Yellow Rose Distilling Plans to Open Houston's First Whiskey Distillery

Categories: Booze

whiskeytx.jpg
Photo courtesy Yellow Rose Distilling
A few of Yellow Rose's products are 100 percent Texan, and the company will be expanding its lineup with the new distillery.
Update: After receiving an email from Whitmeyer's Distilling and some readers, we wish to clarify our previous statement that the Yellow Rose Distillery will be the first whiskey distillery in Houston. See the end of the article for the full explanation.

The Great Texas Whiskey Debate--as we've come to call it--is alive and well in Houston. Ever since we conducted a taste test of "Texas whiskeys" last month, we've been hearing from diehard fans of the spirit and of the state that many products that claim to be made in Texas are actually only bottled here, and that there are very few true Texas spirits. For some, it seems, it's a very sore subject.

Ryan Baird and Troy Smith are hoping to quell at least some of the furor by opening Houston's first whiskey distillery early this fall. The duo (who are now joined by a staff of three and CFO Randy Whitaker) started making whiskey in 2010, after deciding they needed a change from their corporate day jobs.

"Me and my partner Troy, we were neighbors," Baird explains. "We were both in corporate America. We'd sit outside and drink a beer and talk about how great it would be if we weren't doing our day jobs. We talked about doing a craft brewery, but there were a bunch in the works then. We started investigating vodka and wine, and ultimately we settled on whiskey."

Initially the company, called Yellow Rose Distilling in honor of Texas, operated out of a tiny facility in the small town of Pinehurst, north of Houston between Magnolia and Tomball. With only 1,500 square feet to work with, Baird estimates he and Smith had the smallest still in Texas.

Smith was the recipe master, while Baird ran the business side of things. The small still meant small batches of whiskey--about 250 bottles a month that were sold to a local distributor. In spite of the humble beginnings, Baird and Smith were proud of the finished product, which debuted in 2012.

On a whim, they submitted their Outlaw Bourbon to the American Distilling Institute, which awarded the product a best in class designation. The Straight Rye Whiskey won double gold at the San Francisco Artisan Spirits competition the same year, so the friends decided to expand their production.

"At that time, we were still working full time jobs and trying to do other things," Baird says. "Then in 2013, we decided to figure out how to take this to the next step. So we're trying to raise money to get bigger equipment. We have a much bigger still now and a vodka column to eventually make vodka."

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Photo courtesy Yellow Rose Distilling
A new, bigger still means more great things to come.
Yellow Rose Distilling has purchased a 10,000 square foot space just north of the Galleria area, and with more space, the company is able to produce four whiskeys. One of them, Baird explains, is blended with whiskey purchased from producers outside of Texas.

"There are a couple distilleries that make everything from scratch in Texas, but we do some of both," Baird says. "The problem we had was we couldn't make enough to keep up with demand and to keep prices down. If you look at the ones made from scratch, they're so expensive."

"A lot of the consumers don't understand," he says. "We make some stuff from scratch like the Outlaw, and we also use some of the components we distill and blend that with bourbon we've purchased for our Blended Whiskey. I've found a lot of comments on the website from diehard consumers who say it has to be distilled here, but the problem is there aren't enough of them here to keep us in business."

By producing small batch Texas whiskey as well as larger batches of a blended product, Yellow Rose is able to serve both the whiskey connoisseur as well as the fan who wants a good product for around $30 a bottle.

"We're Houstonians," Baird says, shrugging off suggestions that whiskey not made completely in Texas isn't a Texan product. "We're building jobs here, we're spending money here. As long as you don't lie about it. We're open about it, and we think that's the way to do it."

Another way Yellow Rose is hoping to build community is with a Kickstarter campaign to fund some of the buildout of the tasting room. The company is hoping to raise $25,000 by mid-August to add the necessary finishing touches to the tasting room in order to make it a great place to have parties or relax after a tour.

"It's a little different because we already have products and aren't starting from scratch," Baird says. "But we thought it would be great to do a Kickstarter to build community and build excitement around the distillery, so when we open, we'll have instant customers."

Yellow Rose is offering a number of rewards for donations to the project, including a table handmade from a used bourbon barrel, one of the most popular choices so far. The top reward is a week working side-by-side with a distiller to learn how the whiskey is made. If you live outside of Houston, the company will even provide a hotel for you while you work in the distillery.

Until the new distillery opens, you can purchase Yellow Rose products at Spec's and most other liquor stores in Houston.

Update: Yellow Rose officially began production in 2012--before Whitmeyer's--in Pinehurst, Texas. Whitmeyer's claims this is outside of Houston, while Yellow Rose maintains that Pinehurst, near Tomball, is in the "Houston area."

Though both Whitmeyer's Distilling and another company, BJ Hooker's, have Houston city addresses, Yellow Rose Distillery partner Ryan Baird maintains his company is the first to be licensed in the city of Houston. Whitmeyer's and BJ Hooker's are in unincorporated Houston.

Baird writes, "When we moved to our new North Post Oak address, we again became the first whiskey distillery in Houston. In fact, ask the City of Houston how many distilleries they have permitted......you will get the right answer which is only one (Yellow Rose). Unfortunately, that meant we had to go through 11 months of city permitting red tape. So, we are first on both accounts. First in the Houston area and first in the City of Houston."

Travis Whitmeyer disagrees with that statement, noting, "I still have the first barrel of legally distilled whiskey produced in the county since prohibition, and I plan to hold on to it for some time. While [Yellow Rose] did open a couple of months before us, I would hardly call Pinehurst, TX; Houston, TX. I suppose you could use the designation Houston area, however, there were Houston area distilleries prior to us and Yellow Rose--Railean's in San Leon, Galveston County, and Dash in Brookshire, TX."

Railean Distillery got its LLC in 2005 and Dash Vodka was founded in 2012.

It seems to be a matter of semantics--what you consider Houston and what you consider the surrounding area--in determining who was truly the first distillery in town.

Of course, the fact that there's a disagreement over this at all is a sign that Houston is becoming a diverse liquor producer, which is great for the city. We doubt that anyone can argue about that.

Location Info

Map

Spec's Warehouse

2410 Smith St., Houston, TX

Category: General


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21 comments
ryan822
ryan822

Hey yall this is Ryan over at BJ Hooker's Vodka. Just wanted to let both HP and Kaitlin know that our team over here at BJ Hooker's thanks yall for the short but very much appreciated mention of our brand in this article lol......


Keep on Hookin' Houston,

                               Ryan

                      

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

These guys get it, not in Houston but a small craft distillery that sourced some bourbon -  http://www.blaumbros.com/#.  


The label states, that this is "the finest straight bourbon whiskey we never distilled."   The back label has a statement worth repeating in full:

"This is not our bourbon, though we did meticulously select, mature and vat it so that it could be your bourbon. We could have misled you regarding who distilled this bourbon, but we feel that this level of deception is dumber than a bag of hammers. The truth has never tasted so good."


Houston area distillers take note; I'd buy a bottle from them.

jamie.jay9901
jamie.jay9901

It seems the real issue is with the labeling department, not necessarily the distiller, or non-distiller. The TTB approves the labels, and enforces the laws.  If the label is approved, then it is legitimate by law. After speaking with several of the distilleries that are in question there is one very simple thing that consumers can do if they care enough (most don't, ((they like the little velvet texas flag bag, and could care less if it came from Canada)) but its cool to see more people taking an interest), take a tour and decide for yourself if you want to support them! If the distillery doesn't open its doors to the public, they likely have something going on that they don't want you to see. 


- Peace        

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

The rye is from MGP, so yea it's solid and award winning. But as Wade said, it is about misleading consumers by saying "Texas whiskey" when it really isn't. And more importantly, breaking the laws regarding labeling, which most of the Texas guys do, as well as the other "craft" guys around the country. Shrug it off if you want but my guess is this is all coming to a head, what with the AskMen article that came out this week and consumer groups getting involved.

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

There is nothing wrong with selling sourced from out of state whiskey.  And you can add value by creating custom blends or further aging or secondary barrel finishes.  The issue is trying to falsely pass it off to a consumer as something you distilled in Texas.  Ryan and Yellow Rose have been honest with consumers about what they are selling.  Well mostly honest, they knowingly fail to comply with our federal law regarding certain types of whiskey that says the actual State of Distillation must be listed on the bottle and I sure wish they would correct that.



paulaner
paulaner

Is there like a Houston terroir or anything meaningful that might distinguish a Houston whiskey from the rest?

jamie.jay9901
jamie.jay9901

@Wade Woodard You're splitting hairs a bit. Each and every Houston area distillery is just that, a distillery made up of craftsmen, pioneers, and entrepreneurs, and something to be proud of as a Houstonian!  I can't speak for the whole of Texas, but I can (at least to date) speak for Houston.  These guys and gals, are going way out on a limb seeking a living off of something they're passionate about, and in doing so, supporting local, charities, communities, jobs, farmers, etc... and doing something that no one prior to 2005 had the guts to do.  You should be congratulating them, not trying to tear them down.  Before you can speak to this intelligently, you need to read up on the alcohol industry in the US as a whole. Do you're homework.


Its really very simple:  


Do you like the products? (y/n)


Do you support the buy local movement? (y/n)


Is this a place you can take your friends and/or family members when they visit from out of town? (y/n)


In the micro and craft world, its about the distillery, not a few hundred bottles of this or that.  In the world of big liquor (mostly all foreign owned now), its about the product (millions of cases).  But hey, you already knew that!  


Who is the real deceiver?  I'll give you a hint, you must look beyond the distillery, and into the rest of the chain that prohibition created.  There are some REAL loopholes there that need to be exposed.


Keep up the good work!


- Peace 


Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

@paulaner there can be.  If you source grains locally, then that could be local terroir.  Firestone and Robertson in Ft. Worth captured their live yeast in the wild here in Texas off of a pecan tree, so definitely that will give a unique Texas profile (their bourbon they made from this yeast is still aging and has not been sold yet).  

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

@jamie.jay9901 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."


I suggest you do yours.

jamie.jay9901
jamie.jay9901

@timblack2 @jamie.jay9901  lol, you left out this part of the regulation that states the appropriate ATF (TTB) officer has the ultimate discretion.  Did you intentionally leave this part out to mislead readers to further the crusade?  I agree with the concept of transparency, however, I disagree with the approach that these guys are "breaking the law".  As a believer in the overall concept with respect to what you're trying to sell to the public, it pains me to see and hear this as a rally cry, simply because it is a non winner.  


"Except in the case of 'light whisky,' 'blended light whisky,' 'blended whisky,' 'a blend of straight whiskies,' or 'spirit whisky,' 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. The appropriate ATF officer may, however, 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. In the case of 'light whisky,' as defined in Sec. 5.22(b)(3), the State of distillation shall not appear in any manner on any label, when the appropriate ATF officer finds such State is associated by consumers with an American type whisky, except as a part of a name and address as set forth in paragraph (a) of this section."


I again maintain that there were no laws broken as long as the label has been approved by the appropriate officer.  If approved, the label is legal and legitimate, period. 


That's not to say that the laws aren't "broke", or the process isn't flawed.  Take it to the hill!


- Peace

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

@jamie.jay9901 @timblack2 Tim & I well aware of full regulations.  I've had direct conversations with the TTB about this and the interpretation of this.  The key is 'shall be shown' - this means if for whiskies other than those type excepted, the actual State of Distillation has to be on label, regardless of the ATF officer.  In addition, an ATF officer has the right to also require state of distillation for those excepted whiskies if they think the label is misleading or deceptive.

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

@jamie.jay9901 The laws are flawed to be sure, and yes, it was ultimately approved, so yes we can say no laws were broken because of the lax TTB. Technically. But that's like a cop letting you go when you were 10 miles an hour over the speed limit. The law was still broken but you got away with one.


One has to wonder why Yellow Rose on its initial release of their rye  did have it labeled properly and now it has since removed "distilled in IN." 


It seems like the ONLY reason to do that is to deceive the public. You could call it marketing I suppose, but I call it BS.

Here is the link to their original label:

https://www.ttbonline.gov/colasonline/viewColaDetails.do?action=publicFormDisplay&ttbid=12212001000384


Go find a bottle on the shelf now. It reads differently.

"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."


Oddly, the exact opposite is being done here.

jamie.jay9901
jamie.jay9901

@timblack2 @jamie.jay9901 Well, if they did in fact remove the wording, after approval, and put it on the market, then the COLA is negated because the approved label is not in use.  So if this is the case, then the law was broken.  This is interesting.   


You can follow the trail and responses from this debate, and its feasible to think a distillery may not have been aware of this rule, especially if they are new to the game. I feel like this is forgivable, but you are correct, to blatantly alter the approved label is both illegal and deceiving.  Think I'll take that trip to the liquor store to confirm.

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

@jamie.jay9901 @timblack2 My email is my 1st name.Last name@gmail - email me and I'll give you more background.  I don't want to post here because you are right and I don't want to tear down brands.  

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

@jamie.jay9901My Correct. If they didn't resubmit, and I see no evidence anywhere that they did, then the new label doesn't comply with 27 CFR 5.36(d)


Illegal? You tell me.

jamie.jay9901
jamie.jay9901

@timblack2 @jamie.jay9901 It's possible they did resubmit their label, its also possible, a human error occurred, its also possible that they found another source (outside of Indiana) for their rye.  


To simply make these guys out to be criminals without the facts, is wrong on so many levels.


I have to think of who benefits from this action...


I also have to consider the motives behind it.


It sounds a bit like big liquor propaganda. 


By stifling the local craft movement, the big liquor companies could potentially regain space on Texas store shelves that they have lost over the last couple of years.    


Do you or Wade have any interest (stock) in big liquor companies?  Are y'all on the payroll?  Curious...


- Peace


timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

@jamie.jay9901 Doubtful they or anyone resubmits, but you'd have to ask. I don't see any evidence of resubmission at TTB. 

Also doubtful about the source. 95% rye mash bill is a dead giveaway it's from MGP. Do you know much about MGP or its products and mash bills? Know of any other 95% ryes being made and distributed for re-bottling and resale? If so, I'd be curious to know about them. 


And yes, look at the motives and who benefits on both sides. I say it's the small guys selling "local" stuff to good hearted and locavore type supporters. 


The thing is, "big liquor" is who sells their overstock to the craft guys in the first place, so I'm not sure that logic follows. In fact one of the majors is stopping it's selling off this year because they can't keep up with the demand of the "crafts" as well as have enough for their own products. I believe it's Heaven Hill. Wade will know though. 


And no. Not industry types. Quite the opposite, just passionate consumers. Funny you say that. Wade and I were wondering if you worked for one of these "craft" guys.


And no, it's not propaganda. Learn about the industry and you'll see. This stuff is coming to a head. Read this article from last week (below). It was ALL over social media. It wasn't a surprise to any bourbon geek, but I saw all sorts of comments from friends who "couldn't believe it."


By all means email Wade. He'll give you my email as well. Wade knows a lot about this. I would also recommend reading blog of Chuck Cowdery if you want to learn more.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/28/your-craft-whiskey-is-probably-from-a-factory-distillery-in-indiana.html

jamie.jay9901
jamie.jay9901

@timblack2 @jamie.jay9901 I have been in the industry for many many years on the distribution side of the equation.  I am also a Houstonian and Native Texan. I do consider myself somewhat of an expert on the industry, and am of the opinion that the craft / local movement is a positive one that contributes to the local economy through taxes, money spent locally, charities, and the like. So by supporting them, you are supporting local, regardless of where the product was "distilled". 


I am very familiar with MGP (Formerly LDI) and their products.  I am also familiar with the other "big liquor houses" that supply the majority of smaller distilleries.


I am also aware of the growth of the whiskey category as a whole, and the shortage the growth has caused.  New markets in Asia are consuming tremendous amounts of American Whiskey.


Since we have already established the shortage is real, and the "big liquor" companies are no longer supplying the little guys, Is it not logical to think that due to the shortage, and the loss of space on the shelves, that one way to flush the local producers out is to smear them by producing negative propaganda?


I'm only suspicious of propaganda, because on its face, you and Wade, along with the other writers of these various articles, are passionately using such strong negative language as "deceit", "fake", and "breaking laws" - implying criminal activity without facts or understanding of the industry as a whole.  It seems like a one sided hack job that will ultimately only benefit the massive liquor conglomerates.  Its a beautiful plan really.


I too am a whiskey lover and connoisseur, and tend to agree with what Mr. Baird said in this article "   



"I've found a lot of comments on the website from diehard consumers who say it has to be distilled here, but the problem is there aren't enough of them here to keep us in business."


He's right, there aren't enough of us to keep his doors open, so, they make something for everyone.  Its a business, and you have to put your focus on where the demand is.  


What I've learned over the years about the industry is, most people don't want to spend $80 on a bottle of bourbon, or $200 on a bottle of Scotch, or $100 on a bottle of wine for that matter, and if they do it is for some special occasion.  By and large, the consumers look for value (price) above anything else.  As long as the product tastes decent, they will go to a $15 bottle of whiskey 95% of the time.  Especially in Texas,  we want big bottles of liquor cheap, and it shows in the sales figures, and on the floors of liquor stores across the state.


If you can persuade people out of that way of thinking, I would bet ya a paycheck, that the producers would adjust their products to meet the demand of the consumers.


Also, Remember, the distributor gets a vote in whats purchased from the supplier, as does, the wholesaler, as does the bar, before the consumer ever gets to see or taste it. Its amazing how many people out there don't know about the 3 tier system...


I am all for educating consumers, and I believe that the best way to go about it is to start with the basics.


- Peace 



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