There’s a certain level of excitement that comes with a distillery’s first aged product. Considering that most small businesses don’t even make it past two years, getting to the point where you have a properly aged bourbon in your catalog is a remarkable achievement and proof that you’ve got a business that works. Still Austin Whiskey Co. recently celebrated this milestone, and being fans of their un-aged stuff, we naturally had to try their first aged product.
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, Texas 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 to most distillers, in that they decided to offer only product that they themselves have distilled (not re-bottling someone else’s whiskey) and to keep them in business they would rely on infused “white lightning” unaged whiskey. Their plan worked, producing a number of delicious whiskey concoctions and the business finally produced its first 100% locally grown, distilled, aged, bottled, and distributed bourbon in 2019.
As mentioned, this is the first aged spirit to come out of Still Austin Whiskey Co. despite being in business since 2017.
The whiskey starts with a grain bill of 70% non-GMO white corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley. 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. Interesting to note, the white corn used in the whiskey is the same white corn used to make the delicious tortillas that are ubiquitous in Austin.
From there, the mash is fermented and distilled on-site and the resulting whiskey is placed in charred oak barrels (with a #3 char) from ISC in Kentucky. The spirit is aged for one year in the Texas heat, which offers a wider swing in temperatures than other climates and accelerates the aging process.
Fun fact: 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.
Once the whiskey is appropriately aged, different barrels are blended together (under the direction of the renowned Nancy Fraley) to produce the bourbon that we are enjoying today.
This is probably my biggest complaint about the whiskey.
When we reviewed the Mother Pepper whiskey, the unique branding on the bottle was a huge part of the experience. It really captured the character of Austin, a quirky hipster vibe that was equal parts rebellious and classic. It was something different and I liked it.
With the release of the aged bourbon, Still Austin has changed up its branding, instead going for a much more traditional approach. The bourbon bottle is a traditional design, a long slender rounded body with rounded shoulders that taper to a medium length neck. It looks just like every other liquor bottle under the sun.
Front and center on the bottle is a huge label, where the vast majority of the space is taken up with some artwork depicting barrels and corn in a river. It’s beautiful artwork (designed by Josh Row, owner of a local Austin skate shop), but that’s not why I’m here. The brand name is smaller and almost lost in the clutter at the top instead of being front and center on the bottle. This is the first bourbon ever made grain to glass in the city of Austin, that’s something that in my opinion that should be more celebrated.
I’m not going to not buy it because of the packaging. I just think there was a missed opportunity here by going with the “safe” styling, and I definitely prefer their old packaging.
On the nose, I get the usual bourbon-y smells. There’s a healthy bit of caramel with some vanilla in the background, but that’s not what makes this interesting. I also get a bit of citrus, some bright lemon or orange smells coming off the glass that makes it seem as if I’ve already got an Old Fashioned without the fixings.
The flavor is very strongly caramel forward with a bit of toffee and some vanilla mixed in. The closest I could think of a comparison is a Werther’s Original, which isn’t bad — those things are damn delicious.
The spirit is smooth and delicious without any bite or bitterness. There’s a good weight to the spirit, not quite as heavy on the tongue as something like Nikka from the Barrel, but still on the more viscous end of the spectrum. Once the initial flavor starts to fade the peppery aspects from the rye content starts creeping in, giving a good kick and a lingering spice that lasts for a few minutes after the spirit is gone.
It’s exactly what I would want from a bourbon. Sweet, delicious, and a little bit of spice.
Normally a bit of ice changes things. Whether that’s some of the more subtle flavors taking a back seat or some of the peppery spice disappearing, something usually happens. In this case, I don’t think anything has changed whatsoever. The spirit tastes the exact same pretty much, with the exception that it’s a little cooler on the palate.
If I could detect any one change it might be that the caramel flavor is a little less forthcoming at first, but that’s it. The flavor is still there and everything still works.
I get the feeling that this is a result of that slow water process, slowly adding water and aging it along with the whiskey instead of just dumping it in at the end. The flavors stick around longer and are more resilient, which is awesome.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Everything just comes together beautifully here and I think it’s fantastic.
The sweetness in the bourbon and the caramel vanilla flavors come through and balance perfectly with the orange bitters. Instead of being overpowered to one end or the other it’s perfect, just the right amount of sweet and bitter for a sippable cocktail.
The mule is the biggest test of a whiskey. The flavor needs to be bold enough to make itself known over the ginger beer, yet not too overpowering that it isn’t good when taken neat. There needs to be a bit of peppery spice that isn’t wiped out by the ice, and all of that needs to balance properly without overwhelming the mixer either.
This bourbon pulls it off perfectly.
The caramel and vanilla sweetness does in fact blend nicely with the bitter ginger beer without overwhelming the flavors, and the peppery spice of the rye comes through in the end to add a bit of a kick that I appreciate. It’s a well rounded drink made with a versatile spirit.
I think Still Austin knocked it out of the park with this one, and on the first pitch no less. It’s a delicious bourbon that does everything well.
If there’s one complaint I could make, it’s that it doesn’t take many chances — whether that’s the grain bill, the packaging, or the flavor profile that the blender selected. Then again, given that this is the very first bourbon they’ve produced, and given they have a host of outside-the-box other products (see again, that awesome Mother Pepper Whiskey), I get the feeling that we’ll be seeing more interesting things come out of the Still Austin Whiskey Co. in the future.
Still Austin Bourbon Whiskey
Owner: Still Austin Whiskey Co.
Production: Austin, Texas
Grain bill: 70% corn, 25% rye, 5% malted barley
Aging: 1 year
Proof: 50.2% ABV
Price: $44.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 5/5
If this is what one year of work gets us, I can’t wait to see what comes out next year.