The folks at Still Austin have been putting out new and interesting versions of their whiskey multiple times a year now — but usually, these releases are limited to only those who can actually come and visit their distillery to purchase. The Cask Strength edition of their bourbon is the first limited release that is going to be available at liquor stores throughout the state of Texas (even though I still decided to stop by their distillery to pick up my bottle the day it became available).
Locally owned and operated in Austin, Texas, the Still Austin Whiskey Co. opened its doors in 2017.
Despite being somewhat young, 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, in that 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?
Once upon a time, Still Austin produced a relatively young bourbon. They have since stopped producing that edition and instead have switched to a “straight” bourbon that is aged a bit longer. What we have today is just a slight variation of that newer, longer-aged bourbon.
As usual, 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).
Another 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.
The barrels are aged for an undisclosed period of time. With this being a straight bourbon, that time period is at least two years (although the exact age is still not disclosed) and, once their stint is complete, different barrels are blended together under the direction of master blender Nancy Fraley to produce the straight bourbon that we are enjoying today.
For this cask strength version of the spirit, there is no additional dilution or proofing down that happens before bottling. The alcohol content has been steadily reduced through the slow water process so it isn’t as scorchingly high as you might think, but it’s still higher than usual.
Back in the day, Still Austin used a custom etched bottle with a very “chill hipster” era Austin vibe. It was different and interesting, and I liked it very much. Just like the city itself, the bottle design has evolved, using a much more traditional shape while still keeping it weird with the labels. These new bottles have a cylindrical body with a slight flare from the thick glass base to the shoulder that gently rounds 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.
Each of the versions of Still Austin’s spirits showcases custom artwork from a local Austin artist, and this is no different. Technically this spirit is named “The Musician”, in honor of the portrait of a young woman strumming her hair which was painted by renowned artist Marc Burckhardt.
The “standard” edition of this bourbon has a white background for the label; for the cask strength edition, though, they’ve swapped that background for a jet black version with silver lettering. It absolutely lets you know that this is something unique and helps it stand out among their other offerings — and to be frank I actually like it better than the other version.
You’re going to want to let this sit for a minute before starting. Taking a whiff of the glass straight out of the bottle can be a bit overwhelming (with the higher alcohol content and the strong flavors), so letting that reduce a touch will allow you to see the components instead of just the burning.
Generally speaking, the aromas are the same as we saw in the standard edition straight bourbon, but just a touch more saturated. There’s the caramel sweetness right off the bat, but behind it is a bit of toasted oak for depth and some cinnamon spice to keep things interesting.
Honestly speaking, I think there might be a little too much going on here. The flavors we’ve seen before are all present — caramel sweetness, a bit of vanilla, charred oak, cinnamon spice, some dark chocolate, and brown sugar — but it tastes like they’re Monty Burns’ illnesses all trying to cram through the door at once. In the standard edition, the flavors in this bourbon have a little more time to unravel and make themselves known — but here they all come right on top of each other.
The standard edition of their straight bourbon had a great, well-saturated flavor profile when taken neat. This is still really good, but I actually think that the slightly watered down version is the better option if you like your bourbon neat.
Usually, I’m hesitant to add some ice to a good whiskey. The flavors tend to get drowned out or significantly reduced. That said… in this case, I actually looked forward to the extra dilution and reduced temperatures, since it’s pretty much bringing this back to the same flavor profile you’d normally see with the standard bourbon.
The biggest difference between neat and on ice is that the flavors take a little bit more time to show themselves and develop. The dark chocolate flavor is still there and quite enjoyable, but it isn’t as large and in charge as before. There’s more of the caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, and a bit of black cherry in there, which makes things interesting. On the finish, I actually get a hint of orange as well.
The only negative aspect I can point out is that the charred oak seems to be a bit more prominent than I’d like. It has a bit of a bite at times… not overwhelming, but present nontheless.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I prefer a darker and richer bourbon for my cocktails, which this has in spades. And with this Old Fashioned, I think we may have found the format in which this particular bourbon truly shines.
What’s nice about a higher proof whiskey in your cocktail is that more of the flavors shine through in the end. The added components and mixers aren’t able to cover everything up, which means the base spirit contributes more complexity and flavor to the experience.
What you get in this Old Fashioned is a smoky, spicy, delicious cocktail that seems to have a bit more saturation than usual. As I mentioned, often bourbon flavors tend to get a bit washed out and muddled in a cocktail, but here it’s much brighter and clearer. This also has a good balance thanks to that added sugar, which I think really helps the situation.
The mule is the biggest test of a whiskey. The flavor of the whiskey needs to be bold enough to make itself known over the ginger beer, yet not so bold and overpowering that it’s a punch to the mouth when taken neat. There needs to be a bit of pepper that isn’t wiped out by the ice, and all of that needs to balance properly without overwhelming the mixer either.
In this case, it handles the format as masterfully as the regular version — but there’s something extra in here now. The mule that this cask-strength version makes is darker, smokier, and richer than the original, adding a nice twist on the format and bringing something noteworthy to this drink.
I like that Still Austin is spreading their wings a bit and offering new takes on their delicious bourbon. This is definitely an expression worth checking out, and I think it’ll do really well in cocktails. But on its own, this might be a little too much for my taste.
Proof positive that they made the right call proofing down their bourbon for their standard commercial release.
|Still Austin Whiskey Co. Cask Strength Straight Bourbon
Produced By: Still Austin Whiskey Co.Production Location: Texas, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Special Type: Certified Texas Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 59% ABV
Price: $65 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
Great in a cocktail, but cask strength might be a little too strong to handle all on its own.