Get in the Spirit(s)

5 Texas Spirits Perfect to Gift This Holiday Season

We did the hard work of tasting bourbon, sotol, and a Houston-made CBD vodka.

By Carlos Brandon

Unless your loved one doesn't drink alcohol, be a sport this year and get them what we all really want. More to the point, get them one of these unique Texas spirits. We’ve done the hard labor of tracking down and tasting some of the finest newly released and classic Texas spirits from H-Town to the Hill Country for your holiday gift-giving and self-indulgent consideration.

Each of the following five spirits are produced in Texas by both master distillers and new industry faces with a point to prove. Some are Lone Star State all the way from seed to barrel. Some are longtime staples of any good Texan's liquor cabinet. All are innovative, masterful expressions of the current state of this state’s distilling culture.

Still Austin The Musician, a straight bourbon.

Still Austin Whiskey Co. The Musician

Still Austin opened as the first urban distillery in Austin since Prohibition. The craft operation, steered by the expertise of master distiller and “Rum Doctor” Michael Delevante, launched with a well-received gin in 2015 but has since been hard at work developing its flagship whiskey. Released this summer, the first Still Austin straight bourbon, coined The Musician, is a 100-percent grain-to-glass Texas bourbon made with Texas-grown white corn, Elbon rye, and wildfire malted barley, aged two years in Texas oak barrels.

The 98.4-proof spirit is at once approachable and mature. It’s mildly sweet with strong notes of spice and a mid-proof bite that does well neat, yet mellows nicely with water. A nod to the musical nature of its hometown, The Musician’s bottle art was created by Texan artist Mark Buckhardt, who was commissioned by the distillery to create a series of Austin archetypes that will adorn future releases.

Balcones Distilling Baby Blue

Frankly, this list would be woefully incomplete without mention of Balcones. While this is no new release or recent innovation, Baby Blue is of particular significance to any appreciator of Texas spirits. The first Texas whiskey sold since Prohibition, it gets its name from the roasted heirloom blue corn from which it's made, as well as its intentional youthfulness meant to capture the true spirit of the corn while it's still present in the barrel.

Sweet and nutty from its rich corn base with a buttery nose and a spicy, refined complexity, this whiskey punches above its class for a mid-tier domestic. Baby Blue is a veritable staple in any Texan whiskey lover's bar and a flagship of a storied and highly awarded Texas distillery—one known for challenging the standards and qualities of even its Scotch-Irish ancestors.

Highway Vodka's core product is made with hemp seed.

Highway Vodka

Move over Aquarius, it's the age of CBD. The now semi-legal nature of commercial hemp sales has ushered in a tidal wave of hemp-based products in Texas. From topical creams to gummies and oils, hemp and CBD (a hemp-derived compound that contains little to no trace of THC) are seemingly everywhere. One local distiller jumped on the opportunity to add this newly legalized crop to his experimental distillations to create a grain-to-glass vodka produced entirely in Houston. Ben Williams, founder of Highway Vodka, spent years developing his unique hemp seed spirit before launching the first black-owned distillery in Texas.

The hemp seed in Highway's product, also called Highway Vodka, is more than a clever sales pitch. It is instrumental in the distilling process, acting as fermentation fuel to the yeast while forming a thick layer of hemp oil on top of the mash. The final product is earthy and a bit piney with a unique viscosity. While not a flavor profile for all, this is a highly original and hyper local craft spirit sure to excite the curious mixologist in your life.

Yellow Rose Distilling Single Malt Whiskey

Back in 2014, the founders of Houston’s first whiskey distillery, Yellow Rose Distilling, raised $25,000 via Kickstarter to help expand their then under-the-radar micro-distillery. The success of that campaign helped grow the company into one of the state’s most respected distilleries. From its flagship Outlaw Bourbon to its Texas Rye and classic American Whiskey, the Yellow Rose name has earned a great deal of respect in Texas whiskey circles.

Back in 2017, the company released its most ambitious and craft-focused spirit to date, a Texas Single Malt aged in bourbon barrels and finished in port wine barrels. It was ambitious because single-malt whiskeys are a domestic rarity more commonly associated with Scottish and occasionally Irish distilleries. The folks at Yellow Rose took the challenge on head-first and produced a solid spirit that holds its own in such esteemed company. Its port barrel finish, as well as the use of smaller bourbon barrels for aging, add flavor and floral complexity to a relatively young spirit, especially for the single-malt category.

A glass of Desert Door Texas Sotol.

Desert Door Texas Sotol

Speaking of flavor profiles that aren't for everyone, one Hill Country distillery prides itself in the rather acquired taste of its flagship spirit as well as its historic significance. Desert Door is a quaint distilling operation tucked into the rolling, semi-desert hills west of Austin in Driftwood. Desert Door is the first and only distillery outside the three Mexican states of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila—the official Sotol Region—to produce the little known desert spirit, sotol.

Considered a forgotten little brother of both tequila and the suddenly popular mezcal, sotol actually predates both by a couple centuries at least. Made from the desert plant of the same name (also known commonly as “Spanish Spoon”), sotol is an ancient and mystical spirit originally fermented by the indigenous inhabitants of Texas and Northern Mexico and later distilled with the advent of Spanish technology. While the official Sotol Region falls below our Texas border, both its native plant and history are indigenous as far north as the Hill Country. This makes Desert Door Texas Sotol, produced with wild plants harvested in Texas, as authentic and historically significant as those produced by our cousins to the south.

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