hook and barrel tahwahkaro whiskey feature

Two Brothers Brave the World of Whiskey – Tahwahkaro Whiskey

There are a lot of “Texas” whiskies on the market, some of whom source their rye from colder, northern farms or lean on distillers and spirits sourced from Kentucky’s massive output. 

Tahwahkaro, however, is different.  

This whiskey is entirely Lonestar-state produced, from the corn they source in Valley View, Texas, to the Fort Worth malts … all the way to the water, which flows right through Grapevine, Texas––where it’s finally bottled at their distillery.  

Tahwahkaro is award winning, putting out a smooth-as-silk Four Grain Bourbon, a fiery Rye Malt, and a few barrel selections you’ll only find on-property. The backstory of the creators is far more legendary, however. For us, it’s just as memorable as the sip. This is a tale of a devotion to family, of a love for the great outdoors; a penchant for fine whiskey and respect for the land. 

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Where the magic happens.

Justin and Jason Jackson grew up as the kids of a pastor. They moved around quite a bit, but drinking was something that came far later in life. To say they’ve always loved the great outdoors is an understatement. Justin was, at one time, a pro cyclist, and Jason remains a triathlete. “I’m also a singer-songwriter,” says older brother Jason, who in the late 2000s was living nearly off the grid in Colorado. Roasting his own coffee, hunting deer, butchering the family’s chickens, and catching fish for the table each week, he finally agreed to take a sip of whiskey at the urging of a good friend after playing a concert.  

“We certainly came late to the booze game,” he laughs, “and I finally had that first Jack and Coke that night. We drank until around 1 a.m., and I woke up the next day, packed my gear, and had to do a 100-mile ride to train for a triathlon. I felt great. I realized that day that whiskey just treats me better than beer.” 

Always eager to produce rather than purchase something, Jason bought a five-gallon still. He began working in his kitchen at his stove, attempting to recreate something similar to his new favorite––Knob Creek. A determination and patience, born of hunting and of triathlons, produced a pretty solid whiskey. A few friends joined in, and they eventually launched Axe & The Oak Distillery, which is still in operation today in Colorado Springs. “That was 2013,” Jason recalls, “In 2015, my brother Justin called me to discuss joining in on something together.”  

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Justin and Jason enjoying barrel #1.

His brother had been tested at that point, beyond what any man could handle. While driving home from their mother’s funeral, Justin lost his wife in a horrific car accident, barely surviving himself. He’d lost vision in one eye and hearing in one ear, and he’d endured what had been years of surgeries and rehabilitation. “You never know what’s around the bend in the river,” Justin says, thinking back on those days, when a phone call to his brother would result in their joining forces in the whiskey world. “I said, ‘if you can do it in Colorado, do you think we could make whiskey here in Texas?'”

Turns out you could. Plenty had before them, but for the brothers, the math and the timing made sense. Colorado in 2013 had around 100 distilleries and five million people. Texas had the same number of distillers but 25 million citizens. And, Justin needed a career change. 

The guys opened Tahwahkaro’s doors in 2016 (Tahwahkaro means Bend in the River in the local indigenous language) with Justin as the Master Distiller and Jason in the role of Brand Ambassador, still making whiskey in Colorado. “Those first weeks, I was working 10 hour days, seven days per week,” Justin laughs. “My mash times were way too long, and I really had to cut my teeth on the phone with Jason every single day. In August of 2017, he moved down here and it changed everything.” 

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Watching whiskey drip.

Tahwahkaro produced 600 gallons per month, or close to 3,600 bottles per month in those earliest years. Mostly, it was their original Four Grain Bourbon, a recipe Justin devised, with help from Jason, and their business partner Jason Vivion. “My brother and I are both very much high-rye guys,” Jason Jackson says. “We like Wild Turkey and Knob Creek—and the other two guys who work with us––Chris and Jason––are really into wheat-based whiskies, loving things like W.L. Weller.” 

“The idea was,” Justin adds, “to use 13 percent malt in the bourbon, but with the four grains, you split the poundage. It’s a very savory bourbon, and you get the sweetness of corn and the wheat and a very subdued rye note.” 

They also laid down a Rye Malt Whiskey, with a nice heat, deep vanilla toffee, and a little buttered toast on the finish. At the distillery, you can sample a few that others can’t buy quite yet, including a straight rye and a single barrel. The Tahwahkaro bottles are shaped like canteens, to honor that river/life metaphor, the Four Grain and Rye Malt are available in a handful of states surrounding Texas. That map is growing all the time.  

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Jason experiments with a new blend of corn, red and blue.

“In 2019, we released to market. Our oldest barrel hit the one year mark, and we submitted that whiskey to the San Francisco World Spirits Competition,” Justin says, proudly. “We got a silver medal on our one-year, Four Grain Bourbon, and since then, we have never missed a medal.” 

The guys just took home two Gold Medals at the SIP Awards, but they’d happily tell you that awards are not why you make anything––much less whiskey. For them, it’s about making what you love into something all your own. It’s about family, resilience, and the enjoyment of a great glass––particularly at the holidays.

From a Tailgate to a Fireside

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Tahwahkaro is built for making memories.

#4 Old Fashioned 

  • 2 oz. Tahwahkaro Four Grain Bourbon  
  • .25 oz. Simple Syrup  
  • 4 dashes Orange Bitters   
  • 3 Dashes Black Walnut Bitters  
  • Garnish: 1 Luxardo Cherry and a charred piece of orange peel 
  • Method: In a mixing tin with ice, combine bourbon, simple syrup, and bitters. Stir gently but swiftly till very chilled. Strain over fresh ice and garnish. 

Bend in the River Mule 

  • 2 oz. Tahwahkaro Four Grain Bourbon  
  • .25 oz. simple syrup  
  • .25 oz. fresh Lime juice  
  • 2 dashes Grapefruit Bitters  
  • 2 oz. Ginger Beer 
  • Method: Combine bourbon, simple syrup, and lime juice in a shaker with ice. Shake hard. Strain over fresh ice in a copper mug, top with ginger beer and garnish with bitters. 

The Everyman Sazerac 

  • 2 oz. Tahwahkaro Texas Rye Malt  
  • .25 oz. simple syrup  
  • 4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters   
  • Splash of absinthe or Herbsaint liqueur 
  • Method: In a mixing tin filled with ice, combine Rye Malt with simple syrup and bitters. Stir until well chilled. In a tumbler, pour the splash of absinthe and swirl it around the glass. Discard excess. Strain the drink into the tumbler. Serve with or without ice.