Texas seems to have a way of proliferating micro-distilleries, even in comparison with the rest of the country during a decade when small distilling operations have been popping up everywhere. There’s just something about Texas in particular—a state with fierce pride in its own image and history—that has led to the launch of innumerable small-scale whiskey distillers in particular, often with a focus on using grains that are also grown within the state.
Treaty Oak Distilling is one such Texas micro-distiller, although they’ve been around significantly longer than most. Founded way back in 2006 and originally based in Austin, the distillery moved in 2016 to a 28-acre property west of the city in Dripping Springs, Texas, “that is now home to amazing Texas barbeque, inspired craft cocktails, live music, and our ever expanding whiskey and gin production.” The distillery makes a range of products, including gin and whiskey brands that are both sourced and produced on-site, although the flagship whiskey brands are still pretty young for a distillery that can claim 14 years of operation.
Recently, I received press releases and samples regarding a new Treaty Oak Distilling product launch—the amusingly titled Day Drinker Texas Bourbon, a lightly aged and low-proof wheated bourbon that is clearly aimed at a more casual whiskey market. Curious how this young distillate would hold up, I decided to give it a taste, along with the slightly more mature Treaty Oak flagship product, Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon. So with no further ado, let’s get to tasting.
ABV: 40% (80 proof)
This newly launched product is Treaty Oak’s own distillate, and it comes from the same wheat-heavy mashbill as the Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon. It’s quite wheat-driven indeed, looking at the numbers: 57% corn, 32% wheat and 11% barley, making use of local heirloom grains from Barton Springs Mill. It’s aged for one year “under the hot Texas sun” in newly charred #3 white oak barrels, per the federal “bourbon” definition, with an MSRP of $25.99. A little expensive, perhaps, for such a lightly aged and low-proof bourbon, but to be expected when it comes to supporting smaller distilleries, which can’t compete against larger entities on price points.
The choice of a heavily wheated bourbon likewise makes sense to me, as wheated bourbons have the advantage of often drinking well at younger ages, in addition to benefitting from the self-sustaining hype surrounding Buffalo Trace brands such as W.L. Weller. There’s an entire generation of newer bourbon drinkers seeking out exactly this sort of thing these days; that cannot be denied.
On the nose, this one certainly announces its young age, with prominent but pleasant graininess—reminiscent of Cheerios cereal, into creamed corn. It’s sweet and corny, with some grassiness and florals that are a little perfumey. It smells sweet, simple and inviting.
On the palate, The Day Drinker is actually a tad bit hotter than you’d expect for the baseline 80 proof, although not badly so. Honeyed sweetness is prevalent—my wife actually compared it to the old Honeycomb cereal—combined with puffed corn, doughiness, vanilla extract and green tea earthiness. Light, sweet and uncomplicated, it drinks pretty easily but possesses the watery mouthfeel you’d expect.
Of these two bourbons, however, I ultimately ended up preferring The Day Drinker to its bigger brother, which is slightly older and considerably stronger, but which I felt didn’t necessarily benefit from those things. The Day Drinker, by comparison, is clean and simple, a very easy mixer. It doesn’t aspire to much, but it doesn’t have to, and its relative simple profile means it isn’t hamstrung too much by the lack of age or proof. It does what you’d expect it to do, in other words.
ABV: 47.5% (95 proof)
Treaty Oak’s flagship Ghost Hill Bourbon is made from the same 32% wheat mash bill, and is thus the bigger brother to The Day Drinker at 95 proof, although its age statement is still very young—the labels read “aged at least 18 months,” while the website reads “aged two years,” which would qualify the spirit for the “straight” designation. Perhaps they just haven’t redesigned that label yet?
The nose on Ghost Hill amplifies many of the same notes from The Day Drinker, especially on the bready-doughy side of the spectrum. There’s absolutely no missing the wheated component here, as the nose is positively yeasty, with pronounced notes of toasted bread crust and honey/butterscotch.
On the palate, this is quite sweet, but also surprisingly hot—likely a factor of age more than proof. Cocoa-like richness is complemented by vanilla extract and dark fruit jamminess, while resinous wood notes creep in from the back end. It’s slightly syrupy in texture, and the overall presentation is more brash than composed.
In the end, I find myself thinking that this bourbon could likely use significantly more time to mellow out, especially at a higher proof point. It’s making an admirable attempt at offering big, bold flavors, but it doesn’t have the structure to lend support to the size of its ambitions, so the result comes off as unbalanced. Certainly, it’s hard to square a $45 MSRP for this kind of product, given the amount of quality available at that kind of price point.
I’m not sure if I would have preferred Treaty Oak’s “Red Handed” series of rye-driven (rather than wheat) mash bill whiskeys, but I salute their dedication to the use of local grains that celebrate their home market.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.