One of the best things about having a great local craft distillery is that they occasionally put out a truly interesting and quirky bottle of booze. We’ve reviewed several different offerings from Still Austin before, and pretty much everything has been great. So I was understandably very excited to pick up this cool, designed bottle of Cognac finished rye whiskey that they did as a special edition.
Locally owned and operated in Austin, Texas, the Still Austin Whiskey Co. opened its doors in 2017.
Despite being so 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.
Still Austin has produced a number of spirits over the last couple years, from an unaged “white” corn whiskey, to a gin, and eventually a bourbon and a straight bourbon. In the coming weeks, they will be expanding their product line once more with a rye whiskey — but before that has even hit the shelves, they wanted to try and make it even better.
The whiskey starts as a fermented mash of 100% rye grains. Once the alcohol content has risen to the right levels, that distiller’s beer is fed through the massive column still in the center of the distillery’s warehouse (named “Nancy”) where the alcohol is concentrated and turned into “new make” whiskey.
Once the white whiskey has been produced, it is pumped into new charred oak barrels (produced in Missouri) which have been burned to a #3 level of char. There it usually sits for a period of no less than two years before being declared good enough for bottling.
Note that I said usually. The exception being this batch — it actually didn’t quite make it to two years before they started monkeying with the recipe.
With the Distillery Select series, the whiskey only stayed in the original barrels for about 16 months. From there, the whiskey was pumped into Pedro Ximénez sherry casks imported from Spain, where it continued to mature for an additional 8 months bringing the total time in barrel to a combined two years.
Once the whiskey was finished aging, the barrels were blended together and the resulting whiskey was bottled in a one-time run.
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.
The bottle has changed a couple times since then, moving to a slim straight walled cylindrical version for their first bourbon, but they’ve always kept with 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.
What’s really different here is the label. For this release, they partnered with a San-Diego-born contemporary artist named Zuzu who likes to blur the line between street art and fine art. Each bottle was individually spray painted by Zuzu with a unique pattern.
On the one hand, I love the artistry and the uniqueness of the label. For a one-off, limited-edition release, I’m down for it. To be honest, this would be terrible as a mass production release, with the branding and regulatory information completely obscured by the pray paint. Since it’s not mass production, though, and its targeted more at Still Austin fans and loyalists, it’s perfect.
There’s a really nice aroma coming off this glass, with a lot more complexity and fruitiness than we get from this distillery’s usual offerings. You’ll immediately notice some toffee caramel, followed by some crisp apple, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg, with a bit of light coffee and dark chocolate adding some depth and complexity.
As soon as you take the first sip, you’ll be a little surprised at the depth and richness of the flavor profile. The aroma only gave us a hint, and the reality is a bit stronger than expected. Those deeper flavors we barely saw in the aroma are now front and center, with the coffee and chocolate components almost overwhelming the rest of the flavor. Once you get past that initial wave, there’s some good toffee caramel and vanilla in here as well, and just a touch of apple fruit flavor and black pepper spice from the rye content. On the finish, that coffee and apple flavor is what really seems to linger for a bit.
Well in the background — long after the flavors have drifted and mellowed out — I get the faint hint of a Cognac hanging in the background. There’s an impression of sweet grapes and dried fruits that I’m getting, which sounds like the standard fingerprint of a Cognac, but it isn’t really forceful enough to make a meaningful contribution.
What’s interesting to note is that those richer components don’t necessarily come with any of the usual bitterness that I’d expect to follow. I think that despite the forcefulness of the flavors, there’s still some good balance here. It’s definitely a more well-saturated flavor profile than usual, but nothing that really fouls the experience.
With a whiskey this bold and powerful, I was hoping that the ice would help tone things down a bit. Usually, the addition of a few cubes of ice tends to reduce the impact of the louder components at the expense of the lighter and more delicate members of the chorus; in this case, though, it seems that the brash and bold items are just as forceful as before. Only now they are sadly missing more of that nuance and balance we saw when taken neat.
At this point, it tastes much more like a standard well-aged rye whiskey, with a lot of black coffee, tobacco, and just a hint of vanilla and apple to tie it all together. Paradoxically, this actually seems to have gotten a bit bitter… but that’s probably a result of the sweeter components taking a back seat when the ice cubes dropped in.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
What this spirit was missing was a bit of brightness and playfulness, and I think the addition of some angostura bitters accomplishes that goal perfectly.
Immediately, you’ll notice the bright orange aroma and flavor that’s imparted here, followed by some of the other herbals and aromatics. Instead of overpowering the spirit, these components blend nicely with the chocolate and coffee aspects, coming through with just enough force and depth left in the base flavors to balance things out. It’s a darker and richer take on the cocktail for sure, but that’s usually my jam and I’m loving it.
I’m digging this as a Kentucky Mule, but it has nothing to do with the Cognac finishing.
What I really like here is that the depth and the richness of the flavors in the whiskey are doing a great job balancing out the bright and cheery lime juice and ginger beer. Neither one is winning, and the result is something that is downright delicious. Add in the fact that you’re getting a hint of black pepper spice from the rye content and there’s a whole new texture to experience and enjoy. I’m not seeing any of the Cognac finishing flavors, but it’s so good that I couldn’t care less.
The typical hallmark of a Cognac comes from some grape flavors as well as some dried fruit from the aging process. In theory, added to a dark and rich rye whiskey, this should be something that comes out the other side delicious, well balanced, and flavorful.
I think this is a delicious and well aged rye whiskey that is good in its own right, with a label that celebrates local artists in a fantastic manner. But I really don’t get much of the Cognac components here. I see them lurking in the shadows and contributing a tiny little bit, but I don’t think that they making a meaningful contribution to the flavor profile.
Compare this to the sherry cask version of this same rye whiskey that Still Austin put out in 2020. In that case, the sherry definitely seems to be a major contribution to the flavor profile and it really benefits the overall effect. In this case, I just don’t see the Cognac having the same impact, and I don’t think I can justify the price tag with that kind of a showing.
Which really is the downside of this rating scale we use. The question we are answering: “is this whiskey worth the money you are paying for it”. And in this case… the answer is no, but only due to the price tag. Put this out at $60 (instead of the current price tag of $120) and we’ve got a downright banger on our hands.
|Still Austin Whiskey Co. Distillery Reserve Series Cognac Cask Rye Whiskey|
Produced By: Still Austin Whiskey Co.Production Location: Texas, United States
Classification: Rye Whiskey
Special Type: Certified Texas Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 54.3% ABV
Price: $120 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
Dark chocolate, light coffee, sweet caramel, vanilla, and a hint of apple. But not a whole lot of actual Cognac flavors to be found.