Valley View, TX. Population 759. Sitting on I-35 in North Texas, not far from the Oklahoma border, there’s not much around. A Dairy Queen, feed mill, and Subway sammiches round out the notable businesses seen from the interstate. From the highway, there is nothing drawing you in to stop other than a bathroom break. Living in the North TX area my whole life, I’ve stopped at that Dairy Queen once to use the restroom and order a chocolate chip blizzard with strawberries.
The last place in the world I would have imagined a distillery to pop up would be friggin’ Valley View. It’s not immediately near the Red River, it is cattle country, no bars, and four churches. But lo’ and behold, as I sat one morning googling away in my recliner to find new distilleries in Texas, this tiny multi-horse town was one of the very first hits. Valley View. You’ve got to be kidding? Hell, even the town of Sanger down the road bests it because they have a Babe’s.
WHISKEY HOLLOW DISTILLERY
Whiskey Hollow. Nice and simple name. But what caught my attention on their website was the distillation method; “Whiskey Hollow Distillery is a Craft Distiller in Valley View, Texas that has been making spirits for generations. We make Bourbon, Whiskey, Rum and Moonshine the old fashioned way, using what is known as a “double thumper” process. This makes our spirits some of the smoothest on the planet.”. WTF is a double thumper? Two rabbits? Thumper was a cool bunny in Bambi, but I don’t think he got boozy. Of course I threw a notebook in my backpack and drove north. To Valley View I go!
As you can see from the pic above, I wasn’t exaggerating. This place is itty bitty. There are homes in Southlake bigger than this. When I pulled into the town square (ha!) there were a few cars – ok – pickup trucks around. I’ve gotta admit, it was surprising to see there was a little winery/wine bar there on the square. This town is starting to put its big britches on! It’s good to see more of these small towns attempting to bring in visitors, likely taking queues from other successful Texas historic towns like Grapevine and Fredericksburg. Find your niche and they will come. It seems Valley View’s niche may very well be some damned fine alcohol.
In an old brick former bank building on the south end of the square, Whiskey Hollow has been producing spirit for about three years and open for business on the square for about a year and a half.
When you enter the building, the entire establishment is before you. Nothing to hide, nothing causing a question to their credibility. To your left is a wall of American white oak barrels silently doing their job. To your right is a bar. Directly in front of you, beyond the immediate seating area and past the brightly colored lineup of flavored moonshine, are two large oak barrels hooked up to a condenser on a tall table. You can see the meticulously hand-made copper pot still in the back, but it’s the barrels that first catch your eye. What the hell are those? Two huge aging casks shoved in the middle of the distillation process? It doesn’t make immediate sense to anyone who’s been on a couple of distillery tours. But ta daaa!, those are Whiskey Hollow’s prized double thumpers. More on that in a bit.
When I arrived I was one of three patrons. Another couple was wrapping up a moonshine tasting with one of the staff. When they left, the young man came over to greet me. He was very pleasant and provided a quick overview of the place and then invited me to sit down at the lacquered wooden bar to enjoy a taste or two. On the offer are Whiskey Hollow’s 151 Moonshine (whew!), Silver and Gold Rum, Texas White “shootin’” Whiskey that is an homage to the Texas barkeeps of the 1800’s, Cinnamon Whiskey, and then the prize, the king of the lineup, Master Select Texas Gold (bourbon).
This particular trip I sought out the white whiskey and the bourbon. As I pulled out my notebook, readying myself to take down impressions of their unaged white whiskey, luck was on my side and the owner/master distiller walked in from his lunch break. Les Beasley immediately reminded me of my father. As I was now the only patron there, Les came over to say hi. He is a friendly man with silver-white hair and an engaging smile.
I told him I had just discovered Whiskey Hollow that morning and had to drive up to find out what the hell a double thumper was and why it was so unique. Bada bing, bada boom, the interview began!
MEET THE MAN!
Les and his family, his ancestors, have been here a long time, as lines of his family came to the American shores in the 1600’s. His father’s line were associated with the Republic of Texas. His mother’s family helped found Branson, MO. His family has been around distilling longer than most. To be specific, he’s got a pedigree of distilling. In his own words, “distilling is the signature of a life’s work and ancestry”. He takes his science and art seriously and I’m glad to share a bit of that with you now.
This man is truly passionate about what he does and the product he bottles. His grandfather walked with him out in the woods and taught him how to select white oak trees — how sturdy and well grown the tree should be, looking for 16” diameter trunks. How to cut the tree so as not to damage the future oak staves, how to saw them properly and cure them. So when he sought out a cooperage, he knew exactly what he was looking for to reach his preferred flavor profile. He sources his water from a spring well on his own land and oversees custom grain production to supply his mash bill. Les is a perfectionist with a science degree — not a new distiller simply trying to figure out what tastes good, knowing nothing of water and wood and char and chemistry, and hop on the ever-growing whiskey industry bandwagon. He knows what is best for his bottles and he knows exactly how to get there. He built the still, the thumpers, the condenser, the coils, all of it.
Now after talking of family and history and trees, we finally got around to the double thumpers. Let me preface that during our chat, Les became so excited and happy to share his story with me that I’m 100% positive I didn’t catch it all. But his passion was infectious so I was not about to slow him down. Besides, it’s a good excuse to go back and visit with him again.
NOW FOR THE MAGIC
The thumper method was invented in the 1600’s in the Caribbean for rum production. This is a slow, slow process. It becomes even slower when two thumpers (oak barrels, remember?) are used. You see, thumper production is a refining process, a second distillation stage. It’s not just heating the mash in the copper still and then condensing. It’s a purification process that takes an understanding of water molecules and heat. The process uses whiskey steam from the still to boil the ‘hearts’ cut in the charred oak thumpers FOUR TIMES. Yes, I text-yelled. Because it’s FOUR TIMES, y’all. Now, I’ve not tested this personally, but Les states that the double thumper method he uses (and he’s the only one doing it legally in the U.S.) creates such a pure spirit, that if you drink way more than you should, you will not have a hangover the next morning.
The thumper kegs can contain spring water, mash, and/or tails (lower proof distillate) and it is much cooler than the incoming condensed alcohol from the pot still. This is what makes the process complex with an infinite number of possibilities to the final distillate. And the meeting of cold and hot causes a noticeably violent reaction in the kegs. They literally shake and thump violently on the table causing vibrations to reach other areas of the room!
I pinky swear that it makes more sense when you talk with Les. And I also pinky swear that the resulting amber liquid you find in your glass will be some of the strongest, smoothest, most complex tasting bourbon you could ever find. It’s so unique that only a day previous to my visit, an extremely well known and respected bourbon distiller from Kentucky had paid Les a visit. They were also in the midst of finalizing a distributor. Folks, Whiskey Hollow is about to take off and you’re going to want some.
When I went back to the bar after talking and touring with Les, he provided a healthy pour of his Texas Gold. Let me be clear, the contents are aptly named — this stuff is amazing! This is a prize worth paying the $150 price tag for, and no one would blame you if you kept it all to yourself. It’s also a luxury worth an attempt at bumping your reputation with your boss’s boss as a gift. You will win points. For those not close to the North Texas area, be patient, this is one producer that will continue to grow and will have a much wider distribution.
- Sweet charred oak
- Sweet earth, like grass with a hint of cinnamon
- Smooth with a cleansing burn
- Soft caramel from the char — kettle corn
- Oak and a touch of leather
- Black pepper and some fresh sweet red pepper
- Long and dry with sweetness that playfully comes in and out
- More oak, manly man oak
Come to Valley View and let them pour you a dram directly from an aging barrel, you will not be disappointed.
**UPDATE** Whiskey Hollow was recently chosen by the Gaylord Texan as best bourbon in Texas! See? Told ya they were awesome 🙂