At any given bar in town, one can consume a plethora of mighty fine beers brewed mere miles away. Off the top of your head, you can probably name at least a dozen local craft breweries without even trying (go ahead, we'll wait). This is, it goes without saying, a wonderful thing — for you, for me, and for the city of Dallas. But as an avowed whiskey enthusiast, I've often found myself lamenting the lack of locally produced options.
Turns out, opening a distillery in Dallas isn't easy. Due to the recent and painstaking litigious heroics of local craft beer big shots like Michael Peticolas, the road to brewing is paved with fewer potholes than the road to distilling. In the distilling game, the legal wrangling, startup cash, and byzantine zoning requirements are all heightened, and that scares off or tuckers out a lot of would-be spirits makers. As a friend who sells booze put it simply, "It's much harder to start a distillery than a brewery. But in a way that's a good thing, because then only those who are most passionate decide to do it."
Enter Herman Marshall, a whiskey distillery located right here in Dallas County — in Garland, to be more specific. Owned by Herman Beckley and Marshall Louis, Herman Marshall represents the vanguard of craft distilling in Dallas.
The distillery, which was founded in 2008 but didn't see its whiskey hit the market until 2013, produces a bourbon (made with Texas-grown corn), a rye, and a single-malt (barley-based) whiskey. The first two, which are not only delicious but also award-winning, are obviously also gaining popularity. You can find them at many a familiar haunt — accessible, you-can-take-your-mom-there places like Hopdoddy carry their bourbon, and come-as-you-are neighborhood joints like the Oak Cliff's The Local Oak stock the rye. So please: order them, consume them, Instagram them, repeat.
But what of the single malt, the preferred poison of such cultural luminaries as Ron Swanson, Humphrey Bogart, Johnny Carson, and other extremely dead and/or wholly fictional white guys? A single-malt whiskey is a malt whiskey made from a single distillery — not unlike traditional Scottish single-malts (think Macallan). But this ain't Scotland. It's Garland. So you won't find it on, say, The Old Monk's 75-pound Odyssey of a Scotch menu. To be called a Scotch, a whiskey has to be made in uh... Scotland.
There's also this thing with the barrels. Over there in Europe, whiskey can be aged in oak barrels old or new, or a combination thereof. Alas, here in America, we have rules. Our oak barrels used for whiskey aging have to be new. No matter; plenty of American craft whiskey distillers are making Scotch-esque single malts from new oak barrels, including the exalted (and embattled) Balcones distillery in Waco, Texas — and, closer to home, Herman Marshall.
The resulting elixir is a completely unique spirit that Dallas should champion. Herman Marshall's single-malt is sweeter, and more woody, than, for example, the Balcones single-malt —but not as sweet as, say, the Balvenie, a traditional-style single malt from Scotland. (Which, at times, tastes like a mouthful of freshly mowed lawn recently watered with dry vermouth — though that's not necessarily a bad thing.)
Herman Marshall's single-malt is as if you're drinking bourbon — it's the color of bourbon, the viscosity of bourbon — except that peaty hint of malted barley lingers on the finish. It's delightfully different, and it's made right here in your own backyard.
Herman Marshall's forays into the bourbon, rye, and single-malt marketplace have proven that craft whiskey can be done locally and successfully. While whiskey enthusiasts may not have the kind of dizzyingly large selection to choose from that craft beer drinkers enjoy (yet), Dallas-made whiskey is available, and it's damn good. So try a few fingers; if you're gonna drink local, you might as well commit all the way.