By Joanna O’Leary
Houston doesn’t have everything. But we’re one step closer to this statement being true, thanks to the ambitious minds behind Yellow Rose Distilling. Started in 2010 by neighbors Ryan Baird and Troy Smith, Yellow Rose is the first (legal) whiskey distillery based in Houston. (Sorry, folks—if you or your ancestors made bathtub hooch, your efforts remain unrecognized.)
In the past six years, Baird and Smith, along with their business partner, Randy Whitaker, have developed an impressive product line comprising a straight whiskey, blended whiskey, and “Outlaw” bourbon and whiskey. And despite being relative newbies in the adult-beverage market, Yellow Rose has already attracted national attention in the form of a “Best in Class” award for their Yellow Rose Outlaw Bourbon and a Double Gold for their Yellow Rose Straight Rye Whiskey at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, a prestigious competition that attracts entrants from all over the world.
Thirsty yet? Before you just run to Spec’s to pick up a bottle (or two), we recommend you taste the spirit at its source and learn about its production history in the process by attending one of Yellow Rose’s tours held on Fridays and Saturdays for the bargain fee of $7. In an ideal world (i.e., one that does not involve the vagaries of Houston traffic), arrive at the Distillery about half an hour early to grab a drink in the tasting room (don’t dare call it a “bar” lest you incur the wrath of the TABC). But here’s the good legal news: recent welcome changes in legislature mean you can take said drink with you on the tour, a practice encouraged by the Yellow Rose management, undoubtedly to prevent overeager participants from surging the sample table prematurely. Indeed, all good things come to those who wait at Yellow Rose, and actually waiting isn’t hard at all because the tour is just 30 minutes and the guides are witty, informative, and infectiously enthusiastic about the product.
At the tour’s conclusion, you have the opportunity to taste Yellow Rose’s three signature whiskeys, their burgeoning line of vodkas (a Caramel flavor is scheduled to come out in the fall) and something really special: the superproof ethanol base that is eventually diluted and aged in American oak barrels to produce whiskey. By the way, don’t be squeamish about other folks’ germs when sticking your finger straight into the bottle for a nip; like the tour guide says, “Ain’t nothing can live in that liquid.”
Souvenirs from your trip are highly recommended. A popular and sensible choice is, of course, a bottle of whiskey hand-marked with a special label commemorating the day of your tour. But should you be feeling bold—your purchasing confidence bolstered by multiple samples—spring for a cute miniature aging barrel for the equally adorable price of just $50. It’s a bargain, really, for something that will serve as a terrific conversation piece, and, in pinch, help your cats descend Niagara Falls.
Finally, one incentive not to take the last tour of the day is the opportunity to hang out longer. The distillery explicitly encourages patrons to bring board games or belly up (again) to the, er, tasting room for more specialty cocktails. A second round somehow tastes even better now that you have heard the story of spirits with which they are made.