Whiskey Review: Still Austin Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon

Still Austin is one of my favorite distilleries. Not only is it a great space with friendly staff in downtown Austin, Texas, but they actually make proper grain-to-glass whiskey and make the effort to experiment with their product. Case in point: just this month, they came out with another experiment they’ve been working on: a sherry cask finished version of their bourbon whiskey.

History

Locally owned and operated in Austin, Texas, the Still Austin Whiskey Co. opened its doors in 2017.

Despite its youth, 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 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 the business afloat while their first batches of whiskey aged, 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.

Product

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, and to promote the expression of more of the flavor from the barrels.

Once the whiskey is appropriately aged, different barrels are blended together (under the direction of the renowned Nancy Fraley) to produce their standard bourbon offering. To make this special sherry cask finished edition, the bourbon is poured into previously used sherry casks from Pedro Ximénez for a little while longer.

Packaging

There’s a couple interesting / strange things going on here.

Overall the whiskey bottle is a smaller version of their typical bourbon bottle. It’s a long and slender bottle with a round shoulder and a medium length neck that’s topped with a polymer stopper. It’s a more traditional bottle shape than their original version, which is a shame since their original bottles were as weird as Austin.

Probably the most interesting design choice is that the text on the back of the bottle is in Spanish. The choice was intentional — sherry is a traditionally Spanish beverage and this was a great way to pay homage to the Spanish history of Austin.

As far as I can tell, this whiskey is only available for sale in the smaller 375ml versions, not the more typical 750ml bottles. It makes sense, given the fact that this is a small release, that they would want to maximize the number of people who can take a sample home.

Neat

The aroma initially is the same as I get from their normal bourbon offering. 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 possibly orange scent coming off the glass that makes it seem as if I’ve already got an Old Fashioned without the fixings. But there’s also some added grape based aromas, like a bit of merlot has been added to the mixture. It’s very faint and in the background, but present.

The flavor is stronger than the original bourbon, which makes sense given the longer aging time. There’s still the caramel Werther’s Originals flavor but it’s in the background, with the oak flavors taking a more prominent role. The peppery spice from the rye in the grain bill is also much more prominent and pronounced.

In general, the whiskey is smooth but the peppery finish lingers long after the liquid has disappeared. It’s bold and spicy with delicious impact.

On Ice

Typically, some added ice brings down the bolder aspects of a spirit and this is no different. The peppery spice is greatly reduced — not as prominent but still decidedly present. The vanilla flavor is coming through much more clearly, and the caramel has dropped almost completely off the radar.

I think at this point I can actually taste some of that faint red wine flavor in the background, adding a bit of complexity. It’s faint but there.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

Sometimes, added age is a good thing — but it needs to be done carefully, since it can also alter some of the basic aspects of the spirit. In this case, I’d say it’s done to mixed results. Here, the impact of the added age is less caramel flavors in the spirit — so there isn’t as much sweetness to balance out a typical Old Fashioned.

At the distillery, they used this as a cocktail base spirit with some cherry juice added into the mix (to add that sugar content instead of muddling in a sugar cube). I think that’s actually a brilliant way of doing things and adds the requisite sweetness without much muss or fuss. Either way, this extra-aged spirit needs a bit of extra sugar in when in a cocktail.

Fizz (Mule)

In the normal version of this spirit, there’s a considerable amount of caramel and sweetness to balance out the bitterness of the ginger beer. In this case, that caramel flavor has been greatly reduced and it’s not quite as delicious as the normal version.

That said, there’s still a good bit of peppery spice making itself known through the cocktail, which is one of the things that I look for in a bourbon based mule. It’s definitely not a terrible spirit for a mule… just not the best, either.

Overall Rating

I appreciate the craft. I appreciate that they tried to do something different with their whiskey and exploring new avenues. But in this case, I think the younger, sweeter bourbon is the better expression. This is still good – with the peppery finish and rounded tone that comes from a sherry finished bourbon – but I find it making me want to reach for the bottle of their “standard” bourbon.

Still Austin Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon Whiskey
Owner: Still Austin Whiskey Co.
Production: Austin, Texas
Classification: Bourbon
Grain bill: 70% corn, 25% rye, 5% malted barley
Aging: 1 year + Undisclosed time in a sherry cask
Proof: 50.2% ABV
Price: $90/ 750ml

Overall Rating: 2/5
Proof positive that there’s a sweet spot. Not too young, not too old.

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