Though Kentucky and Tennessee have long been considered the whiskey and bourbon capitols of the country, Texas is increasingly making a name for itself as a whiskey producer.
Walk into Spec's and ask for Texas whiskey, and they'll point you to a whole section filled with amber-hued liquor purportedly produced right here in the Lone Star State. Purportedly.
You see, there's a lack of transparency among breweries when it comes to where their liquor is actually produced. Sure, it's bottled in Texas. Some steps of the aging process might take place in Texas. But many a whiskey sleuth suspects that the distillation is happening elsewhere--a mystery that was touched upon in this article by our sister paper, The Dallas Observer, last year.
Still, there are some great products out there if you're not too concerned about exact provenance. We gathered five "Texas whiskies" under $40 to taste them and see how they stack up against the Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey we're used to. Some of the choices were total disappointments. Others just might become our new favorites.
Check them out for yourselves and let us know what you think.
5. Texas Silver Star $35.25 Trinity River Distillery, Lewisville According to the label, this whiskey "is a tribute to the Texas cowboy of the Chisholm Trail and is meticulously hand-crafted using nothing but the finest ingredients and aged to perfection." Unfortunately, we all agreed that this was the worst of the whiskies we tasted. It was harsh, not smooth at all. It burns a little on the way down. If you can get past the alcohol taste in your mouth, it might be good, but to us, it just tastes like booze with nothing underneath.
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4. Fine Texas Spirit Whiskey 32.62 Rebecca Creek Distillery, San Antonio The distillers have said they modeled this after Canadian whiskey blends like Crown Royal. It's blended with "limestone-filtered Hill Country water" and a bit of bourbon with a proprietary blend of domestic malted barley. We weren't surprised to read about the limestone-filtered water because, well, it tastes a little watery. There's an interesting, almost citrusy smell up front that makes us want to drink it in a whiskey sour. But the flavor is somewhat thin and watery, and there's not much to it.
3. TX Blended Whiskey $34.73 Firestone & Robertson, Fort Worth This "blended whiskey" is made from a mixture of corn, wheat and malted barley and is 82 proof. It won two gold medals and Best in Class in the category of American Craft Whiskey at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2013. We found it to be a little harsh, though--almost too boozy in flavor. The front is a bit chemical, but the aftertaste is smooth and warm with a hint of maple.
2. 1835 $27.36 North Texas Distillers, Lewisville The name refers to the Battle of Gonzales in 1835, typically considered the start of the Texas Revolution. Unlike some of the other whiskies in the bunch, which specifically say they were distilled in Texas, this one simply says "Bottled in Texas," so it's unclear if it was actually produced in the state. Regardless, we liked this one. It has just the right level of sweetness for bourbon, but it's not as smooth as it could be. It's is, however, much smoother than the Silver Star or Firestone & Robertson, and the flavor is complex with nutty, buttery notes.
1. Troubador Bourbon Whiskey $36.83 The Original Texas Legend Distillery, Orange Like 1835, there's some debate about whether this was actually produced in Texas or merely bottled here. There's very little information on the website, and a few whiskey forums have called its Texas-ness into question. That said, this whiskey was the clear winner of the bunch. We wonder if that is perhaps because it was actually produced in Kentucky. It goes down smooth, with strong notes of brown sugar and butter. It would make a great sipping whiskey, as everything from the smell to the aftertaste is pleasing, and there's nothing astringent about it. We really hope it is indeed produced in Texas, but if it's not...well, we'll still drink it.