When you think of bourbon whiskey, the state of Kentucky likely comes to mind. But did you know that Texas has several distilleries as well? In fact, the production of bourbon in Texas is more efficient than in Kentucky because of our warmer climate.

What You Need To Know

  • Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States

  • A bottle of bourbon must contain at least 51% corn mash

  • Bourbon is aged in a newly charred American white oak barrel for at least two years

  • The alcohol content needs to be between 80 and 125 proof

Bourbon is made through a process of creating the perfect recipe of corn mash and fermentation, then straining the mixture and distilling it, placing it into newly heated and charred oak barrels to age, then diluting with water to its final alcohol proof.

Corn mash mixture at Garrison Brothers Distillery. (Spectrum News/Megan Campbell)

Chemistry, physics and weather come into play during the aging process as thermal expansion takes over.

Donnis Todd, master distiller Garrison Brothers Distillery, describes the reason this is important. “It heats up outside, but inside the barrel, there’s a little pocket of gas that expands because of the pressure within. That expansion pushes the liquid deep in the White American Oak, then when it cools off, it comes back in. Those big swings happen almost daily.”

This process is what gives bourbon its unique flavor and color. When the barrel gets heated, it creates a compound called vanillin and this is what gives whiskey the vanilla flavor. The charred wood gives it the caramel and cinnamon flavor as well as the color. The liquid mixes together when it expands and contracts inside the barrel. The more times this happens, the faster it will mature.

Barrels are stored in a barn at Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye, Texas. (Garrison Brothers Distillery)

Bourbon produced in Kentucky takes eight years to mature because it doesn’t see the drastic temperature swings and therefore lacks the dynamic push to “breathe” more inside the barrel. Texas bourbon only takes four years because of our temperature ranges. The liquid inside the barrel will expand and interact with the wood more frequently.

This is also why Texas bourbon has a darker amber shade compared to Kentucky’s paler shade.

A glass of Texas bourbon whiskey. (Garrison Brothers Distillery)

There are many pros to producing bourbon in Texas, but there can also be a few cons. Texas summers are downright brutal with 100-degree temperatures, so evaporation inside the barrel is inevitable. This is called the “angel’s share.” Todd says that each barrel contains 15 gallons of liquid, but after aging, only be 13 gallons may be left.

Another factor goes into producing amazing bourbon. Both Kentucky and Texas sit on limestone rock, which helps filter water from impurities.  

Todd agrees. “Our wells in the Texas Hill Country get water that is running through limestone rock. It has zero iron and it’s high in calcium. This water makes amazing bourbon mash. That’s the first step in making great bourbon, you gotta have the right water and we’re blessed it’s just naturally here.”

Bottles of bourbon ready to be dipped. (Spectrum News/Megan Campbell)

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