Tasting Report: Texas Whiskey Festival 2023

It was a warm but overcast day in the Texas Hill Country just a few weeks ago, but an altogether perfect setting for a stroll through Star Hill Ranch to sample the wares of some 35 Texas whiskies at the 6th annual Texas Whiskey Festival. A veritable who’s who of Texas whiskeydom, if there are Texas whiskey producers that weren’t pouring at this event, I couldn’t have named them. Plenty of stars were on-hand to pour their juice, as well, including Milam & Greene’s master distiller Marlene Holmes (pictured above), one of the nicest and most down-to-earth people I’ve met in this business.

I sampled a number of whiskeys (plus one brandy) at this event that all had one thing in common: They were all made (at least in part) in Texas. The Texasness of these products is hard to miss. With a style that overwhelmingly focuses on wood and gritty spice notes, the distillers of Texas are creating a new frontier and flavor profile in the industry that can at times reach a point that almost goes too far. That said, having so many different bottles all in one place is instructive at showcasing just how far outside those battled lines Texas distillers are willing to draw. With that in mind, some very brief thoughts on everything I tasted at the event follow.

Tasting Report: Texas Whiskey Festival 2023

Garrison Brothers HoneyDew – A toasty, slightly sweet spin on GB’s classic; short on the finish today. A-
Balcones Texas Blue Corn Cask Strength
– A huge fruit bomb here, laden with chocolate and spice notes. Finished in grenache wine casks, bottled at 121.6 proof. A
Balcones Texas Rye 4 Years Old
– 100 proof, not yet released. Very grassy and toasty, not overly herbal though. Sweet but funky on the back end. B+
Balcones Lineage
– A classic bottling, balanced and easygoing in comparison to most of the Balcones line. B+
Slow River Bend Hefeweizen Whiskey
– A 97% wheat whiskey infused with lemon peel and cloves; strongly sweet with intense spice notes. I’d reserve it for cocktails. B+
Grayson Blended Bourbon
Batch 2A – A 116.1 proof blend of four Texas distilleries; these change with each batch. Gentle and fruity, this one’s worth some exploration (with a splash of water). A-
Iron Wolf Bourbon
– A high-rye bourbon, slightly grassy with notes of sweet corn and hay. B+
Silver Star 1849 – Light body, corny, and simplistic. Pleasant but basic. B
Texas Republic Whiskey
– A 3 1/2 year old blend. Very light style, decidedly un-Texas-like, with a butterscotch edge. B+
1876 Texas Straight Bourbon – Quite weedy and funky, with tons of corn and barrel char. B
1876 Texas Straight Bourbon Port Barrel Finished
– Quite a bit better thanks to clear sweetness and tons of wine notes. A-
Giant Bourbon
– From what is said to be the largest distillery (physically) in America! Aggressive corn and wood profile  turned me away. 80 proof. B-
Giant Rye 100 Proof
– Grassy, heavy herbal note. Classic rye character. A-
Milam & Greene Single Barrel Bourbon
– Tennessee whiskey, bottled in Texas. Bright and sunny. A-
Milam & Greene Triple Cask Bourbon
– A blend of Texas, Kentucky, and Indiana distillates. Pretty floral notes give this a complexity that you won’t find in most straight Texas bottlings. A
Milam & Greene Rye Port Cask Finish
– The wine influence here is spot on, tempering any grassy/granary notes, lending a supple finish to the rye. A-
William Price Rye Single Barrel
– Spicy, lots of herbs and well balanced. A-
Devil’s River Agave Bourbon
– Agave bourbon? This is bourbon flavored with just a little natural agave syrup. The sweetness is noticeable and more than a little odd against the backdrop of Devil’s River fairly aggressive spirit. B
Coastline Bourbon
– The Galveston humidity can’t compete with the youthful, wood-heavy style here, which comes across as decidedly green. B
Lone Elm Small Batch Wheat Whiskey
– Toasted wheat notes, leading to a coconut-like finish. B+
Lone Elm Honey Barrel
– Another honey-adjacent offering, sweeter with a lemony kick and a spicy finish. A-
Ironroot Republic Harbinger
– Bold and a little bruising, with heavy notes of ginger, toasted corn, and cherries. Smoky finish. B+
Sleight of Hand Brandy
– The brandy mentioned above is a 60/40 blend of Texas brandy (made from chenin blanc) and Cognac. Surprisingly delightful, with classic linen and floral notes, and a mildly sweet finish. Great way to wind down after a lot of heavy whiskeys. A

Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.

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