The Battle of Texas' Whiskey Makers and Fakers

Texas' craft-booze industry is booming, but can it stave off the "Made in Texas" fakers?

The Herman Marshall distillery is located in an industrial pocket of Garland, amidst a lumberyard and stale factory buildings. We're not in show business, the owners like to say, so the aesthetics don't matter much. They're happy to fly under the radar and over the bar. Read their bottles closely and you'll find that magic word: "Distilled and bottled by Dallas Distilleries."

Beckley is a student of both the science and history of distilling. He built two 500-gallon cypress tanks for open-top fermentation as a nod to the old traditions of making whiskey in the United States.

"Prohibition destroyed the whiskey industry," Beckley says. "We lost that knowledge about the craft in America. I've tried to bring back that original process as much as possible."

Dan Garrison of Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye.
Courtesy of Garrison Brothers
Dan Garrison of Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye.
Following tradition, Herman Marshall Whiskey's mash is fermented in open-top cypress tanks before its trip to the still.
Can Turkyilmaz
Following tradition, Herman Marshall Whiskey's mash is fermented in open-top cypress tanks before its trip to the still.

Along with the cypress tanks where the mash comes alive in a soft bubble, Beckley also heats the 400-gallon copper stills with steam, which is another nod to his forefathers. Plus, there's the all-important proprietary yeast strain, and the distillery's water is sourced from a spring in East Texas — a secret spot they like to keep between them and the whiskey.

The trail ahead for Herman Marshall, and for the rest of Texas' whiskey cowboys, is dusty but exciting. A handful of craft distilleries around the state are either rediscovering a lost craft or creating a new one. Will Texans reach for a bottle because of a price-to-flavor value, or will they align themselves with a bottle rich in art, history and Texas ingredients?

Tate has faith, but he sometimes fears it will get off course. Recently, when all the pieces of the new copper still at Balcones were finished and welded together, one of the last steps required Tate to get inside the assembled pot and weld down imperfections in the copper so that every inch of surface space is completely smooth. It was the rough equivalent of crawling down a manhole into a dark small orb, in which he could only crouch. With a burning torch.

"We're trying to create new styles of Texas whiskey, not just recreate," Tate says. "I think when you look at a lot of craft distillers, there is a lot of innovation. You can pull influence from different places. That's art. You're either innovating or imitating. You need to add something to it, or otherwise you're redoing."

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9 comments
internationalpoet
internationalpoet

This is a well-written insight to the whiskey making business in Texas.  Especially noted was the part dealing with Texas' Distillery out of Lewisville.  Even though their trademark for "Silver Star" was not yet approved by the Federal Trademark Commission, I had in place already our DBA and dot com website for "Silver Star Winery of Texas," a catergory completedly different in a vineyard and winery in East Texas.  Our trademark application was initially rejected by a poor excuse for an examining attorney for the Commission who was both rude and unprofessional in her appraisal of our pending trademark.  Beside Obamacare, the Federal Trademark Commission, as the majority of Federal agencies under Obama believe the American public is stupid.  A personal phone call from the owner of Texas' distillery of Lewisville to me personally threatening me was in the same catergory as the Obama administration.  True makers of fine wines and whiskey are more than marketing ploys, but love and hard work toward the craft of making fine wines and whiskey as this article so well demonstrates. http://silverstarwineryoftexas.com

Steve
Steve

Are you seriously using the word "fakers" at all in this piece?

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

Lauren you did a great job with this article.  The fakers have long been one of my pet peeves.  Part of the problem lies with the TTB; our federal government has laws about labeling and technical if whiskey is distilled one state and bottled in another, then both states are to be listed on the label.  The enforcement of said law is spotty at best.  Liquor labels also have to be approved by the State of Texas as well to be sold here, so I also blame our State.

My other pet peeve is Spirit Awards.  IMHO, these competitions are nothing but pay for play advertising.  The largest of the bunch is the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.  The last 'award' list from them was 38 pages long and had more winners than products competing (some products entered in multiple categories).  

Tito's is still bragging in commercials about an award they 'won' back in 2001 at the San Francisco Spirits Competition. He fails to mention that 2 other Vodkas also 'won' double gold at same award show and another Vodka was named best.  Speaking of Fakers, has anybody been to Tito's and seen his fermenting tanks?  If you are not fermenting your product, exactly how does one have anything to distill?

mcdavid1
mcdavid1

Great article, Lauren.  Cheers to the Dallas Observer for having the guts to call out the fakers.  Texans are too proud of their state to put up with inauthentic marketers parading around as whiskey makers.  Drink local, and educate yourself about what you're drinking!  Thanks for helping Texans get more educated.

scottindallas
scottindallas

"6 score and several hangovers..."  120+ years?  if you wanna make cute turns of phrase, at least know what you're saying

gmit
gmit

@Wade Woodard  

I was wondering how so suddenly we had all these "Texas" Spirits on the shelves, now given that more than half are fakes I know, and sounds like these spirit makers are just following the lead of some of the bogus "Texas" winemakers & specifically the GO TEXAN branding, which has been discussed at length on that other DFW food blog.

Localism is getting turned into modern day snake oil, Hey I was offered "local coffee" at the CM, LOCAL COFFEE !!!!!  My cotton T-shirt is more local than my coffee 

   

khaslbauer
khaslbauer

@scottindallas - I think the point was that 120+ hangovers were endured in the process of coming up with the unique spirits offered by Balcones Distilling. I hate to be this guy, but if you want to snark about cute turns of phrase, at least polish up your reading comprehension skills first.

scottindallas
scottindallas

This was a fine article, the cutesy "6 score" added nothing but confusion.  Again, good reporting and writing, save the one silly and pointless sin

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

@gmit I'll give some credit to the true Texas craft distillers, the ones who products are grain to glass (fermentation, distillation, aging, bottling) all done in state - Balcones, Garrison Brothers, Railean, Ranger Creek, and Bone Spirits (Fitch's Goat).  These companies have never sold anything they did not truly make themselves.

 
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