When I reviewed Still Austin’s original bourbon, my final statement was that I was looking forward to seeing what a little more time in the barrel can do to mature the flavors. Thankfully, I didn’t need to wait long to find out — Still Austin has just released their “straight” bourbon whiskey.
Locally owned and operated in Austin, Texas, the Still Austin Whiskey Co. opened its doors in 2017.
Despite being so new, 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 released a regular “no age statement” bourbon a couple years ago, and this is essentially a version of that same bourbon — only aged a little bit longer.
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.
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.
For the regular bourbon, 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.
When we reviewed Still’s Mother Pepper whiskey, the unique branding on the bottle was a huge part of the experience. It really captured the character of Austin, a quirky hipster vibe that was equal parts rebellious and classic. It was something different and I liked it.
With the release of their first bourbon, Still Austin changed up its branding — instead going for a much more traditional approach that looks like pretty much every other liquor bottle on the shelf. This Straight Bourbon has struck a balance between the two, in my opinion. As with their first bourbon, front and center on the bottle is a huge label, where the vast majority of the space is taken up with some artwork from artist Marc Burckhardt. The unique artwork brings the Austin ‘weird’ but, otherwise, minimalism and clean design keep it from leaning too far into the weird aesthetic.
On the previous version of their label, the specific batch of whiskey that was inside the bottle was handwritten on the label with a sharpie. That seems to have gone out the window in this newest iteration, but for a valid reason: the blending process helps ensure that there isn’t a ton of variation between batches, so batch labeling would be a time consuming distinction without much of a difference.
Something that is made much more visible on the label is the Certified Texas Whiskey badge. As with their regular bourbon, this is a grain-to-glass Texas made whiskey — which is something that Still Austin understandably wants to shout from the rafters. In this release, they’ve gone from just having it printed in black ink on the back of the label to a big shiny foil sticker on the bottle.
What’s changing the most, though, is the bottle itself – and its definitely for the better. The general size and shape is roughly the same, but this is obviously a custom build. There’s the name of the distillery embossed into the glass itself at the bottom, and there are some slight changes like the geometry of the shoulder and the shape of the top of the neck. They also increased the thickness of the base, which should help it look much better on a bar with under-lit bottles. The bottle is capped off with a wood and synthetic stopper.
This is a further-aged version of Still Austin’s bourbon, and the flavor profile is, for the most part, a deeper and richer version of the bourbon we’ve been enjoying for a while now. The aroma coming off the glass has the same standard caramel and vanilla flavors in it, but those flavors are darker and richer than before. There’s also a bit of a buttery aspect to it, which I didn’t see in the original.
Taking a sip, there’s no doubt that this has been sitting in a charred oak barrel for significantly longer than the original version. Charcoal and charred oak is the number one thing I get here, which gives me the impression of dark chocolate when mixed with the other flavors in here. Once that flavor starts to mellow out a bit, those same sweet caramel and vanilla notes come back in — albeit, a richer and more heavily saturated version.
After the flavors breathe for a bit, the peppery spice from the rye content starts to kick in and you start to also get some smokey flavors that linger into the aftertaste.
It’s like someone turned up the saturation on the original version of their bourbon. It’s still smooth and delicious, but with a richer and more smokey flavor profile.
Ice usually has a bit of a mellowing effect on a whiskey, reducing the impact of the more powerful flavors and evening out the remainder of the experience. And that’s no different here.
With some added ice, the darker smokey charcoal flavors are significantly toned down but there’s still that chocolate flavor remaining. But while the lighter flavors are usually significantly reduced, I feel like they actually pop out a bit more here. The caramel is more of a sweet brown sugar here, with that vanilla coming in to make for a well rounded profile. I think I also see a bit of dark cherry in the background starting to peek out.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Darker, richer bourbons usually do best in an old fashioned, but there’s a fine line that the spirit needs to balance on. Too much of the darker and richer elements can throw off the balance of the cocktail, leading to chaos and an unpleasant experience; not enough, and the spirit doesn’t bring anything to the flavor profile, getting lost in the noise.
In this case, it’s damn near perfect. It’s certainly a richer and smokier version of an old fashioned, but I’m absolutely down for that. Don’t skimp on the sugar, though — you’ll need it to make sure the whole thing gels nicely and coalesces into a coherent and balanced drink. It’s a bit bitter if you don’t, as the natural bitterness of the spirit combined with the bitters themselves would be a little much.
The mule is the biggest test of a whiskey. The flavor 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 bourbon, but there’s something extra in here as well. The cocktail that this makes is darker, smokier, and richer than the original, adding a nice twist on the format.
Between the original and this longer-aged version, I don’t think one is better than the other. Both expressions have something to say — the younger version is sweeter and lighter, while the older version is richer and darker. And which is right for you might just depend on the mood you’re in that day.
That said, I think this might be the epitome of a Texas straight bourbon. Bold, rich, and locally sourced.
|Still Austin Whiskey Co. 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: 49.2% ABV
Price: $45 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 5/5
Still Austin is still cranking out great stuff.