Lone Elm Texas Whiskey uses local, red winter wheat to craft exceptional whiskey.
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY JENNY ADAMS
“Texas is still young in terms of distilling, trying different grains and yeasts but that is the exciting part. Everyone here is doing something different, and it’s not just copying what’s been done before,” says Bill Wofford proudly. And he has good reason to be proud.
He and his four best friends founded Five Points Distilling back in 2011 in Northern Texas. Their first whiskey––a Small Batch, made from Texas wheat at 90-proof––hit the market and the glasses of judges by 2013. Nearly immediately, it started winning awards, and has stayed on the Best Of lists, including a Top 5 whiskey for 2019 by Texas Monthly, as well as winning a gold medal from Whiskies of the World.
After their Small Batch release, Five Points Distilling released a Single Barrel, taken from the best of the resting allotment in their Rickhouse. At 60-percent a.b.v., it packs beautiful, intense heat but a delightfully smooth sip, that’s made for drinking neat. Finally, they are giving Tito’s vodka a little, friendly, what-for, with their own Lone Elm Texas Wheat vodka. With a new wheat-based rye on the way, there’s a lot of excitement for this established, Southern brand with big ideas, and they’ve had a long road to plow to get to this point. When you think of whiskey, you first think of Scotland. When you think of “American” whiskey, it’s all about Kentucky. Well, for the masses, anyway. For the well-informed, avid consumer of bourbon, rye and single malts, Japan cannot be denied. The same could now be said for Texas. It’s a big state with big offerings, but it wasn’t always that way.
When distilling saw a new dawn in America, in the first half of the 2000s, there were 50 initial craft distilleries around the country. That number exploded. By 2013, there were 350.
“People still really only knew Texas for Tito’s vodka when we got started,” says Wofford, “but there were a few other great craft distillers here making whiskey at the time.”
Joining the ranks of Balcones Distilling (opened in 2007) and Garrison Brothers (open since 1997), the Lone Elm team was a founding member in the Texas Whiskey Association and the ensuing Texas Whiskey Trail.
Wofford’s passion to make Texas whiskey stemmed from multiple avenues. First, he and his four friends had partaken in frequent trips to Kentucky, buying up interesting allotments. They were dark spirit fans, but finding the truly remarkable bottles was growing harder and harder to do around 2010, as the waters were suddenly teeming with collectors. Wofford also has a background in physical chemistry, underneath a doctorate he earned in college. The final piece of the puzzle was the appeal of Texas as a new frontier in producing and aging spirits.
“Kentucky is a big corn state,” Wofford says, “and we grow wheat here in Texas to feed all our cattle. It was after one of those Kentucky trips that we came home and off-the-cuff said, ‘why couldn’t we make whiskey here? Texas whiskey.’”
One of the reasons you can distill and age in Texas is the land and nature itself. The state has nearly every climate zone, plenty of rivers, dry regions and wet, and, like Scotland, you have a coastline, if you want that salty air. However, Texas is hot. And, there’s the humidity, too.
“For every 10 degrees you climb, everything is aging faster,” explains Wofford. For Lone Elm, it proved an advantage to getting to market. “We lose a lot to the Angel’s share, and we’ve had trouble with whiskey breaking through the barrels. But, you can make a mature whiskey much faster here than in Scotland.”
What they produce starts with the farmland of Fortney. They partnered with neighbors who were growing red winter wheat, a soft and deeply flavorful grain iconic to Texas. Next, they met with the surrounding cattle farmers, creating a local eco-system. They give the spent mash to the cows, which helps re-fertilize the land.
The rainwater is also crucial, and Lone Elm uses a UV protection system, treated through reverse osmosis. The barrels are all American Oak, with medium char, sourced from the Ozarks out of Missouri. “Our Rye is coming next,” Wofford says. “We just cracked the first barrel here at the distillery, and we like how smooth and sweet it is. It’s a sharp contrast to corn-based ryes, which we find to be harsher. When you make a rye with wheat, it gives it this smooth quality. It will only be available at the distillery when we launch it, but the main production will come in a few years, for larger distribution.”
If you’re a fan of cocktails, the Small Batch might be your new best friend, but certainly grab a bottle or two of the Single Barrel. Tasted side-by-side, they are an ode to red winter wheat, to hot Texas summers, and to the adventure and passion of five good friends.
The Lone Elm Single Barrel Texas Whiskey has notes of dark cherry and stone fruit initially, giving way to cocoa and current and oak. It finishes strong and unabashedly Texas, with a little saddle leather and tobacco. It should be consumed neat or over a single cube of ice.
The Lone Elm Small Batch Texas Whiskey is built for sipping or for cocktails, and notes of oak and vanilla are present, alongside touches of cherry, dark chocolate, and caramel. We love it in any cocktail that calls for whiskey, but it’s particularly perfect in these three.
2 oz. Lone Elm Small Batch
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
½ of an egg white, optional**
Garnish: A cherry and a dash of bitters
Method: Add whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup to a shaker with ice. Shake till well chilled and strain into a glass either neat or over fresh ice. Garnish with a cherry and a few dashes of bitters.
**If using the egg white, combine whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white in a shaker without ice. Shake hard for 20 seconds. Add ice to the shaker and shake again until well chilled. Strain and garnish. (NOTE: You always want to do a “dry” no-ice shake when using egg whites, because it helps emulsify the cocktail first. That’s how you get that great frothy, creamy texture.
2 oz. Lone Elm Small Batch (or Single Barrel, if you’re celebrating)
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1 dashes Angostura bitters
Garnish: a cherry
Method: Add all ingredients except the garnish in a mixing glass with ice. Stir gently until it’s well chilled. Strain into a glass without ice and garnish.
2 oz. Lone Elm Small Batch
½ of a squeezed lime
6 oz. ginger ale or ginger beer
Garnish: lime wedge
Method: Fill a tall glass with ice. Pour over the whiskey and top with ginger beer. Add fresh lime juice and stir till well mixed. Garnish.