Updated: May 25, 2019
Tahwahkaro Distillery Visit – May 1, 2019 – Heritage Liquors Longview
Jason Jackson – Owner Distiller
Jason, son of a Nazarene preacher, began distilling around 2011. After a couple years of distilling whiskey, he opened up the Axe and Oak Distillery in Colorado Springs in 2013. In 2015, his younger brother, living in Grapevine asked him what he thought about opening a Texas distillery. Interested in getting away from the cold, he moved to Grapevine and started Tahwahkaro, named after Grapevine Creek, which used to be called Tahwahkaro (loosely translated as “bend in the river”) Creek.
Tahwahkaro is one of 18 out of 130 distillers in Texas that is 100% grain to glass. Additionally, every ingredient but the barley (which is hopefully a temporary situation) is sourced from Texas – the corn, wheat, and rye are all Texas-grown. They are considered a craft distillery, with about 3,600 – 4,000 bottles per month as their current volume capability.
Wanting to tap into the rich frontier heritage of Texas’ history, the bottles are fashioned after canteens. Eventually, there are plans to have the cap fashioned after old camp cups – a difficult mold to perfect. As part of this Texas pride, Tahwahkaro is also a member of TXWA – the Texas Whiskey Association. This is an exclusive association that celebrates distillers with a special connection to Texas through raw material sourcing and craftsmanship. They offer “TX Certified” labels that will eventually be applied to the bottles.
In order to give us a special taste of the distillery, Jason pulled from 4 barrels to provide a taste of things to come. He plans to roll out three new brands in the October time-frame:
Barrel (cask) strength
He brought some of the malted rye for us to taste as well as a couple special barrels of the bourbon. They use two barrel sizes at Tahwahkaro – 30 gallon and 53 gallon. Every bottle is single batch, but it is created from a mix of 30 gallon (typically a heavier, more viscous liquor) and 53 gallon barrels. For instance, they might choose seven 53 gallon barrels and three 30 gallon barrels to achieve just the right blend of sweetness and spiciness. The mash bill is 65% corn, 10% malted rye, and 10% malted barley/rye, with a little karo amber. For the malted rye whiskey, however, the 65% corn is traded with rye.
The four barrels brought for us to taste were the following:
53 gallon rye
30 gallon, 11 month bourbon (this was barrel 18-067, selected from a high spot in the 14-foot tall, non-air conditioned, metal barrel building)
30 gallon rye
30 gallon, barrel #2 bourbon
53 gallon malted rye:
Aged 1.2 years and about 125 proof. Probably a good representation of what the Rye line might be like when it comes out this Fall. Has a spiciness to it. Jason personally really likes the finish with this one and is therefore his favorite of the rye
30 gallon bourbon (barrel 18-067):
Crisp sweetness. Has almost a butterscotch flavor to it. Jason hadn't tried this one before our tasting, and he REALLY liked it - said it had a lot of character. He commented that he's going to have to mark that location in the barrel house and perhaps make it for special releases. He also mentioned the possibility of bottling 18-067 and making it specially available to Heritage and ETBS! I also tossed out the idea that they should start calling their "reserve" line "TAH '67" - has a cool ring to it.
30 gallon malted rye:
Has a darker character to it, less of that spicy nose. Jason likes this but his personal preference is more along the lines of the 53. He describes it as having perhaps too much going on and having a heavier viscosity. This tasting gives you a good sense about how strongly the barrel size can factor into the whiskey taste and character.
30 gallon bourbon, barrel #2:
Jason said this one reminded him of the metallic taste of putting a nickel in your mouth. There was a slight metallic tang in the aftertaste. He said this likely came from the still not being fully conditioned at the time of production. This wasn't to say it wasn't good bourbon, though, as some still found it to have a full, sweet body on the front end:
"Who cares about the finish when it's so good up front!"
Out of the 10 people tasting, a poll was held over their favorites. Many listed a couple, so I considered the first pick a #1 and the second a #2. Here are the tallies of #1 and #2 (not everyone mentioned a second):
53 Rye: 3 #1's, 2 #2's
Bourbon 67: 5 #1's, 1 #2
30 Rye: 2 #2's
Barrel #2: 2 #1's
Jason also mentioned that when the Malted Rye comes out, it will probably be either 105 proof or cask strength. Might be a good time to dive into a Rye Flight 🙂
I personally find it fascinating how the same mash bill from the same distillery can take on such varied characteristics depending on the barrel size, barrel position, time of aging, etc. I consider myself very early in the learning process with whiskey, and this kind of tasting event provides a fantastic opportunity to couple the science with the experience and really develop a deeper understanding into the complexities of the distilling process. And it gives us a better appreciation for a specific distillery at the same time. Based on what I experienced, I feel like Tahwahkaro has an exciting future ahead, and I'll definitely now be popping the cork to check in with them regularly.
Erik Dunham - ETBS