Bourbon with a Texas flavor

Bourbon with a Texas flavor

Collin County distillery accumulates awards

By Bob Wieland

A Collin County distillery proudly commemorates the year its location was granted to early settlers in the Republic of Texas.

The 1845 Distilling Company is a family-owned and operated artisan bourbon distillery located in Lowry Crossing.

It has taken four years, but the distillery’s tasting room opened in February and there are now 545 barrels of bourbon aging in charred oaken casks each holding 53 gallons.

It’s also been a long journey for Bob and June Pettit, who met half a century ago at school in Houston and have been together ever since. 

As a teen, Houston native Bob Pettit sold concessions at the Astrodome and later delivered the Houston Post.  He studied photography at the University of Houston before leaving and eventually becoming a land surveyor. 

June Pettit, a New Orleans native, moved to Houston as a child and eventually became a certified public accountant. 

For more than seven years the Petits ran a Port Aransas brewpub before a variety of factors persuaded them to move farther inland, including avoiding the scourge of hurricanes.

They settled in Collin County, starting a small vineyard and building a distillery making world-class bourbon of 100% Texas grain, with the help of son-in-law Miguel Perez, a trained chef who oversees distilling.

According to the Distillers Council of the US (DISCUS), sales of American whiskey have nearly tripled with most of it coming from 1,000 bourbon producers like 1845.

The Pettits’ Christian Belle Winery grapes didn’t survive the 2021 deep freeze but they still have a selection of varieties for sale.

Best-of-Show Bourbon

On San Jacinto Day, 2021, they tapped their first barrel of bourbon.

Two years later, 1845 Preemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey was among three best-of-show bourbons at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC), taking a double gold medal. 

Judges evaluated more bourbons than ever before and 1845 Preemption’s Four-Grain expression also took a double gold. Their Wheated bourbon won a silver medal.

“All three bourbons are outstanding,” wrote Joseph V Micallef in Forbes Magazine.

Founded in 2000, the SFWSC is the oldest competition in North America and the largest spirits judging in the world. Sixty-five judges from around the world evaluated approximately 5,500 spirits over three days in April 2023, Micallef said.

SFWSC judges described the 1845 Distilling Bourbon as expressing: “Caramel and vanilla on the nose with a distinctive salty/saline character, dried fruits, and spice notes. Sweet and slightly drying on the palate with pronounced notes of caramel, cinnamon, and clove spice. It has mild but persistent pepperiness and a long, sweet, caramel-laced finish.”

“It’s always nice to get feedback but we were blown away,” Bob Pettit said.

To be legally called bourbon, whiskey must be made primarily from corn, aged in charred oak barrels and produced in the United States. 

Bourbon is known for its sweet, slightly smoky flavor and the 1845 Preemption family comprises three varieties of straight bourbon whiskey aged at least three years and available in two different proofs, 100 proof and cask strength Texas Reverence ranging from 113.2 proof to 115.2 proof.  

Their signature Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a rye-based bourbon made with yellow corn, elbon rye and malted barley. 

The Texas Four Grain Straight Bourbon Whiskey is made from yellow corn, red winter wheat, elbon rye and malted barley. The nose is buttered corn, honey, floral, cherry and a hint of oak, and the taste “conjures the flavor of cherry, black tea with honey, baking spice, and a touch of chocolate,” Bob Pettit said

The 1845 Preemption Texas Wheated Straight Bourbon Whiskey is made from yellow corn, red winter wheat and malted barley. The nose is chocolate, orange and vanilla with a hint of pear and the taste is Mexican chocolate, orange, cooked fruit and fresh baked bread with honey.

Distillery Rooted in History

The company chose the name “preemption” that refers to a type of land grant awarded by the Republic of Texas to attract settlers and develop the land. 

Under this system, settlers who had already established residence on public land could claim the right to purchase that land before it was officially surveyed and made available for sale to others. This allowed them to secure the land they had improved or lived on, usually at a lower price than the market value.

It also aimed to provide some security to settlers who might otherwise risk losing their land once it was put up for public sale.

According to the Texas General Land Office, the first preemption act was passed by the Republic of Texas in 1845 and allowed for the settlement of up to 320 acres of vacant public land. Texas became the 28th U.S. state in December 1845. 

Bob Pettit said, “1845 Distilling Company is named in honor of those early Texans who sacrificed to make a better life for their family and to celebrate the last year Texas was an independent country.”

The 1845 Preemption Reverence brand describes the three expressions of cask strength bourbon, aged 42 months in the barrel and topping out at 115.2 proof. The strength of liquor is measured in proof, which is twice the percentage of alcohol by volume.

Most recently, 1845 Distilling Barrel #101 was named “Best of Texas” in the American Craft Whiskey Heartland Competition presented by the Texas Corn Producers.

Sales Limited by Law

For now, bourbon lovers can’t buy their prize-winning bourbon anyplace but the distillery. Even then, purchasers are limited to four 750 milliliter bottles every 30 days. That’s double the amount allowed after a new law, Senate Bill 2284, took effect Sept. 1.

Although the Pettits would like to have a second, larger still online next year, production remains limited.

Eventually they hope to part of the three-tiered system in which suppliers provide product to distributors who then make it available to retail package stores. 

In the meantime, 1845 Distilling Company offers tasting tours two days a week, from 4-7 p.m. Friday and noon-5 p.m. Saturdays. 

Smoking, vaping or open flames are forbidden as visitors over the age of 21 tour and sample different ages of bourbon straight from the barrel.

“The distillate comes out of the still crystal clear and then gets its rich color from aging in the barrel,” Bob Pettit said as he used a long stainless dipper to pour a shot into a small plastic glass.

The towering copper still is made in Germany and the large storage, fermenting and cooking tanks come from Hungary, Pettit said. 

Computer-controlled chilled glycol jackets keep the fermenting tanks in the 70-degree range for about a week. Then the mash is cooked and heated by steam in the still, separating the alcohol from the water in about six or seven hours. 

The bourbon then goes into the carefully numbered barrels stored at least three years before it is bottled and labelled by hand.

“We do that all manually,” Pettit said. “I’d love to have a bottler, but we’re just not ready.”

Even the grain mash is salvaged and given free to local ranchers as cattle feed during the winter.

In addition to the two open days, the Pettits and their family are always ready to celebrate special occasions like product awards or San Jacinto Day, April 21, commemorating the 1836 battle in which Texas won its independence from Mexico.

The 1845 Distilling Company is located at 2070 S. Bridgefarmer Road in Lowry Crossing, just south of Princeton.