Blended whiskey is always interesting. It offers an opportunity for distilleries to bring in something different that they may not have been able to otherwise, and Treaty Oak’s Red Handed Bourbon Whiskey is just one of those products.
The fourth oldest distillery currently operating in Texas, Treaty Oak Distillery was opened in 2006 by Daniel Barnes. Born in West Texas and a sommelier by trade, Barnes and his co-founder / father-in-law Bruce Graham decided (over a glass or two of whiskey) to open a distillery in the Austin, Texas area.
And with that, Treaty Oak was born. Named after the infamous oak tree under which Stephen Austin signed the document detailing the borders of the Republic of Texas, the distillery was founded just south of the city of Austin in Dripping Springs. Like many other craft distilleries, the Treaty Oak Distillery started with spirits that didn’t require aging like rum and gin, but they recently expanded their facility to allow for the production of aged spirits.
Treaty Oak says that they try to emphasize locally sourced ingredients, including the grain and citrus used in their spirits.
While this is indeed a bourbon whiskey, almost none of the whiskey process is completed on-site at Treaty Oak’s facility. Which is a little disappointing as a whiskey purist myself.
The spirit comes from two houses, both alike in dignity, where star crossed spirits are produced that will eventually be blended into the mixture we see before us here today. One such facility is in Kentucky, the other in Virginia. According to Treaty Oak’s website the Kentucky facility is the famed Heaven Hill distillery that makes my favorite cheap bourbon Evan Williams. As for the Virginia whiskey, there’s no mention of provenance.
The spirits are aged at their respective locations and trucked into Treaty Oak as finished bourbon, where they are then blended in a particular ratio and combined with limestone-filtered locally sourced water for proofing to the proper alcohol content. There’s no mention of an additional aging step while the spirits are married, so it appears that the concoction is bottled and shipped directly after production.
The folks at Treaty Oak spared no expense when it comes to the packaging, and as a result this bottle really stands out on the shelf.
Starting with a squared off body, the bottle is tall and thin with straight walls. A sharp yet rounded shoulder transitions to a short round neck. The bottle is topped with a plastic cork, which seems like a bit of a cheap-out for such an otherwise striking bottle.
The label isn’t paper, instead it feels like a plastic material that’s affixed to the bottle. I’m not complaining- it actually feels higher quality than the usual labels. The design is as striking as the bottle, with a slanted top and minimalist aesthetic. The lettering on the bottle is white on an otherwise black background, and which can appear to blend into the deep color of the spirit in the bottle.
I really appreciate that they hang a lantern on the fact that this isn’t distilled at their facility. That starts with the name — Red Handed — a nod to the idea that they’ve been caught “red handed” doing something sneaky. And if that wasn’t enough of a hint, the statement of where this was distilled and bottled is front and center on the label almost impossible to miss.
A lot of distilleries who do this sort of thing seem to be ashamed of what they’re doing, but not these guys. And I appreciate it — hiding the provenance of a whiskey is the only thing to ever be ashamed of, so kudos to Treaty Oak for their forthright approach.
There’s a significant smidge of licorice in the nose of this whiskey, combined with the usual caramel and vanilla aromas. Normally I’m not a fan of licorice, but in this case it all balances very well and smells delicious. It adds some depth to the aroma that normally isn’t present.
There’s a good bit of alcohol burn initially when you take a sip, but eventually it mellows out and tastes exactly how it smells. There’s the caramel and toffee with some vanilla mixed in, but that licorice flavor comes in from the sidelines and mixes it up in a good way.
I really like it. Normally when that kind of flavor comes poking its head in the door, it throws things off and makes it too strange to handle, but in this case it’s actually a unifying force and adds some depth.
The flavor doesn’t actually change all that much with ice. That same balanced and rich flavor remains, where normally with a spirit you would expect that some of the more subtle flavors would disappear.
The biggest difference that I can tell is that the licorice aroma isn’t quite as pronounced in the nose of the spirit. It’s more caramel and vanilla forward with the licorice way in the background.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Honestly, the bitters overpower the spirit a bit too much for my liking. The spirit itself is so well balanced that there’s nothing left to balance with the bitters.
This cocktail works best with sweeter spirits, and this isn’t a sweet spirit to start. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, it’s just not well suited for this specific function.
That licorice flavor comes through all the ginger beer and lime juice beautifully. It doesn’t overpower the drink or get lost in the mix, instead it balances perfectly and makes a richer and more delicious beverage.
I would have liked a little more spice and pepper, but it’s still pretty darn good as is. I generally prefer the heavily rye weighted bourbons but the significant chunk of wheat in blended bourbon #2 mellows it out to the point where any spice is lost in the mix.
It might be a blended bourbon but that doesn’t make it any less delicious. I think this is a great tasting bourbon that works well in a lot of situations, looks great in the bottle, and won’t break the bank.
Red Handed Bourbon Whiskey
Owner: Treaty Oak
Production: Kentucky, Virginia
Classification: Blended bourbon
Grain bill: 70% corn, 21% rye, 9% barley / 66% corn, 14% rye, 20% barley
Proof: 47.5% ABV
Price: $32/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
Caught red handed with something delicious.