Austin is a weird place — one of constant change, discover, and experimentation. And, much like the city itself, Still Austin is a distillery that embraces those same concepts. Occasionally they release an experimental batch of spirits for the locals to try, and their latest experiment is a four grain bourbon that dropped just at the start of summer.
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.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
The standard edition bourbon coming out of Still Austin is a three grain blend, but here they’ve added a little extra variety by including some wheat in the grain bill — specifically a mixture of 68% white corn, 15% rye, 13% wheat, and 4% malted barley. Wheated bourbons are kind of a trend at the moment, and the softer, smoother flavor profile you get from them seems to be a big hit, so it makes perfect sense here to give that a shot.
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. Also 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. For this specific bottling, only two barrels of spirits were distilled, aged a minimum of three years and then combined to produce the bottles of whiskey that were put on sale.
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. This time around they partnered with a local clothing manufacturer called Fort Lonesome to create a set of fabric labels. The backing felt has been applied directly to the glass bottle, and a stitched patch with some artwork is applied to the front.
I love the ingenuity here. I don’t think this is something I’ve seen anywhere else and I really appreciate that novel approach to labels. That said, there’s no way that this is lasting very long. Either the glue is going to fail and the label will come off the bottle, or there’s going to be too much alcohol dripped on the label for it to stay in good shape.
This smells pretty close to their standard edition bourbon. I’m getting a lot of brown sugar and vanilla with a touch of toffee caramel, and in the background some raw corn. But there’s also this fruity note in there, like a bit of apple and some orange citrus, which is probably thanks to the high rye content.
There’s a good bit more saturation in here than usual, which I’d expect from a bottle that clocks in at 114.1 proof. But there’s a smoothness and a silky quality to the liquid that I didn’t see in, for example, their cask strength edition. In that bottle, there was a bit of roughness that came with the charred oak component, but in this four grain version it seems much more mellow. I feel like that’s something we can attribute to the wheat content, and I’m a fan.
The flavor does start out with some charred brown sugar — but thankfully without the associated bitterness that usually comes with that tasting note. It develops further into more of a sweet brown sugar note as it picks up some vanilla and toffee caramel companions, and then the fruity orange citrus and ripe apple that we saw in the aroma. Near the finish, things take a bit of a darker turn, with some black pepper spice and dark chocolate being the primary components that linger on.
The nice thing about having a whiskey at such a high proof is that it typically does much better when you add some ice. The flavors don’t get quite as watered down, and there’s still some interesting stuff going on.
In this case, I think a lot of the sweeter components have skedaddled. What I’m primarily getting now is a lot of dark chocolate, some charred brown sugar, and a tiny bit of citrus. On ice, I don’t think this is necessarily as much of an easy-sipping spirit as it was neat — but these darker and richer flavors should do well in cocktails.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Darker, richer, more flavorful old fashioned cocktails are my jam, and this is a perfect example of how that tastes.
The darker flavor components are what really shine through when the ice is added to the drink; specifically, those charred brown sugar and dark chocolate notes. These flavors give the herbaceous elements of the bitters something to work with and balance out, and the end result is something that has some depth and character rather than just a glass of fruit and vanilla.
It feels like this cocktail belongs in a dark, smoke-filled bar. Probably not ideal for a pool party or a day out on the boat, but perfect for a cool speakeasy or jazz club.
As with all things, balance is key. Something bright and shiny needs to have a darker, richer component added to make it truly enjoyable. And I feel like that’s what we have here.
You’re getting something that is a bit darker in character than a typical Kentucky Mule, but no less refreshing. The bright and cheerful ginger beer is nicely balanced by the burned brown sugar and dark chocolate, and the result is an almost smoky characteristic that I’m really digging. There’s also some interesting work going on near the finish, with the black pepper spice from the rye content adding some character at the end instead of just a simple flat favor that you’d usually see.
This is an excellent example of adding some wheat to the grain bill to really help the flavor profile. We saw a version of this in their cask strength edition, which had some great saturation and dark flavors but turned out to be a bit overpowering and with some rough edges. Here, we’ve got something made in the same manner, with basically the same components — but now the addition of that wheat allows it to really come together in a coherent and palatable manner.
I think where this is losing me a bit is the price point. It’s a spendy bottle compared to what else is on the market, and while the flavors are great, I’m not sure it’s worth basically a 100% premium over the cask strength. It’s a great sip, but at this price point there are some bottles that outshine it.
And the label… for a limited release, I’ll let the unique-but-less-than-durable label slide.. but for a production release, I feel like that would get some closer scrutiny. Some of their other offerings have featured equally interesting and great-looking labels while still being a bit more durable (like versions where an artist hand paints each bottle). But this feels like it just went a touch too far for the product, in my opinion.
|Still Austin Whiskey Co. Distillery Reserve Series Four Grain Whiskey|
Produced By: Still Austin Whiskey Co.Production Location: Texas, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Special Type: Certified Texas Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 57.05% ABV
Price: $150 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A dark, rich, and well-composed wheated bourbon that is great neat or in a cocktail.