Old-time piano jazz belted through the halls of Silver Street Studios, where whiskey peddlers converged last night to show off their stuff at the Texas Monthly Whiskey Affair. Drink-slingers poured bourbons, blends, ryes and more while a host of chefs served dishes to a crowd that swelled beyond 650 people.
Texas whiskey made a strong show, with about half of the distilleries represented hailing from within the state. At a seminar that served as something of a State of the State Address on Whiskey, a group of Lone Star craftsmen talked about how and why Texas is a hotspot for homegrown hooch.
“I would argue that the environment here — especially the hot winters that have huge fluctuations where it’s 20-degrees one day and 70 the next day — it might suck for your health but it’s great for the bourbon,” said Rob Arnold, head distiller at Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co.
Sitting alongside Arnold were representatives from Balcones Distilling, Garrison Brothers Distilling, Ironroot Republic, and panel moderator Jessica Dupuy, a certified sommelier and Texas Monthly Wine & Spirits contributor.
“All of these guys really are making this grain-to-glass whiskey,” said Dupuy. “They have hands-on control from start to finish of what it is they are actually producing,” and that’s a good thing for Texas, she said.
Look no further for evidence of sustainable liquor than the 270-acre plot of land in Hye, where brothers Dan and Charlie Garrison grow some of the grain they use to make mash. What they don’t grow they source from other Texas farmers. Their distillery stakes its claim as the first legal bourbon distillery outside of Kentucky.
From under a ten-gallon hat, Dan Garrison told the story of how he defied those who said he couldn’t make bourbon outside of Kentucky. “I went to all the distilleries in Kentucky and at every single distillery they said the same thing to me,” he recounted. “They would say, ‘Bourbon can only be made in the great state of Kentucky.’ And I said bullshit, this is America.”
Garrison wrote a letter to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who approved his request to make bourbon in Texas. Since 2006, the brothers have been making lawful Texas bourbon.
Waco-based Balcones joined Garrison Brothers in the Texas whiskey industry when they started distilling in 2009. Their selections proved popular for enthusiasts who braved the line that persisted at the Balcones table. Their single malt garnered praise from Texas Monthly Editor in Chief Tim Talliafero, who circulated through the crowd over the course of the evening.
Talliafero described the event as a means to connect with readers. “This is the kind of thing that interests our audience. We have an informed, affluent audience that cares about things like good whiskey,” said the editor. “This is the kind of thing where we can bring people closer to us, closer to the brands that want to affiliate with us and let them experience Texas Monthly in a different way.”
New experiences were in no short supply at the event, where newcomer distillery Ironroot Republic was represented by founder and distiller Jonathan Likarish. With the help of family matriarch and business manager Marcia Likarish, Jonathan and his brother Robert Likarish craft whiskey made from corn grown near their distillery in Denison and an assortment of heirloom varietals. Ironroot Republic was among the youngest distilleries in attendance.
“There’s a really amiable environment within the industry,” said Likarish, who told Free Press that camaraderie among distillers has been helpful throughout the start-up process.
Noticeably absent from the event were Houston-based distillers or brewers, but a host of Houston eateries showed up to keep the munchies at bay.
Chef William Wright from Helen Greek Food and Wine brought hummus and meatballs, while chef Kevin Kobayashi at Ramen Tatsu-Ya ditched the noodles and doled out tacos made with house-signature chashu pork. Tacos were also on the table at Bosscat Kitchen + Libations, whose sister shop BCK just opened in the Heights, but it was their bourbon chocolate chip cookie that kept sippers’ sweet tooths satisfied well into the night.