Located just 25 miles south of Austin, Texas on a 28-acre ranch in Dripping Springs, Treaty Oak is probably one of those distilleries you haven’t heard of yet. Founded in 2006 by Daniel Barnes, they’ve been at it for more than a decade. But someone took notice. In July it was announced that Mahalo Spirits Group would partner with Treaty Oak to take the brand to new heights. For reference, Mahalo Spirits Group was a founder of Angel’s Envy Bourbon, and helped lead the brand to its eventual acquisition by Bacardi in 2015.
Bound by a “Pursuit of the curious,” Treaty Oak Distilling currently produces three whiskeys and three gins. The whiskeys are marketed under the Treaty Oak name, while the gins are marketed under the Waterloo name.
In this Flight of Texas Whiskeys, I’ll explore the flavor profiles of each whiskey Treaty Oak currently offers - one distilled in-house, one sourced from distilleries in both Kentucky and Virginia and then blended, and the last sourced from a distillery in Canada.
Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon
Distillery: Treaty Oak Distilling
Age: NAS (Aged 2 years per press materials)
Mashbill: 53% Corn, 36% Wheat, 11% Barley
Nose: Raw grain, dark fruit, seasoned wood. Lively and youthful. Some ethanol.
Palate: Great mouthfeel. Sweet. Cherries, dark fruit, anise.
Finish: Cherries, aged oak, tobacco. Morphs from sweet to dry and savory.
Red Handed Bourbon
Distillery: Sourced from O.Z. Tyler Distillery (Kentucky) and Davis Valley Distillery (Virginia)
Age: NAS (O.Z. Tyler - 2 years old / Davis Valley - 4 years old)
Mashbill: O.Z. Tyler Bourbon - 70% corn, 21% rye, 9% barley / Davis Valley - 66% corn, 20% barley, 14% rye
Color: Medium Copper
Nose: Sweet maple sugar candy, peaches, and a hint of licorice.
Palate: Summer fruit, peaches, butterscotch, and pepper. Creamy mouthfeel.
Finish: Spicy throughout - pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg. Sweet notes of honey and burnt oak. Lasting tingle of spice.
Red Handed Rye
Distillery: Sourced from Schenley Distillery
Age: 10 Years
Mashbill: 53% Rye, 39% Corn, 8% Barley
Nose: Apple, summer fruit. Very light.
Palate: Grassy and herbal, touch of rye spice, apple. Thin mouthfeel.
Finish: Pop of peppery spice with cinnamon and rye undertones. Fades quickly leaving a dry spicy note behind.
Sometimes it’s good to be different. The three whiskeys comprising Treaty Oak’s portfolio are not only different from one another, but different from much of what you might consider more mainstream bourbon or rye flavor profiles. To me that’s a good thing.
The company is very forthcoming about what’s in each bottle. Source of distillation (including if it was distilled onsite versus sourced from another distillery), mashbill, and age can all be easily found on their website with little effort. This is especially important when some products are sourced and others are distilled in-house, as the line can become easily blurred when it’s unclear.
According to Treaty Oak, “Named after our 28-acre ranch home in Dripping Springs, Texas, Ghost Hill Bourbon is a unique whiskey made with local heirloom grains from Barton Springs Mill. A genuine grain to glass bourbon, it is mashed, fermented, distilled, barreled, aged 2 years and bottled on-site at our Treaty Oak Distillery. Ghost Hill is a Bourbon born of years of purposeful experimentation.” Ghost Hill Bourbon is only 2 years old, and while it allows a youthful quality to show through, it succeeds in doing so with impeccable style. It has a wonderful mouthfeel and robustly rich flavor profile that doesn’t suggest any shortcuts were taken. I can’t help but think that choosing wheat as the secondary grain was a good choice, as I’ve had numerous younger wheated bourbons that are fantastic, though I can’t pinpoint why this is.
Red Handed Bourbon is an interesting blend, combining two unlikely sources, or least not exceedingly mainstream sources, into one. The resulting flavor profile is as rich as it is unique, sporting a creamy mouthfeel and a combination of flavors that I rarely pick up together. It’s a blend of 2 and 4 year old bourbons, with the 2 year old being sourced from O.Z. Tyler Distillery and the 4 year old from Davis Valley Distillery. O.Z. Tyler utilizes theTerrePURE process for some of its aging, a patented “rapid aging” process that intends to speed up the traditional barrel aging process that would otherwise take 4-6 years. However, I confirmed with company founder Daniel Barnes that the O.Z. product went straight into the barrel and was then traditionally aged - it was not part of the TerraSentia/TerrePURE program in any way. Blended with the 4 year old high barley bourbon from Davis Valley Distillery, it makes for an intriguing sip.
Red Handed Rye is aged for 10 years and sourced from Shenley Distillery in Canada. Looking at it in the bottle you would never guess it’s been in oak for 10 years - it’s very light in color. At 100 proof, it sports a slightly higher proof than the other two whiskeys which are each bottled at 95. It’s also much older - 10 years compared with a blend of 2 and 4 year olds for Red Handed Bourbon and only 2 years old for Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon. Like the color, the Red Handed Rye’s flavor profile does little to suggest its age, bringing minimal traditional barrel influence into the mix. It drinks more like a light whiskey than a rye, and brings with it a set of flavors that are quite unique, though it won’t please everyone.
Of the three, Ghost Hill Bourbon is my favorite. It’s the youngest, but goes beyond simply showing promise and instead is a really interesting and unique tasting bourbon. Barnes confirmed plans to age it longer, and also expressed interest in being able to change it to a Bottled-in-Bond two to three years from now. While I am excited to see what this tastes like with more time in the barrel, I am admittedly content with how it tastes right now.
Breaking Bourbon: And you don’t have any plans to become, or ideas to become, larger on a scale of say...let’s open another distillation location or something of that nature? I know there’s another warehouse that’s in the works, at least, as we toured the warehouses, and were speaking about that, from a distillation and production standpoint. Or would you grow into demand, do you think...or do you think you’d want to keep it in the tighter kind of way you have it right now?
Jay: One thing I can say with certainty is, we’re going to remain independent. As we’re in this business now and I start to work inside the bourbon industry in a totally different way than we did when we were retailers, you can start to see people’s business models. And these are all good...no criticism of anybody...they’re all viable ways to do your business, what have you...but I can see places making decisions for an eventful outcome. And sometimes that outcome is to remain independent and often that outcome is to someday be bought up. Sell it to someone.
I can look at someone now and see that they’re making decisions to do one or the other. Nothing wrong with that, but if Ken Lewis’s intention is to get bought up someday, he’s doing it wrong. We are not doing the kind of things...you know, putting the money where the mouth is...that would lead us to be bought up. We are making decisions that are for long-term independence and quality. So that I can say with a certainly is what you will see in 10 or 20 years. Will we be owned in 10 or 20 years by, take your pick of Diageo, Sazerac, William Grant, Brown-Foreman? No. We’re not going to be sold. I don’t know that we would ever expand with another distillery. It’s doubtful. We think that you are not wanting to get too big.
One thing that we are not really concerned about is the very thing that all these big companies are concerned about, which is two words - the words are market share. Market share. What’s our market share in San Francisco? How we doing in London? What’s our market share? We don’t really care about that. We don’t have stockholders. We don’t have shares out there. We have one brilliant owner who’s a fantastic guy to work with.
You know how you hear of such and so entrepreneur is just the most amazing boss to work for, but it’s never your boss.
Well, Nick, it is my boss.
Working with Ken Lewis is tremendous. And I think that’s not going to go away, so. We don’t need to get really big. Our goal here is not to get rich. We’ll have nice lives and we’ll make our money, and we’ll be successful, but the point is not to gain market share. The point is to be a great small distillery. Which if you think about it, is an amorphous goal. How do you know if you’ve made it? What do you do every day to get there? If your goal is market share, it’s simple. You need to make and sell more booze. But that’s not the case when your goal, your stated goal, that you remind yourselves in every meeting every week, is to become a great small distillery of the world and to do it in sour mash Kentucky whiskey. If that’s the goal, how do you go about it? How do you know that you do it?
You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other with confidence and skill and commitment to quality. That’s what will go on. I’m sorry that sounds corny but its the truth.
The Story Behind the Logo
Treaty Oak’s new logo, created by Crispin Porter+Bogusky and Rachael Barnes (Daniel’s wife), is a craftsman’s monogram representing a new vision for spirits and a treaty between tradition and experimentation. The scale represents a treaty between old and new and balance between art and science. Treaty Oak doesn’t ignore the knowledge gained by years of refining recipes. We look to build on that knowledge to explore what’s possible. There are both straight and curved edges, reflecting a modern and traditional aesthetic, respectively. The straight edge is a nod to the architecture and mimics the roof line of the workhorse building at Treaty Oak. The curved edge also references Dripping Springs, the rolling Texas Hill country and underground aquifers. -Daniel Barnes, Founder
The samples used for this review are from production bottles and were provided at no cost courtesy of Treaty Oak Distilling. We thank them for the samples and for allowing us to review them with no strings attached.