The Shelf Life: At home, Trevino uses the heavy, inert gas from an argon tank to seal bottles after he pours samples. Then they are returned to the collection, like tomes in an esoteric liquor library. His dog Sandy keeps an eye on it all. Elizabeth Lavin

Distilleries

The LiquorHound Has the Finest Palate in Texas

How a postal carrier became the palate and nose for North Texas’ most promising distillery.

Approximately 2,500 liquor bottles line the display case—six shelves tall, three feet wide, four or five bottles deep—that takes up half the kitchen and spills into the living room of Chris Trevino’s Fort Worth home. Part of the collection resides in closets, and he owns doubles, but he guesses that the total number of unique specimens hovers around 1,300 or 1,400.

Before he obtained his Certified Specialist of Spirits status and was certified by the Tequila Regulatory Council of Mexico, before he became LiquorHound, with a YouTube subscription base of 25,000, a view count of 6 million, and a Patreon channel where he releases reviews weekly to subscribers, Trevino was just a guy with a friend who’d brought a bottle of tequila back when he visited family in Mexico. It was 1994, and Trevino was 21 years old.  

Soon, tequila segued to rum and then vodka, which led to gin, bourbon, and scotch—each spirit the object of a year or two of study in a collection that quickly encompassed hundreds. During the first few years, there wasn’t a YouTube channel to post to. Trevino just studied, tasted, and collected. He made it his mission to divide North Texas into pie wedges that he would sweep and reconnoiter, visiting dozens of liquor stores in each sector, eventually taking in the whole state in an exhaustive (and exhausting) pursuit as he sleuthed for rare bottles.  

The spoils of his time-telescoping hobby include a bourbon called Black and Gold, distilled in 1917 and allowed to rest in barrels until 1933, that waited out Prohibition. There is an 1819 Rhum Clement from Martinique, an Agricole rum distilled from the juice of the sugarcane rather than the traditional molasses, and an original imperial wicker-covered gallon demijohn of rum, bottled for the British Royal Navy in the days of daily rum rations. There’s the 1940s Pernod Fils absinthe created in Tarragona, Spain, where Pernod had moved production after France banned it in 1915, and a bottle from a 2,400-bottle batch of Booker’s “Friends and Family” Bourbon, given as holiday gifts by iconic Jim Beam distiller Booker Noe in 1986. Each is a history lesson.  

His wife compared his statewide hunt, sniffing out finds, to a liquor hound, which became his YouTube handle. His channel’s goal was to help others not buy blind. It became a career. Six years ago, he retired from being a USPS Express Mail driver to focus on writing reviews and hosting private spirit dinners and tastings.  

Tequila segued to rum and then vodka, which led to gin, bourbon, and scotch—each spirit the object of a year or two of study in a collection that quickly encompassed hundreds.

Then dawned the next chapter of his quest, in which fortune and circumstance conspired to make him a professional blender, distillery consultant, and business owner. About five years ago, Trevino met Robert Likarish of Ironroot and fell in love with the Denison distillery’s just-
released Icarus, a port- and peat-finished corn whiskey. Barrel tasting led to informal consultations, and, without meaning to, Trevino found himself taking the reins from the internationally acclaimed whiskey blender with whom Ironroot had contracted to mastermind blends. Robert and his brother, Jonathan, appreciated Trevino’s deeply and broadly steeped palate, and they figured they could use another full-time whiskey whisperer. So they made him part of the team.  

Despite all of Ironroot’s new experimentation, what drives Trevino is the desire to re-create flavors of the past. His new blend, Saints Alley (which he co-owns with the Likarish brothers), begins with 6-year-old Indiana bourbons further matured in French Armagnac casks. By monitoring spice levels and using the French technique of elevage (watering in cask) traditionally used for Cognac, he hopes to open up flavor possibilities and blend to older flavor profiles.

“We wanted to go back to that,” he says, “and try to figure out what is it about that old whiskey that we can try to re-
create?” He’s pursuing lost heritage, rekindling notes of cedar, orange oil, and old leather unique to vintage spirits. Now on the other side of the collecting spectrum, Trevino witnesses what happens on the journey in cask. His greatest epiphanies have involved the idiosyncrasies that make, say, a barrel stored in a beam of sunlight different from its neighbor. He’s seen how the temperature at the time of the pull affects a whiskey’s fatty acids and, by extension, its flavor.

“The flavors of that whiskey at that time won’t necessarily be there if a cool front rolls in that night and you pull it a day or two days later,” he says. So was the case with Barrel 139 of Ironroot’s purple corn whiskey, which he loved for its unique aromatic profile, a beautifully balanced mélange with something akin to a Jamaican rum’s dunder funk. Pulled a few weeks later after a temperature drop, it had lost its specific, elusive dimension. “Don’t worry,” they told him. “Next spring.” Next spring failed to bring back the same serendipity, but that’s where the art of blending comes in.  

Although Trevino helped form the North Texas Spirits Society and participates in the Dallas Single Malt Society, he recognizes that, to the rest of the world, he has been an unlikely liquor collector. He will not soon forget the day in 2010 when he stopped by a Goody Goody on the west side of Fort Worth after work, still in his postal uniform. There, he spied a bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle 23-year-old whiskey, the extremely limited, newly released, cask-strength version of the annual 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle, locked in its lacquered-wood box in the high-end spirits case. 

When the group of well-dressed men who had tarried in the bourbon aisle, debating the same purchase, finally made their way to the counter, the cashier had to tell them they were too late.  

“The mailman just came in and bought it,” he said. 

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