Hey, North Texas: there’s a new bourbon in town, and it’s goooooood. Ben Milam Whiskey—Bourbon and Rye—are now available in select bars and liquor stores around town.*
As some of you might know, I like to know the story behind what I drink—it somehow just makes it taste better. Ben Milam Whiskey has a great story for those tried and true Texans. For starters, the distillery is smack in the middle of our fare state, Blanco, Texas. Additionally, the namesake was involved in the Texas Revolution and led the attack on the Mexican Army in San Antonio on December 5, 1835. Unfortunately, Milam took a bullet to the head on December 7th during the battle for San Antonio, but, on December 9th, the Mexican forces negotiated a truce and surrendered San Antonio.
Owner, Marsha Milam, fell in love with bourbon by visiting the bourbon trail in Kentucky. She (yes, she) loved how relaxed the whole process is; you can’t rush bourbon. There’s a beauty in that.
Like the bourbon’s namesake, Ben Milam Bourbon stormed onto the spirit scene and won double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition for its 86-proof single- barrel bourbon. For those of you who don’t know, this competition is a blind taste test. In order to win the double gold, every judge has to rate the spirit a gold—this is no easy feat.
Currently, the bourbon bottles state the bourbon is distilled in Tennessee and bottled in Blanco, Texas by Provision Spirit, LLC. When Marsha started down the bourbon road, she was very specific on the grain bill and flavor profile she was after. She she started with purchasing already distilled spirit that was aging in oak barrels. She brought the oak barrels to Texas to finish aging and to bottle the final product in Blanco. The distillery in Blanco is currently distilling the same grain bill that Marsha first purchased. Due to bourbon aging regulations it will take a few years for the first bourbon distilled and aged in Texas to be bottled, but the product is well on it’s way to being a Texas native.
The corn and the rye that are found in Ben Milam spirits are from the midwest, but the water is from Blanco. As a true bourbon, it is matured in new charred oak barrels and the recipe is 51% corn.
*Currently, Ben Milam products are available in Austin, San Antonio, and Fort Worth. In Fort Worth, you can find Ben Milam at Fixure, Proper, King’s, and Chicotsky’s.
The tasting room at Ben Milam Whiskey opened on Texas Independence Day (March 2) this year and is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 1 to 6 p.m. Whiskey flights (which include both bourbon and rye), cocktails, and bottles are available for purchase. The tasting room is fairly small, but there is an outdoor seating area as well. Head to the website for more info on distillery tours. Blanco is located in the hill country, not a far drive from Austin or San Antonio.
As a Texas outsider, I have learned there are several moments when it is best to just shut up. For example, if you wade into an Alamo discussion and start talking about who possibly disobeyed orders and if everyone really should have died, you’re going to get yelled at. (Please yell at Susie – this is her website.) What I like about Texas is that, as a whole, it’s a land of contrasts. You can go from large cities to beautiful hill country to mountains to desert to lakes and everything in between. You find global businessmen alongside ranchers in ten gallon hats, first generation immigrants eager to start a new life and suburban moms … all standing in sometimes nervous proximity of each other.
While there’s a popular narrative for what Texas is, the best part about it is the narrative never quite fits everyone. That’s why I enjoyed the opportunity to look at two different takes on what Texas whiskey is from two different distilleries – Devils River Whiskey and Swift Single Malt Texas Whiskey.
As an outsider, the Mainstream Texas Nationalism can sometimes overshadow some of the really cool things about our state – like amazing nature areas – including the Devil’s River (94 miles of mostly unspoiled and pure, limestone-filtered water right here in the southern portion of the state). If you like history lessons and whiskey, Devils River Whiskey combines both as they’ve built their brand around the river John Coffee Hays named back in 1840. The bottle features river shots, Texas, and just about every other possible reminder that this whiskey came from the Devil’s River.
On the other end of the spectrum, Swift Single Malt Texas Whiskey is made in Dripping Springs, TX with a brand focused on being a well-made craft whiskey with global appeal. If you’re a sucker for cool stories about people chasing their dream like I am, this blog post is a great place to learn more about Swift.
Now that my four paragraph commentary is out of the way, it’s time for opinion sharing. I poured each of these neat to start and had a couple of different guest reviewers try them both that way, with a bit of water, and then on ice. We started with the Swift and the first thing we noticed was there was a lot going on in each sip. The bottle tells you are getting notes of toasted vanilla and chocolate laced with hints of rose and white peaches. It’s a smooth, sweet sip with none of these flavors overpowering the others, but it was very different from what we were expecting.
For the Devils River, all the talk of bold flavors is implied by the bottle, the implication you’re one sip away from the forbidden river journey you didn’t even know you’d been dreaming of taking. There is a pepper and oak taste to it, but it’s also easy to sip and eventually falls into familiar notes of caramel and honey. The tasting group agreed that this was the better of the two whiskeys to drink straight.
We moved to a simple cocktail portion for the whiskeys and made manhattans, old fashioneds and a few custom recipes shared by the folks at Swift for us to try that were a little more off the beaten path. Both whiskeys made good cocktails, but the complexity of the Swift definitely stood out in the mixology phase of the review.
The two cocktail recommendations from Swift were simple to make and are worth making next time you pick up a bottle.
1 oz Swift Single Malt Whiskey
1 oz Aperol
1 oz Averna Amaro
Pour ingredients into a mixing glass, ice, stir and pour in to a big rocks glass or highball.
Barley and Limestone
0.75 oz Swift Single Malt whiskey
0.75 oz Dolin sweet vermouth
0.75 oz Cherry Heering
0.75 oz Meyer Lemon juice*
Pour ingredients into a shaker, ice, shake and strain in to a martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Swift Single Malt
Nose: overall sweet with lemon and floral
Flavor: sweet and citrusy
Finish: long and dry – changes as it lingers with pepper as well
Aged: minimum 15 months
Proof: (43% ABV)
Devils River Whiskey Nose: sweet with hint of pepper
Flavor: honey and caramel with oak and a small amount of spice
Finish: warm, smooth and medium length
Aged: n/a + years
Proof: (45% ABV)
Back in January, Amanda gave us the good news that Fort Worth’s own whiskey distillery, Firestone & Robertson, debuted a bourbon to accompany its sweet blended whiskey. More recently, we were delighted to be invited to taste the new expression with the distillers and proprietors, Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson, at the distillery. The partnership was unexpected–both were separately making plans to open a whiskey distillery in Cowtown when they got wind of the others’ plans. F&R was born and has flourished–much to the surprise of the owners, but no surprise to the consumers who love their original blended whiskey.
Firestone, Robertson and head distiller, Rob Arnold, set out to create a new, unique expression with a providence that can be appreciated using local ingredients (corn and wheat from Hillsboro and a yeast derived from a Pecan tree on a friend’s ranch in Glen Rose), and of course, they decided it had to be a bourbon because it’s “America’s spirit”. And the product … is good.
The spirit is surprisingly smooth with notes of dried fruit and a warm, long finish. The approachable yet deep flavors make this a unique intoxicant. It’s no surprise that it has been in such high demand.
Nose: oak, honey
Flavor: vanilla, honey
Finish: smooth, short
Aged: 4+ years
Proof: 82 (41% ABV)
While bottles of the TX Straight Bourbon have been a beast to get your hands on, they’ve recently released additional inventory to liquor stores. If you aren’t a fan or hunting for bottles, stop into the distillery where you can buy one bottle each month. (And yes, they keep track.)
The distillery itself is quaint, yet puts out a hell of a lot of product. (And they have to in order to keep up with demand.) One of my favorite things, beside the liquid itself, is the corks. Each one has a piece of cloth, leather, fur, etc., making each bottle unique. F&R works with local bootmakers to source the leather, and they’ll even work with you to create completely custom bottles using materials you bring them … but you have to ask nicely.
Keep an ear out for news on their new distillery, set to open late summer 2017. Expect a shiny, new distillery, aging warehouse, offices, an event space … and maybe even a driving range. My team is stoked to take a trip to the 109-acre facility once it’s complete.
There is no doubt that the company owning names like Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve and Old Forester has serious insight when it comes to truly great whiskey and bourbon. When the opportunity comes to taste scotch from three newly acquired, iconic Scottish distilleries’ brands that date back to the 1800s, you take it. Period. The night with Brown-Forman started off with specialty scotch cocktails designed by the Global Brand Ambassador of their Scotch Collection (more on him in a minute) and a little talk so we could get to know the Brown-Forman team.
Honestly, before this night, I had never tried (or even heard of) a scotch cocktail. The though in my mind was that just isn’t done because it would be a waste of a great spirit. When I asked the ambassador (who is from Scotland, naturally) if it hurt him that we were drinking scotch cocktails, he laughed and said, “Of course not! I designed them myself, and when you complement the flavors of the whiskey, there’s nothing wrong with mixing.” We began with a traditional scotch cocktail, the Penicillin (BenRiach 10-Year, lemon, ginger, honey syrup), which is a stout cocktail with the perfect balance of bright flavors with the smokiness of the scotch. We then had a couple of less classic options like the Highland Game Changer (GlenDronach 12-Year, vermouth, cherry brandy, dash of absinthe) and the Bobby Burns (GlenDronach 12-Year, orange liqueur, and vermouth).
Once everyone was sufficiently lubricated, we moved into the tasting portion of the evening. The tasting was led by Stewart Buchanan, a Scottish native and Global Brand Ambassador of the Brown-Forman Scotch Collection. Stuart has been involved in the Scotch industry since 1993.
He has worked in virtually every position within the industry from production to warehousing, office work to hosting tastings and management. In 2004, he helped to restart the BenRiach Distillery, one of the sampled brands in the tasting, after it had been closed since 2002.
Needless to say, he is a world-class sommelier of Scotch (whatever the word is for that). With his production background, Stuart gives a unique insight into the different process techniques and what makes a whiskey individuality by using different styles of casks in maturation. All that said, he has an incredibly outgoing personality and is a dangerous drinking companion.
Now to the whiskey… GlenDronach 12-Year-Old Original Rich sherried, 12-year-old single malt matured in a combination of Spanish Oloroso sherry casks.
Proof: 43% ABV Nose: Sweet aroma with creamy vanilla and hints of ginger and autumn fruits Taste: Creamy and silky smooth taste with rich oak and sherry sweetness, full mouth feel, raisins, soft fruits and spice Finish: Long, full and slightly nutty finish Distillery: The Glendronach Distillery, founded in 1826 in the valley of Forgue deep in the East Highland hills and one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. Characteristics of this distillery are heavy and robust using mastery of sherry cask maturation with a deep color and rich flavor profiles ranging from sweet and fruity to dry and nutty.
BenRiach 10-Year-Old Fresh and smooth single malt Classic Speyside. It is unpeated, fruity and matured in American Virgin Oak wood.
Proof: 43% ABV Nose: Crisp, green orchard fruits, stem ginger and tangerine mellows to creamy vanilla with a delicate note of mint and a twist of citrus with a barley back note. Taste: Warm toasted oak spices through green apple skins and dried apricots with hints of peach and soft banana. Touches of aniseed and lemon zest contrast the fruit and add to the crisp barley finish. Distillery: The BenRiach Distillery was founded in 1898 in Northeast Morayshire that uses 100% Scottish Barley sourced from farms across Speyside and Northeast Scotland. They are known for using a wide variety of casks for maturing and finishing. BenRiach is one of only two remaining Speyside distilleries to seasonally produce whiskey using malted barley from its own traditional floor maltings.
BenRiach 10-Year-Old Curiositas Peated single malt distilled from heavily peated malted barley giving this scotch a fresh, peated expression with smoky-sweet notes. Note: Peat is a traditional source of fuel that is taken from the land and consists of compressed, decaying plant material. Different processes in sourcing and the varying locations of Scottish distilleries give varying flavors of smokiness unique to where the Scotch is distilled. BenRiach uses Highland Peat that is taken from the top layer of soil and has charcoal and campfire notes, unlike the salt-water infused peat used in coastal distilleries that have a medicinal and iodine notes.
Proof: 46% ABV Nose: Aromatic peat smoke with hints of honey, fruit and mellow oak Taste: Pear front followed by a complex hint of fruit, heather, nuts, oak and wood spices.
Glenglassaugh Evolution (my favorite of the evening) Distinctive whiskey matured in ex-Tennessee Whiskey barrels which gives it a unique flavor compared to other Scotch whiskeys.
Proof: 50% ABV Nose: Combination of sweet barley, pineapple and vanilla with deep oak spices and caramelized pear. Taste: White peppery oak through crisp green apple with hints of salted caramel and ripe banana. Distillery: Glenglassaugh is an award-winning distiller founded in 1875 on Sandend Bay on the Moray coast of Scotland that is on that Highland and Speyside border. Their Scotch, both peated and unpeated is matured in beach side warehouses that gives it salty notes, but uses Highland malt that creates a unique flavor of three regions. They are known for innovation of their newer whiskeys, but have old stocks going back to 1963.
Brown-Forman created a truly amazing and educational evening. Due to the recent acquisition of these distilleries and their commitment to knowledge and quality, this scotch whiskey is currently available in limited quantities in the United States. Specifically, in the Dallas area, you should be able to find them in Total Wine and Specs. If you are looking to sample, we were informed that the Standard Pour and Whiskey Cake in Plano were the only two watering holes that were mentioned to have stock. Not to worry, though, the Brown-Forman team said they would be more widely distributed later in April and May. Save up your money and go grab a bottle … or three.
Savor Gastropub will be teaming up with Angel’s Envy Whiskey later this month to offer a five-course pairing dinner. Lucky for us, it lands on Fat Tuesday, just in time for us to spoil ourselves one last time before the masochism that is Lent.
The pairings were brilliantly and thoughtfully developed by Angel’s Envy and the chefs at Savor with some original plates and some currently offered by Savor. Angel’s Envy out of Louisville, Kentucky offers several expressions including a bourbon, rye, port finish, rum finish, and cask strength. These pairings include cocktails featuring their bourbon and rye expressions, each prepared creatively and well-matched to each course.
First Course: Savor Wedge Salad, Truffle Maple Glazed Bacon, Chicken Fried Pickle Red Onion with A Creamy Buttermilk Dressing Paired Cocktail: “Parkside Angelito”, Angel’s Envy Bourbon, lemon, maple syrup, ginger, rosemary
Second Course: Rabbit And Pork Dumplings, Sesame Soy Broth, Scallions Paired Cocktail: “Social Currency” (Angel’s Envy Bourbon, China China liqueur, Curacao, cherry shrub, pickled cherry)
Third Course: Crispy Pork Belly Fennel, Green Apple, Miso Caramel Paired Cocktail: “A Different Kind of Sazerac” (Angel’s Envy Rye, barrel aged Peychauds, absinthe)
Fourth Course: Beef Tenderloin, Cast Iron Seared Beef Tenderloin, Ragout Of Wild Mushrooms, Creamy Grits, Port Wine Jus Paired Cocktail: “The Path of Envy” (Angel’s Envy Bourbon, Ruby Port, Amaro Nonino, pink peppercorn, thyme)
Dessert: Nutella Torte, Red Beet and Mascarpone Cremeux, Orange, Candied Hazelnut Nougat Paired Spirit: Angel’s Envy Rye, neat
The dinner will take place on Tuesday, February 28 at 6:30pm. To reserve a spot, call Savor (214.740.7228) soon as seating is limited. $80 will get attendees five incredible dishes and five chances to taste the versatility of Angel’s Envy.
Before it really took off, I remember how excited I used to get for winter offerings like Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale and Shiner Cheer. They weren’t the best beers in the world, but they were part of the season – basically the bro version of PSLs (that then mutated into basically an extension PSLs as the market became overrun with seasonal stuff, but that’s a whole other thing.) Now that everything is flavored for the holidays with the same dash of chemicals, finding something that stands out in this group is very hard.
In a seemingly unrelated note, when Susie offered me the chance to try CALI, a new whiskey from Sukkah Hill Spirits, I perked up. First, the idea of beach whiskey is just wonderful to me, but it’s also not like this is two surfers distilling in a bathtub. They turn out highly rated, award winning liqueurs and did not seem like the type to take branching into such a competitive area lightly. If you’d like to learn more about them, this November Q&A from Saloon Box is a great place to start.
The backstory also touched my heart – husband and wife make booze, wife loves whiskey, husband decides they need to make something delicious they can both sip together. It’s a tale as old as time…or something. So, on a nice January day, I opened my sample bottle, sat down on the patio (go Texas winter weather!), took a few sips then immediately picked up my phone and texted Susie a photo and a rambling explanation of how good this was.
The whiskey was very smooth and, despite not being intended as such, had a distinct holiday flavor – led by cinnamon and all spice, but not in that Fireball sense we’ve all become accustomed to tasting everywhere. There were also hints of baked apple, nutmeg and other spices – but again, I have to stress that none of it was too sweet or overpowering. The result was incredibly easy to drink and, while I was told the whiskey was perfect for a hot toddy, it was 70 degrees and I was enjoying it neat too much to consider anything else. This was the exact same feeling I got from those first sips of Celebration and Cheer – something unique to the season that was just fun to drink. It wasn’t officially a winter whiskey, but the spices and flavors line up well with the holiday season.
Right now, CALI whiskey is only being sent for reviews as they prepare to make the product available sometime this spring, but this is definitely a bottle to keep an eye out for as it becomes available.
Aged: less than 2 years (not an aged whiskey) Proof: 85 Nose: baked pumpkin bread, orange peel and baked apples Flavor: nutmeg, allspice, molasses and dark bread Price: $32-36 for 750mL
Y’all … this weather is weird. 30º one day, 60º the next … it’s enough to give anyone a sniffle. The best cure? A hot toddy.
The Hot Toddy (or tottie or “hot whiskey”) is traditionally made using a dark spirit (usually whiskey, rum, or brandy), hot water, sugar, and some spice. Typically, we see lemon added to make it … you know … more “medicinal”. And while they’re said to be a good way to mitigate cold symptoms, I’ve found that I enjoy them whether I’m sickly or not.
The word “toddy” itself comes from the Hindi work tārī, which was a drink they made using the toddy palm. The British adopted and adapted the drink (as they do), and then it made its way to America’s deep south and they did the same using rum and local spice and sugars, but these drinks were served cool. The more well-known HOT version is thought to have come from Scotland and was used as a cold cure.
Wherever it came from, I’m a fan. That said, I came up with a version that will add some (literal) spice to your holiday …
Hot Toddiablo 1½ oz Maker’s Mark
1/4 oz Ancho Chili Demerera Syrup*
1 bag Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice tea
3 oz hot water
2 dashes Orange bitters
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, then stir until combined.
Glass: hot drink glass Garnish: orange slice and cinnamon stick (and slice of ancho chile if desired)
Ancho Chili Demerera Syrup
2 cups demerera sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
1 cup water
2 ancho chilis, stemmed and seeded
Bring ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let sit for 20 minutes. Strain through a find sieve, and let cool completely. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
The Whiskey Sour … the name describes it well enough that I don’t need to. While there are multitudes of ways to make it (with an egg white, garnished with a lemon/orange/lime, or with sour mix (blasmphemy)), the basics remain the same: whiskey, lemon, and sugar.
The first time the mention of a Whiskey Sour was written was in Jerry Thomas’s The Bartender’s Guide all the way back in 1862, but it came from an old sailor’s recipe to fend off scurvy … and get a little boozy in the process. Initially the egg wasn’t included, but in Dale DeGroff’s The Essential Cocktail, the egg white is first mentioned as an optional inclusion.
WHISKEY SOUR 2oz whiskey (your choice)
1oz lemon juice
1/4oz simple syrup (I use demerera syrup)
1 egg white (if a richer texture is desired)
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously until well chilled (and extra long if including an egg white). Strain over ice and garnish.
Garnish: whole cherry with orange/lemon peel
Glass: double old fashioned glass (if served with ice)
Ice: ice ball or cubes
NOTE: my cocktail turned out much lighter since I used egg white and a large cube.