Bourbon connoisseurs will have a ringside seat when Lone Star distilleries duke it out to be named “The Best Bourbon in Texas” at the first Texas Bourbon Shootout on Feb. 1 in Longview.
“Bourbon is every man’s drink. It’s ingrained in our history. George Washington had a distillery,” Cole Tomberlain said. “Bourbon was a way of life. There’s so much history. That’s what’s intriguing to me.”
The shootout, organized by local bourbon enthusiasts Tomberlain and Andrew Griffith, is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, 905 E. Hawkins Pkwy. in Longview.
The event is sponsored by the East Texas Bourbon Society and proceeds benefit Longview World of Wonders, a hands-on children’s museum. The museum’s annual fundraiser, Bourbon and Bowties, will be held the following night, Feb. 2.
Jim Murray, author of “The Whiskey Bible,” will judge the best bourbons that 10 Texas distillers can produce and decide the champion. The live tasting will allow 250 lucky ticket-holders to sip the bourbons along with the master.
Murray is being flown from his home in Great Britain just for the event. He is world-renowned for his expertise in all types of whiskeys.
Bourbon is truly an American product. It can only be made in the United States, a restriction which is written into U.S. trade agreements, Tomberlain said.
A liquor is not bourbon unless made of 51 percent corn, aged in a new charred oak container and distilled to at least 80 proof and no more than 160 proof when bottled, he said. And those are just some of the requirements.
The shootout is unique — there has never been a contest between bourbons produced in a single state before, Tomberlain said. To qualify for the contest, a bourbon must have been distilled, aged and bottled in Texas.
Bourbon is experiencing a boom right now, which is why he and Griffith decided it was time for such a contest.
“Our Texas bourbon distilleries are putting out incredible products. … The distilleries are excited that they have an event solely dedicated to their product,” continued Tomberlain, who grew up in Longview and works in his family’s business, the Charles Tomberlain Insurance Agency.
Griffith agrees that Texas bourbon is unique.
“A lot of folks think you can only make bourbon in Kentucky, which is not accurate at all,” said the president of the East Texas Bourbon Society. “Texas is going to be to bourbon what California is to wines. Love it or hate it, there’s something special about it.
“High humidity is really good for aging bourbon. In Texas, we can age bourbon about three times as fast as they can in Kentucky, just because of the humidity,” he said.
Garrison Brothers, the first Texas bourbon distillery, had some initial setbacks until the company realized that what worked for bourbon in Kentucky didn’t necessarily work here, Griffith said.
“You may have the best recipe, but it’s going to take three or four years to find out” because the bourbon has to age, he added.
Griffith and Tomberlain started the nonprofit bourbon society after the 2018 Bourbon & Bowties. They didn’t want to wait another year before getting together to taste, evaluate and discuss the finer points of bourbon.
“We wanted to dig into the history of it, the history of distilleries, the aging process, so we could understand what we liked and didn’t like,” said Griffith, a food and beverage industry consultant who works with restaurants.
The society has two chapters; the Longview one meets on the third Tuesday of the month, and the Tyler group meets on the fourth Tuesday of the month, Tomberlain said.
“We do a tasting, and it always has a theme, whether it’s Texas bourbons or bourbons by a particular distillery,” he said. They also taste and discuss other whiskies such as scotch and rye.
“To me, what I enjoy is a rich, creamy bourbon. It’s smooth, but it’s a little bit thicker on the palate. I like a little bit of spice in there, a little bit of the char,” Tomberlain continued.
Maker’s Mark, Buffalo Trace and Yellow Rose bourbons are good liquors to start with if you’re unfamiliar with bourbon, he said.
There’s a saying: “Bourbon is 51 percent corn and 49 percent BS. The history, the stories, that’s part of the enjoyment,” Tomberlain said. “When you sit around with your friends drinking bourbon, that’s when the stories get told — and maybe embellished a little bit.”