Banner Distilling: How Many Bottles of Beer on the Wall?
The guys at Banner Distilling Co., in Manor, TX, would not be able to hide their love for beer, if they ever had to for some bizarre reason. First of all, there's the giant beer bottle -and some cans- collection covering an entire wall of their distillery.
Before I even witness the wall of bliss, Tony, distiller and co-owner along with Logan, meets me outside. Apart from being friendly, I think it's also to quell his Doberman, Caroline. "She doesn't like men," Tony tells me in a way that almost gets me to apologize for my gender. Clearly, if Caroline wanted to destroy me she would have no problem. For now, she's making a show of barking and nuzzling at my hand. Still, I can't help but be unnerved. Sorry, but I'm kind of fond of my fingers. So how about that drink?
Tony keeps the mini fridge in the back office stocked and ready to go. He emerges with a frothy snifter of something and asks if I'd like one too. I decline, only because I am eager to get to the spirits.
The whiskeys at Banner are made mostly with wheat. "Maybe five percent barley," Tony concedes, for some cases. The vodka is six-times distilled from a mix of 50/50 corn/wheat grain neutral spirits and sugar.
The first whiskey I try is their signature: double-distilled in a pot still, 92 proof, and aged in #4 char new oak barrels for between twenty and twenty-two months. Tony tells me that while they are moving toward using larger barrels (fifteen and thirty gallons, up from the five-gallon jobs they started out with) the batch I'm trying comes from a five-gallon.
The nose is undeniably grassy. If I close my eyes, I can see the undulating field somewhere in the middle of the country. And for the taste: a great balance of sweet and spice, with a very smooth finish. (If I were to cheat and read you off the Sell Sheet description, I could better identify that sweetness as cherry).
Next up is a Double Oak whiskey. Only difference from the wheat whiskey in how it's made is it's aged for one and a half years in the the used whiskey barrels, before finishing up for about five months in new oak. The nose here is that char wood and some fruit or melony sweetness. The palate is smooth spice with hints of flower.
Getting back to beer: I found the most interesting of Banner's spirits to be the whiskey they are making out of 4th Tap's Brick Top Imperial Porter. They distill the beer to about 125 proof and age it in used barrels for 9 months. It comes out at 100 proof. The batch I tried had a deliciously chocolatey nose. The palate was a little more elusive. I knew I knew it, just couldn't put my finger on what I was tasting. Cut grass? Yes, there was that vegetative funk. But some skunkier notes were lurking in there as well. That was it! It tastes of pot. "Are you sneaking weed in here, Tony?"
I didn't actually ask that. Though we both laughed when I suggested he should start offering a particularly skunky hit for a pairing. "Just grab that bong down from the wall" - I offered, pointing to the contraption in the picture. "That's not a bong, that's our first still." Tony, with an engineering background, had made it by hand. Whoops. It still looks badass. Luckily, I have enough sense to know that when you confuse the proprietor's pride and joy with a bong, it's time to go. Lest I see what Caroline is truly capable of.