Even though I recently moved out of Austin, I plan on continuing to keep up with the latest offerings from the folks at Still Austin. Not only is it a great local distillery to visit, but they also put out some amazing releases — not only delicious mass market appeal spirits, but also quirky limited editions for the locals. Today we’re looking at their Summer 2023 release, a Bottled In Bond Red Corn Bourbon Whiskey.
Locally owned and operated in Austin, Texas, the Still Austin Whiskey Co. opened its doors in 2017.
Despite being so new, Still actually has the historical distinction of being the first distillery in the city limits of Austin since prohibition. Keeping it local, their plan was to try and use locally grown “heirloom” grains to make a craft spirit that would be unique to Austin.
The company took a different approach from most distillers when they decided to offer only product that they themselves have distilled (not re-bottling someone else’s whiskey). To keep the business afloat while waiting for their first product to age, they would rely on infused “white lightning” unaged whiskey. Their plan worked, producing a number of delicious whiskey and gin concoctions before the business finally produced its first 100% locally grown, distilled, aged, bottled, and distributed bourbon in 2019.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
The “Bottled In Bond” appellation is something that (to my knowledge) Still Austin hasn’t done before. It seems like they have been working their way up to this, starting with their standard bourbon, then a straight bourbon, then a double cask bourbon, and now we’re seeing their take on the most restrictive label they could possibly put on a bottle of American spirits.
You can read more about what defines each of those categories in our article on bourbon right here.
The twist they are putting on this bottled in bond release is that they are actually doing four different versions — three bourbons and a rye — designed to evoke the feelings and flavors of the four seasons in Austin, Texas. (Nevermind that there are more like twelve seasons… and ten of them are summer.)
Today we’re looking at the Summer 2023 release. Usually, Still Austin whiskey starts with a grain bill of 70% non-GMO white corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley. They generally stick with that same formula, but that corn is split up this time into only 34% of the standard white corn and 36% Jimmy Red corn. That red corn is a strain of heirloom corn that has a rich flavor, high sugar content — and it actually nearly went extinct in the year 2000 before it was rediscovered and has since flourished.
All of the ingredients are locally sourced, and all of the production from grain to glass is done on-site at the Austin, Texas based distillery.
From there, the mash is fermented and distilled on-site using Still Austin’s massive copper column still and the resulting whiskey is placed in charred oak barrels from ISC in Kentucky. As a “bottled in bond” spirit, all of the whiskey comes from a single distillation season and stays in those barrels for a minimum of four years before being ready for bottling.
And for an interesting twist, the whiskey is actually proofed in the barrel using a “slow water” process. Instead of aging a cask strength whiskey and then dumping in tap water at the end, some water is added each month to dilute the whiskey as it ages. This reduces the alcohol content to an enjoyable level without diminishing any of the flavors coming from the barrel.
Finally, when it’s ready, the whiskey is proofed down to a still-scorching-hot 50% ABV and bottled for sale.
Still Austin has gone through a few designs since they launched, but one thing they’ve been consistent on is a tradition of using art from local artists on the labels. That art trend continued with the straight bourbon released earlier this year, even though the bottle changed once more to a more traditional whiskey bottle shape and style.
For this release, the traditional whiskey bottle remains. The body is cylindrical with a slight flare from the base to the shoulder and then gently rounds at the shoulder to meet the medium length neck. There’s a slight bulge in the neck, which makes pouring easier, and the whole thing is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.
The distillery usually goes all out on their distillery reserve releases, but this one is actually a larger batch that is intended for local distribution and as such they seem to be following the normal pattern. The label is roughly shield shaped, square on top with a triangle on bottom. The image they chose for this summer edition is perfect in my opinion: an illustration of a red snake strangling a cactus. It definitely feels like a pretty accurate representation of what it feels like to stand on 6th Street at noon in July. Just like their flagship spirit bottles, they tapped artist Marc Burckhardt to illustrate this bottle which helps it fit right in alongside the rest of the line.
Of all the versions of Still Austin whiskey I’ve had, this is one of the darker ones I’ve seen. The whiskey appears to almost be a maple syrup level of dark brown, with some orange and rust hues thrown in for good measure.
The aroma coming off the glass is honestly delicious. I’m very clearly smelling that corn coming through, like a fresh corn tortilla. Backing that up is some delicious caramel, vanilla, a touch of dark chocolate, a hint of apple, and cedar chips for some aromatic lift.
After the first sip, I’m thinking this might be my favorite version of whiskey that Still Austin has produced to date. It is perfectly smooth and delicious with just the right balance of flavors to make it truly enjoyable all on its own. Right up front, I’m getting some good deep bourbon flavors (brown sugar, caramel, vanilla) and that transitions into a bit of raw corn as the flavor develops. It all coalesces into this lovely creme brulee note with just a touch of burnt brown sugar but with a bit of raw corn or cedar to keep things interesting.
Near the end of the flavor profile, I start seeing much more of that rye content — specifically, the black pepper spice and apple notes that linger into the finish. On the end there’s also just a hint of dark chocolate to add a bit more depth and character.
This is a thick, flavorful spirit where the weight and saturation of those flavors absolutely make me feel like I’m standing in the oppressive heat of an Austin, Texas summer.
With the added ice in the glass, the aroma coming off this whiskey is sweeter and lighter. There’s much more brown sugar and vanilla and not as much of the other components. Thankfully they do make an appearance in the flavor, but something seems to be a little off here.
On ice, there’s a lot more bitterness that comes through in the flavor profile. The sweetness and richness isn’t quite as well saturated as we saw before, and as a result the other flavors are just a bit off kilter. I think what I’m seeing are the notes from the dark chocolate being expressed more freely, bringing that bitterness with it… but without the vibrant brown sugar to tone things down, it just runs rampant over the flavor profile and makes a mess of things.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
What we have here is a lighter, sweeter version of an old fashioned than I was expecting. When I tried this spirit neat, I thought for sure we’d get more of the dark chocolate coming through as the testing moved forward, but instead that all seems to have been ditched here in favor of the brown sugar and corn notes.
I’m generally not a fan of old fashioned cocktails on this end of the spectrum. I think that the whiskey should provide all the flavor it needs by itself, and unfortunately in this version it definitely needs some help. A bit of crushed fruit or an extra cherry would go a long way to assist making this into a good cocktail, but all on its own I think I’ll pass.
With the exception of taken neat, I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by the performance of this spirit so far. It was a bit of a mess on ice, a damp squib when in an old fashioned, and I was prepared for a very disappointing mule. But, thankfully, it actually does a respectable job in a mule.
Up front, the sweetness we saw from the brown sugar flavors does a great job toning down the bitterness of the ginger beer and the lime juice. It makes the cocktail enjoyable, and something that I could sip for a while instead of just trying once.
What really makes a good mule, in my opinion, is the addition of flavors that the spirit brings to the party. I like to see something bold and beautiful, like dark chocolate or cherry, but in this case all we get is a little bit of raw corn. It’s something, so I’ll give it credit, but it isn’t my favorite flavor combination.
I want to start out by applauding Still Austin for the concept behind this series of spirits. I love that not only did they make the technical and legally complex jump to producing a bottled in bond spirit, but that they also decided to introduce it to the world in a four-part limited edition that celebrates the seasons of Austin, Texas. It’s an artistic flourish that more distilleries should note and follow, and I love that they took this chance.
Taken neat, I think they nailed it. The flavors are delicious and well balanced, and to me they absolutely hit the nail on the head evoking the feeling of a summer day in Austin. I also love that they chose to use an heirloom corn like this red corn in their mashbill, and I think the flavor of that corn comes through in a big and important way.
That said, this falls apart once you start adding things to it. Much like trying to do literally anything outdoors in Austin in the heat of the summer, it just becomes a miserable slog that you wish you hadn’t started. Which, I guess, does technically follow the theme… so good job, Still Austin?
|Still Austin Whiskey Co. Bottled In Bond Red Corn Bourbon Whiskey
Produced By: Still Austin Whiskey Co.Production Location: Texas, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Special Type: Bottled In Bond
Aging: 4 Years
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $79.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
There are some bottles I keep on the shelf and warn people to only drink them a specific way. This is one of those cases, and it should only be taken neat.