- - Friday, May 12, 2017

One of an occasional series

Small craft whiskey distillers are having an impact on the market for spirits, but none so much as Fort Worth’s TX Straight Bourbon. Five years in the making, this bourbon from Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. (F&R) is not just good bourbon; it is great bourbon. 

From its stylish bottle with boot-leather stopper and western-inspired packaging to its smoky, warm taste and velvet-mouth feel, TX Straight Bourbon has something extra, something that is as big as, well, Texas.

“Texas corn, Texas wheat, Texas water, Texas aging climate, and our proprietary Texas yeast strain,” says co-founder Leonard Firestone.

All bourbon shares the same basic recipe, though each distiller has its own distilling and barreling processes. TX Straight Bourbon is made with #2 yellow-dent Texas corn, Texas soft-red winter wheat, 6-row distillers malt, pure Texas water, and the yeast that makes one whiskey unique from another. 

Finding the right yeast is critical, and when they find it, distillers protect it like a state secret, much as Coca-Cola keeps its recipe in a vault in Atlanta. The yeast for TX Straight Bourbon imparts distinct flavors of dried fruit, sweet spice and floral tones.

“We found five (yeasts) that we liked,” Mr. Firestone says, “and then finally we agreed on one that came from a pecan nut on a friend’s ranch in Glen Rose.”

Finding that perfect yeast requires science. F&R’s head distiller is Rob Arnold, who has his Masters degree in microbiology from UT Southwestern in Dallas. Mr. Arnold’s family has been in the distilling business for five generations, giving him the heart and heritage to create a great whiskey.

“Rob called us and said I would like to be your distiller; we met and hired him fresh out of college,” Mr. Firestone says. “And we began working on the yeast, talking about yeast. Where we would capture a wild yeast strain to become the identity of the whiskey. I wanted to make a bourbon with a different flavor profile.”

Capturing wild yeast is difficult, but Arnold felt that he was up to the challenge. The next step was to approach Texas Christian University, where they introduced themselves to the deans of the biology and chemistry departments.

“We explained what we wanted to do, create a unique whiskey that would represent Texas, and they allowed us access to a lab. The professor and Rob went out and about Fort Worth and captured yeast from bark, flora, fauna, collecting over 100 samples, including some from a ranch in Glen Rose, Texas. The winning yeast was captured from a pecan nut at that ranch, which is a bit of serendipity as the pecan is the state tree of Texas,” Mr. Firestone says.

The yeast they found on those pecans adds a sweet, nuttiness to their bourbon. It creates a finish that is long and warm, resting softly along the roof of the mouth with no burn to the back of the tongue or throat. It is sweet, smooth and unforgettable.

“The profile of TX, smooth and complex, has everything to do with a series of chemical reactions, and the length of time the spirits sit in the cask, which is 100 percent white oak,” says co-founder Troy Robertson. “As the months went by, we constantly sampled the spirits, noting how the profile was changing. In addition to our Texas pecans, we believe that the Texas heat has not only added to our deep amber color, but that it also impacts the sugar and sweetness, of the bourbon.”

The heat also impacts the evaporation of the spirits in the cask, which affects the dark amber color, complexity and proof of the bourbon. The result is a product unique to Texas.

“We do have a theory that our climate does mature the bourbon faster,” Mr. Robertson says. “The warmer climate offers a shorter time frame for the maturation. In warehouses in more Northern states, there are periods when the climate is damper and cooler. Our climate is fairly consistent in Texas, dry and warm, and that does impact the time necessary to bring the bourbon to maturity. 

“Additionally, we use traditional 52 gallon barrels, which allow for more of the spirits to interact with the wood of the barrel, which also imparts sugars and flavors to the bourbon,” He says.

The barrel’s importance to the process is manifest as the lignin (an agent found in the cask wood that imparts the vanilla notes into the whiskey) lipids and tannins, found in the oak of the barrel and that interact with the spirits during the barreling process imparting vanilla, spice, oak, coconut and floral flavors to the whiskey. As the fluid soaks into the wood, some liquids evaporate, increasing the proof.

According to the Bourbon Women’s Association of Bardstown, Kentucky, 30 percent of the bourbon market is comprised of women drinking their spirits neat: no ice, no splash, just bourbon. TX Straight Bourbon will be attractive to women, and men, who are seeking a sophisticated spirit that, while perfect on its own, stands out and harmonizes in mixed drinks.

TX Straight Bourbon is the second release from F&R. It previously released TX Blended Whiskey, an 82-proof beverage with notes of pear, vanilla bean and oak.

Those notes combine flavors of honey butter, caramel and coffee, leading to a long, smooth and slightly sweet finish.

Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning travel and food writer and travel editor at Communities Digital News.

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TX Bourbon Uncle Buck – (courtesy Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co.)

2 oz. TX Straight Bourbon
0.5 oz. fresh lemon juice
Fever Tree Ginger Beer
0.5 oz. candied ginger
5-6 bruised mint leaves

Directions: Combine TX Bourbon, lemon, and mint in a copper cup with crushed ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with candied ginger.

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