In Austin, we’re fortunate to have an abundance of great craft distilleries putting out some truly unique and delicious experiments. For example, Still Austin not only produces their usual line of offerings, but also has periodic special releases under their Distillery Reserve series — and I line up to try every one, as they haven’t let me down yet. So today we’re checking out their latest offering, Straight Oated Bourbon, to see what happens when you add a whole mess of oats to the grain bill of a straight bourbon whiskey.
Locally owned and operated in Austin, Texas, the Still Austin Whiskey Co. opened its doors in 2017.
Despite being fairly young, Still 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.
And from the start, the company took a different approach from many 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 relied on infused “white lightning” unaged whiskey. Their plan worked, producing a number of delicious unaged 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?
A number of Still Austin’s Distillery Reserve series bourbons have focused on interesting finishing techniques or maturation in unique types of barrels. For this specific release, though, things are different right from the start as they decided to go with a novel mash bill.
Usually, Still Austin whiskey starts with a grain bill of 70% non-GMO white corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley. In this case, we still have the predominant corn making up 58% of the grain bill, but there’s now 35% naked oats (a strain of oat that naturally loses its seed jacket during the threshing process) and 7% wildfire malted barley (a barley specific to Texas) thrown into the mix.
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. The spirit is aged for three years in the Texas heat (which offers a wider swing in temperatures than other climates and accelerates the aging process) which more than qualifies it as a straight bourbon whiskey.
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.
For this specific batch, the whiskey was placed into five barrels — three with a typical #3 (medium) char, and two with a lighter #1 char. The resulting spirit was blended together and proofed down prior to bottling.
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.
Usually with one of their distillery release editions, Still goes all out on the label. In previous versions, they have hired spray paint artists to individually spray each bottle, or hired a company to create a felt patch for each label, but in this case it seems like they went for more of a typical paper label like you’ll see on their other standard releases. They did continue to use local artists in a unique manner, though: each bottle comes with a print of a photograph from the collection of Beau Simmons, a local Austin photographer who tries to capture moments in time that reflect the authenticity of his home state of Texas.
The spirits coming out of Still Austin tend to be on the darker side (even those that aren’t aged as long as this one has been) but in this case, the color in the glass is best described as either a dark amber or a rusty iron kind of hue. Coming off the glass is a deliciously sweet aroma, with an immediately recognizable hit of brown sugar leading the charge. That is followed by some dark chocolate, a bit of coffee, some cedar chips, vanilla, and just a splash of orange citrus.
As soon as you take a sip, you’ll notice a richness and a depth to the flavor; specifically, it reads like a dark sticky toffee pudding with that level of sweetness and an almost creamy texture to the flavors. I can get some hints of brown sugar as well, but it seems like they might have been burnt or singed a bit and are giving off the slightest bit of an acerbic component. As the flavors quickly develop, those sweet and rich flavors are joined by some baking spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper, all of which add some interesting spicy notes to the flavor profile.
Closer to the finish, this starts to taste more like I remember Still Austin’s bourbon normally tasting — a touch of orange citrus, some brown sugar, vanilla, and caramel.
As a straight whiskey, this spirit has a significantly higher alcohol content compared to a typical bourbon. Which is a good thing when sipping on the rocks, since the addition of some ice tends to dilute the flavors and throw things off balance. The extra bit of alcohol really does help allow those flavors to punch.
The flavors that are most prominent after the addition of a bit of ice are the ones I liked the best, to be honest — and they are joined by some new components that I didn’t notice before. I’m getting that rich brown sugar, slightly toasted even, but without the charred component that made this taste slightly bitter at first. It’s joined by some dark chocolate for added depth, a hit of orange citrus that adds some zesty levity, and the oats tasting just like a delicious warm and gooey oatmeal raisin cookie.
FYI, personally, I think oatmeal raisin cookies are the best cookies and there’s a depth and a richness to the oatmeal raisin cookie that simply can’t be matched. A lot of that has to do with the addition of some delicious baking spices in the best versions of oatmeal raisin cookies, and I think those same baking spice flavors are elevating this spirit as well. Mixed in with the other flavors here are also solid glimpses of cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper that add some delicious texture and complexity.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
There are some instances where I like to add a dash of orange bitters into my old fashioned cocktails. Especially for the richer and darker versions, sometimes simply adding the orange peel at the end doesn’t cut the mustard and the flavor profile just needs that extra bit of citrus to make it perfect.
The good news here is that you can hold the orange bitters, as the whiskey already has that particular party trick queued up.
All this really needs is two dashes of angostura bitters and you’re perfect. There’s plenty of sweetness in the flavors of the bourbon (specifically, the toffee pudding and the brown sugar), so while adding a cube of sugar won’t ruin the drink, it might actually be unnecessary. The herbal elements from those bitters mingle perfectly with the darker, richer flavors of the bourbon and present a delicious cocktail that is absolutely worth a try.
The flavors of the mixers in a mule can often overwhelm the flavors of the spirit, especially for weaker (lesser) spirits. I don’t want to just taste the ginger beer — I want to taste a delicious symphony of flavors that is perfectly balanced and richly diverse. And that’s exactly what I’m getting here.
Starting with the balance of the flavors, the richness and depth of the flavors in the bourbon do a fantastic job providing a balance against the bright (and often overpowering) ginger beer and lime juice. Not only do they keep each other in check, but the orange citrus from the whiskey actually compliments the other citrus flavors and adds yet another delicious note to their melody.
But what really stands out are the baking spices. These flavors are what really make this cocktail delicious, adding an interesting texture on top of an already wonderfully balanced set of flavors. It’s the little bit of extra special sauce that differentiates a “good” mule from a “great” mule, and I think this hits the nail on the head.
Still Austin’s Distillery Reserve series is all about experimentation, and as a result not everyone is going to like everything that they put out. It’s more about seeing the results of the different choices that the distiller makes along the way than it is about finding an absolutely delicious (and commercially successful) spirit.
In this case, I think the addition of some oats was a fantastic idea. The higher ABV of the spirit when taken neat made for some slightly bitter flavors, but as soon as some ice was added to the glass the spirit really came into its own. Whether as an old fashioned, or a mule, or even just on the rocks, the baking spices and richer flavors in this bourbon make it a winner in my book.
I can definitely understand why they added some lighter barrels to the mix in terms of the char level. Like I said the distillery had three barrels with the typical char level and two that were barely toasted, and those lighter barrels may have added just the right level of sweetness and cut down on the harshness of the heavier char enough to let this spirit really shine. It really is a testament to the skill of the distillers and blenders to plan ahead for that flavor profile and blend their barrels in just the right way so that it all works out so well in the end.
This is one of those bottles where, if they offered it as a regular release, I’d be all over it.
|Still Austin Whiskey Co. Distillery Reserve Series Straight Oated Bourbon Whiskey|
Produced By: Still Austin Whiskey Co.Production Location: Texas, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: 3 Years
Proof: 54.5% ABV
Price: $100 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A rich and delicious oatmeal raisin cookie of a bourbon, with some orange citrus and dark chocolate components thrown in for good measure.