I love walking down the whiskey aisle and grabbing new things off the shelf. I never know what I’m going to find, and in this case I had no idea that I was about to go trawling through FBI case files and legal rulings to figure out what the heck was going on with this one, seemingly innocent bottle.
Dynasty Spirits, the holding company that owns the Oak Cliff brand, was founded in Dallas, Texas in 2010 by local attorney Andrew Lee Siegel. Their first product was Nue Vodka, and they quickly expanded to also produce and distribute Vanguard Vodka as well.
Sometime around 2012, the investors who had partnered with Andrew to open this distilling and distribution enterprise suspected that something wasn’t quite right. An FBI investigation would later determine Andrew had used nearly half a million dollars from the business for “personal expenses,”, then used $200k from other investors to try and make it seem like everything was fine, and finally committed wire fraud in the process of trying to cover his tracks. Those “personal expenses” included an extravagant birthday party for his daughter and tuition to a private school in Dallas. He would plead guilty to those crimes in 2015, in addition to copyright infringement and other charges. After he was unable to raise the funds to repay the people he had defrauded, was sentenced to one year and one day behind bars.
Things wouldn’t necessarily get better over the course of the next few years — they were sued in 2018 by Brown-Forman, the makers of Jack Daniel’s, for copyright infringement in the bottling of another of their whiskey products Lonehand Whiskey. The companies settled that lawsuit out of court in November 2018.
For all this information about the legal issues the company has faced, there’s remarkably little information about this company online. Which, I guess, one might expect after having such bad press. It seems like they’re trying to keep their heads down and let their whiskey do the talking.
There isn’t much information about this product except for what’s on the bottle.
The biggest thing on the label is the statement that this is a “bourbon,” and there are some specific requirements to call your product such. Specifically, that the grain bill must be at least 50% corn and aged in charred new oak barrels. Beyond that, there’s a huge question about what other grains are used in the production and how long the whiskey is aged in those barrels. According to the label, that’s a minimum of 12 months… but the specifics are a bit vague.
Something that makes this more difficult to figure out is that while the parent company is located in Dallas, the bottle claims that the whiskey is actually distilled and bottled in Houston. There are a handful of distilleries in the city, and there’s no indication of which one is being used as the source.
So, while this claims to be a one year old bourbon, we really don’t know what’s in here or how long it has been aged.
Have you ever seen a Jack Daniel’s bottle? Well, this is pretty much a Jack Daniel’s bottle. Which makes the lawsuit from Jack Daniel’s somewhat understandable.
The bottle is a square body with gently rounded shoulder and a medium length neck with a swell in the middle. The whole thing is capped off with a plastic screw-on top.
On the front of that bottle is a simple white label sporting a black and white picture of an oak tree. Personally, I prefer small labels on my bottles that let me see the whiskey within, and this seems to be a prime example of putting a big label on a bottle for no reason whatsoever. There’s no grand branding here or elaborate designs, or even extra information about the bourbon. It’s just a lot of white space and an oak tree.
Overall it looks fine. I just wish it didn’t hide its contents.
As soon as you pour yourself a glass, you’ll think that you already have an old fashioned sitting in front of you even without any of the preparation. It smells very strongly of orange peel and vanilla with some caramel sweetness rolled in. Exactly like an orange creamsicle that’s been aged in an oak barrel.
The liquid itself is pretty light, and continues the flavor profile common with most old fashioned cocktails. There’s some slight bitterness to counteract the sweetness and the citrus of the orange peel flavors does a nice job of brightening up the whole experience.
All in all, not bad. But it does make me curious about how this will react when we actually try and make an old fashioned with it.
With the addition of some ice, as usual, the more delicate flavors drop out of the combination and what we’re left with are the basic flavors of the whiskey. Gone are the orange peel components, instead all we are left with is a whiskey that tastes like water poured straight from an oak barrel. It’s very wood-forward, with a touch of caramel sweetness and a hint of vanilla to tie the whole thing together.
What’s interesting is that the orange peel aroma is still present, but the flavor seems to have dissipated. Since smell is the majority of how humans perceive flavor, some of that seems to still be in the spirit especially at the start and finish of the taste, but I think it’s more a trick of the nose than a true flavor being expressed.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
The one place I thought the orange peel aroma would be most interesting turns out to be the one place it’s absent.
It’s a pretty bog-standard old fashioned despite all of the build-up. With just the addition of some traditional angostura bitters, it does a good job of adding some depth to the cocktail — instead of just water that’s been pulled from an oak barrel, there’s something more to experience. There’s a darker and richer note that counteracts the sweetness of the spirit and it does that job very effectively.
I was hoping that the orange flavor within the spirit would be enough to brighten things up, but it turns out that this cocktail still needs that little bit of a kick from an orange peel or orange bitters to make it truly work as an old fashioned.
Now, I bought a 750ml bottle of this stuff and drank every drop. With the exception of a couple test cocktails to get the above information, a Kentucky Mule is the format in which the remainder of the bottle disappeared.
Somehow, the orange aroma and flavor has re-appeared and mixes amazingly well with the ginger beer. That orange citrus flavor brightens things up and make themselves known even despite the typically oppressive ginger flavors.
This will be a great summertime sipping cocktail, nice and fruity with some good balance. There isn’t much peppery spice that I’d otherwise like to see, but it’s still a solid performing spirit in this use case.
There isn’t a whole lot of information about this whiskey, and the information I could dig up about the corporate owners doesn’t paint the brightest picture. But the product has two things going for it: it’s cheap and tastes better than most whiskeys in its price point. And that’s good enough for me.
Oak Cliff Texas Bourbon Whiskey
Owner: Dynasty Spirits
Production: Houston, Texas
Grain bill: Unknown
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS), minimum 1 year
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $15.49/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
I judge it delicious enough and sentence it to a life sentence in my glass.