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The process of making bourbon whiskey (and whiskey in general) is characterized by practices that all distillers utilize, as well as nuances that make each distillery and whiskey unique. Below are the processes we utilize at F&R, both the basic principles and the aspects that make us distinct.
At F&R, we use Texas yellow dent corn and Texas soft red winter wheat. Using Texas corn and wheat allows us to tap into how the Texas environment creates grain that is unique from other parts of the country and world. This uniqueness is expressed in a variety of flavors. Further, given that we use wheat versus the more common rye to complement the corn, our bourbon falls under the category of being a “wheated bourbon”.
Nowadays, all but a select few distilleries around the country buy commercially available yeast strains. At F&R, we captured a wild yeast strain right here in North Texas. This wasn’t exactly backyard science. Our Head Distiller, Rob Arnold, performed microbial isolations, DNA analyses, micro-fermentations and sensory analyses on the 100+ wild yeast samples we collected around North Texas. Ultimately, the strain that had all the characteristics we wanted, and the one we now use in every batch, was found on the Rancho Hielo Brazos ranch in Somervell County, Texas. As fate would have it, this yeast came from a single nut off the Texas state tree — the pecan. We gave the strain a proper scientific name of RHB-422, but we like to call it the "Brazos" strain. The Brazos strain produces flavors of dried fruit, sweet spice, and floral notes that are unique from any other strain of yeast.
By law, all straight bourbon whiskey must be aged at least two years in charred oak barrels. Charring the inside of the barrel caramelizes the natural wood sugars that will impart body, color and sweet/toasty flavors to the whiskey. It also breaks down the lignin, lipids and tannins in the oak to impart vanilla, spice, oak, coconut and floral flavors into the whiskey.
The key to producing a fully matured and balanced bourbon is temperature fluctuation, which makes our variable climate perfect for the job. In hot temperatures (think Texas summer), the whiskey permeates into the charred oak, and in colder temperatures, it recedes back into the barrel. The more the whiskey wrings-in and wrings-out of the charred oak, the faster it will mature, adding character and balance. It is this phenomena that allows our bourbon to gain its beautiful caramel-brown color and develops uniquely rich and bold flavors.
We barreled our first bourbon whiskey in March of 2012. After more than four years of aging, we harvested and bottled our first batch of TX Straight Bourbon in December of 2016. We are very proud of this special dram and hope that you enjoy it as much as we do.