The craft spirits market is absolutely booming in the US, with small shops opening up all over metro areas. Just to be clear, I’m not complaining — variety is the spice of life, and having more people involved in the process means more unique and interesting takes on the spirit. Here in Austin, Texas, one of those new (and definitely unique) distilleries is Still Austin Whiskey Co., and their “hot take” on whiskey is their Mother Pepper product.
Locally owned and operated by individuals 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, Texas 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.
Opening a new craft distillery is a hard thing to do, specifically because most of the distilled spirits that people want to drink involve at least some form of aging. That means the distillery either needs to sit on their locally produced stock for a long period of time before they can make their first dollar, or they can outsource production to some other facility and produce something that is “bottled by” the distillery but not actually produced by them.
I have a lot of respect for Still Austin resisting the temptation to bottle a pre-made whiskey under their own label and instead focusing on producing locally grown and made spirits. It’s harder, it comes with more risk, but I think Still Austin hit it out of the park.
Still Austin’s first line of whiskey offerings are all variations on the “white lightning” concept, a clear un-aged spirit that is the typical initial product for brown whiskey and bourbon manufacturers. From this state, it would normally be placed in charred oak barrels and aged to perfection — but in an attempt to get a product out without the aging requirements, Still Austin is selling this initial distillation product in three variations: an “as-is” New Make Whiskey, a lemon infused Daydreamer Whiskey, and this hot pepper infused Mother Pepper Whiskey.
Starting with their typical grain based spirit (the grain bill includes corn, wheat, and malted barley in appropriate bourbon proportions), they infuse the alcohol with fresh chile pequin, smoked serrano and aji amarillo peppers. Once infused and toned down to the proper level of alcohol content, the product is bottled and shipped.
The general bottle shape is one of the handful of standard liquor bottles, and a design that is typical of the newer and more “hip” distilleries — a fat base, straight walls around a round bottle, and a rather aggressive curve to a straight short neck. That’s not to say the design isn’t appealing, but it isn’t anything groundbreaking.
Where the design really starts to get notable is what they do to that bottle.
First, the bottle is etched with a design reminiscent of the woven pattern of a lawn chair. Then they add their well designed logo and a couple colored bands that clearly identify the bottle and its contents, specifically which strain of Still Austin’s product is inside. It’s a much more modern design compared to the more traditionally styled labels on other bottles and absolutely stands out on a shelf.
I like it.
As soon as the spirit is in the glass, you can tell that there’s something different here. Still Austin makes other “white lightning” style whiskies and all of them are a true clear distilled spirit. With this one, instead of a pure clear liquid, there’s a pale yellowish orange tint mixed into the drink.
Get closer, and you’ll see (or rather, smell) the reason for that tint: namely the added infusion of spicy peppers. There’s a definite “Tex Mex” aroma going on here that should well alert you to the spice you are about to taste.
Initially when you take a sip, there’s the sweet and delicious flavors that are present in Still Austin’s “standard” offering — the taste of a flour tortilla from the corn, some sweetness from the wheat — and then the heat from the peppers busts down the wall like the Kool-Aid Man and completely overwhelms the pallet. That’s all you can taste from then on.
Which, honestly speaking, is what I would expect from a spicy pepper infused spirit. A little hint of the deliciousness underneath and then just a straight jackhammer of heat.
That’s the thing though: the heat isn’t terrible. It’s just enough that you get a good heat in your mouth, but the combination of the alcohol and the proper level of infusion means that it doesn’t burn your mouth out. At least for me — your mileage may vary. My wife proclaims that this is the very drink of the devil, but she says the same thing about Woodford Reserve and won’t touch a pepper spicier than bell.
There’s no bitterness or other unpleasantness (besides the heat) that you might find in lower grade alcohols, and that’s something that I’ve noted in Still Austin’s other lines as well not just this variety. What we have here is a damn fine spirit that’s competently made and then tweaked to add a little something extra that you don’t normally find in liquor.
Normally you’d expect an ice cube or two to tone down the spicy nature of a drink, but in this case there’s really no change. The only difference I notice is that those first more delicate notes from the base spirit are more toned down.
As for the heat, there’s no taming that beast. It just keeps rolling as hard and as fast as before.
THE BITTERS, THEY DO NOTHING!
No, seriously. The ice adds some dilution to the spirit and the orange flavor is definitely present initially when you take a sip, but the spice of the peppers comes in hard and fast destroying any chance of tasting anything else.
I feel like this is a waste of a good orange peel.
As soon as I took my first sip I felt like the heavens were opening and a choir of angels had started singing. This, my friends, is the best mule I’ve ever had in my life.
My normal mixture for a mule is simply bourbon and ginger beer. It’s simple and tends to preserve the original flavor of the bourbon which I enjoy. In this case, that same mixture but substituting the Mother Pepper is good, but it isn’t perfect. What it’s missing is about a tablespoon of lime juice and this is absolutely fantastic.
I’m a guy that enjoys spicy foods. So a mule that’s a little bit on the spicy side is right up my alley. But the real trick here is that the added sugar and ginger from the ginger beer actually cuts off the heat from the pepper infusion before it becomes “too much” — instead of lingering, there’s a bit of heat and then a crisp cool finish. It’s perfect, and I would die happy drinking nothing but this for the rest of my life.
What we have here is a spirit that was born and raised for one purpose and one purpose only: spicy mixed drinks. Anything else and this spirit is either too strong for the average person to enjoy or defeats the reason why you added the other flavors. But when you put this spirit in its element it is really the best tool for the job.
There are very few spirits that earn a permanent spot on my liquor shelf. It may be a very specialized spirit, but in my opinion it makes the cut.
|Still Austin Whiskey Co. Mother Pepper|
Produced By: Still Austin Whiskey Co.Production Location: Texas, United States
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $22.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
It may be a one trick pony, but the trick it knows will blow your socks off. Especially given the price, this is definitely worth picking up a bottle.