A Ranking of Texas Whiskeys Under $40

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Photo courtesy Rebecca Creek
Rebecca Creek is one of the few Texas whiskey producers that is 100 percent Texan.
Though Kentucky and Tennessee have long been considered the whiskey and bourbon capitols of the country, Texas is increasingly making a name for itself as a whiskey producer.

Walk into Spec's and ask for Texas whiskey, and they'll point you to a whole section filled with amber-hued liquor purportedly produced right here in the Lone Star State. Purportedly.

You see, there's a lack of transparency among breweries when it comes to where their liquor is actually produced. Sure, it's bottled in Texas. Some steps of the aging process might take place in Texas. But many a whiskey sleuth suspects that the distillation is happening elsewhere--a mystery that was touched upon in this article by our sister paper, The Dallas Observer, last year.

Still, there are some great products out there if you're not too concerned about exact provenance. We gathered five "Texas whiskies" under $40 to taste them and see how they stack up against the Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey we're used to. Some of the choices were total disappointments. Others just might become our new favorites.

Check them out for yourselves and let us know what you think.

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
Yes we did conduct this taste test while watching the World Cup in the break room. We were glad we had whiskey :(
5. Texas Silver Star $35.25
Trinity River Distillery, Lewisville
According to the label, this whiskey "is a tribute to the Texas cowboy of the Chisholm Trail and is meticulously hand-crafted using nothing but the finest ingredients and aged to perfection." Unfortunately, we all agreed that this was the worst of the whiskies we tasted. It was harsh, not smooth at all. It burns a little on the way down. If you can get past the alcohol taste in your mouth, it might be good, but to us, it just tastes like booze with nothing underneath.

4. Fine Texas Spirit Whiskey 32.62
Rebecca Creek Distillery, San Antonio
The distillers have said they modeled this after Canadian whiskey blends like Crown Royal. It's blended with "limestone-filtered Hill Country water" and a bit of bourbon with a proprietary blend of domestic malted barley. We weren't surprised to read about the limestone-filtered water because, well, it tastes a little watery. There's an interesting, almost citrusy smell up front that makes us want to drink it in a whiskey sour. But the flavor is somewhat thin and watery, and there's not much to it.

3. TX Blended Whiskey $34.73
Firestone & Robertson, Fort Worth
This "blended whiskey" is made from a mixture of corn, wheat and malted barley and is 82 proof. It won two gold medals and Best in Class in the category of American Craft Whiskey at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2013. We found it to be a little harsh, though--almost too boozy in flavor. The front is a bit chemical, but the aftertaste is smooth and warm with a hint of maple.

2. 1835 $27.36
North Texas Distillers, Lewisville
The name refers to the Battle of Gonzales in 1835, typically considered the start of the Texas Revolution. Unlike some of the other whiskies in the bunch, which specifically say they were distilled in Texas, this one simply says "Bottled in Texas," so it's unclear if it was actually produced in the state. Regardless, we liked this one. It has just the right level of sweetness for bourbon, but it's not as smooth as it could be. It's is, however, much smoother than the Silver Star or Firestone & Robertson, and the flavor is complex with nutty, buttery notes.

1. Troubador Bourbon Whiskey $36.83
The Original Texas Legend Distillery, Orange
Like 1835, there's some debate about whether this was actually produced in Texas or merely bottled here. There's very little information on the website, and a few whiskey forums have called its Texas-ness into question. That said, this whiskey was the clear winner of the bunch. We wonder if that is perhaps because it was actually produced in Kentucky. It goes down smooth, with strong notes of brown sugar and butter. It would make a great sipping whiskey, as everything from the smell to the aftertaste is pleasing, and there's nothing astringent about it. We really hope it is indeed produced in Texas, but if it's not...well, we'll still drink it.

Location Info

Map

Spec's Warehouse

2410 Smith St., Houston, TX

Category: General


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40 comments
internationalpoet
internationalpoet

I will have agreed whole-heartly with the first ascessment of Texas Silver Star Whiskey. Recently brought a bottle at Hoot and Holler in Gun Barrel City, Texas on Cedar Creek Lake where our lakehome is located.  It was overprice above the $35 mark. Threw three-quarters of the bottle away. It was pure bad gut. Hope their name will never be confused with our future great wine to be made in the area.

TXSpiritsGeek
TXSpiritsGeek

I have tried everyone one of these "Texas Whiskeys" as well as nearly every one product fermented and distilled or otherwise produced in the State of Texas. @KaitlinS I would suggest that you do a little more research before writing such an article.  Albeit, if you had attempted to do your research (as I have), you'll find that some of these companies are not so forthcoming with information regarding the source of their whiskey.  I am not calling into question the quality of these products.  Many people enjoy these products, and quality is a measure of personal satisfaction.  However, many brands are employing downright deceitful marketing practices spinning their product as something it is not.

I have personally visited nearly half of the distilleries in the State of Texas and documented specific information on each distillery and their products on my website (www.TXSpiritsGeek.com).  I do not post any information on my website that is not confirm by the owner or owner's representative and only after I have personally witnessed their operations.  I have presented the information in a unbiased, factual way so that folks can find the information they care about and make up their own mind about the product.  I try very hard to keep my personal opinions out of it.  For my perspective, this is the minimum level of detail required to write an informed article about the Texas Whiskey Industry.  Anything short of this and you're just grasping at straws. 

surebuttercringe
surebuttercringe

Any reason that Whitmeyer's was not included in this testing? Don't they distill in Houston? Also, I believe their price for Single Barrel Cask is under $40.

Robert Gonzalez
Robert Gonzalez

I Heard it's a real good whiskey, but Kamperman is stuck on that Canadian shit lol

Sergio Avila
Sergio Avila

Rix Camp Robert Gonzalez Tania Joey Saldierna Cruz

Nelo Maciel
Nelo Maciel

One brand I know for sure that it's 100% made in Texas is "yellow rose" it's on 249 right outside of Tomball to the north. It's just one dude in a tiny 20x20 work space brewing and bottling on his own. I've gone to pick up a few pallets from him

Nelo Maciel
Nelo Maciel

I worked for the company that distributed for 1835 and been to their location to pick up directly from them. It's just a bottling plant.

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

I don't think any of these are actually truly made in Texas. This stuff is just bought at huge producers like MGP and sent here to be bottled and (mis)labeled to the unknowing consumer. The only true "grain  to glass" whiskies I know of in Texas are Herman Marshall, Garrison Brothers and Balcones.

karenwhite_gbd
karenwhite_gbd

Troubador Bourbon Whiskey is produced in Orange, Texas.  The owner is a friend of mine.  They are awesome.  Their vodka is AMAZING and can not stay on shelves in my area (pasadena/deer park).  You can look them up on Facebook and ask any questions you may have.....GOD BLESS TEXAS!

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

Also most of these are actually violating TTB federal labeling laws regarding whiskey - 27 CFR 5.36(d), which requires that "the State of distillation shall be shown on the label of any whisky produced in the United States if the whisky is not distilled in the State given in the address on the brand label."

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

I guess you did disclose that these are likely not Texas whiskies, but I still find this article misleading based on title alone.  Unless label specifically says 'Distilled by XYZ Distillery in ABC City, Texas" then you can be assured that it was not truly made here.  And none of these in this article state that.  Sure, they all have back stories and labels that pretend to be made in Texas, but if you read the label you will see statements like 'Produced and Bottled in Texas'.  This is to deceive customers.


Rebecca Creek is also in a different category, it's a Spirit Whiskey.  Very few know what's this means - it's GNS (Grain neutral spirit - uncut 190 proof vodka) blended with a little whiskey.  This category was allowed right after prohibition ended as a way for producers to stretch limited stocks of aged whiskey.  It pretty much had totally disappeared until some 'craft' distilleries brought it back.  I call spirit whiskies brown vodka.  


There are some Texas distillers that actually make (ferment, distill, age, and bottle) whiskey in this state - Balcones, Garrison Brothers, Bone Spirits (Fitch's Goat brand).  Yellow Rose makes one of their products in state; Outlaw Bourbon, but their other products are sourced from out of state.  Firestone & Robertson has made Bourbon in state, but it is still aging and not for sale yet.

paval
paval topcommenter

Forgot to taste Yellow Rose outlaw Bourbon. Also not sure as to its production location, but i am not the journalist, nor the whiskey, or bourbon drinker. 


Tough job to drink all this high proof stuff during work hours, I presume?

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@TXSpiritsGeek From the article: "You see, there's a lack of transparency among breweries when it comes to where their liquor is actually produced. Sure, it's bottled in Texas. Some steps of the aging process might take place in Texas. But many a whiskey sleuth suspects that the distillation is happening elsewhere--a mystery that was touched upon in this article by our sister paper, The Dallas Observer, last year."


Also, if you read it, you'd note that it's not intended to be an article about the whiskey industry. Read the feature from the Dallas Observer if you want that. This was a taste test of whiskeys that call themselves "Texas Whiskeys," acknowledging that many of them aren't necessarily produced here.   Wait, did you read the article?

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@surebuttercringe All I saw in our price range from Whitmeyer's were moonshine whiskey and peach whiskey. The single barrel cask was priced around $70, but the guy helping me out at Spec's said it's very good.

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

I not a naysayer.  I just don't like the deception employed by these companies.  I think there is nothing wrong with sourcing whiskey and bottling it for your brand.  The Scotch whisky industry has many reputable independent bottlers who do this and disclose such.  High West based in Utah sources whiskey and blends from different sources to create a unique product - and they fully disclose this.  Yellow Rose here in Houston sources whiskey but then ages it here in used wine barrels (their Double Barrel) and I think it's a very nice whiskey.  So follow the federal labeling laws and be honest about what you are selling.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@Wade Woodard The funny thing is those ones you mention as being completely made in state are much more than $40 per bottle (or at least they were at Spec's). I guess you pay more for local juice, huh? Thanks for all your input! The subject of Texas whiskey is a broad one that could take up much more than this simple article.

paval
paval topcommenter

did not mean the Outlaw but the blended at around 30 and double barrel at 35. 

Outlaw would fall out of this article being that it is 50 or more

TXSpiritsGeek
TXSpiritsGeek

@KaitlinS You're being more defensive than some of these whiskey brands when I asked them where their whiskey is made.  I read your article very thoroughly and I've read the Dallas Observer article a number of times.  I am simply noting your apparent lack of factual information as you use phrases such as "whiskey sleuth", "suspect", and "mystery" spinning critics as fanatics and/or conspiracy theorists.  It is a known fact that many of these products are not made in Texas and there is no need to shroud this fact in vague language.  Doing so only supports the deception.  The article comes across to an expert with a her-said-she-said tone and does not make me think it was written from an informed position.  One thing is for sure; you're living up to the name of your blog: "Eating....Our Words".

tbar04
tbar04

@Wade Woodard  Yes ferminted, distilled, aged and bottled in Orange Tx


karenwhite_gbd
karenwhite_gbd

@Wade Woodard @karenwhite_gbd there will always be naysayers....I am just a Texas girl that likes this whiskey (and vodka).   It's an amazing whiskey and vodka too....don't be so negative Wade.  No one likes a know-it-all.  all the facts you shared don't make a hill-of-beans to me....under $40 is a good deal and i like their products....and to call them a "fake" brand is not very nice....God doesn't like ugly!  just saying.  Bless your heart!

realvsperception
realvsperception

@Wade Woodard I think you should do a little more research before you start calling out specific brands and names.  You borderline on accusational remarks and speculated knowledge of the regulatory law.  I can say that your advertisement for several other specific brands has interested me in conducting a little research as well, but it will not include taste.  Your opinions have been noted and you are completely entitled to them, just be careful of the forum and argument you create; as the attention that you may find is not the "yea well my dog is better than yours" argumentative banter that you seek to incite.  Please have your facts straight before you make accusations. Oh, and I sincerely hope you have a nice day.

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

@KaitlinS The whiskey distilleries in KY, TN and IN are very large and efficient operations that can produce whiskey cheaply.  Just like most other things craft related, true Texas whiskies are made on much smaller scale using higher grade grains and produced in pot or hybrid pot stills vs. very large column stills.  It will cost more and it will taste different.  Is it worth it is up to the consumer to decide.  


If you want to buy the whiskies that are used in these Texas fake brands, you can buy them from the actual distillers own brand for far less.  

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@paval Didn't see the blended or double barrel at Spec's. They're there?

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@TXSpiritsGeek @KaitlinS I don't have factual evidence, as I haven't been to the distilleries myself. Relying on someone else's reports as fact would be poor journalism. Until I have the time and budget to make trips all across Texas to verify the veracity of claims that some of these whiskeys aren't actually made here, or until the distillers I call will admit it to me, it's not an established fact at this publication. All I can say is that other people have reported they aren't all made in Texas. I don't have proof myself.

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

@tbar04 specifically the current for sale product, Troubador Bourbon Whiskey, is 100% distilled, fermented, aged, and distilled in Orange, TX?  

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

@karenwhite_gbd @Wade Woodard The problem, Karen, is the deceit. People buy this thinking it' a "local" product when it's not. It's not amazing. It's just ok. And it is the exact same stuff you can buy in 50 other brands for half the price or less. Pure marketing nonsense aimed at those who don't know the game. If you want actual Texas whiskey, get Balcones, Garrison Bros or Herman Marshall. Or support Railean just down the road from you there when she starts making her whiskey.

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

@realvsperception 

Your post is entirely vacant. Wade is giving specifics, you essentially call him a liar, but you don't include a single detail to refute Wade's assertions.


paval
paval topcommenter

@KaitlinS @paval I would think they do have it, but as Wade pointed out its only the Outlaw that is Tejano Whiskey, the Double Barrel and the Blended are made out of state. 


connoissaurus
connoissaurus

@KaitlinS @TXSpiritsGeek It's actually pretty simple. Look on the back of the bottle. By law there has to be a producer statement. If it says "DISTILLED BY" then there is no question that they actually made it themselves (there's a grey area here if they're blending sourced juice with their own.) If it says "PRODUCED BY" "BOTTLED BY" "MANUFACTURED BY" "HAND CRAFTED WITH ANGEL TEARS BY" or ANYTHING other than Distilled By then they sourced the whiskey in that bottle.

tbar04
tbar04

@Wade Woodard @tbar04 Not to mention the fact that if you decide to visit the distillery you may take a tour of the facility to see all the steps throughout (spell check not included) the distillation process.


realvsperception
realvsperception

@Bruce_Are @realvsperception If you wish to proceed then lets go with it  27CFR5.36d is misquoted and only shows that the knowledge is rudimentary.  In fact the specific opening sentence is "Except in the case of "light whiskey", "blended light whiskey", "blended whiskey",
"a blend of straight whiskeys", or "spirit whiskey"....Shall we continue  furthermore in such case prior to label approvals during permitting if there is any information that may be misleading to the State of Distillation TTB officer may require the state of distillation to be shown on the label or he may permit such other labeling as may be necessary to negate any misleading or deceptive impression which might be created as to the actual state of distillation. Details Details

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

@tbar04 I will try to get over there soon for a tour of distillery.  In the meantime, I visited their website and sent an email to contact info there asking if it was 100% made in Orange.  I'll definitely post their reply back here.  

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

@realvsperception @Bruce_Are Yes I know exactly what the law says and in the interest of not boring to death general readers I did not quote every word in the CFR, but I'm happy to do so.  Yes this law does exempt Rebecca Creek since it is a spirit whiskey, but the others on the list I believe are in violation.  In case you want validation if I'm correctly interpreting the law, I suggest you contact the TTB (which I have).  Tom Hogue is the TTB point of contact for all media inquiries.  The question regarding listing the actual state of distillation has been asked before to Tom and he responded  "5.36(d) is pretty straight forward and it sounds like you are reading it correctly".  For more info - http://chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2014/07/urge-your-congressional-representative.html

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

@tbar04 the label of the their Whiskey says only Bottled in Texas.  Troubadour Vodka label says selected, distilled and bottled from the distillery.  That tells you what you need to know.

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