🥃 I think I'll take my [Texas] whiskey neat
Source: Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images
- 7 min read

🥃 I think I'll take my [Texas] whiskey neat

Plus, a judge just stopped the city's plans to fund redevelopment on Town Lake with tax revenue.


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☀️ Heya, Austin.

This one goes out to all our whiskey drinkers. We dive into the key factor behind Texas' killer bourbon production: our turbulent temperatures.

Then, peep what City Council will talk about this week, and read how a judge just stalled the city's plan to use tax revenue to redevelop land on Town Lake.

Cheers to weather whiplash

When it comes to bourbon whiskey, most people think of Kentucky.

But hold on a minute there — Texas has some skin in the game, too. And not only do several distilleries here specialize in the spirit, but they also do it more efficiently than in the Bluegrass State. Yeah, we said it. We meant it.

Why? The extreme swings in temperature here. God bless our sinuses ...

But OK, back up. What's bourbon exactly?  

It's a type of whiskey with a lot of rules:

🥃 It must be made with a specific recipe of 51% corn mash, which is fermented and distilled.

🥃 It has to be poured in a newly heated and charred American white oak barrel.

🥃 It must age at least two years in a rickhouse or barn.

🥃 It has to be bottled at more than 80 proof, which means it’s 40% alcohol by volume. 

🥃 And bourbon can be made in all 50 states but not outside the United States. 

Things mature more quickly here in the Lone Star State

Bourbon production involves a whole bunch of chemistry, physics and meteorology. While it ages, thermal expansion takes over, which gives bourbon its particular flavor and color.  

“It heats up outside, but inside the barrel, there’s a little pocket of gas that expands because of the pressure,” said Donnis Todd, a master distiller at Garrison Brothers Distillery, based in Hye about 18 miles east of Fredericksburg. “That expansion pushes the liquid deep in the white American oak — then when it cools off, it comes back in. Those big swings happen almost daily.” 

Source: Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images

Bourbon produced in Texas only takes four years to mature because of the drastic temperature swings where the liquid can “breathe” more inside the barrel. Kentucky bourbon typically takes between four to eight years to mature, or sometimes longer, and is slightly paler because of the same physics.  

Sure, producing bourbon in Texas is beneficial. But there's a downside: Central Texas summers can regularly produce temperatures of 100 degrees or more, and that heat makes the evaporation rate especially high. Todd says he loses between 10% and 15% of liquid in each of the porous wood barrels, a portion nicknamed the “angel’s share.” Womp womp.

“The Texas-size temperature swings are brutal on my team and the production equipment,” Todd said, adding that high winds also can hurt production because it causes more evaporation alongside the temperature swings. “The almost constant winds on the hilltop in Hye whisk away a much higher percentage of the aging inventory than normal.”  

Location in Texas matters, too

The Texas Hill Country plays a big role in bourbon production. Like Kentucky, Texas sits on limestone rock that naturally filters impurities from water, which is uber-important in high-quality bourbon production.

“Our wells in the Texas Hill Country get water that is running through limestone rock — it has zero iron and it’s high in calcium,” Todd said. “This water makes amazing bourbon mash, and that’s the first step in making great bourbon, and we’re blessed it’s just naturally here.”

The next time you sit down for a night cap, sipping an old fashioned, just raise your glass to the MVP of the libation in your hand: good ol' Texas weather.

And would the Garrison Brothers Distilleries consider adjusting their production process to battle the ever-changing climate? 

“We don’t plan on moving to the Caribbean and making rum anytime soon,” Todd said. “We’ll keep the Texas bourbon flowing.”

— Mary Wasson, Meteorologist

Temperature: 89 degrees | Sun: Behind clouds | What to Expect: Light south winds

We’ll start the day muggy with patchy fog. By lunch, the clouds may break a bit and that will help send temperatures close to 90 degrees. Are the pools open yet?

Mary’s Tip: With the humidity in full force, you may want to opt for an inside happy hour, unless you want a sweaty back.

4 things to watch at City Council this week

It's City Council week, which means we're back with our preview. Here are three new initiatives and one conflict the council will be discussing:

  • The students who sleep in darkness will see a great light. After hearing from University of Texas at Austin students about windowless bedrooms in the campus area, Council Member Zo Qadri started a push for a code amendment to provide more light. If approved, new commercial buildings will be required to provide natural light in “every space intended for human occupancy.” Also impacting the campus area is a resolution to amend the University Neighborhood Overlay, i.e. the land development code that covers much of the campus area. Among other changes, the update would expand the affordable housing bonus program, remove some height limits, increase ground floor commercial development requirements and enhance sidewalks, bikeways and pedestrian areas on key east-west corridors.
  • Cooling Austin smarter. Another resolution this week would begin a passive building pilot program with at least four affordable housing projects. What is passive building? The idea is to use a number of design principles and strategies (including shading, insulation, ventilation, orientation and shape) that help make the building more energy-efficient. Reports from the pilot program could be used to incorporate passive building principles into building standards citywide. 
  • Hot fun in the summertime! Remember last summer when it got so hot the city got rid of all fees at public pools for nearly two months? Well, that experience coupled with suggestions from various Parks and Recreation Department plans have the council considering a new program that would waive or reduce some user fees at city pools. The city would consider geographic and socio-economic factors when determining which pools should be included in this summer’s pilot project, which could later be expanded or made permanent. 
  • Let us talk. During an executive session this week, the council will discuss a lawsuit brought against them by Save Our Springs Alliance and its executive director, Bill Bunch. What does the suit claim? The city, mayor and council have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, the Austin City Charter and Council’s own procedures for public comment. Where is this coming from? At the April 4 City Council meeting, Bunch signed up to speak on four items. When asked if he would have 2 minutes for each item, he was told no and that the time spent asking that question would be counted to his 2 minutes. He threatened the lawsuit then and followed up on his threat the next day.

Update on another lawsuit against the city

Speaking of Save Our Springs Alliance and lawsuits, it just scored a victory when a Travis County district judge ruled against the city’s plans to establish a tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) along the south shores of Lady Bird Lake, as first reported by KUT

Catch up quick

What is a TIRZ? A TIRZ diverts a portion of the designated area’s property taxes from the general fund, requiring it to be spent on public improvements or to spur private development within the boundaries of the TIRZ. (Here’s a longer explainer.)

What was the lawsuit? Save Our Springs Alliance, Taxpayers Against Giveaways and three individuals filed the lawsuit, alleging the TIRZ was illegal as the area would develop on its own. (The Texas Tax Code stipulates that a TIRZ should be created only when "development or redevelopment would not occur solely through private investment in the reasonably foreseeable future.")

So what’s next?

As you may remember from a previous edition of this newsletter, there are quite a few development plans for that area of town — including the redevelopment of the old Austin American-Statesman building. It’s currently unclear how this could affect those plans.

Tell us: what do you wish you knew after buying your Austin home?

Alright, Dailies, specifically all y'all that own homes. Rant away ...

What do you wish you knew after you bought? Some ideas to get those creative juices flowing:

  • How to sign up for trash and recycling
  • How to turn on your water
  • How to know which City Council district you're in

That kind of thing. Let us know by replying to this email. Don't be shy, now.

🔮That's a Vibe

Today's clue is for 5 Down: The answer is the first word of a sister company to Sour Duck that's located on South Lamar.

Were so glad you found us. Find our bios and contact info here, or reach out at hello@austindaily.com. Behind todays send: Katie Canales, Cat DeLaura and Mary Wasson.