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Food Adventures: Taste the Texas Whiskey Scene

Matt Rainwaters
Texas' microdistillers are mounting a seriously tasty challenge to Kentucky's whiskey supremacy, with visionaries from the Hill Country to north Texas producing extra-ordinary spirits that pair wonderfully with the local beef-centric cuisine. By: Hanna Raskin

Visitors to the Garrison Brothers Distillery, located an hour west of Austin, are treated to a "corn to cork" overview of how the distillery is harnessing Texas' heat to add richness and spice to its bourbon.

Up the road in Waco, Chip Tate has turned a ramshackle warehouse under a highway bridge into his world-renowned Balcones Distillery, the first craft distillery in Texas to make whiskey. The single-malt, which finishes with notes of wood and toast, recently bested Scotland's heaviest hitters in a prestigious blind tasting. To get a gander at Tate's mad-scientist setup, give the distillery a call a few days in advance.

Taste Balcones spirits in a cocktail at legendary Dallas chef Stephan Pyles' new Stampede 66, where the Cowboy Old Fashion mixes Balcones Rumble—made with Texas wildflower honey and Mission figs—with vermouth, bitters, and Fever Tree soda. The menu is a tribute to Texas cookery, with pickled eggs, a swanky Freeto-Chili Pie, and beef brisket tacos.

Over in Fort Worth, tour-goers at Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. can acquaint themselves with the wild Texas pecan yeast used to ferment bourbon made from Texas-grown corn. There's always whiskey behind the bar at Reata, celebrated statewide for its bone-in rib-eye and—to complement the corn in your cup—jalapeño-cheddar grits.

As for a whiskey-trail travel strategy, you need a designated driver or a driver for hire; even if you "spit" while tasting, spirits this good go right to the head.