It isn’t often than a bottle of Texas whiskey looks this good. Don’t get me wrong — Garrison Brothers has its charm, and Treaty Oak is doing a damn fine job, but this bottle of Blackland Bourbon is a work of art on a shelf. The moment I saw it in the liquor store, I knew I had to give it a try and see if the contents match the container.
Markus Kypreos is a native Texan; born and raised in Fort Worth, Kypreos attended the University of Texas for his undergrad before heading to California for his law degree. After graduation, he spent fourteen years practicing law in the state of Texas before realizing that his life had a slightly different calling.
Markus began attending the Culinary School of Fort Worth at night, graduating in 2010. From there, he started specializing in alcohol, passing his introductory sommelier examination for wine and taking classes on different kinds of spirits. He put together a business plan to open his own distillery and launched it in 2017, leaving his job at the law office to pursue his dreams full-time.
Blackland Distillery is the result Kypreos’ vision: a grain-to-glass distillery in Fort Worth, Texas, named after the rich farmland that stretches south from there to San Antonio. According to Kypreos, the distillery is “known right now for our sophisticated bottles, are smooth spirits and our intimate tasting room”.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
There’s a dirty little secret in this bottle, and a good reason why the owner talks about the bottle design and tasting room with more pride than the actual contents of the bottle: 90% of the spirit in here isn’t theirs.
According to the label, this spirit was “blended and bottled by” the folks at Blackland Distilling. According to The Dallas Morning News, the majority of the spirit in their bottles is sourced from an undisclosed distillery in Minnesota (most likely USDP) with only a small fraction actually coming from their own facility. The label on this bottle in front of me says that 90% of the spirit has been aged for a minimum of 4 years, which makes it a near mathematical impossibility that the newly built distillery could have cranked it out. That’s the sourced part — only 10% seems to be their own.
Focusing on that 10%, though, there isn’t much detail available about the process behind this spirit. This is marketed as a “bourbon whiskey”, which means it needs to start with a grain bill of at least 51% corn among any other grains. In this case, Blackland also apparently adds barley and wheat to the combination, but the proportion isn’t disclosed. Wheated bourbons are popular right now, with the smooth texture and flavor profile they produce being highly prized.
Those grains are milled, cooked, and fermented using yeast to produce a mildly alcoholic liquid called a “distiller’s beer”. The mixture is then distilled in a computer-controlled still to a maximum of 160 proof before being placed into charred new oak barrels (at no more than 125 proof) for some period of time.
Once this spirit is ready, it is mixed together with the other whiskey from an undisclosed distillery, bottled, and shipped out the door.
The bottle is simply stunning.
The body of the bottle is relatively straight and cylindrical, but has long skinny facets embossed all around the side of the glass. This gives it almost a cut gemstone quality, in which the sunlight bounces off the different edges and makes the bottle sparkle. The body rounds very quickly at the shoulder to a short neck, which is capped off with a synthetic stopper.
The labels are pretty much exactly the size I’d want. Just large enough to convey the required information, in a striking font that is easily readable, but still small enough that it lets the whiskey be the star of the show. A great balance.
There’s a problem here, though: the phrase “Handmade in the Blackland Prairie” appears on the label. In actual fact, only 10% of the contents of this bottle seems to be handmade on the prairie. And even then, the still itself is computer controlled — something I definitely wouldn’t count as “handmade”.
This smells like a pretty standard bourbon: there’s some brown sugar, a bit of peanut earthiness, caramel, vanilla, and maybe a dash of butterscotch. If this is indeed sourced from USDP, then that that sweet aroma note that I’m calling here as butterscotch is probably what I’ve also been seeing in the Black Eagle brand.
As you take a sip, the flavors in the glass are pretty much what you’d expect from the aroma. It is indeed smooth, but the flavor profile is simple and relatively light. There’s some good caramel straight away that sweetens into butterscotch before a little bit of vanilla joins the party to help. From there, you get a tiny bit of progression towards some black pepper and baking spices, but not enough to really change the flavor profile. The finish is smooth, simple, and short.
It isn’t often that the addition of ice actually brings out the bitterness in a spirit (usually it’s the opposite), but here we are.
The flavors in this bourbon were simple to start, and the addition of some ice has pretty much collapsed the profile to watered down charred brown sugar. That’s the very first flavor that comes through, but eventually there’s some bitterness that develops as the spirit sits for a second. It isn’t the strongest bitter taste I’ve ever seen in a spirit, but it definitely makes itself known.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This is a version of an old fashioned that desperately needs the added sugar to work. Usually, I try to be keto-friendly and go without the added sugar at first, but there’s just way too much bitterness in this glass for that to be a viable option.
Once you tame that bitter bite with some added sugar, though, you’ll now find that the flavor profile is nothing to write home about. The only components I’m picking up from the whiskey are a little bit of burnt brown sugar and soma oakiness on the finish — otherwise, this is just a chilled glass of angostura bitters. There isn’t any balance or interaction going on here, just a bunch of separate components in the same glass. It isn’t the worst old fashioned I’ve ever had, but there isn’t anything redeeming here either.
This cocktail might go a long way towards redeeming this whiskey in my opinion.
Up front, the flavors are slightly off balance but in a good way. This comes off closer to a sour than it does a traditional mule, but that actually plays well here. It’s like a fizzy reposado margarita, but without the herbaceousness of the tequila. The brown sugar and caramel come through clearly and add some nice balance, just not enough to offset the lime juice.
There isn’t a whole lot of character development on the finish, but that was to be expected. This is a bit smoother on the finish compared to other mules, and refreshingly crisp.
I’m always skeptical when two of the three things the founder claims that they are best known for have practically nothing to do with their actual spirits. Especially when the fact that 90% of the bottle seems to have come from an undisclosed Minnesota-based distillery seems to be the reason for that focus.
It’s not a bad strategy. Aging spirits takes time, and especially for newer distilleries that could mean years where they have zero revenue coming in to offset their expenses. Bringing in sourced whiskey and blending it to your preferred flavor profile is a common practice, and we’ve reviewed other facilities’ versions favorably in the past — the Red Handed Bourbon Whiskey from Treaty Oak is a great example. In the meantime, focusing on the distillery experience is a solid play, and Fierce Whiskers in Austin is doing the same concept.
If this had been clearly labeled as a blend of whiskey, something that the distiller put together and called out properly, I’d probably be a fan. This is a solid, inexpensive, great-looking bottle of bourbon that will make some very nice mules. The problem I have is with the labeling. It seems like the distillery is trying to hide the provenance of the bourbon and the fact that it is sourced, going as far as to put the word “handmade” on the front of the label, and that just irks me.
|Blackland Distillery Bourbon Whiskey
Produced By: Blackland DistilleryProduction Location: Texas, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 41.5% ABV
Price: $26.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
A smooth, simple, sourced and blended bourbon that has some rough spots but works well enough. (And looks great on your shelf.)