By: Leslie Brenner of the Dallas News
We’ve been eating local (or trying to!) for years. Now it’s time to drink local.
It’s never been easier or more rewarding, because at long last, Texas wines, beers and spirits are really coming into their own.
Anyone who’s been following — and sipping, savoring and appreciating — Texas wines over the last couple of decades knows that our vintners have made amazing progress. “We’ve come a long way, but now we have wines to be proud of,” says Hunter Hammett, sommelier at the Pyramid Restaurant at the Fairmont Dallas hotel.
Hammett’s wine list at the Pyramid certainly illustrates his enthusiasm: It includes a whole section of Texas wines, complete with a map of Texas’ American Viticultural Areas. Among the wineries producing impressive wines, he says, are Brennan Vineyards in Comanche, Duchman Family Winery in Driftwood, Lost Oak Winery in Burleson, McPherson Cellars in Lubbock, Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall and Sandstone Cellars Winery in Mason.
The Pyramid isn’t the only restaurant featuring Texas wines prominently. They’re front-and-center on the list at Stephan Pyles’ Stampede 66. At Cafe on the Green at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas, master sommelier James Tidwell leads off his wide-ranging global list with a formidable collection of nearly 30 Texas vintages. (Unfortunately, his staff doesn’t necessarily share his enthusiasm for them.)
Meanwhile, seemingly overnight, Texas craft beers are making a huge, foamy splash. “If you look back just seven years ago, there were only seven breweries in the state, and there were a small handful of brewpubs,” says Matt Quenette, beer director at the Meddlesome Moth in Dallas. “It seems like it’s growing exponentially: We’re at 108 breweries in Texas, and the majority of that growth has been in the last three to four years. Texas has the resources to be a Colorado or Oregon when it comes to craft beer.”
Not all Texas craft beers are worth drinking, he’s quick to point out — far from it. But we do have some truly impressive brews, including those from a tiny brewery, Jester King, and large-scale Real Ale Brewing Co. (Both are near Austin.) He also singles out several “brilliant, well-thought-out, delicious beers” from Dallas breweries: Velvet Hammer, an imperial red ale from Peticolas Brewing Co., Mosaic IPA from Community Beer Co. and Temptress, an imperial milk stout from Lakewood Brewing Co.
If you’re just discovering Texas craft beers, knowledgeable guidance can be essential — which is one reason you may want to seek them out at the Moth, where Texas brews are carefully selected for inclusion on the gastropub’s global list.
If you know what you’re looking for — or want to experiment and play — you can grab a seat at LUCK (Local Urban Craft Kitchen) in Trinity Groves, where an impressive 40 local craft beers are available on tap, or the Rustic, which has a comprehensive selection as well.
Finally, there are the spirits. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is coming up on its 20-year anniversary, but it has only been in the last few years that the brown spirits — bourbon, rye and other whiskeys — that excite spirits connoisseurs are being distilled (not just blended and bottled) with seriousness in Texas. Among them are Garrison Bros. Distillery in Hye (in the Hill Country); Herman Marshall Whiskey in Dallas; and Balcones Distilling in Waco.
“The spirits are getting better, finally,” says Michael Martensen, former co-owner of Smyth and the Cedars Social and a Dallas cocktail and spirits guru. He’s very hot on the whiskeys from Balcones — particularly its Single Malt, which has won a slew of medals (beginning with double gold for Best Whisk(e)y at the 2011 New York World Wine and Spirits Competition), and Brimstone, a Texas scrub-oak-smoked corn whiskey.
“They’re all young,” Martensen says of the Texas whiskeys on the market. With more time in the barrel, they’ll smooth out and lose their sharp alcohol kick. Give it three or four years, and the sipping should be even better.
Where to find a good line-up of Texas spirits? Whiskey Cake in Plano and FM Smokehouse in Las Colinas both have good selections. In Dallas, Dee Lincoln Steak and Burger Bar and the Rustic offer many (though the Rustic doesn’t carry Balcones).
Insiders are buzzing, by the way, about a fledgling distillery, Firestone and Robertson Distilling Co. in Fort Worth. At the moment, the only whiskey Firestone sells is one called TX, which it blends but doesn’t distill; the release of its first distillation is in the not-too-distant future.
A recent visit to the distillery made quite an impression on Martensen, who had the opportunity to barrel-taste its first distillation. “It was drinking like a five-year-old whiskey,” he said. “I think it has to do with the Texas heat.” With all the crazy temperature variation we’ve been having, he says, “the barrels are expanding and contracting and expanding and contracting. That’s how you get the flavor out of whiskey.”
That would seem to promise even more exciting things in the future for Texas whiskey: Extreme whether is definitely something we do well.
But no need to wait: There’s plenty of wonderful sipping to be done right now, right here.
ORIGINAL DALLAS NEWS ARTICLE: http://www.dallasnews.com/entertainment/columnists/leslie-brenner/20140322-drinking-local-has-never-been-better-in-texas.ece