There's no doubt about it: Texas makes whiskey that can hold its own against the legacy juice of Kentucky. But don't take our word for it. Try a variety of Texas-produced bourbon, rye, single-malt and other whiskeys next month at the returning Texas Whiskey Festival — which was apparently so successful last year that a change in venue was needed.
This year, the fest will be located just outside of Bee Cave at Star Hill Ranch, a sprawling events venue that was designed to look like a town from the Wild West, complete with an 1899-era chapel and a German-style biergarten. (Star Hill Ranch and its Main Street Plaza were authentic enough to have been the backdrop of the AMC drama "The Son," starring Pierce Brosnan.)
No doubt the enchanting western setting will stage the mood for all the whiskey tastings you can expect at the festival on April 19. And there will be lots. On-site to offer samples of their booze are Texas distilleries and makers that all specialize in whiskey, including Still Austin Whiskey Co., Balcones Distilling and Garrison Brothers Distillery. Meet these master blenders and distillers while enjoying food, cigar pairings and live music by singer-songwriter Radney Foster.
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Both general admission and VIP tickets are available for $89 and $135, respectively. VIP ticket holders will get access to the venue an hour ahead of time and will have their own building featuring plenty of seating, a bar and food. (Don't like whiskey? That's OK, too: $49 tickets get you access to samples from Texas wineries instead. And if you're not drinking at all, $25 tickets get you into the 9:45 p.m. concert with Foster.)
So far, 20 Texas whiskey producers have signed on, and more might be announced in the coming days. Here's a look at some of the ones you might not have heard of yet.
Real Spirits Distilling. Did you know Real Ale Brewing began a distilling program a couple of years ago? It's a much smaller operation than the beer side, and each of the Real Spirits — which launched in spring 2017 with a gin and two whiskeys — are distilled from one or more of Real Ale's beers, sans hops. Talk about exclusive stuff.
Old Humble Distilling Company. You might think the name of this whiskey maker is a nod to its humble beginnings, and certainly the distillery, which has an expansion in the works for 2020, is only 1,600 sq. ft. Really, though, the name is a tribute to the Houston suburb of Humble where Old Humble Distilling is located (pronounced with a silent 'h,' by the way). Previously a homebrewer, founder Joseph Breda does every part of the production process by hand.
Lone Elm Texas Spirits. This North Texas distillery swears by wheat as the grain that makes the smoothest possible whiskey and sources "all of the soft, red winter wheat" from a local farmer, according to Lone Elm's bio page. Another essential ingredient in the small-batch straight wheat whiskey is the rain water that has been collected and treated on-site for extra purity.
Ben Milam Whiskey. Located in Blanco just like Real Spirits, Ben Milam has assembled an all-star team of whiskey experts to take the small local brand to a national level next year. The team includes Marlene Holmes, the master distiller who previously worked for Jim Beam in Kentucky for almost 30 years. Expect award-winning whiskey by this distiller named for a hero of the Texas Revolution.
Devils River Whiskey. The co-founder of San Antonio's Rebecca Creek Whiskey released a new project two years: a whiskey named for and made with the pure, limestone-filtered water from a feisty Texas river. Water is an often overlooked ingredient in whiskey, but the Devils River proves essential in the primarily corn-based spirit that was aged in charred oak barrels.
These and many more will be available at the Texas Whiskey Festival starting at 7:30 p.m. on April 19. Star Hill Ranch is located at 15000 Hamilton Pool Rd. For more information, including where to buy tickets, visit txwhiskeyfest.com.