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Treaty Oak Distilling debuts new aged spirits

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Three new products from the Treaty Oak Distillery have launched this month, and they’re already winning awards.

While the distillery previously only made un-aged spirits, they’ve launched into new territory with aged versions of the Treaty Oak Rum and Waterloo Gin, and a blended Bourbon. All three won gold medals at the recent Great American Distiller’s Festival.

Owner Daniel Barnes admits he’s long been a whiskey aficionado, and the aged spirits category is something he has wanted to dabble in from the early beginnings of production. Here’s a breakdown of the new products.

Treaty Oak Barrel Reserve

Take the rich vanilla and molasses flavors of the flagship Treaty Oak Platinum Rum and throw them into a barrel for two to three years, and what do you get? Treaty Oak Barrel Reserve, a well-balanced, big, oaky spirit, ready to spar with any well-respected national brand.

Originally, the distillery thought they would follow the craft crowd and age the rum in small barrels for speedy maturation, but after experimenting with the process, Barnes said “as we compared the small barrel to the bigger 53 gallon barrels, we couldn’t believe the difference in sweetness and flavor compounds. You get butter, caramel, and popcorn. It’s a completely different product that comes through.”

The final product is aged in 53 gallon new American oak barrels with a medium to high char level, meaning a good amount of wood flavor is contributed to the liquid as it sits, but not so much that it overwhelms the natural flavors of the base liquor. At 80 proof, it’s easy and enjoyable to sip neat, but also works well in a variety of tiki cocktails, and as a Rum Old Fashioned.

Waterloo Antique

Aging gins is still not a widespread practice in the craft distilling world, but that didn’t stop Treaty Oak from finding the best way to try to do it with Waterloo Gin. Since the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau says that aged gins cannot legally be called barrel-aged gins, Treaty Oak opted to call the spirit Waterloo Antique.

Barnes says the final product came out much better than they had originally anticipated. Most aged gins on the market sit for a few months in small barrels, but Treaty Oak wanted to explore the changes that were happening in the barrel in a more long-term way. He says after around two years, the flavors stop evolving, so for the final product they let the gin sit in 53 gallon new American oak barrels for one to two years before blending and bottling.

“With the rum, we know when we get close to that third year we get an optimal flavor. With the gin, there are certain points during the aging transition where flavors change, and we wanted to keep a bit of the botanicals to mix in with that big, heavy, back-end winter spice that we’re getting with the two year aged. So we blend two different ages together.”

The final product is unlike anything I’ve tasted before. Barnes calls it the “child of both whiskey and gin,” and it’s the best way to look at the product. It has all the oaky, vanilla elements of your average whiskey, but with dark, herbal and baking spice-like botanicals thrown into the mix. At 94 proof, it’s a bit more intense to drink neat, but Barnes says he’s had success drinking the spirit in a Gin Sour type-drink, and an Old Fashioned application (minus additional bitters).

Red-Handed Bourbon

Whiskey producers around the country often try to hide the fact that when they make a blended whiskey, several kinds of ryes and bourbons are often procured from around the country to produce the final product. Very few, if any, make the entire thing from scratch. Enter Treaty Oak’s Red-Handed Bourbon, unapologetically featuring whiskies culled from Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

“We want to be upfront and honest with people and tell them exactly what we are doing,” Distiller Joshua Holland explained. “We are selecting barrels that have flavor profiles that we like, blending them together, re-barreling them for however long we determine, and selling it. [The name Red-Handed] is a cool, craft way to get across the point that everyone is doing it, but we’re being honest about it.”

The distillery is working on making their own in-house whiskey, but the Red-Handed gives them something to sharpen their blending skills in the meantime. “Part of learning how to make a good whiskey is learning how to blend, so this is kind of us taking the first steps towards that,” Barnes said. “In the whiskey we’re making in-house, we’re using more wheat in the production of those, softer, sweeter wheated bourbon. We wanted this product to be quite a bit different from that, so for it, we went for a much higher rye recipe. It’s still Bourbon, but it has a ton of rye to it. It lends some fruity flavors, some berry, bigger green apple crispness to it, and honestly more bite to the whiskey itself.”

After the selected whiskies are blended, they are put back into new American oak barrels at Treaty Oak, and left to rest for 9 to 15 months before it is bottled and sold at 84 proof. Because it has high rye content, the body is much larger and complicated than your average Bourbon, making it fun to play around with in cocktail form.

The Future

Soon, you’ll be able to taste all Treaty Oak products straight from the source. When the new distillery opens in Dripping Springs, the team will welcome visitors to the tap room, where customers can try the spirits and buy cocktails, thanks to changes in Texas laws earlier this summer that allow for on-site sales and consumption. Keep your eyes out for updates from the distillery regarding tours and tastings sometime in the next few weeks.