What did whisky taste like 100 years ago? This Texas farmer shows you.

Image credit: Pixabay, Jarmaluk, https://pixabay.com/photos/drink-alcohol-cup-whiskey-428319/, CC 0.0, Public domain

A central Texas wheat farmer, an Austin distillery and Texas A&M geneticists are teaming up to produce whisky from 100-year old “distiller’s wheat.”

“We were curious what a whiskey might have tasted like in Texas 100 years ago, so we found a USDA agricultural census from 1919,” Andrew Braunberg, an Austin distillery co-founder, tells FarmProgress. “We began to look at the varieties, some of which had the reputation for being pretty good as old distiller’s wheat.”

Growing that wheat is Wes Perryman, whose great-grandfather started their farm in the small town of Perry in the late 1800s.

This is my first year to grow heirloom wheat,” says Perryman. “It’s a total experiment.”

“Perryman is growing five varieties of wheat grown in Texas in 1919: Frisco, Purple Straw, Mediterranean, Knox and Fulcaster,” FarmProgress reports. He’ll then ship the grains to Braunberg’s Still Austin distillery, whose whiskies come entirely from Texas-based ingredients.

But where do you find 100-year-old wheat?

That’s when Braunberg reached out to Texas A&M Universty’s AgriLife extension program, one of the world’s leading research institutions in the field of agricultural genetics.

A&M secured samples from the USDA’s “National Small Grains Collection,” which has genetic samples of seeds dating back to 1897.

“Three years ago, they gave me 30 grams of each one of the heirloom varieties we selected,” says A&M research scientist Russell Sutton, who’s been working with Braunberg for several years to find small grains with a unique taste. “The first year, I planted 12, two-foot rows, harvested it and planted some larger plots. This year, I should produce close to 400 or 500 pounds of seed for him (Braunberg).”

Farming 100-year-old wheat presents its own challenges. Modern equipment and practices were designed to accommodate newer, more productive strains.

Perryman says he may even have to find heirloom tractors and harvesters to harvest the wheat.

“I’ve been looking for a plot combine, and I have neighbors who have old Allis Chalmers pull- type combines, so I’m thinking that may be the way to go. This is ‘on the fly’ type stuff, but it’s really got my brain going.,” he tells FarmProgress.