(This interview was originally published here on Bourbon.com)
We recently spoke with Ryan Baird, founder of Yellow Rose Distilling. Together with partners Troy Smith and Randy Whitaker the three started Houston Texas based Yellow Rose in 2010. We asked Ryan about the past, present, and future of Yellow Rose and we tasted the three whiskies they have on the market today.
Chicago Bourbon: Let’s kick things off by learning a little about the history of the brand. How did you get started?
Ryan: “Back in 2008 founding partner and distiller, Troy Smith, and I were neighbors. Like a lot of people we would sit outside and have a drink and talk about how life would be grander if we did something a little more fun than our day jobs.”
At the time, those day jobs were Automotive Services for Troy and Semiconductors for Ryan. They both had successful careers but weren’t loving what they were doing. They looked at the beer and spirits markets, two of their passions. Through a desire to do something unique they landed on launching their distillery in downtown Houston. According to Ryan, they are the first distillery ever to be registered in Houston city limits, at least back to prohibition.
They spent the next two years learning all they could about bourbon before launching Yellow Rose Distilling in 2010.
“We weren’t looking to make a Kentucky style bourbon. We wanted to come up with something that was all our own.”
Their first product to come to market in 2012 was their Outlaw Bourbon. Made from 100% organic corn, 92 proof, using a sweet mash process and aged in small barrels under the intense Houston heat.
CB: Tell us about the the whiskies you have on the market today?
R: “Today we have a Blended Whiskey, Straight Rye Whiskey, and our Outlaw Bourbon. We use 5 to 10 gallon barrels from Midwest suppliers with a char #3 or #4.”
Ryan says that the Outlaw Bourbon gets it’s name from their goal of breaking the traditional style of bourbon. Being made on a pot still with a 100% corn mashbill is a breaking away from most other bourbons from the start. You can read more about each whisky, including our tasting notes, at the end.
CB: What makes your whiskies unique?
R: “What we’ve always tried to do from the very beginning is try to build products that the consumers want. There are a lot of craft distilleries out there making unique products that the consumers may not be asking for. We want to make sure we’re in the right ballpark on pricing. From a flavor standpoint we want to be unique, yet it needs to be great. We always try to make the absolute best.”
Ryan went on on say that they also strive to make products that will rate highly and be respected among experts. He said they are not producing a super high priced whiskey that tastes like everything else on the market. They try to stay on the forefront, they were the first producer to release a Rye Whiskey in Texas. And the first in Texas to finish a bourbon in secondary barrels, in their case California Cabernet wine barrels.
Right now they have a blended whiskey aged in four different types of casks. It is served in a flight in their tasting room. They plan to choose one of the four to release to the public.
Due to the Houston heat and their use of smaller barrels the bourbon ages rapidly.
CB: Why do you use a pot still instead of a column or hybrid?
R: “Our very first still was a 60 gallon alembic pot still from Portugal. We made a great whiskey out of that. It’s hard work and takes a long time. That’s the whiskey that we won the double gold in San Francisco in 2013. We also won best bourbon under 2 years back in 2013 from ADI. We thought we must be doing something right with the pot still. Our bourbon and single malt are both produced in a pot still to this day.”
Ryan says the pot still gives them more flavor and a process they can more finely tune. He does say it takes more time and effort. They start with a stripping run then do second run to make the cuts. He says they plan to stick with the pot still for their current product line.
CB: We read that you moved to a new distillery in 2014. What prompted the move?
R: “When we first started, like a lot of the distilleries out there we started with almost nothing. We were in a small couple thousand square foot warehouse, no air conditioning. When we started expanding throughout Texas we couldn’t keep up. It was a good problem to have! When we looked at where we wanted to move, we wanted to be in the heart of Houston. We were the first distillery to be located inside the city limits of Houston.”
Ryan tells us they now have a nice tasting room with a gift shop. Their central location makes it easy for people to come by on the weekends. Their new facility is about 8,000 square feet with a 650 gallon still and four fermenters. He says they are already outgrowing this space and are storing barrels offsite. They will likely expand again in the coming years.
CB: Tell us about the future plans for Yellow Rose.
R: “We have a Single Malt Whiskey that comes out in August. Then we have two limited release whiskies. A Bourbon aged in port barrels and a Rye Whiskey aged in maple syrup casks. We’re going to continue to expand our whiskey line.”
Ryan tells us at this point they don’t have any interest in moving to other spirits. Though they are selling a Vermont maple syrup aged in bourbon barrels in their tasting room. It will be coming to retailers in September. They plan to continue sourcing some whiskey, where it makes sense, while moving towards producing more of their own products.
Yellow Rose Blended Whiskey
Bottled at 80 proof
A blend of sourced and distilled whiskies
Crisp and light
Present on the front of the tongue
Described by one taster as a good “porch sipping bourbon”
Yellow Rose Straight Rye Whiskey
Bottled at 90 proof
4 years old
Reminiscent of an Irish style whiskey
Present on the front of the tongue
Yellow Rose Outlaw Bourbon
Bottled at 92 proof
Aged longer than 6 months
Distilled, aged, and bottled in house
BBQ meats or jerky