Rows and rows of barrels might be aging bourbon in the back warehouse of the Still Austin Whiskey Co. distillery, but the South Austin whiskey maker has also made room for a new spirit — gin.
It’s no ordinary gin, of course. If the distillery so focused on whiskey is going to dabble in making gin, you can bet it’s going to have a flavorful rye base, rather than the typical neutral grain distillate many gin producers prefer as a blank canvas for their botanicals.
The rye, a spicy grain that Still Austin sourced from Texas farmers, lends body and complementary flavor to the mixture of juniper and other botanicals in the 90-proof Texas Rye Gin. It’s a distinctly floral spirit, balanced with notes of citrus, allspice and a grounding earthiness. And as far as the Still team can tell, it’s one of three rye gins in the country, Andrew Braunberg, Still’s general manager of production, said.
"We wanted to use the rye as a backbone instead of just having a blank slate," he said. "So now that we already have a base note, how do you work with that, and what exactly are you working toward? Should it be a London dry gin? Should it be a New Western? It was a lot of trial and error to see what made sense."RELATED: How to make the versatile gin a star spirit at your home bar
The result is a gin that will hold its own in cocktails without being overpowering on any one element, from the rye spice to the juniper necessary in any gin. You can order the Texas Rye Gin at the Still Austin Whiskey tasting room in classic cocktails like the Bee’s Knees, the Gimlet and the gin and tonic.
Early feedback on the Texas Rye Gin has also been that it has considerable more body than the average gin. Call it a gin "with hips," assistant distiller Ali Bloch, who oversees a lot of the research and development at Still, likes to say of the spirit she spearheaded.
Using Still Austin’s unaged rye whiskey to create the gin was a no-brainer, she said, because of the distillery’s focus on featuring specialty grains sourced exclusively from Texas growers.
"A lot of what we do here is the work with grain," she said. "We mill it, we cook it, we ferment it, and we can distill it in a number of different ways. We really have our hands on it and in it. With the gin, we really loved the rye that we’ve been making a lot of our bourbon whiskey with. It brought in this whole other flavor, and it behaves a little differently."
It was Braunberg’s wife and Still’s head of marketing, Lisa, who thought the rye would be such a solid match for gin botanicals. The Texas Rye Gin was then distilled in a small-batch copper pot still — versus the 42-foot column still, affectionately dubbed Nancy, that towers over the Still building — and features a range of botanicals including coriander seeds, citrus peels, elderflowers and allspice berries.
The coriander provides the gin essential pepper notes, which play off the warm spiciness of the rye, Bloch said. Citrus was also key, as a mixture of grapefruit, orange and lemon peels. Tarragon, lending a black licorice and mint flavor, came straight from Still Austin’s on-site garden. The combination of ingredients contributes a primarily floral profile.
Still Austin sources the elbon rye, as Balcones Distilling does for its newly released Balcones Texas Rye, from Texas farmers who are tickled to hear the cover crop is good for something other than soil enrichment.
"If you talk to the farmers in Central Texas, it's always, ‘Oh, my dad used to grow rye,’" Braunberg said. "It's not that it doesn't grow well here; it’s just that the market dried up for it and a lot of other regional grains... We are hoping that we can encourage farmers to grow sorghum, millet, other grains that we can play around with."
Both 750 and 375 ml bottles are available for purchase at the tasting room at 440 E. St. Elmo Rd. Coming soon will be a barrel-aged version of the Texas Rye Gin, which was finished in rye whiskey casks for additional complexity.
For more information, visit stillaustin.com.
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