Fierce Whiskers Distillery Is Making Grain-to-Glass Whiskey in Austin
The first rye release is in the works. Until then, grab a cocktail and take a tour.
Tri Vo and Tim Penney have been friends since high school. After attending different colleges within state borders, the native Texans both worked in the energy sector. When they were ready for a change, they turned to the liquid that often accompanied their conversations.
“We were drinking whiskey thinking we’d like to do something different,” Penney tells InsideHook, “and the idea of making whiskey resonated with both of us.”
The duo began developing Fierce Whiskers in 2015, learning all they could about the business and the process, and eventually opened the distillery and tasting room in September 2021. Located in southeast Austin on sprawling grounds, the operation includes a five-story rickhouse for aging spirits, an outdoor space for hosting food trucks and live music, and picnic tables where visitors can hang out with a drink.
Since Vo and Penney don’t have backgrounds in booze, they did a ridiculous amount of research on the craft and consulted with industry experts in order to develop the Fierce Whiskers process and flavor profile. They entrust the actual spirits production to a pair of co-distillers with experience at other distilleries around the country.
Fierce Whiskers began distilling its first batches of straight rye and straight bourbon in September 2020, with a goal to release the rye next year and a four-year-old bourbon in 2024. A single malt is also in the works, though a release date isn’t set just yet.
The founders worked to create what they call a “Texas tight cut,” in which they discard a larger percentage of the distillate’s heads and tails to remove off flavors, preferring to capture a precise cut of the heart for aging. The rickhouse is slowly getting filled, and has a capacity for 5,600 barrels. Temperature impacts how fast spirits age, but rather than piping in A/C or letting the hot sun cook the whiskey, the founders decided to install large louvers in the rickhouse. The metal slats can be opened, closed or set at an angle to catch and direct wind, allowing for some creative control over the stubborn Texas climate.
For now, the team is focused on the rye, bourbon and single malt, but the founders say that a cask-strength whiskey is always on the table, likely made with the same recipes as their current batches. They also foresee opportunities down the road for special and limited releases.
Until then, visitors can post up in the tasting room to drink cocktails and sample flights of the new-make whiskeys, as well as house-distilled rum, gin and an agave spirit. Penney is quick to point out that Fierce Whiskers is a whiskey distillery, so they don’t have plans to release other spirits on the market. But those options create a fun bar experience for guests, who can also tour the facility while on-site.
The Fierce Whiskers name was pulled from an 1849 journal entry by President Rutherford B. Hayes upon his visit to Austin. He wrote, “Austin is an inconsiderable village with large expectations…full of discharged ‘Rangers’…costumes of every variety…fierce whiskers, gaming, and drinking very abounding in all quarters.”
Austin has changed a bit since 1849, but the distillery leans into that Texas heritage, sourcing nearly all of its grain from within the state. Penney, who splits his time between Denver and Austin, says they could have put the distillery anywhere, but they chose Austin for its rich culture and relative lack of city-made spirits.
“We’re just nerds who like to build stuff,” says Vo, adding that Fierce Whiskers is not influenced by what others in the industry are doing. “We don’t follow any prescribed way of doing things. We just do what makes the most sense to us.”
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