The Austin Chronicle

Four We Adore of Texas Booze That We Choose

Recommended tipples from Garrison Brothers, Milam & Greene, Still Austin, and Desert Door Sotol

By Wayne Alan Brenner, October 13, 2023, Food

Used to not be a whole lot of made-right-here booze options in this Lone Star neck of the country's woods, back in what we like to call the Bad Old Days. That certainly isn't the case lately, hallelujah, with distilleries popping up just about everywhere – and continuing to garner national, sometimes global, accolades. We figured it's time to join the battle against the tyranny of choice and recommend four of the finest we've ever had trickle down our throats.

Garrison Brothers: Cowboy Bourbon

Garrison Brothers – Texas' first legal bourbon distillery – have released their 2023 Cowboy Bourbon, and this year's uncut, unfiltered, cask-strength edition clocks in at an astounding 140.9 proof and yielded 9,600 bottles. Strong, but fear not: "Even at 140.9," insists master distiller Donnis Todd, "I truly believe the flavor overpowers the proof." (Note: We've enjoyed many a dram of the man's concoctions for Garrison; he ain't just blowin' smoke.) Each bottle is hand-signed and numbered by Todd and comes housed in a rugged, custom-built gift box lined with a satin pillow. Cowboy Bourbon has earned numerous platinum and gold honors at the 2023 SIP Awards, the 2023 ASCOT Awards, and the 2023 TAG Global Spirits Awards. The first thousand bottles have already been claimed by devoted fans at the distillery in Hye, while the remaining 8,600 bottles will be available across the country by the first week of October. Even at a suggested retail price of $249.99, these bottles sell out fast.

Milam & Greene: Very Small Batch No. 1

Milam & Greene was created in 2017 by founder Marsha Milam, master blender Heather Greene, and Kentucky veteran master distiller Marlene Holmes. Accolades for this women-led, Blanco-based company? Among other honors, in 2021 Milam & Greene was awarded the Peoples Choice Award at the Texas Whiskey Festival and Best in Show out of 550 entrants at the American Craft Spirits Association. For the first in this Very Small Batch series, blender Greene harvested 75 bourbon barrels – a combination of bourbon distilled by Holmes in Kentucky, using the Milam & Greene mash bill and barrels of Tennessee bourbon. The barrel recipe for Batch 1 is 20% of the Kentucky barrels and 80% Tennessee barrels – divided into smaller batches to marry in 1,000-gallon tanks before finishing. To perfect the precise and delicate wood flavor, Very Small Batch is finished with French oak staves. This high-end sippin' tipple is bottled at 108 proof. SRP: $69.99.

Still Austin: The Musician

Two married couples and a father-and-son team started Still Austin at the Yard (440 E. St. Elmo) in 2015: Lisa and Andrew Braunberg, Joanna and Sal Salinas, and Chris Seals and his father, Cleveland. The bourbon that raised their distillery's profile sky-high among discerning drinkers everywhere is their flagship straight bourbon whiskey, the Musician. This excellent elixir is aged for at least two years in new, charred American oak barrels, the sweetness of chef-grade white corn complementing a high-rye mash bill, and the visuals of illustrator (and 2010 Texas State Artist) Marc Burckhardt complementing each bottle. Winner of a double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2021, this showstopper's gonna keep you sipping at a reasonable 98.4 proof. SRP: $45.

Desert Door Sotol

You might want to scoop this stuff up with a big desert spoon, but that would be merely clever, because sotol is a distilled spirit made from a cousin of agave – a cousin by the names of Dasylirion texanum or, yes, desert spoon. Desert Door out in Driftwood was started by military vets Brent Looby, Ryan Campbell, and Judson Kauffman in 2017, and the liquor they produce is a bit reminiscent of its agave-based neighbor tequila, but it can be an even finer thing altogether. "The flavor of Desert Door's silver sotol (they also offer a smokier oak-aged version)," reported the Chronicle's Melanie Haupt when the distillery first opened, "... is delicate, herbaceous, and just a tiny bit sweet. It can be enjoyed straight, and is available by the bottle on-site, but the Driftwood tasting room offers a variety of cocktails meant to showcase the spirit." Back in 2019, USA Today called this place the No. 1 Craft Distillery in America. We reckon that evaluation's still pretty damn accurate.

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