My last trip to Texas was in 1975, so you may want to take some of what’s written here with not so much a grain of salt but the whole salt lick. I’m going to safely assume that my experience of Texas – especially rural Texas – has changed a bit. We all know their rash of current problems – their shit-fer-brains governor and other politicians, a failed power grid, Covid flash points galore, and their strange inability to consistently beat the University of Oklahoma in a straight-up football contest, at least since 2010. In the 22 games since 2000, Texas has won only six, the last one coming by a scant 3 points, in 2018…
The governor and dumb-ass legislators and the power thing and Covid, yeah, all problems. But that last thing, the Oklahoma Problem…that’s serious. That keeps folks up of a night. It’s…just not right, for Texans. Why, it’s the kind of worry that would drive a man, woman, maybe livestock to drink. And, of course, when we talk about drinking in rural Texas, the beer (although Texas has a thriving craft brewing community) is largely that dishwater BudMillerCoors crap and the wine is largely California.
Real Texans drink whiskey…
No, let me rephrase that: real Texans drink WHISKEY, damnit! With a shot of whiskey as an appetizer and some more whiskey for Afters. Texans KNOW whiskey. Yeah, you’ll find a Jack or a Jim or occasionally one of your Glens (Livet, Fiddich, Morangie, Farclas, Kinchie) on the sideboard, but, for the most part, they know good from bad, great from good. Y’ain’t slippin’ crap past a Texas whiskey fan, so when country music guy, Randy Rogers, along with partners Eric Chase, Cary Schindler, Ash Wineinger, Michael Devers, and a man whose name is, apparently, “spirits-industry veteran Steve Luttmann” (I’m just guessing’ of course, but I have never yet seen the name Steve Luttman without all that other stuff in front of it), decided to make a whiskey – because most musicians today are at least making a Vodka, if not something Serious – they knew they had better come up with the Goods, and quick.
What all the friends had in common (don’t know about spirits-industry veteran Steve Luttmann) was that they were all from in or around New Braunfels, Texas, a sleepy (at least it was, last time I was there) formerly rural town lying along the I-35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio. It’s been encroached upon just a bit by the suburban tentacles of San Antonio but it is still, colleagues Down There tell me, the kind of place where people pack picnics and hang out at Landa Park or Camp Comal or River Bend Park and maybe take an old truck inner tube for a leisurely float down the Guadalupe or Comal Rivers, come back and grill up some steaks or burgers or, being New Braunfels, some brats or a big ol’ slab of Leberkäse before the evening concert. Food, music, those floats downriver – all big stuff, still, in sweet ol’ New Braunfels. As is whiskey.
Which brings us to Slow River Blend.
SLB is the name landed upon by Randy Rogers, et al, for a new brand of whiskey that’s distilled from hefeweizen, the quintessentially German ale that you’ll find in practically every craft brewery in the country. Hef, as it’s usually called, is light, a bit sweet, aromatic, easy drinking, and fairly easy to make, as Euro beer styles go. Here in America, where we futz with styles, give many of ’em no respect at all, and then just use the style names anyway, Hef is sometimes flavored with a wide variety of infusions, including citrus fruits, spices, and even flowers…but therein lies a Problem because real Hef is rarely flavored with anything. The yeasts account for the frequent notes of spices and bubble gum and bananas and citrus in authentic Hef, while its cousin, German wheat beer, gets stuff added to it all the time. Lemon is common, as is coriander, maybe sea salt, maybe a lot of things. So when this whiskey is distilled from Hefeweizen, its flavor range is diminished by the process. So some lemon zest and cloves were added in the tank. Voila! – Slow River Blend Hefeweizen Whiskey. Because, I suspect, “Slow River Blend German Wheat Beer Whiskey” was too long and not really musical. So…Hef it is.
All that is sorta bookkeeping. The Point is…this stuff is flat-damned delicious. I mean seriously interesting and complex and, at 80 Proof (40% ABV) it’s civilized enough to mute the usual alcohol burn and can be adorned with a genteel splash of water or a slow-melting ice cube or two. But, it can also, straight, please even somewhat newbie palates with its puppy-dog friendly drinkability and silken texture. I got the lemon and cloves out of it, of course, just above the vanilla and caramel from the barrel and Texas wheat, as well as some grace notes of white grapes, sugar cookies, red pears, and some baking spices. The crafty “blend” part in the name refers to its composition of selected lots, three-to-five year old, 100% wheat whiskeys. Those are rebarreled, along with the cloves and lemon, and what comes out is this stuff, a genuine cut or five above what usually comes in these bottles that are endorsed by musicians or actors or athletes or other oddball types who now have their own booze labels. Vera Wang has a Vodka. Derek Jeter, a Whiskey. Porn star Ron Jeremy(!)(?) has a rum brand. Elon Musk owns a tequila. George Clooney, you know about. But did you know Robert DeNiro has his own Vodka? And Payton Manning, with friend Andy Roddick, have a critical darling Bourbon. MOST of the almost 80 celebrity brands are just using their star’s name on the label and can best be described as “low ambitions”. Rogers is involved with this stuff and the obvious care and attention from all the principals shows.
This is fine damned whiskey, a dram you could mix with something – their website suggests several cocktails and I could easily see it in a wide variety of fairly simple mixed drinks which would not obscure the stuff’s amazingly pleasing flavors. I would particularly caution you about using the very first recipe they mention on the website, which is so dead-bang Southern/Texan it makes me go cross-eyed:
‘Brecker & Pepper
FILL YOUR FAVORITE GLASS WITH ICE.
POUR 1 1/2 OUNCES OF SLOW RIVER BLEND OVER THE ICE
ADD 5 OUNCES OF DR. PEPPER
WELL, LET’S ADD ANOTHER 1/2 OUNCE OF SLOW RIVER BLEND
TOP WITH DR. PEPPER
STIR IF YOU WANT
GARNISH WITH A SLICE OF LEMON
Just…no. Okay? Please? I love Dr. Pepper. There’s about six cans in my fridge, right now. But the ass-grabbin’ cherry flavor of the Good Dr. is going to bury the lovely subtleties of Slow River Blend. Chase it with Dr. Pepper, maybe, like maybe the next day? Whatever. Just honor the fine idea at the heart of this world’s first Hefeweizen Whiskey and just have it neat, maybe chilled, maybe an ice cube, on a hot day. Slow River Blend is just FINE, all by its lonesome. Put some other, lesser Whiskey in your Dr. Pepper and you will help that whiskey and even enhance the cola a bit. And for the love of God, don’t even put Coke or Pepsi in the same room with this Whiskey, much less the same glass.
I don’t know who any of those folks are who have partnered with Rodney Rogers of this project but they took their inspiration from New Braunfels’ deep, rich German immigrant heritage and honored one of the truly sweet-natured small towns in all of Texas, so I just like them all for that. They also, dare I mention it, strode rather boldly WAAAAAY Outside the Box in this concept. This is NOT your traditional Texas bottle of brownwater spirits and the difference is just flat delightful. 97 Points