Texas is home to some outstanding distilleries right now, and Houston is no exception to this. The first distiller to the market in that city is Yellow Rose Distilling, and their Outlaw Bourbon Whiskey was prominently displayed at the Texas Whiskey Festival this year. Being fans of what we tasted there, we figured we ought to give it a proper review.
Yellow Rose Distillery was the first legal distillery to be established in Houston following the end of prohibition. Named after the legendary Yellow Rose of Texas, a woman who helped Sam Houston defeat Mexico during Texas’ war for independence, the distillery was founded in 2010 by local Houston residents Ryan Baird, Troy Smith, and Ryan Whitaker and produced its first commercial whiskey two years later in 2012. Since then, the distillery has been dedicated to bottling a truly local Houston, Texas whiskey.
In 2014, the distillery launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to open a tasting room and expand their operations. Three years later, in November 2017, the Spanish wine group The Zamora Company purchased an equity stake in the distillery but the daily operations remain in control of the Houston residents.
This whiskey starts off on a good traditional path, but takes a hard left turn after the distillation process is complete.
Yellow Rose starts with a grain bill of 100% Texas sourced yellow corn. That might be the traditional grain bill for a bourbon, but in today’s industry the standard practice is to add at least a little bit of rye or malted barley to increase the complexity of the flavors. Yellow Rose doesn’t seem interested in playing that game.
From there, the mash is fermented and pot distilled into a white spirit. That pot distillation means that this is definitely a batch production, so there may be some variety from one distillation run to the next. (Variety is the spice of life, after all.)
At this point, the spirit is chucked into new charred white oak barrels and left alone for a period of time. Specifically, about five to seven months. Astute readers will note that this is far short of the more traditional two year gestation period for bourbons, which is where the “outlaw bourbon” appellation comes in. Yellow Rose says that the wild temperature swings in their store houses does a better job of pushing and pulling the whiskey into the charred wood of the barrels and therefore the whiskey doesn’t need to age quite as long.
From there the whiskey is bottled and shipped.
While Yellow Rose might be taking some liberties with the time requirements for bourbon whiskey, their bottle design is about as traditional as you can get.
The bottle itself sports a rounded body with a thicker base that tapers slightly at the bottom of the actual container. From the base, the walls flare outwards slightly until the shoulder of the bottle where it sharply tapers to the neck. The neck itself is about medium length and without any flare, but there is a flange on the lip of the bottle. The whole thing is capped with a wood and cork stopper with a metal inlay on top.
One interesting touch is the addition of a leather accent piece on the neck of the bottle bearing some Yellow Rose branding. It certainly makes the bottle stand out on the shelves and makes people want to touch it — which generally leads to a 70% increase in the probability of someone buying the bottle. Although when it comes to actually using the bottle and pouring the whiskey, the leather accent piece actually makes it a little more difficult than normal.
The brand name of the distillery is painted onto the bottle, and information about the specific line of whiskey is printed on a label that is affixed to the bottom of the bottle’s face. I appreciate the design here, allowing the whiskey to be seen in the bottle while still doing a solid job of branding the product.
The whiskey smells spot-on for a 100% corn bourbon. There’s the usual toffee caramel scent with some vanilla mixed in, but there isn’t really anything else there behind it.
That “what you see is what you get” description carries on to the taste as well. Despite the shorter aging period, I get significantly more of the usual oak barrel taste than with other bourbons, almost like I’m licking the inside of an oak barrel. There’s the caramel again followed with a little vanilla and some earthy richness on the finish.
Overall the spirit is smooth and delicious, even a bit sweeter than the typical bourbon (probably, again, thanks to all that corn). There’s no bitterness or other unpleasantness in the flavor, just pure bourbon.
In this case, the ice does a great job of toning down some of those more earthy flavors and accentuating the sweet caramel in the spirit. Not that there was much to town down to begin with.
It’s actually pretty surprising how much flavor there is in this bourbon despite that short aging process. The fact that anything still comes through with the ice is a testament to those temperature swings in Houston really moving that whiskey around.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Add in a couple splashes of orange bitters and the drink really starts to come together. The sweetness of the bourbon is balanced nicely by the tangy taste of the bitters to make a complete package. As far as Old Fashioneds go, this makes for a solid and traditional one.
It’s delicious, but I think this is where things start to go off the rails a bit.
The point of adding rye to the bourbon’s grain bill is to have something to counteract the sweeter mixers, a certain peppery taste that can be distinctly identified and balance something like a ginger beer. With this mixed drink, there’s really nothing left to balance the sweetness and it runs away with the cocktail. Almost too sweet.
I like that this is a true Texas bourbon, produced with as much locally sourced materials as possible. I like that it’s a sweeter bourbon, and I like how smooth it is overall.
Outlaw Bourbon Whiskey
Owner: Yellow Rose Distilling
Production: Houston, Texas
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Grain bill: 100% Texas yellow corn
Aging: 5 – 7 months
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $52.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
It’s a good bourbon-y bourbon.