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Top Ten Most Outstanding Texas-Owned Liquors

Tito's was the first competitive distiller in Texas.
Tito's was the first competitive distiller in Texas.
Photos by John Kiely

Texas has a long-standing good reputation as a whiskey- and tequila-drinking state, but only in this century have Texans begun to make respectable liquor. At least ten Texas-owned spirits producers are now able to put out bottles of booze that compete with the best liquors on the market.

Just to make sure it's not Texas pride talking, I enlisted the help of an objective observer: Neal MacDonald of Proof66.com, an Illinois-based website that collects international spirit competition awards and professional reviews and puts them together to make a remarkably good rating system. The results are in no particular order.

10. Tito's Handmade Vodka

Tito Beveridge's vodka is by far the greatest success of any of the Texas spirits, says MacDonald, even though Tito's hasn't entered any spirits competitions since 2003.

I spotted only two bottles of vodka in Goro & Gun's spirits library, and asked Matthew "Tulu" Whiteside why there weren't more. He said that in previous bars he's tended, customers would ask for Absolut, and Tito's second. Now they ask for Tito's, with Ketel One for the backup.

Absolut Citron is the best vodka for a Cosmopolitan, but if you have only two bottles of regular vodka in your bar program or home, then definitely, Tito's and Ketel One.

9. Dulce Vida Añejo Tequila

Produced by Richard Sorensen of Austin, this organic tequila already has the trademark "The Most Awarded Tequila". More of the top awards go to the añejo tequila, which Neal MacDonald describes as a "whiskey drinker's tequila". In fact, Dulce Vida has paired with Garrison Brothers whiskey to produce a Lone Star edition of its añejo tequila, although it's at a price that's less competitive than the regular añejo.

There's no mistaking where this whiskey is from.
There's no mistaking where this whiskey is from.

8. Firestone and Robertson TX Blended Whiskey

Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson founded their namesake distilling company in Fort Worth in 2010, nailed down a Double Gold in 2013, and were named Best American Craft Whiskey at the San Franscisco World Spirits Competiton, beating out 44 competitors.

Firestone and Robertson intended to compete with blended Scotch and other international whiskeys, and they have succeeded.

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7. Agavales Blanco and Reposado Tequilas

What kind of awards can you expect for a $12 bottle of tequila? Well, none, but in this case awards don't matter. Mix Agavales with a reputable triple sec and some fresh citrus juice and you can make a house margarita that will easily be taken for a premium one. But don't take my word for it -- Pappasito's, Lupe Tortilla, and the Original Ninfa's on Navigation use Agavales in their famous margaritas.

Agavales is owned by Houston-based Mexcor, which now distributes the highly-rated Dos Lunas Reposado tequila.

6. Rebecca Creek Whiskey

Founded by Steve Ison and Mike Cameron from San Antonio, Rebecca Creek doesn't compete with Kentucky bourbon. Rather, the producers took aim at Crown Royal, as Canadian-style whisky is the most popular in Texas. While Rebecca Creek is only slightly cheaper than the Crown Royal, it's a hit with Texans who like the smooth-sipping blend.

5. Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka

I'll be honest--I generally loathe flavored vodkas. But...wow! Deep Eddy Ruby Red completely changed my mind. This stuff actually tastes like Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit (which is less bitter than yellow grapefruit), and according to a cashier at Spec's Midtown, it's flying off the shelves, along with Deep Eddy Sweet Tea vodka.

It won a 2013 Double Gold in San Francisco, and MacDonald said it compares favorably to Finlandia, which started the grapefruit vodka trend, and Absolut Ruby Red.

The label says to mix Deep Eddy Ruby Red with a splash of club soda and a twist of lime. First off, Topo Chico mineral water is much better (and cheaper) than club soda, and second, the vodka needs more dilution. I mixed 3 parts Deep Eddy with 2 parts Topo Chico on the rocks, with a thin slice of lime, and it made an easy awesome cocktail that didn't taste like soda pop.

Deep Eddy was founded by Clayton Christopher and Chad Auler in Austin.

Texas red grapefruits are the best, and so is this vodka.
Texas red grapefruits are the best, and so is this vodka.

4. Izkali Reposado Tequila

The creation of Sugar Land residents Ignacio and Nydia Flores, Izkali tequilas are now being distributed throughout the state of Texas. The añejo won the Chairman's Trophy at the Ultimate Beverage Challenge, hosted by F. Paul Pacult (America's Spirits Guru), and the reposado makes one of the best premium margaritas I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.

Izkali is Aztec for "birth".
Izkali is Aztec for "birth".

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3. Paula's Texas Orange

Paula Angerstein received the second Texas distiller's license (after Tito's), in 2003, and began to distill an orange liqueur--based on her Italian ancestry--more in the style of a limoncello than a triple sec. It has a very bright orange taste, and makes a distinctive margarita, but watch out: It has double the proof of an ordinary triple sec, so a Paula's Orange margarita will pack an extra punch.

Paula's also makes a lemon version of the spirit, and one of the things you will consistently hear about Paula Angerstein is how charming and nice she is.

2. Pura Vida Silver Tequila

Launched with a lot of fanfare in 2011 by Dallas's Stewart Skloss, and featuring ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons as a frontman, it would be easy to dismiss Pura Vida on grounds of hype. The packaging is annoying and elbows out a lot of shelf space, but inside you'll find a tasty 100 percent Blue Agave silver tequila with roasted agave and peppery flavors that's equally at home in a premium margarita or just straight to be sipped from a Glencairn whiskey glass.

While the brand is owned by Texans, Pura Vida is made in Mexico by Feliciano Vivianco and Associates, the same distiller behind Siembra Azul, a local favorite of Houston bartenders and mixologists.

This story continues on the next page.

 

The empty space is where Balcones Single Malt occasionally appears.
The empty space is where Balcones Single Malt occasionally appears.

1. Balcones Single Malt Whiskey

This whiskey from Chip Tate's Waco distillery is racking up all kinds of awards, and is now considered on par with the great whiskeys in the world, including Scotch. Neal MacDonald said that the single malt is the highest-rated amongst Balcone's whiskeys, but there is a lot of interest from whiskey lovers outside of Texas for their blue corn whiskeys: Baby Blue and True Blue.

Balcones Single Malt may be hard to find, and the cases that arrived at Spec's a few weeks ago sold out quickly.

Tony K's Home of Fine Spirits now has a Texas whiskey display.
Tony K's Home of Fine Spirits now has a Texas whiskey display.

Due to the success of so many Texas spirits, several local liquor outlets have shelves devoted to the Lone Star State's whiskey and vodka, and you should expect a few new breakouts in the future.


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