Kentucky has its bourbons and ryes. Scotland has its single malts and blends. Texas has, well, everything. A decade into its existence, the state’s whiskey industry features a plethora of styles, thanks to both geographical diversity and wildly varying approaches to distilling and aging. To give a better sense of the multitudinous offerings, we asked Kristopher Hart, the host of ESPN Houston radio show Whiskey Neat and the founder of the Houston Whiskey Social, the state’s largest whiskey event, to pick five whiskeys that show off the breadth and depth of what’s going on in Texas. “The entire landscape is so experimental,” Hart says. “All these distillers are improving and growing and trying new things.”
[Read our November 2019 cover story on the Texas whiskey boom.]
Lone Elm Single Barrel Straight Wheat Whiskey
“This is a great example of what happens when people stop focusing on the word ‘bourbon’ and just focus on it being good,” Hart says. Forney’s Five Points Distilling, makers of Lone Elm, has staked its reputation on a wheat whiskey that’s full of fresh-baked biscuit notes. “It’s sweet, sugary deliciousness. When it finally catches mainstream attention, it’s going to spread like wildfire.”
Whitmeyer’s Single Barrel Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Founded in 2012 by brothers Chris and Travis Whitmeyer, Harris County’s first distillery, Whitmeyer’s Distilling Co., has earned a cult following in Houston, particularly for its grain-to-glass bourbons. “Their bourbon is the closest thing in Texas to what you expect in a Kentucky profile,” Hart says. “Texas whiskeys tend to have a more youthful bite, but Whitmeyer’s bourbon screams heavy thick chocolate notes.”
Ironroot Icarus Straight Corn Whiskey
Most American whiskey is made primarily from corn, most of which is a commodity crop. Denison’s Ironroot Republic, however, uses heirloom and non-GMO corns, notably in its limited-release Icarus, which is aged two years in peat and port casks. “There’s some sort of complementary thing that happens, where you have their straight corn whiskey and add more smoky or barbecue notes,” Hart says. For a more widely available product, try Ironroot’s award-winning Hubris Corn Whiskey.
Balcones Texas Single Malt Whiskey
The Waco distillery got the first Texas whiskey on a liquor-store shelf with Baby Blue, but it was Texas Single Malt that turned Balcones Distilling into a craft-spirits sensation and helped put the state’s whiskey industry on the map. Hart describes it as so big and bold tasting that it’s “almost a meal in itself—you can literally chew on it.”
Triple-Distilled is “very approachable and not as aggressive as a typical Texas profile,” says Hart. Instead of trying for rich, smoky flavors, Blanco’s Andalusia Whiskey Co. produced Triple-Distilled in the traditional Irish-pot-still style, creating a soft, honeyed palate that’s unique to the state. “It’s a great introduction to Texas whiskey.”
This article originally appeared in the November issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Master Glass.” Subscribe today.