Unpopular opinion: to me, bourbon is more Texas than a frosty margarita. It’s a Texas sunset on the last summer night, the feel of well worn leather boots, and the comfort and complexity of the vast open skies and density of the cities we call home. It’s being at a John Mayer concert in the summer, or a dance hall show featuring Bonnie Raitt. It’s a true love affair for me, and maybe soon for you.
Now before you move past this post with a wrinkled nose, hear me out. There is a lot of bottom-shelf yuck out there that passes for a terrible whiskey or bourbon, but let me tell you something: the shelves are now lined with a variety of offerings, both local and international, that will make the whiskey-and-Coke of your youth pale in comparison. But how does one begin to explore the various Texas bourbon offerings?
First, start locally (-ish). Many distilleries offer tours that make for a great weekend date away, where you can sample a variety of offerings and maybe a cocktail or two. Where to go?
- Garrison Brothers in Hye, TX—Hands down, the most friendly and educational distillery I’ve visited, but also FAMILY FRIENDLY! A must-have on the shelf at home is their Small Batch. The aroma includes vanilla; the taste leaves a hint of sweet butter in your mouth; and a drink makes you feel like you’ve enjoyed a smooth espresso. Garrison has an outdoor area where you can picnic, with tea on tap for the kids, and on weekends, there’s often a food truck. A great summer drink to make with Garrison’s Bourbon is the McKinney Falls, which has lemon, rosemary simple syrup, and strawberries. It goes down quick, so be careful!
Garrison Brothers Distillery, 1827 Hye-Albert Rd., Hye, TX 78635 | (830) 392-0246
- Treaty Oak in Dripping Springs, TX—If you still haven’t been able to shake the kids, this is also another family friendly place to visit. There’s a restaurant on site, and a tasty BBQ walk-up counter. Treaty Oak offers a few different spirits, but their Ghost Hill Bourbon makes for a great addition to your liquor cabinet AND makes for a great hostess gift. Tasting this made me think of a nectarine pico de gallo (trust me) because of it’s finish. When there, try the Grilled Lemon Sour – watch it being made because this is one you’ll be wanting to recreate all summer long. Another refreshing option is the Young Buck.
Treaty Oak Distilling, 16604 Fitzhugh Rd., Dripping Springs, TX 78620 | (512) 599-0335
- 1876 Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey/Dripping Springs Distilling in Dripping Springs, TX—From the makers of Dripping Springs Vodka! Also super passionate about what they do, the tour is very informative and provides you with a variety of tastings (plus cocktails for purchase before and after). This one reminds me of a sweet, smokey cigar (just the scent of an unlit cigar) and a big cozy leather chair. Have you ever had a Blackberry Bourbon Bramble? Want one? Then this is the spirit you need to make this refreshing cocktail.
Dripping Springs Distilling, 5330 Bell Springs Rd., Dripping Springs, TX 78620 | (512) 858-1199
- Yellow Rose Distilling in Houston, TX—Contrary to other bourbons made with corn AND wheat, Outlaw Bourbon Whiskey is 100% corn. (This fact can cause a division amongst bourbon drinkers, much like Texas football rivalries.) This small batch can also disappear from your shelf with its almost warm caramel corn nose and taste. Makes for an amazing Old Fashioned.
Yellow Rose Distilling, 1224 N. Post Oak Rd., Suite 100, Houston, TX 77055 | (281) 886-8757
- Firestone & Robertson Distilling in Fort Worth, TX—With notes of fig and brown sugar, this balanced offering is made with corn and wheat and is a great sipper on a breezy, warm afternoon. While they are up in Ft. Worth, it’s worth a visit while in the area, if only to try their Forth Worth Julep!
Firestone & Robertson Distilling, 4250 Mitchell Blvd., Ft. Worth, TX 76119 | (817) 840-9140
Bourbon 411 (From the American Bourbon Association):
So what actually is the difference between “whisky,” “whiskey,” and “bourbon”?
All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon whiskey. Distillation rules dictate naming, though Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, and others do not stick to these rules and aren’t considered “bourbons.”
Eager to go tasting but can’t get away? Try these options in San Antonio (and invite me along!):
- Alamo Distilling Co.—Full disclosure: I’ve not yet made it to a tour to taste, but it’s local and they have a ginger smash that looks amazing.
Alamo Distilling Co., 621 Chestnut Ave., San Antonio, TX 78202 | (210) 325-7853
- Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling—RC offers up weekly family-friendly events throughout the year, including tastings and pizza nights! Their .36 Texas Straight Bourbon has a mellow caramel taste I like for crafting Old Fashioneds or even with some sweet tea and a twist of lemon.
Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling, 4834 Whirlwind, San Antonio, TX 78217 | (210) 339-2282
- Devils River is set to open in San Antonio later this year, currently distilled in Kentucky. You can look online for tastings at Spec’s and other places. A blend of corn, rye, and malted barley, this is a bit different than the others listed in its flavor profile of “pepper, and oak, balanced with a slight but rich sweetness of caramel, brown sugar, and orange zest.” That said, a great summer beverage you can make is the Rio Diablo, which takes advantage of the spicy notes.
Opening later in 2019
- The Bar at Bohanan’s—Ask for a bourbon version of the “Bohanan’s Bramble,” a gin favorite made with lemon juice, sugar, and blackberries. Also, this place is my happy place. Sit at the bar, ask all the questions, have some snacks, try some drinks. They know their stuff and are happy to help you on your bourbon experience.
The Bar at Bohanan’s, 219 E. Houston St., San Antonio, TX 78205 | (210) 472-2202
- Bar 1919 offers the Shooter McGavin, combining both bourbon and Irish whiskey with Maraschino, house ginger, fresh lemon, and peach bitters. It’s a great summer cocktail at a great place to try a variety of bourbon.
Bar 1919, Blue Star Arts Complex, 1420 S. Alamo St., San Antonio, TX 78204 | (210) 227-1420
- The Esquire Tavern has an impressive selection of bourbons to try, and the amazing staff is always happy to help you find a new favorite.
The Esquire Tavern, 155 E. Commerce St., San Antonio, TX 78205 | (210) 222-2521
- The Hoppy Monk is another place to visit and try new things. Their extensive bourbon (and whiskey and scotch and beer) offerings are impressive and include Ranger Creek, Garrison Brothers, and other options for you to try. And if you hit it just right, the cocktail special is something tasty and bourbony.
The Hoppy Monk, 1010 N. Loop 1604 E., San Antonio, TX 78232 | (210) 545-3330
- Sternewirth at Hotel Emma—“Born of a Bourbon Man” is an interesting, advanced level cocktail to try, made with coffee liqueur, licor 43, lemon, maple, pecan bitters, egg white, and bacon salt. Yes. Try it.
Sternewirth Tavern and Club Room, 136 E. Grayson St., San Antonio, TX 78215 | (210) 223-7375
To pique your curiosity, here’s one last beverage to try—and directions for how to make it at home:
The Rio Grande
(Because grapefruit is the official state fruit of Texas!)
- 1 oz fresh grapefruit juice
- 1.5 oz Texas bourbon of choice (Ghost Hill and Garrison Bros are my choices)
- .5 oz simple syrup
- Fill shaker with ice and ingredients. Shake until well chilled. Strain over ice, and garnish with a slice of grapefruit.
Now, I’m not discounting the classics like the Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Manhattan, Kentucky Mule, Mint Julep, or Brown Derby. These are staples in my kitchen and might soon be in yours too. Bottoms up, mamas!