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The Fourth Annual Houston Whiskey Festival took place at the Bayou City Event Center last Saturday evening. I always appreciate the chance to speak to the representatives for the distilleries and learn a few things about each whiskey I try, and this year I even managed to learn things I didn’t know before about old favorites. Did you know Balcones Distlling’s single malt—for my money one of the true standard-bearers for Texas whiskey—is aged partially in new oak barrels and partially used ones? I didn’t. Similarly, I discovered Yellow Rose Distilling made a single malt, which I didn’t know about; this run was finished in port barrels, which gave the whiskey a smooth, nutty finish.

There weren’t nearly as many Texas brands as I’d hoped; outside of the aforementioned Balcones and Yellow Rose, I only saw two others. I didn’t get to try the Texas Crown, but I thought the Giant Texas Bourbon whiskey from Houston’s Gulf Coast Distillers was a surprisingly sweet spirit for a rye bourbon. It would make a fine spirit for drinking or mixing and a good value, based on its list price under $20.

I’ve been surprised at how many non-whiskey spirits continue to be available at the Houston Whiskey Festival. While I don’t have anything against other spirits, I usually avoid them at this event, as they’re not to my taste. (This is particularly true of sweetened liquors.) However, the Stolen smoked rum was one of the more unusual products I sampled, and the smokiness really helped offset the sweetness in a manner that made the drink quite pleasing to someone like me.

I still wish there had been a few more brands and a little bit more variety. The venue had space to accommodate, by my estimate, at least a half-dozen more tasting booths. (Perhaps I missed them, but several brands listed on the website, such as GlenDronach Scotch and Rowan’s Creek bourbon, didn’t appear at the festival at all.) That said, many of the brands did offer a wide range of expressions, which made for good comparison points in a label. Some standouts as far as these comparisons were:

  • Dewar’s, offering pours of their 12-, 15- and 18-year blended Scotches, as well as the Aberfeldy 12-year single malt, the largest component of Dewar’s blend
  • Old Forester, which poured their three historically-themed small batch bourbons, the 1870 Original Batch, the 1897 Bottled in Bond, and the 1920 Prohibition Style
  • Macallan, who offered pours of their classic 12-year and a new “Double Cask” 12-year, as well as VIP offerings of the 10-year Fine Oak, Rare Cask, and Edition No. 2. (That said, I still find this trend of Macallan increasingly moving away from age statements in its newest offerings disturbing.)

I would have liked more depth for the serious whiskey aficionado, but the breadth allowed for a very good representative cross-section of the styles and profiles of whiskey that are possible. Nevertheless, my own desire for something more geared toward experts didn’t stop me from having a good time, and for the old cranks like me who want to dive deep into whiskeys rare and unique, there’s always the option to stop at one of Houston’s great whiskey bars, like Reserve 101 or Poison Girl.  

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