Whiskey Women

By June Naylor
Photos by Sarah Baumberger Photography

Master distiller Marlene Holmes left Jim Beam to join Milam & Greene.

Meet the trio of ladies at Austin’s Milam & Greene — and toast their good taste.

The abundance of fine Texas whiskey is no novelty. Travel the Texas Whiskey Trail to sample the good stuff produced from North Texas to the Hill Country, the Gulf Coast to South Texas. Along the way, you’ll find a trio of women who head up a distillery that produces spirits worth a long look — and taste. Female bosses set Milam & Greene, a young Austin-based company making small batches of bourbon and rye in nearby Blanco, apart from the pack.

Just as brown spirits have long been the preference of a male audience, the industry’s leadership always has been dominated by men. But the first few sips of Milam & Greene’s triple-cask straight bourbon and their rye finished in port wine casks made us want to know more about the makers.

“I didn’t set out to get into the whiskey business,” admits Marsha Milam, a longtime music and film event producer who splits her time between homes in Austin and Fort Worth. But visiting family in Kentucky led to a pivotal moment inside a whiskey warehouse, where she was taken with the poetry of bourbon’s creation. Back home in Texas, she established Provision Spirits in 2015 and opened her tasting room in 2017, naming it for ancestor and early Texas revolutionary Ben Milam.

Her distillery produced Ben Milam single-barrel bourbon — praiseworthy for its notes of brown sugar, caramel, vanilla and cinnamon and winner of double gold medals at the 2017 and 2018 San Francisco World Spirits competition.

Following that early success, she met master blender Heather Greene through a mutual friend. Greene, a New Yorker, is the author of Whiskey Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life, the first book Milam read about the spirit. She persuaded Greene to come down to Texas to help with a new small-cask bourbon in the works. “We hit it off, so I asked her to run the company,” Milam says of making Greene the company’s CEO. “I know you should surround yourself with people who know more than you do.”

In search of a master distiller, Milam met and persuaded Jim Beam veteran Marlene Holmes to try her hand at craft distilling in Texas. “She liked our live music scene and our distillery and took the job right away, building a home between Wimberley and Blanco.”

Instantly, Greene and Holmes, along with the mash-making guy in the group, chief brewer Jordan Osborne, set about creating new spirits under the Milam & Greene label. Last fall, they released the bourbon, made mostly with Texas corn along with malted rye from Oregon and Washington, Wyoming barley and Kentucky-Texas yeast. The triple-cask element is a blend of spicy 2-year-old Texas bourbon, 4-year-old Tennessee whiskey with vanilla and fruit notes and 10- to 11-year-old Tennessee whiskey that offered structure and tannins. Smooth and warm, it’s ideal for drinking neat.

Released at the same time, the new rye came from Indiana grain and was batch-distilled in Blanco and finished there in port wine casks from Portugal. There’s a beautiful ruby hue to the liquid, with cinnamon, blackberry and black currant aromas and a velvety effect on the palate. This one is ideal for a spicy cocktail with hints of citrus called the Hill Country Highball (recipe follows). It’s a good springtime cooler, garnished with blackberries, blueberries or a lemon wedge.

Hill Country Highball

Serves 1

  • 2 ounces Milam & Greene Port Finished Rye
  • 1 ounce amaro (an Italian digestif), such as Averna
  • ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1½ ounces ginger beer
  • Blackberries, blueberries or lemon wedge
    for garnish

Combine rye, amaro and lemon juice with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake well, pour over ice in a Collins glass, top with ginger beer and garnish with berries or lemon.

RESOURCES

Drink Up In North Texas, the Milam & Greene spirits are sold at Chicotsky’s, Goody Goody and Spec’s.