We’ve had a few sneak peeks into Still Austin’s new rye whiskey over the last couple years via their Distillery Reserve series — specifically a sherry cask finished version and, more recently, a cognac cask finished version. Today, we finally get a look at the rye whiskey all on its own — and in a “straight” version no less! We can finally answer the question: was it worth the wait?
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 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 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.
This whiskey starts as a crop of 100% rye grains, which is an interesting change from the norm. Most distilleries would throw a little corn or some malted barley in there, but Still Austin seems to think that the rye on its own is good enough to get the job done. Those grains are milled on-site and cooked to create the “mash” (no Hawkeye need apply).
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. As a “straight” whiskey, the spirit is aged for two years 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.
Once properly aged, the whiskey is proofed down using local water and bottled for 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. These days, the bottle has evolved into a much more “traditional” whiskey bottle shape, which looks rather boring and uninspired. There’s a cylindrical body with walls that flare outwards slightly from the base to the rounded shoulder, and then a medium length neck that is capped off with a wood and cork stopper. They seem to have put some cash into getting custom bottles as the distillery’s name is embossed in the glass, but otherwise it looks like any of a number of other bottles out there.
This isn’t necessarily bad — the bottle design is widely used for a reason — but it isn’t all that interesting either.
When it comes to the label, Still Austin seems to be starting to better stratify their lines of spirits: their bourbon based offerings are labeled “The Musician”, their gin is marketed as “The Botanist”, and this rye is being sold as “The Artist”. Each of the standard editions utilize artwork from local Austin artist Marc Burckhardt illustrating those concepts, providing a consistent visual appearance while still being able to easily differentiate the lines. The label is large and otherwise plain, taking up the majority of the space on the bottle and leaving only a little bit of surface area to see the color of the liquid inside.
I’ll be honest — it’s fine. It doesn’t blow my socks off, but I appreciate the local Austin art on the front and the clean design.
This is a beautiful dark amber color, almost like a deep red rust that looks fantastic in the glass. The aroma is rich and inviting with some notes of crisp apple, brown sugar, cherry, cedar chips, and dried figs. There’s a good level of saturation too — enough to make it interesting without being overpowering.
That level of saturation continues into the flavor, and with some unexpected guests joining the line-up. There’s a heavy helping of brown sugar, toffee caramel, and vanilla up front, followed quickly with some coffee and chocolate. All of this lays the groundwork for the crisp apple as the flavor develops, combined with some cedar chips and baking spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. On the finish, I get a bit of that traditional black pepper spice from the rye content, which (along with the coffee, chocolate, and brown sugar flavors) lasts well into the finish.
Usually, adding some ice can negatively impact a spirit. Flavors get muddled, interesting notes get lost or covered up, and generally the drink feels flatter. But in this instance, I think the ice actually makes things better.
Those darker, richer flavors are still present, but significantly reduced. The crisp apple and brown sugar are now the first things I can taste, something much closer to a traditional rye whiskey. And just behind that are hints of the darker flavors — the chocolate, coffee, baking spices, and caramel — providing some power and deliciousness. It is still pretty well balanced, but with some noticeable potential for making interesting cocktails.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I really love everything going on here. The added ice was just enough to release some of the other flavors, while still retaining some of that depth and richness. And those darker aspects are what balance exceptionally well here with the bitters, marrying the herbaceous and cheerful flavors of the bitters with the deeper components from the rye. Add in the crisp apple, cherry, and subtle dried fig that you also get… this cocktail is full of so many fruit flavors.
If I have one complaint, it’s that there could be a touch more depth here and saturation to that richness. The flavors exist, but I feel like if the coffee and chocolate were a bit more accentuated, this would be a better version of this cocktail. It might be a good enough excuse to break out the chocolate or coffee bitters, though — this definitely a whiskey you can experiment with.
This is a pretty good mule, but I think the depth and richness might be making it a touch unbalanced.
Up front, those darker and richer flavors do a great job balancing out the bright ginger beer and lime juice. There’s not much of an acidic bite, but instead more of a mellow experience. What develops and follows that is a situation where the chocolate and coffee seems to win the fight, unfortunately becoming a bit unbalanced in that direction.
On the finish, the darker elements are still prevalent, providing a bit of bitterness near the end. But at least there’s something entertaining instead of just a boring flat finish. I do get some of the black pepper spice, but there’s also that slight bitterness that makes things less than perfectly pleasant.
I can certainly see why they chose this for the base for their Distillery Reserve series. This is a delicious rye whiskey all on its own, but once you add in the barrel finishing and give it a little extra care and attention this can really shine. There are some great flavors and a good saturation, it just needs a bit of polish to truly be great,
And that’s what’s keeping me from giving this the full five stars. It’s a more complex and flavorful rye than some others that we’ve tried in this same category and class, but it didn’t quite ace the Kentucky Mule test and I think it requires a bit of experimentation to find the perfect bitters to compliment it in an Old Fashioned. For now, though, I’ll still be happily enjoying this bottle straight or on the rocks.
|Still Austin Whiskey Co. Straight Rye Whiskey
Produced By: Still Austin Whiskey Co.Production Location: Texas, United States
Classification: Straight Rye Whiskey
Special Type: Certified Texas Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 49.8% ABV
Price: $50 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
Crisp apple, brown sugar, baking spices, chocolate, and coffee. All in one delicious sip.