A couple months back I attended the Texas Whiskey Festival, which is a great annual event here in Austin where most of the local distilleries bring samples of their latest and greatest to try out. It was there that I discovered Ironroot Republic Distillery — the bourbon that they had on display that night was so delicious that it made me want to go out and see what else they had to offer. Their other bourbon: the Ironroot Promethean.
Founded in 2013 by brothers Robert and Jonathan Likarish, Ironroot Republic Distilling was founded on the principle of using locally produced and non-GMO heirloom ingredients in their products for a truly local Texas experience.
The distillery was named for a noted local horticulturalist Thomas Munson who, in the 1880s, helped develop a technique for growing wine vines that saved the French wine industry from an infestation of destructive pests and earned him the nickname “Ironroot.”
Ironroot makes two bourbon labeled whiskies: a “straight” bourbon whiskey called the Harbinger and this standard bourbon. The difference in label means a looser requirement around the age requirements — a “straight” bourbon needing at least two years in the barrel, as opposed to the single year that this one was laid up.
The whiskey starts its life as a mash composed of 80% yellow corn, 5% purple corn, 5% bloody butcher corn, 5% flint corn and 5% rye. That’s a significantly low rye content compared to some of the other offerings on the market, but definitely not unusual. Something else to note is that all of these grains are local to the Texas area and are non-GMO, a fact which the distillery takes special pride in.
From there it is distilled and stored in a combination of barrels made from American and European oak for a year.
It’s definitely different from the typical liquor bottle. There’s a rectangular cross section to the bottle, with a flat rear and front but rounded sides, and the width of the bottle flares near the shoulder and then very rapidly tapers to the medium length neck. The logo is embossed on the front of the bottle and the whole thing is capped with a plastic and cork stopper.
On the one hand I really appreciate a design that shows off the whiskey, as it should. The whiskey is the star of the show after all. But in this case I feel like it’s just a touch too large. I look at something like the Treaty Oak bottles and to me that’s a much more rational size. With this thing I couldn’t find a spot for it on my liquor shelf without rearranging the whole thing, and I doubt bars would be willing to do the same.
That’s not to say it’s a bad bottle. It looks good. I’m just concerned that the dimensions might be a bit tough to fit into an existing collection.
It smells precisely like a good bourbon should. I get flavors of sweet caramel with some vanilla notes in the background, and maybe a bit of spice as well.
The spirit has a good weight to it, as one would expect from a 51.5% ABV spirit. Initially the flavor is smooth and delicious, but there’s a slight bitterness on the finish that lingers for a bit. As for the flavor, there’s the typical caramel forward taste and some licorice as well mixed in, but the flavors are so strong that I can’t really taste anything else in there.
Really this just needed a bit of something to tone down the initial flavors. With some added ice, the bitterness and the overpowering licorice taste fades into the background and what’s left is pretty damn sippable. The licorice is definitely still there and noticeable, but the caramel and vanilla flavors from the oak barrel start to do their job balancing it out nicely.
Now that I’m not focusing on that intense licorice taste, I can also identify a bit of a peppery finish thanks to the rye content in the grain bill. It’s just spicy enough to be noticeable and enjoyable without being overpowering.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
The flavors of the whiskey are rich and deep, almost like a maduro cigar. It might be closer in spirit to a spiced rum than it is a lightly distilled whiskey. So when you add some ice and some bitters, the citrus flavors brighten up the drink.
My only complaint is that the licorice still comes through, and while that’s not exactly a deal breaker it’s also not the greatest.
There’s not much you can do to ruin a mule, but it’s also easy for a spirit to get lost in the background. In this case the whiskey does a good job blending in with the ginger beer, but that peppery spice on the finish still makes itself known.
In short, this is a pretty darn good mule. It’s not the best ever, but it’s certainly respectable.
I gotta say, that licorice taste is what’s holding me back from enjoying it more. The generally bold flavors and its ability to mix well in cocktails or mixed drinks is admirable, but that one note of lingering licorice is like the smell of burnt gunpowder after a trip to the shooting range. Not entirely unpleasant, just not to everyone’s tastes.
At the Texas Whiskey Festival, the Ironroot bourbon is the one that got my vote for the best of the night, and it went on to win the best ‘Bourbon Distilled Grain to Glass in Texas’ at the event. This is a solid bourbon, but Ironroot has shown they’re capable of real greatness.
Owner: Ironroot Republic Distillery
Production: Denison, TX
Classification: Bourbon whiskey
Grain bill: 95% corn, 5% rye
Aging: 1 year
Proof: 51.5% ABV
Price: $44.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
I love the local, non-GMO, heirloom grain approach. And I’ve seen that Ironroot is capable of making amazing whiskey. For this specific bottle, it’s not the best bourbon I’ve ever had, but it’s a solid quality at a reasonable price point.