#FoodieFriday: A Tasty Return to Ben Milam Distillery

by Eve Richter Dinnan on November 30, 2018 in Food+Drink,
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If you read my review of Ben Milam Whiskey in Blanco, Texas a year or so ago, you may remember that I simply raved about it.

So, as you can imagine, I was more than delighted to be asked to check back in and see what’s new with this Hill Country bourbon distillery and tasting room, compared to my previous visit.

On this visit I met D. Foster, who joined the team last year. Like Marsha Milam, his path to joining the wonderful world of spirits is a bit unusual. He’s worked in politics and campaigns (including work at the White House), oil and gas, and is probably best known locally for managing well-loved local music icon Gary P. Nunn (whose new book, “At Home with the Armadillo,” graces the counter at the tasting room). D. has known Marsha for years, mostly through their common involvement in the music biz, and decided she was having so much fun he’d up and join her at Milam.

Based in Blanco, Texas, Ben Milams product range continues to grow and mature. Courtesy photo

Another key addition to the team is Marlene Holmes, who replaces Rikk T. Munroe as Head Distiller. With a pedigree including 27 years at Jim Beam, she’s more than ready to take Ben Milam to the next level. It’s worth noting that Marlene is the rare woman in a field that has been largely dominated by men. But that’s changing, albeit slowly. “Women in whiskey are starting to make a big impact,” D told me. More brands are hiring bringing on women to lead them into the future, including well-respected larger brands like Dickel and Michener’s.

So with all the new talent, what about the important stuff – the whiskey! Well, Ben Milam has continued to rack up the accolades:

Single Barrel Bourbon

  • Whiskeys of the World Awards Silver Medal, 2017
  • New York World Wine and Spirits Competition Silver Medal, 2017
  • San Francisco World Spirits Competition Double Gold, 2017
  • The Fifty Best Gold Medal for Best Bourbon, 2018

Ben Milam Small Batch Rye Whiskey

  • Whiskeys of the World Awards Silver Medal, 2017
  • New York World Wine and Spirits Competition Silver Medal, 2017

They also have a Barrel Proof Straight Bourbon, but I have not been lucky enough to try it. What I WAS able to try, however, was their Provision Distiller’s Gin, a small quantity of which is available for purchase at the tasting room only. I’m more of a bourbon girl, but this gin is delicious, and earns the distinction of being a gin I’d be willing to drink straight. The addition of bourbon barrel aging, making it “dirty” gin, probably has something to do with that.

That “drink it straight” quality is ubiquitous at Milam. These spirits stand alone and proud, delicious as-is, but also perfect in cocktails or with mixers (although I think it would be a crime to add something like Coke to one of these whiskeys).

Even the precursors are smoother than glass. On my first visit, I tasted the “white dog” starter distillate. After a year or so of aging, that white dog is now the equivalent of a barrel-proof bourbon, at about 120 proof. The hint of buttered popcorn I remembered remains, but the bright distillate has mellowed and grown into a vanilla and caramel delight, with additional hints of leather, syrup and even wood.

Expect a warm Texas welcome at Ben Milam, a Hill Country bourbon distillery and tasting room.
Photo Andrew Reiner

On our return trip, the tasting room was bustling with a room full of characters, from good ole’ boys to new parents with babies in tow. Upon arrival we struck up conversation with a couple of the former, and were treated to a tale of intrigue, murder, and moonshine – a tale that I believe to be at least mostly true, and greatly enjoyed hearing.

Even if you’re not a bourbon fan yourself, take your favorite bourbon lover for a visit. D loves to bring converts to the fold. He says the most common reaction he gets is a surprised “that’s so smooth!” from folks who thought bourbon just wasn’t their thing. D’s eyes twinkled with an “I told you so” mirth when an unsuspecting visitor spoke his prophesied words verbatim after her first taste of the bourbon. The tasting room is a happy place of magic, discovery, and joy, even if you don’t think you love bourbon (yet).

Ben Milam Distillery is still in its infancy and by rights they should still be experimenting in a garage to find something marginally palatable. Instead, they’re hard at work producing amazingly high quality spirits.
Photo Andrew Reiner

It’s worth repeating that this distillery is still in its infancy – they’re only about five years old. By rights they should still be experimenting in a garage to find something marginally palatable. Instead, they’re hard at work producing amazingly high quality spirits.

D nearly bubbled over with barely-contained excitement as he talked about all the plans in the works at Ben Milam. The details remain a secret for now, but with an enthusiastic Head Distiller with a fantastic pedigree and a passion for creating the best, it’s sure to be something (or several somethings) exciting.

I’m excited to see what comes next from the team at Ben Milam, as they continue on their quest, conquering the wonderful world of bourbon. And that world is wonderful, indeed, full of passionate people devoted to bringing the best products to the marketplace. As D. puts it, the authenticity of the product matches the authenticity of the relationship people have with their bourbon. And that, he said is his favorite thing about the business: the romance that develops between people and their whiskey.

I, for one, couldn’t agree more. And I hope – nay, believe, that it’s a romance without end.

You too can find love at Ben Milam! Here’s what to know before you go:

Tasting Room hours are Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm, but do check ahead to be sure the tasting room is open, and be aware that Google Maps may lead you astray (they are located across from Blanco’a Best Western, on the main road, behind Napa Auto Parts). You may also want to make plans to visit other nearby brewers or distillers, and find some barbecue nearby to complete the day.

Cover photo: Andrew Reiner