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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – TX Blended Whiskey by Firestone & Robertson

*Updated March 26, 2014 after discussing with Leonard Firestone.  Many thanks to Leonard for taking the time to talk with a fellow whiskey fanatic.  Check out their story at www.frdistilling.com.

Ok, this time this is not a bourbon review, but TX Blended Whiskey is made partly with bourbon.  Maybe I’m branching out.  Plus, the American history of rectifying is fascinating.  Certainly some rectifiers like Walter Duffy gave blending a bad name (False Advertising and the Legacy of Duffy's), and no doubt some of the bourbon giants, like Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr., made it a priority to drive blenders to the bottom of the food chain (Kentucky Wasn't Big Enough for Two Col. Taylors).  But blending has been a time-honored tradition – and art – in Scotland, Ireland and Canada, resulting in some extremely popular whiskies.  Blending barrels at bourbon distilleries is an everyday occurrence, too, but there seems to have always been a prejudice against blending American whiskies from various sources.  That’s where Firestone & Robertson steps in with TX Blended Whiskey.

Whiskey:         TX Blended Whiskey.

Distillery:        Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., Fort Worth, Texas, but this is a blend sourced from other distilleries, which have not been disclosed.

Age:                NAS, but at least four years old

Proof:              82

Cost:                About $40.00

Tasting Notes

Color:
Light amber with just a bit of a reddish-orange hue. 

Nose:
The nose is very subtle, with mostly honey and baked apple notes. 

Taste:
Definitely not like the bourbon I’m used to.  There’s no spice to speak of, with sweet flavors predominating, like honey, chess pie and slight caramel.  It’s very mild without the characteristic bourbon bite, but if F&R was shooting for sweet, they nailed it.  At only 82 proof this is a whiskey to drink neat, and because of its low proof, sweetness and lack of bite, it’s an extremely drinkable whiskey.  A splash of water or even ice seemed to wash away the slight complexities, and for the same reasons, I would not use this as a mixer.  Maybe it would be better chilled on a hot day in the summer.

Finish:
TX Blended Whiskey is warm on the finish, with more sweet flavors, but it’s really short.

Background Story

Firestone & Robertson is the first bourbon distillery in North Texas.  F&R has Vendome stills and has been aging bourbon (with wheat as a secondary grain) since March 2012.  In addition to setting its sights on bourbon, though, F&R thought that other American blended whiskeys weren’t up to par with Scottish, Irish and Canadian blends, so they spent a few years experimenting.  According to an F&R press release, TX Blended Whiskey is a blend of straight bourbon whiskey (with mash bill containing rye as the secondary grain), plus “mature premium whiskey aged in used bourbon casks,” plus “distilled grain spirit.” 

While this press release and information contained on the bottle don’t tell us nearly enough, the contents of TX Blended Whiskey can be deciphered a little with help from the federal regulations that govern labeling of American whiskies:

·         For example, by use of the word “straight,” in describing the bourbon contained in TX Blended Whiskey, we know that this portion of the blend met the standards for “bourbon whisky” and was aged for two or more years.

·         By use of the phrase “blended whisky” (and not “blended light whisky”) we know that TX Blended Whiskey contains at least 20% straight bourbon whisky. 

·         However, because it’s not called “blended bourbon whisky,” we know that TX Blended Whiskey contains less than 51% straight bourbon whiskey.  So for those keeping track of the math, TX Blended Whiskey must contain somewhere between 20% and 50.99% straight bourbon whiskey.

·         Additionally, from the lack of designation of any percentage of Canadian or other foreign whiskies, we know that TX Blended Whiskey contains only spirits produced in the U.S. 

·         Finally, by the lack of an age statement, we know that TX Blended Whiskey contains neutral spirits (F&R has confirmed that TX Blended Whiskey contains “grain spirits,” which are defined as “neutral spirits distilled from a fermented mash of grain and stored in oak containers”) and that the straight bourbon and other whiskey contained in TX Blended Whiskey must be at least four years old, because that makes age statements optional.

(For anyone with too much time on their hands, you can see my backup for these assumptions in the Code of Federal Regulations, 27 C.F.R. § 5.22(b)(1)(iii); 27 C.F.R. § 5.22(b)(3); 27 C.F.R. § 5.22(b)(4); 27 C.F.R. § 5.22(l)(1); 27 C.F.R. § 5.22(a)(2); 27 C.F.R. § 5.40(a)(1), (2).)

Understandably, Leonard Firestone was pretty tight about his whiskey recipe, but he wouldn’t deny any of my conclusions.  He very graciously told me that the actual percentages of bourbon, “mature whiskey” and neutral spirits, the ages of the bourbon and whiskey, and the source of their bourbon (the one thing I knew he’d never tell me) were all proprietary.  Fair enough; once you get into blended whiskey, unknown is part of the gig.

Bottom Line

F&R embraces its craft niche with great details like unique handmade caps topped with boot leather.  But F&R added credentials to shtick last year when TX Blended Whiskey was voted the “Best American Craft Whiskey” and received a “Double Gold” award at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco.  Still, personally I’d like to see at least 90 proof and a higher percentage of straight bourbon (definitely with the rye mash bill that TX Blended Whiskey already uses) to give it some bite and some much-needed spice.  F&R blended a fine whiskey if you like the sweet stuff, but it’s too sweet without a balanced kick for me.  I’ll be looking forward to F&R’s bourbon in few years to see if they still focus on the sweet profile, or (hopefully) balance it with spice.

I knew that TX Blended Whiskey really reminded me of something on my shelf, and after a few comparison tastings I found it.  Try TX Blended Whiskey alongside Corner Creek.  They're very similar, although TX is sweeter and Corner Creek has black pepper notes (something I hadn’t really noticed on my review last year of Corner Creek (Sipp'n Corn Corner Creek Review), and a better nose and finish.  Maybe they're sourced from the same distillery.  If I had been drinking TX Blended Whiskey while I was reviewing Corner Creek – instead of being in the middle of a big Elmer T. Lee obsession – I likely would have scored Corner Creek higher than I did.

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:  2.5


The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent bourbon.  Worth the price and I’m sure to always have it in my bar.
– Wow.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.


5 comments:

  1. I just had some. It reminded me of some of the sweeter rums (http://rumproject.com/rumforum/viewtopic.php?t=1193), and was wondering if it could have sugar added to it?

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    1. Good question, but the sweetness of TX should be all from the corn and the barrel. The folks at Firestone & Robertson aren't allowed to use any additives and still call their product "whiskey."

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  2. I don't know if you are right. I was going through the legal definitions and came across: (4) “Blended whisky” (whisky—a blend) is a mixture which contains straight whisky or a blend of straight whiskies at not less than 20 percent on a proof gallon basis, excluding alcohol derived from added harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials, and, separately, or in combination, whisky or neutral spirits. A blended whisky containing not less than 51 percent on a proof gallon basis of one of the types of straight whisky shall be further designated by that specific type of straight whisky; for example, “blended rye whisky” (rye whisky—a blend).


    and:

    §5.23 Alteration of class and type.

    (a) Additions. (1) The addition of any coloring, flavoring, or blending materials to any class and type of distilled spirits, except as otherwise provided in this section, alters the class and type thereof and the product shall be appropriately redesignated.
    (2) There may be added to any class or type of distilled spirits, without changing the class or type thereof, (i) such harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials as are an essential component part of the particular class or type of distilled spirits to which added, and (ii) harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials such as caramel, straight malt or straight rye malt whiskies, fruit juices, sugar, infusion of oak chips when approved by the Administrator, or wine, which are not an essential component part of the particular distilled spirits to which added, but which are customarily employed therein in accordance with established trade usage, if such coloring, flavoring, or blending materials do not total more than 21⁄2 percent by volume of the finished product.
    (3) “Harmless coloring, flavoring, and blending materials” shall not include (i) any material which would render the product to which it is added an imitation, or (ii) any material, other than caramel, infusion of oak chips, and sugar, in the case of Cognac brandy; or (iii) any material whatsoever in the case of neutral spirits or straight whiskey, except that vodka may be treated with sugar in an amount not to exceed 2 grams per liter and a trace amount of citric acid.

    My reading is that it can have up to 2.5% sugar. Here is the link: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=0d9e43fca86b9b08fff85a5fc7251697&node=27:1.0.1.1.3.3&rgn=div6

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  3. I'm out of my comfort zone when it comes to blended whiskey. But it sounds like all the more reason to avoid blended whiskeys, and stick with straight bourbon (or other straight whiskey), which cannot contain any additives whatsoever. Also, I understand that TTB interprets this restriction to also apply to bourbon that does not carry the "straight" designation.

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