Of all the would-be whiskey regions of the U.S., it often feels like no state has tried harder to craft a local whiskey scene than Texas, albeit with somewhat mixed results. The state does play home to some well-regarded craft distilleries, but “Texas bourbon” seems to have a uniquely divisive status among whiskey geeks. Some people love it, and I’ve seen no shortage of detractors rail against it—not entirely fair, given that distillers around the state are hardly all trying to achieve the same goals. There’s just something about the state that spurs conversation, in a way bourbon from other states does not. Go figure.
Still Austin Whiskey Co., which hails from … Austin, believe it or not … has emerged in the last few years as one of the standard bearers for Texas whiskey, launching their straight bourbon The Musician a few years ago. That whiskey seemed to be decently well received at the time, but the last few years in particular have seemed to bring a groundswell of slow and steady admiration in Still Austin’s direction—they’re one of those brands I would often see other whiskey writers I respected praising for their grain-to-glass approach.
Now, the company has taken its first step into straight rye whiskey territory, with the inaugural release of The Artist, bearing another attractive painted label in the same style as The Musician Bourbon. Like its predecessor, this is a fairly lightly aged (“at least two years”) whiskey that qualifies for the “straight” designation, presented at a pretty sturdy strength of 49.8% ABV (99.6 proof). It’s made from 100% Texas rye grain, always a tricky proposition for distillers, who usually find it easier to add a little malted barley for the enzymatic assistance it provides. Regardless, this looks to be a thoroughly modern-style rye, fully leaning into the very high-rye, spicy profile that has become popular in the last decade. MSRP is a decent $50, obviously on the higher side if this was from a major producer, but understandable from a small distillery.
So with that said, let’s get straight into tasting and see how this 100% Texas rye whiskey stacks up.
On the nose, The Artist is bright and fruity right off the bat, with loads of orange citrus and apricot giving a delightfully soft impression. Ethanol is nice and reserved, while impressions of honey sweetness and graham cracker aren’t shy. Sweet fruitiness is the star of the show, though there are also traces of clove and a building roastiness that evokes a little bit of mocha or fudge. There’s something about the sweet fruitiness that almost reminds me of a particularly sweet Speyside or Highland malt whisky, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing.
On the palate, this dram quickly gets interesting, with impressions of fruit, sweetness and spice all meeting at once. I’m getting maraschino cherry and citrus custard, along with some sweet herbal tones of mint/tobacco that recall something like a sweeter alpine amaro. The pepperiness, both black and white pepper, drags your attention back to the rye grain, and things then transition into trailing roast and chocolate. Notably, I’m not getting the grain-forwardness or doughiness that you often expect to get in a merely 2-year-old whiskey.
Overall, I’m pretty impressed here—more impressed than I was with the bourbon from Still Austin a few years ago, in fact. The product is still somewhat youthful, but it’s gotten the best aspects out of these barrels in those few short years, while showing a ton of promise for the future. This already feels like something that could pass for twice its age statement, which makes me quite excited to see where it could be a few years from now. It is a bit sweet for a rye whiskey, and there may be some drinkers who want a more intense rye spice profile, but its existing combination of fruit and spice is winning in its own way. I look forward to seeing what Still Austin Whiskey Co. does next.
Distillery: Still Austin Whiskey Co.
City: Austin, TX
Style: Straight rye whiskey
ABV: 49.8% (99.6 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $50 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.