Texas Craft Liquor Challenges Kentucky Bourbon
on 18/03/11 at 4:19 pmWine
The dozen or so drinkers who show up for Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling’s free Saturday afternoon tours in northeast San Antonio don’t have much in common, save the ability to find the industrial park building that looks as if it might house a sports trophy warehouse or screen-printing operation. The group almost always includes a home brewer or two, twitchy with excitement over the giant vats of malt. They’re joined by locals entertaining houseguests who refuse to do the Alamo again, Hill Country antique hunters who’ve promised their haggard husbands a beer-themed stop and wayward wine trail followers who figure one spirituous substance is as interesting as another.
Many of the tour-goers don’t realize Ranger Creek is in business to make bourbon. Although the whiskey won’t be flowing until 2013 at the soonest, it’s the emotional centerpiece of the tour, which opens with an account of Ranger Creek’s vision to make a bourbon befitting Texas. The beer the company brews is a meantime beverage, co-founder TJ Miller tells visitors.
Before Miller can lay out Ranger Creek’s ambitious plans, he first has to conduct an elementary bourbon tutorial for his guests. Bourbon didn’t exist in its current form until 1964, when the federal government, thirsty for tax revenue, committed the drink’s definition to code.
The rules are precise. Bourbon may inspire sloppy behavior, but the drink doesn’t see any recklessness on its way into the bottle. Stringent laws dictate how much corn is included in a bourbon’s mash bill, the type of barrels in which it’s aged and its alcoholic strength throughout the distillation process. Distillers who do more or less than what the law requires—the moonshiners who fill their Mason jars from backyard stills and the Tennessee whiskey makers who charcoal filter their hooch—aren’t making bourbon. Neither are well-intentioned distillers in Canada and Mexico, no matter how closely they hew to the standards. That’s because what’s labeled bourbon can be made only in the United States.