Texas whiskey can probably be best categorized by… not fitting into a category. The state seems is home to so many independent distillers pushing the envelope and trying new things with the brown water. An like its fellow Texas distilleries, Lone Elm is a brand trying something well off the beaten path for American spirits: focusing on aged wheat whiskey.
Like all great Texan stories, Five Points Distilling started with a loudmouth and someone calling their bluff over a glass of whiskey.
Back in 2012, a group of college friends got together for a reunion touring the Kentucky whiskey trail. After a particularly long day of tasting bourbon, the friends had settled down around a lake to catch up over some whiskey, when one of the group proclaimed that they thought they could make something better than what they had been sampling. From across the table, another friend quietly whipped out his checkbook, wrote down a sufficiently impressive number, and slapped it on the table saying “let’s do it.”
The distillery started operating just as a number of other craft distilleries were also coming online and, as a result, their access to the standard 53 gallon barrels was significantly restricted. So they improvised, starting with the smaller 15 gallon versions, slowly progressing to the 30, and finally graduating to the 53 gallon capacity as the supply became available.
Five Points Distilling made a conscious choice to use wheat as the primary source of grain for their whiskey because, as they say, “wheat grows in Texas – corn doesn’t.” (Fair point.) They also wanted to go for a more well-rounded flavor, something that you can sip all year long and not just during the colder and darker months. They believe that they can achieve a lighter, softer, more versatile spirit with the wheat based whiskey.
As a distillery that’s part of the Texas Whiskey Trail, we know that this is truly a grain to glass Texas whiskey, and that as much of the process and the ingredients originate from the state of Texas as is possible.
The whiskey starts as a grain bill of 90% Texas red winter wheat and 10% malted barley, which is noticeably absent of any corn content or rye. The grains for this whiskey come from farms in the Trinity River Basin in Texas, and, once the grains have been mashed and fermented, the waste byproduct is sent back to the farmer to be used as fertilizer and animal feed. The water for the mashing process is sourced directly from the local water supply, but they use rainwater that is collected and filtered at their distillery for proofing and cutting the whiskey after distillation,
Once this spirit has been distilled, its placed in 15 gallon charred oak barrels, which are considerably smaller than the typical 53 gallon barrel used by most distilleries. The reason for the choice was out of desperation more than practicality — as mentioned earlier, there were no 53 gallon barrels to be had. The smaller barrel provides an extra bonus, though: it promotes more interaction between the whiskey and the charred wood, imparting more flavor in a shorter period of time.
Overall, the bottle is a pretty standard design, featuring a body built like a wine bottle and a neck with a slight flare to the middle for better handling and control. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is the same bottle design we saw with Still Austin’s bourbon, which makes sense given that small distilleries don’t have the time or money to go designing custom bottles.
The label is the differentiating feature here, with a brown elm leaf taking up the majority of the real estate. There’s the Lone Elm branding up top, and then a small white box featuring the specifics of the contents.
My biggest complaint here, as usual, is that the label is too big. It obscures a significant chunk of the bottle’s surface, keeping that rich dark color of the whiskey in the background. I appreciate that they cut the label to fit the edge of the elm leaf at least, which gives it a little more room to breathe.
The whole thing is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.
It already smells like an Old Fashioned and all I did was pour it into a glass. The aroma coming off this cup is primarily one of cherries, vanilla, and maybe a touch of honey for sweetness. After a few minutes letting it air out, though, the typical malty notes start creeping in to round out the experience.
The taste delivers almost exactly on the aroma. There’s the cherry and vanilla aspects out front, playing a duet, and the malty flavors are there as well like the backup singers. The combination reminds me strongly of the hickory smoke that comes rolling out of my smoker every time I make a brisket.
If there’s one thing I could fault this for, it’s that the flavors are very much on the darker and richer side of the spectrum. I could see that being a bit overpowering for some people (but thankfully I’m not one of them!)
With the addition of some ice, I usually find that the more delicate flavors to drop out of the mix. But in this case, there are no delicate flavors — it’s all bold and beautiful.
If anything, what happens with the addition of some ice is that the charred oak barrel flavors become far more prominent. You can really taste that charring at this point, but that’s not to say that the other flavors have disappeared. It’s just that those toasty aspects have become more prominent.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
It’s seriously great.
My usual method for creating an old fashioned is to add angostura bitters, some simple syrup, and a cherry – plus a dash of liquid from the cherries – to a glass of whiskey. In this case, I think the simple syrup is still necessary but the whiskey itself brings enough cherry flavor that you don’t need to add the usual dash of cherry liquid. Once the bitters go in, it’s perfect.
(Do still add an actual cherry, though. Because an old fashioned without a cherry is just missing that extra pizzazz.)
There’s a couple things I’m looking for here: (1) the sweetness of the whiskey to balance out the bitterness of the ginger beer; (2) some complexity to come through the overpowering elements and still be noticeable; (3) for the flavor of the whiskey to compliment the whole cocktail.
In this case, I think everything comes together to make something truly delicious. The cherry flavors mix quite well with the ginger beer to make a fruity and appealing combination, there’s some good rich dark tones to pair well with the overall brightness of the cocktail, and there’s a good charred oak finish that reminds you what you’re drinking.
What I don’t get here is any of the peppery spice of something that has some rye content in it. That’s usually the big kicker that a Kentucky Mule brings out and tends to be one of my favorite experiences. Considering this doesn’t have any rye content, it makes perfect sense that the spice would be absent. But it’s not a total loss — instead, there’s a malty smoothness that lingers long after the liquid is gone.
Some people might not like the more heavily charred flavors that tend to make an appearance or the richer and darker flavor profile. That’s fine, and that’s a perfectly valid opinion. But, in my estimation, the way this mixes so well in cocktails and also provides a great sipping experience puts this whiskey on the same level as some of the best spirits coming out of the state of Texas.
|Lone Elm Small Batch Texas Straight Wheat Whiskey|
Produced By: Lone ElmOwned By: Five Points Distilling
Production Location: Texas, United States
Classification: Straight Whiskey
Special Type: Certified Texas Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $43.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
Lone Elm can keep me company any day of the week.