The vast majority of new distilleries in the Austin, Texas area either sell an un-aged whiskey or just re-bottle someone else’s stuff. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t meant as a overt criticism — it makes good business sense when aged whiskey takes time and new distilleries haven’t been open long enough for that. But Fire Oak, a new-ish distillery based in Texas, bucks this trend and that’s what makes this original Texas bourbon unique and worth a look.
Sadly, I don’t have a lot of information about this distillery. Their website is light on the details and even when I corresponded with them via email they weren’t exactly loquacious.
Founded in 2015, Fire Oak Distillery is located in Liberty Hill, Texas, just north of Austin. Family owned and operated, they started the business specifically to produce something in their local community that took advantage of the local agriculture and supported their small town. Initially they started producing a vodka while their bourbon was maturing (as is common with new distilleries – see my previous section!), and starting in 2018 they finally released their aged bourbon.
There isn’t a whole lot of information about this spirit available on the internet, so I had to contact the distillery directly to get the details.
The bourbon starts with a grain bill consisting of roughly 70% corn, 20% rye, and 10% malted barley. That’s roughly the same corn content as Bulleit Bourbon (the reference spirit here at 31W), but they traded a bit of rye for some added malted barley. From there, it’s fermented and distilled in one of their three copper pot stills.
Once the spirit is produced, it’s aged in charred new American oak barrels for a period of not less than two years. According to the distillery, while the first batch was only aged for those two years to get to market as quickly as was practical, the latest batches are aged for three years and there’s even some sitting in the warehouse waiting for the five year mark to make its debut.
It’s a beautifully simple bottle.
The bottle itself is round, but slightly flared as you move up from the bottom to the shoulder. From there, it tapers gently to a short neck and is capped by a wood and cork stopper.
The label is printed on a transparent plastic sticker, which isn’t great but it isn’t terrible either. It lets you see the spirit clearly and that beautiful deep amber color while still making the brand name known. Around the bottom is a blue label with some shiny ink embossed on the label proclaiming the name of the distillery.
It’s not incredibly different, but it’s definitely not the typical round bottle that you find in a lot of craft distilleries. And the wood stopper is a nice touch.
It’s spot on for what a bourbon should look and smell like. The traditional “caramel with a hint of vanilla” description is 100% accurate, but I also think I detect a bit of sweetness and apple mixed into the aroma.
The liquid has a good weight to it, spot on for a 47.5% ABV spirit. It’s smooth and delicious throughout with no bitterness or bite at all.
The flavor delivers on the promise of the aroma, but adds a little bit extra as well. There’s a bit of nutty flavor that some have described as macadamia nut and I’d say that’s accurate. It’s also sweet thanks to the corn in the grain bill, but not overly sweet like some of the other bourbons on the market. Perfect for sipping on a warm summer evening.
With a little bit of ice the flavor gets more intense. The subtle flavors fade into the background and it tastes much more like you’re licking the inside of a charred oak barrel. Caramel and vanilla yes, but also the wood of the oak. The peppery spice from the rye content also becomes more pronounced.
Take it from someone who has some experience in this area: the bold flavors here pair excellently with a good cigar.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Yep, that’s the stuff.
There’s enough of the strong caramel and vanilla flavors to balance out the orange and the bitters, and the sweetness of the corn-based bourbon makes for a tasty cocktail. The spice from the rye content also gives it a little bit of a kick to make the spirit known behind the orange flavor. In short, it works damn well.
Typically, I’d like a bit more of a spice in my base spirit for a whiskey mule, and that’s why I usually prefer one with a higher rye content. But in this case, despite the lower-than-average rye content, it still works fairly well. The bitterness of the ginger is counteracted by the sweetness of the caramel and vanilla which tastes delicious, and there’s just enough of a peppery spice from the rye to make it interesting.
This is definitely one of my favorite Texas bourbons. Delicious flavor, great in mixers, and reasonably priced to boot.
When it comes to Texas bourbon, the Tahwahkaro is still my reigning favorite. But that’s a solid $10 more per bottle than the Fire Oak Bourbon, which is priced more comparably to something like Bulleit Bourbon. And in that price range, this beats the pants off Bulleit in most of the categories and is a true local, craft distilled spirit.
Fire Oak Texas Bourbon
Owner: Fire Oak Distillery
Production: Liberty Hill, Texas
Grain bill: 70% corn, 20% rye, 10% malted barley
Aging: Minimum 2 years, newer batches 3 years
Proof: 47.5% ABV
Price: $44/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
I can’t wait to see what the five year version tastes like.