Like all things in Texas, whiskey is big. The Lone Star State now counts over 100 distilleries within its borders, and its very own whiskey association to protect those interests. But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, the first legal producers in this part of the country didn’t set up shop until 2005. By the time Yellow Rose Distilling started laying down liquid—along the industrial outskirts of Houston in 2012—they were still early enough to earn distinction as the city’s first legal stillhouse.
And being first comes with its own set of challenges: You have to create the market. You have to sustain your relevance. Sometimes you even have to lobby local lawmakers for the legislation that ensures your continued existence. Michael Langan knows these challenges as well as anyone. Yellow Rose’s Head of Distillery, has been at it for over 15 years—five of them spent in craft beer prior to decade, and counting, on the spirits side.
He’s seen Texas whiskey soar from novel curiosity to the powerhouse it is today. And he’s helped steer some of that success, focusing on grain to glass methodology and relying heavily on time-tested Old World pot distillation techniques. He currently oversees the filling of up to a dozen barrels of whiskey per day with an eye on innovation which will soon include eccentric finishings as well as Bottled in Bond expressions.
The distillery he calls home is doing its own part to stay fresh, unveiling a fully renovated tasting room and tour earlier this year. A $25 experience here affords access to limited edition bottlings as well as entry to a photography exhibit featuring the works of legendary rock photographer, Jim Marshall. The tour of the grounds concludes at a full bar, adjoining a 1,200-square foot outdoor patio.
Forbes recently caught up with Langan for some exclusive insight into Yellow Rose, specifically, and the Texas whiskey scene, at large. The following Q+A has been condensed for clarity.
Texas Whiskey is suddenly a dense category. What makes Yellow Rose different from the others?
Traditional double pot distillation of our Bourbons. We use a unique mash bill for the Outlaw Bourbon—100% corn—and a pre-Prohibition style barreling for Harris County. It’s an unusually low entry proof. Houston is hot and humid with a climate akin to the Caribbean—only with less marine influence. Barreling is exclusively in new char tight grain white oak that is dried for 18 months before it is coopered into a barrel. Ou Premium American (blended whiskey) and Rye Whiskey are both currently sourced, with plans to produce in-house with the new distillery. Outlaw and Harris County Bourbon are 100% Texas Grain and are grain-to-glass in Houston, Texas.
Talk about the new distillery experience…
In March, 2021 the Yellow Rose Distillery underwent a major refurbishment of its visitor center and over 6 months completely changed its look and feel. Yellow Rose considers itself as more than just a distillery with it’s calming atmosphere, charming hospitality staff and service that makes guests feel at home. The Yellow Rose Experience Center is designed to be a social space where friends and colloegues can meet and relax on comfortable chairs and sofas. Providing the opportunity for relaxation and conversation. A visit to Yellow Rose includes an in-depth tour of the craft distillery by highly trained guides who know the true meaning of Texas hospitality.
Is there a defining characteristic of ‘Texas Whiskey,’ aside from provenance?
Texas whiskey is a broad and diverse subcategory. Generally, it’s defined by robust and full-flavored whiskey. There is regionality to the category with vast differences between the Gulf, the Hill County, and the Dallas area. There is a strong internal drive in Texas with the Texas Whiskey Association to advocate for the Texas whiskey Trail. This allows Texas distillers to control the narrative and character of what is Texas Whiskey and set out standards much like Irish or Scotch whiskey [sic].
What’s next for Yellow Rose?
We’re bursting at the seams with growth, filling roughly 1000 barrels a year. Our double sales growth is in the double digits. And there’s a new distillery in planning. Exciting times ahead…