Joe Alecci means business at Bone Spirits

I don't know if it's just because I told Joe that I write this blog, but speaking with the distiller at Bone Spirits in Smithville, TX, one gets the feeling that he's got a message for the world. That message is: Joe feels personally responsible for every ingredient that ends up in one of his bottles. That's a lot to take on.

As he sets me up for the tasting, I ask about the name of the distillery. He says it's short for their philosophy of "bare bones." No additives, no extra enzymes or additives to get the yeast to start breaking down starch. All spirits bearing the name Bone must start with grain delivered in sacks through his retracting doors. He is so worked up, I suddenly have an image of Joe swiping the plastic cup from my hand, soup Nazi style: "no gin for you!" I sink into the safety of the bar stool as Joe presses on.

Localness of ingredients is a recurring theme among the distillers I meet. It's fortunate that Texas grows a lot of corn and wheat. Bone, in the fashion to which I'm becoming accustomed, takes localness to an extreme. The corn comes from a farm in town and is the basis for most of Bone's spirits.

The vodka is triple distilled and not filtered at the end, a rarity. I guess it's yet another way to showcase the purity of the ingredients. The nose has a grassy sweetness and the palate is somewhat malty or chocolatey. The vodka is very easy to drink.

The gin is derived from the vodka base by macerating botanicals and steeping them in the distillate. They include juniper (ashe juniper, to be exact, from Joe's backyard); lemon, lime and orange zest; corriander; angelica; cardamom; and licorice. The gin is bottled at 94 proof. The nose is very junipery, while the palate is more citrus-forward. There is a finish of spice that goes nicely with the slight alcohol burn.

Bone ages their corn whiskey for three and a half years, on average. That is some of the longest I've found in Texas so far. After aging in new oak barrels with "just a light char," as Joe describes it, the whiskey gets bottled at 97 proof. The nose reminds me of a sweet caramel candy. The palate is of spice and grain.

There is an 87 proof moonshine, or unaged corn whiskey. It has a dry, granny smith nose, with a hint of flowers. The palate has some sweetness before giving way to deep wood.

My favorite is the bourbon. It's from an 82/18 corn/rye mash, and is 90 proof. It's aged in #4 char barrels for between two and four years. The nose is like a slightly charred apple, with some clove for good measure. The palate is a satisfying balance of spice and grainy wood.

I try an 84 proof gin aged in used whiskey barrels for three years. The nose still has that distinctive juniper. Behind it lurk hints of spicy black pepper. The palate is mainly of that same spice.

Bone distills a unique spirit popular in Scandinavia: akvavit. It's pretty much made the same way as gin, but the botanicals here are caraway, clove, anise and dill. It is then aged in used bourbon barrels for one year. This is so not a drink for me, dill being one of my least favorite seasonings (a true shame, since I love salmon). But the sample is in front of me, so here it goes. The nose has that anise/licorice distinctiveness. The palate is simply of a rich, herbal char. I'm simply relieved it wasn't the sour-dill-bomb I was anticipating.

Lest you get the wrong impression, Joe really is a nice guy. He's obviously passionate about his product, as all artisans should be. I give him a lot of credit for taking the time to walk me through the spirits and explaining their "farm to bottle" ethos. If anything, he's ruined me for when I visit a distillery and see a stack of totes with that telltale flammable warning symbol: grain neutral spirits. Then again, if it weren't for shortcuts, we couldn't heap praise those that choose not to take them.


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