When you think of Texas alcohol, you usually think of good ole Shiner beer. The state is more famous for its beer than anything else. However, some new spirits have come out of the Lone Star State that might change that.
Texas is quickly becoming one of the leaders in the craft distiller industry, which has exploded in recent years, with at least 1,315 craft distillers now operating in the United States. In 2010, craft distillers only made up 0.8 percent of market share. By 2015, their market share had more than doubled to 2.2 percent.
Of course, the most famous of these new Texas distillers also happens to be the oldest, Tito’s Vodka out of Austin. Tito’s has been around long enough to be sued over its labeling. The company became famous after it won the double gold medal for best vodka at the 2001 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It has since gone nationwide and, perhaps most notably, is served by several airlines on their flights.
But vodka is not the only distilled spirit to come out of Texas. Texas whiskey also has made big strides over the past few years. The Lone Star State is embracing its distillers, with Houston even hosting a whiskey festival. While Texas distillers do not yet have the reach or the reputation of Kentucky or Tennessee, the product certainly stands right there with the more well-known distillers.
One of the best known whiskies out of Texas is Rebecca Creek, based in San Antonio. Unlike many other Texas distillers, they have had success selling their whiskey outside Texas. The distillery, which also produces vodka, was founded in 2009 by Steve Ison. The whiskey is cut to bottle proof by using purified water and has performed well in competitions.
Another Texas distiller is Trinity River Distillery in Fort Worth, a veteran-owned company established in 2011. Trinity River are producers of Texas Silver Star spirits, which include a bourbon, a honey whiskey and vodka. Their whiskey and vodka are cut using 100 percent rainwater, which they claim provides an already purified water source. The rainwater is collected through a drainage system on the roof of the building and is stored at the distillery.
Finally, Houston is represented by Whitmeyer’s Distilling Co., founded in 2012 by a couple of veterans. They make an assortment of whiskies, vodkas and even a gin. Their distillery is a small operation, located in a warehouse, and uses purified water because it helps the products drink smoother.
Most Texas distilleries offer tours via Groupon to bring in both locals and tourists alike to tour their facilities and enjoy samples of their drinks. It’s a way to both market themselves as tourist attractions and spread the word about their products, a low-cost form of advertising that gives the distilleries multiple income streams.
I have toured the Trinity River and Whitmeyer distilleries. The Texas Silver Star bourbon was a very smooth whiskey, one of the best I have ever tasted. I even brought a bottle back home to Louisiana.
The Whitmeyer distillery offers a wide range of products. The expensive whiskies were very good and the basic Texas whiskey offers a good selection in the $20-$30 range. It, too, holds its own against similar competitors.
One of the problems the Texas distillers have is the lack of national reach. Texas itself is a big market, but they cannot secure as many markets outside the state. The only way they will show up on the national radar is by winning plaudits from whiskey connoisseurs both in the United States and around the world.
Texas craft whiskey is a product with enormous potential. It needs to be embraced.