Kentucky isn’t the only state in the U.S. making top-of-the-line whiskey. Texas may not have been doing it for as long as America’s bourbon bastion, but our proud state has proven that we can still hold our own against legacy producers — perhaps in part because the whiskey industry here is still so young and willing to be adventurous.
That’s all to say that Texas makes a lot of good whiskey. Here are the best ones, should you be considering adding a whiskey to your Christmas wish list or wanting to get the whiskey lover in your life a bottle of something brag-worthy from this fearless state. We compiled a similar list of these whiskeys in 2015, but with many delicious new ones added to liquor shelves in the past two years, it’s worth an update.
Garrison Brothers Straight Bourbon Whiskey, $79-$89. The granddaddy of Texas whiskey, Garrison proved that Texas could, in fact, make a proper bourbon from scratch and despite the heat of the southern sun that makes barrel-aging a tricky art. Since Garrison, other distilleries have made Texas bourbon, but none have done it quite like the Hill Country facility. It’s a pricey whiskey and worth every penny.
Kooper Family Rye, $40. The husband-and-wife owner of Austin’s first locally produced rye whiskey has a Christmas surprise for fans: Kooper Family Rye is introducing a slightly higher proof of 84 but the same price point, a decision Troy and Michelle Kooper made so the rye would be even better than it was before.
“It's not a very smart decision because it ends up costing a lot, but it's true to our vision,” Troy Kooper said, noting that very few spirits increase their proof once on the market. “It's a better product now and probably better for cocktails at a higher proof.”
Andalusia Whiskey’s Stryker Smoked Single Malt, $49.99. The first of two Blanco whiskey distilleries, Andalusia has introduced this unconventional single-malt as a Texas take on Scotch. Rather than using peat while smoking malted barley, Andalusia’s co-founders — one of whom previously worked as a brewer at the nearby Real Ale Brewing — relied on wood traditionally used to smoke Texas barbecue: oak, mesquite and apple.
“This is backyard BBQ whiskey at its best,” according to Andalusia.
Austonian Whiskey, $29.99. This amber-hued beaut hasn’t spent a lick of time in new American white oak barrels — or any kind of barrels at all — but it sure tastes a lot like bourbon. That’s thanks to local entrepreneur Lawrence Sasso, who found a way to impart the effects of barrel-aging on Austonian Whiskey using significantly less wood.
He decided to break the whiskey tradition of barrel maturation after reading about a barrel shortage a few years ago that was making it difficult for bourbon producers to continue their craft. His method, which he’s mostly keeping a trade secret for now, is an effort to be eco-friendly.
Ben Milam Bourbon Whiskey, $43. Another Blanco whiskey distillery, Ben Milam Whiskey makes two products, a bourbon and a rye, that are steeped in Texas history. Founder Marsha Milam named her booze business after her war hero ancestor, Ben Milam, who fought in the Texas Revolution. Both spirits are solid, but go with the bourbon. The 86-proof single-barrel spirit won double gold at the prestigious San Francisco International Spirits Competition this year.
Swift Single Malt Texas Whiskey, $55. One of the harder-to-find bottles on this list, Swift is meticulously made to mirror the Scotch whiskies that local couple Nick and Amanda Swift love. They age their product, distilled from 100 percent Scottish-malted barley, in Kentucky bourbon barrels and finish it in oloroso sherry casks from Spain. The result is a buttery spirit with delicate notes of ripe peaches, rose and chocolate.
Treaty Oak Brewers Conspiracy Number 2, $50. When Treaty Oak Brewing & Distilling moved to a sprawling ranch space in the Hill Country near Dripping Springs, the distillery finally started making its own whiskey, mostly small-batch offerings available only in the tasting room.
Just in time for Black Friday, Treaty Oak is releasing one such rare whiskey at the ranch. The Real Ale Coffee Porter Whiskey is made from the dark local brew and maintains the marvelous roasted notes of the original beer while taking on sweet caramel and toffee notes after aging in on-site barrels.
Firestone & Robertson Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey, $49.99. The Fort Worth distillery just opened a new whiskey wonderland, reportedly the largest whiskey distilling facility west of the Mississippi River. There, head distiller Rob Arnold makes a bourbon using a wild yeast strain he captured and cultivated from the nut of a pecan tree located in Glen Rose, a small Texas town southwest of Fort Worth.
The strain and subsequent aging, according to Firestone & Robertson, “gives the bourbon distinct flavors of dark fruit, sweet spice and caramel.” It’s the only whiskey in the world featuring a wild Texas yeast strain.
Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon Whiskey, $55. Most of us probably will never get a taste of this San Antonio brewery and distillery’s incredibly small-batch brisket whiskey, released for its club members. But thankfully, we’ve at least got Ranger Creek’s newly year-round .36 Texas Bourbon to enjoy — once a barrel experiment that allowed the whiskey makers to discern how barrels influence the ultimate taste and now a fine-tasting bourbon.
Balcones Whisky Texas Single Malt Whisky, $70. Like Garrison Brothers, the Waco-based distillery has made a national name for itself with its whisky (even though in the U.S., Balcones prefers to spell ‘whiskey’ without the e, like the Scottish and Japanese do). Bottles like the silky Texas Single Malt Whisky are now easier to find thanks to a distillery expansion last year that quadrupled the amount of booze it can make.