sipping it long into the evening.
$55, Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling, San Antonio
A traditional approach to bourbon making, this version incorporates a healthy dose of barley and rye, which adds a decidedly spicy character to the finished product. Aged for two and a half years in the direct Texas sun, the concentration of vanilla and caramel on this bourbon is unmistakable. Leading with aromas of caramel corn, Medjool dates, nougat, and tobacco, the palate finishes with notes of almond extract, toffee, chocolate-covered cherries, and black pepper.
$55, Treaty Oak Distilling, Dripping Springs
Delicate and flavorful, this delicious bourbon gets is smooth character from the more than 30 percent inclusion of wheat in the mash bill. The nose is complex, with aromas of baked summer berries, toffee, nutmeg, and vanilla bean. Flavors are bold, dry and a little floral with notes of candied pecan, cocoa powder, and rich caramel. The finish offers a hint of smokiness. Using this profile as a base to build a wide range of delicious cocktails, Treaty Oak employs the creamy toffee notes and soft silky character of the bourbon combined with the nutty flavors to make the Tejas Ponche cocktail, which it serves in its on-site bar.
2 ounces Ghost Hill bourbon infused with pecans*
3/4 ounce honey syrup†
1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
Stir ingredients together and allow to sit for 2 minutes. Strain and pour over a large ice cube in a rocks glass.
6 ounces Ghost Hill bourbon
1/4 cup toasted pecan halves
Combine and allow to infuse at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours in a sealed jar. Strain and reserve.
5 ounces water
4 ounces Texas wildflower honey
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped sage
Simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and let steep for 1 hour. Strain and refrigerate.