Typically a craft distilled spirit is a premium product, something that demands a higher price. It seems like Devil’s River Bourbon Whiskey is all about bringing that same care and quality you get in a craft distilled spirit to the budget minded purchaser. But do they accomplish this? Let’s drink up and find out!
In 2010, Mike Cameron was one half of a duo that launched Rebecca Creek Distillery in San Antonio, Texas. After building that brand successfully and watching the demand for bourbon within the state of Texas spike 60% over those years, he decided to open a second distillery to focus specifically on bourbon and other brown spirits.
After bringing on some partners in the project, the distillery (dubbed “Devil’s River” after the name of the river where they sourced water for the distilling process) opened in Dallas and shipped its first bottle of bourbon in 2017. The distillery plans to put down permanent roots in San Antonio eventually (they are currently working on a location at 401 E. Houston Street in San Antonio) but for now their spirit is produced and bottled in Dallas, Texas.
The bourbon starts with water that is sourced from a private well down in Del Rio that draws its water from the eponymous Devil’s River. Here, the river flows through the limestone rock underground, naturally filtering the water and adding some minerals to the process.
To that water, they add a grain bill of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley, which puts this in the same category as other “high rye” bourbons such as Bulleit. The mash is fermented and distilled, then aged in #4 charred oak barrels until finished.
What’s interesting to note is that this whiskey doesn’t have an age statement. One would expect that, especially with a bourbon, there would be at least some indication of how long the spirit sat in the barrel but in this case there’s none listed. To me, that indicates that this was probably aged less than a year, which honestly is fairly common among Texas bourbon as the wild temperature swings in Texas definitely expedite the aging process.
The design of the bottle really isn’t groundbreaking. Both the 375 and 750 millileter versions come in a bottle shaped much like a common flask, roughly square in shape with a bit of a rounded shoulder and a short neck. The 750ml version comes with a wood and cork stopper but the smaller bottle (shown here) only offers a plastic screw-on cap.
The label is roughly rectangular with the exception of a pop-out for some pitchfork branding on the top of the label. There’s a bit of art in the center of the label depicting a river, but otherwise the label is fairly plain. My one complaint here is that the label is so big that it covers up the whiskey — I personally prefer to be able to see the spirit inside the bottle rather than the label.
I’m a little disappointed in the packaging. It’s not something I would put in an honored spot in my liquor cabinet. I appreciate that they’re doing something different with the design, but I feel like they might have the same issue as Tahwahkaro, where liquor stores started slotting the bottles in sideways instead of making room for them to be displayed properly.
To be fair, though, the proof is in the bottle (no pun intended) and if they’re keeping costs down by skimping on packaging instead of skimping on the product itself — the literal definition of substance over style — I can absolutely forgive that. So let’s get drinking and see what we find…
The spirit has a very sweet smell, and I can detect the usual vanilla and caramel flavors in the mix. But the biggest difference to me is an earthy and spicy smell, almost like a cinnamon oatmeal. Others have described it as “wood heavy” and I can see that too, like sniffing an oak wood stave.
It has a good weight for the alcohol content, somewhere around 2% milk in consistency. Not too heavy but not too light. The spirit is smooth and delicious without any particular bitterness, but there is a bit of a peppery finish.
As for the flavor it’s a very bourbon-y bourbon. The corn and the charred oak barrels produce the expected caramel and vanilla flavors… eventually. It takes a minute for the flavors to build but when they do they hit with a pleasant level of force.
Overall it’s a sweet and tasty spirit.
With the added ice, the bourbon has lost almost all of its spicy peppery-ness and instead the sweetness of the spirit comes through.
At this point it’s sweet, but not too sweet. In my opinion, it’s just the right level without being as overly sweet, as some of the flavored whiskies can often become with ice.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
As one would expect from a sweeter spirit, the added bitters provide a welcome counteraction that helps to balance the drink. The citrus especially adds a bit of depth that seems to otherwise be missing from the liquor.
If you’re thinking about adding some sugar to the mix you absolutely can, but I’d recommend trying it without the sugar first. I think it’s good enough on its own (but that might just be me).
I want to start by saying that there’s nothing wrong here. It’s a delicious drink and I’d have it any day of the week. Especially in the hot Texas summer. But like I said with the ice, that peppery rye taste practically drops out when cooled down.
In this case, the sweetness of the spirit balances nicely with the bitterness of the ginger beer and lime juice, but the depth and complexity that you’d normally expect with a high rye bourbon seems to be missing.
I like it. It’s a darn good spirit, and on its own there’s some peppery complexity that makes me really happy. But while I’d normally expect the ice to drop the sweeter and softer tones, instead the peppery kick is what disappears.
That’s all details, though. It’s still a delicious spirit that is competitive in price and quality with Bulleit Bourbon. And in that battle the fact that it’s actually sourced, distilled, and bottled in Texas makes it a winner in my book.
This is a product that truly brings the same care and quality that you get in other craft spirits and puts it within reach of the budget minded drinker.
Devil’s River Bourbon
Owner: Devil’s River Distillery
Production: Dallas, Texas
Grain bill: 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malted barley
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Overall Rating: 4/5
It’s not a bourbon that will knock your socks off, but for this price, it doesn’t need to do that.