There are more and more distilleries popping up in Texas, and especially in my local Austin area. One distillery that I hadn’t heard of before is Banner Distilling Co, and they recently started distributing their first aged spirit, the Banner Wheat Whiskey.
How can you help but love a company whose website’s “yes I’m over 21” button is literally “alright alright alright!” (And for anyone who doesn’t understand… you’re probably not 21. Or from Austin.)
Founded in 2011 by then-coworkers Logan Simpson and Anthony Jimenez, Banner Distilling Co. was founded on the idea that two guys with zero distilling experience and barely enough cash to purchase a new car could build a whiskey distilling empire that challenged the big guys.
The name they picked for their company is a resurrection of an old distillery from Ohio. The original Banner Distillery operated between 1892 and 1913, shutting down shortly before prohibition and never reopening. While neither of the pair had any connection to the distillery or the area, they liked the name and made it their own.
Working with their shoestring budget, the pair turned to Craigslist to find some distilling equipment. When all they could find was an old beer keg, they grabbed some copper parts from a local Austin hardware store and hacked together the best still they could afford. That still, dubbed “Beaker,” would be their test bed for the spirits they wanted to produce.
Nearly a decade later, Banner Distilling has added two additional pot stills to their original kludged together work of art and offer both a vodka and a whiskey.
This whiskey starts its life as a grain bill of 95% wheat and 5% malted barley, sourced from farms in the local Texas area. The grains are milled and fermented prior to being distilled twice in the distillery’s pot stills.
Once the whiskey has been produced, it’s aged for an undisclosed period of time in charred new oak barrels. After that aging period, the whiskey is “proofed” (water added to reduce the alcohol content) — interestingly in this case, by using rainwater sourced in the Austin area.
The whiskey is only available (as far as I can tell) in these smaller 375ml bottles. The bottles themselves are a standard design, which I ain’t mad about. They sport a round body with an angular shoulder and a short neck, the whole thing capped with a plastic and cork stopper.
The fact that it’s a mass produced bottle really doesn’t bother me, since smaller distilleries typically don’t have enough volume to warrant a custom design. What they do have the ability to customize is the label, and they did a pretty good job of making theirs unique. It evokes the feelings of Texas, with the imagery of the ever-present windmills and stamped block letter printing (as if it’s right off a 1890’s wanted poster).
The spirit is a beautiful dark amber color, almost like a glass of Coke — but without the sugar content and much more alcoholic. It smells even better than it looks though — like a caramel granny smith apple and a touch of vanilla. It’s remarkably fruity and sweet.
While the aroma is very sweet, the taste is very peppery. And surprisingly, not in a black pepper variety that you’d expect from a rye… no, this is more of a green pepper crispness. Behind that, there’s the usual caramel and vanilla notes, but not too heavily — it remains bright and crisp overall.
There’s a bit of bitterness or dryness on the finish that lingers on the back of your tongue for a while, which does kind of puts a damper on the enjoyment. It’s not the end of the world, but I’ve definitely had smoother finishing whiskey.
With a bit of ice, that bitterness or dryness has almost completely disappeared — which is a very good thing.
What’s interesting here is that the flavors have completely changed a bit with the added ice and lower temperature. Some change is always expected when ice is added, but not to this extent. With ice, what I get very clearly in the glass is something that tastes exactly like an alcoholic liquid version of bubble gum. It’s fruity and sweet, but it might not be for everyone’s tastes. It’s also completely different than what you get when enjoyed neat.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
It’s definitely a new flavor profile, one I haven’t experienced before. Like taking a big swig of orange juice right after spitting out your bubble gum. Not necessarily my cup of coffee, but hats off to these guys for showing me a new trick with whiskey?
On a technical level, the citrus in the orange does a good job cutting through the other flavors to make itself known without being too much of a nuisance. And the bitters do a good job balancing with the sweetness of the sugar and the spirit itself.
Once again, that bubble gum flavor is top of mind. It’s what I smell immediately when I pick up the glass, and it’s clearly mixed in with the ginger beer in the cocktail. This makes for an interesting flavor profile.
If we’re going by the usual rules, I’d call this a rousing success. The spirit’s flavors shine through the oppressive ginger beer and make themselves known very prominently, which is what sets this apart from a Moscow mule. That said, those flavors may not exactly be… traditional.
I love the spirit of these guys, and I absolutely applaud them for trying something new. It’s not necessarily to my taste, but that doesn’t make it bad. I can’t wait to see what else they come up with.
Banner Wheat Whiskey
Owner: Banner Distilling Co.
Production: Manor, TX
Grain bill: 95% wheat, 5% malted barley
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: XX% ABV
Price: $70/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
Keeping Austin weird, one bubble gum tasting note at a time.