The Fall 2014 Vintage of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which is hitting liquor stores right now, is the oldest and finest tasting bourbon we have ever made. We are very proud of this bourbon and can’t wait to share some with you.
But first, I feel the need to rant!
Older Women, Faster Horses and Cheaper Whiskey
Last month, a liquor store manager in San Antonio told me my bourbon was too expensive. He wanted to know why. I explained: “Well, we use organic, food-grade grain that costs four times as much as the grain used by the big commercial distilleries and we use custom-made 10-gallon, 15-gallon, 25-gallon, 30-gallon and 53-gallon wine barrels instead of whiskey barrels. These barrels cost three times as much as a traditional whiskey barrel.” His response: “That’s crazy; you’d sell so much more if it was cheaper.”
Perhaps he’s right; maybe we should make cheap bourbon. But there’s a problem with that idea.
The mission of Garrison Brothers Distillery is to create, build and sustain a profitable, family-owned and -operated whiskey distillery that makes the best tasting and highest quality bourbon whiskey in the world, and in turn, supports and nourishes our families, the families of those who work with us, and the community in which we operate.
That has been our mission since we started this business in 2003. Making cheap bourbon does not align with this mission. Bottling whiskey made elsewhere by someone else also does not fit within this mission. Lying, cheating and deceptive advertising do not fit within this mission.
We are who we are. We will not change. You want cheap whiskey, look elsewhere.
Fortunately for the San Antonio liquor store owner, more low-priced whiskey arrives every day. Merchant-bottled brands are everywhere. I saw a handle of “bourbon” at a Total Wine and More the other day that was $17.00. FOR A HANDLE!!! It did have one redeeming trait though; the guy pictured on the side of the carton had a groovy, hipster handlebar mustache.
Fortunately for bourbon, there are some watchdogs out there who tell it like it is. The Chuck Cowdery Blog is a great resource. So is SKUs Recent Eats, the L.A. Food and Whiskey Blog, which maintains an amazing list of whiskey makers. And, of course, many of the experts on the straightbourbon.com forum almost always get the story right.
Bourbon lovers have gotten their panties in a wad about this cheap whiskey. Seems there’s a new class action lawsuit being filed every day against a liquor company that might be misrepresenting the authenticity or origin of its brand. Though hilarious to many, it’s not so funny to the guys getting sued. Companies are being torn down and people are losing their jobs.
I was joking about these frivolous lawsuits with my wife. I suggested: “We should sue the Keebler Elves. We could get some serious coin from those elves. Surely they aren’t making all those cookies. Even better, let’s go after the Quaker Oats Company and Aunt Jemima!” The next day she sent me this:
After that, I read some truly troubling news: Drinking Red Bull doesn’t really ‘give you wings’:
Is it just me or has the entire world gone insane?
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
If, like me, you are a serious student of how to make great bourbon whiskey, you might have read Clay Risen’s 2012 story in the New York Times about bourbon being made in small barrels.
It seems Clay and Geoffrey Kleinman at DrinkSpirits.com do not believe that different maturation methods can produce a better tasting bourbon. They argue that age is the only ingredient that matters. Clay focuses his disdain on small barrels and wrongfully assumes that we at Garrison Brothers only use small barrels to make our bourbon. The Drinkspirits.com writer actually provides a blueprint for what we at Garrison Brothers should be doing: “If Garrison Brothers put this whiskey in 55 gallon casks and let it age 4-6 years, blending those casks to a unified taste, they might have something really special.”
These critics give no credence to terroir, climate or the quality of the White Dog that goes into those barrels. Or, most importantly, the quality of the barrels themselves. We use expensive wine barrels because we correctly believe they increase the oak lactones, eugenol, guaiacol, vanillin, furfural, methyl-furfural and iso-eugenol aroma compounds. For those who are unfamiliar with these chemical compounds, they are essentially sugars that come from the sap in the white American oak barrel. They give bourbon and wine its caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, chocolate, clove, coconut, coffee and honey flavors and aromas.
The critics also neglect to consider the effects of Angel’s Share and terroir in their argument. If a bourbon distillery annually loses 10% of the contents of a barrel to evaporation or “Angel’s Share,” it’s going to be a real challenge for that distiller to make a 6-year old bourbon. There simply won’t be any liquid left in the barrel. If you are planning a new bourbon distillery, you might want to factor that small detail into your business plan.
Fortunately, the bourbon makers at Jim Beam brands don’t buy into this hype. Note this recent Facebook post from Beam Brands about the effect of small barrels:
Bottling the Best Bourbon Ever Made
The redneck maquiladora is back in action this fall. More than 700 brave, bourbon-swilling volunteers from all over the great state of Texas have come out to help us bottle the Fall 2014 Vintage of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
We sent out an email listing the dates we would be bottling and we asked for 700 willing volunteers. All 700 of the available spots were filled in about four hours. So, we’ve been bottling bourbon since September and don’t plan to stop until Thanksgiving. If you are in our neck of the woods, you should stop by and meet these great people. They are our heroes.
In September, we were joined by Bob Phillips and his production team at Texas Country Reporter. Look for this episode to air on television statewide later this fall. As always, I sign and number each and every bottle at the end of the production line. If I have to travel, our capable master distiller Donnis Todd takes over the Silver Sharpie.
If you buy a bottle of our Fall 2014 Vintage bourbon – and you should — please look for a love note on the back. We asked our volunteers to write tasteful notes on the backs of their bottles. One gorgeous brunette, who shall remain anonymous, wrote “For a good time, call me when you buy this bottle,” and she put her cell phone number on it. Sure enough, the bottle was purchased at a liquor store in Dallas. The buyer called our bottler and they drank the bourbon together, striking up an enduring friendship.
Another bottler from that college in College Station got even more carried away and wrote the entire Aggie War Hymn on the back. Pretty cool. And it’s good to know Aggies can write.
New Faces. Same Attitude.
While I’m unnecessarily hazing Aggies, I want to introduce you to some new faces at Garrison Brothers Distillery.
Ferdinand The Bull
Ferdinand arrived this summer after a well-documented journey from Wyoming. He stands about 48 hands high and is about 16 feet long from horn to tail. And he has a great story.
While on vacation in Crested Butte, Colorado in 2012, I ran into sculptor Sean Guerrero on Elk Avenue. Sean was displaying a stunning horse he had made from chrome automobile bumpers salvaged from scrap yards. As happens in Crested Butte, Sean and I drank a little bourbon, and the next thing I knew I was writing a check. I neglected to tell my wife about this check or The Bull. A year later, Sean emailed me and explained that he had collected all the auto parts needed for Ferdinand. I still neglected to mention the project to my wife.
In the summer of 2014, Sean called to tell me Ferdinand was ready and he would begin the journey to Hye. I still did not have the cajones to tell my wife about the idiotic project. Divorce was eminent.
That summer, we took the kids on a four day vacation to Crested Butte. I spent the vacation on conference calls, in meetings with Colorado liquor stores and bars, or on the phone. One morning, during a call with a liquor distributor, my sweet wife brought me a cup of coffee. When the call ended, I rushed downstairs late for a meeting with a liquor store owner. I passed my wife in the kitchen who held up a finger, meaning I should stop and talk to her. The conversation went something like this:
Nancy: “The strangest thing happened to me in town when I went to get coffee.”
Dan: “Honey, I am really late. Can you tell me later?”
Nancy: “As I was driving down Elk Avenue in the rain, I passed this trailer. On the trailer was this enormous, stunning 12-foot tall chrome Longhorn bull. And the sculptor was standing there next to him. So I pulled over to complement his work.”
Dan: (Visibly shaking and beginning to perspire) “Oh”
Nancy: “Yes, his name is Sean Guerrero and he gave me his card.”
Dan: (Hyperventilating) “Oh”
Nancy: “I asked him where the bull was headed and he told me ‘to some bourbon whiskey distillery in Texas.’ I said, you’re kidding. I own a bourbon distillery in Texas.”
Dan: (Having heart attack) “Wow. What a coincidence.”
Nancy: “So the sculptor told me it was headed to a place called Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye. I replied. Wow. My name’s Nancy Garrison and I own Garrison Brothers Distillery. How much did that bull cost?”
Sean told her how much and said: “You mean your husband didn’t tell you about this.”
Nancy: (At this point in the story, she was still smiling and had begun to cry a little) “No, he didn’t. He never mentioned it.”
Dan: (Starting to smile, a little): “Well, someone does have a birthday next week. Maybe your husband wanted to surprise you.”
Nancy: (gushing, laughing and crying tears of joy) “Well, he did.”
If there’s ever been any doubt that I am the luckiest man in the world that should now be erased.
Most people assume my brother Charles has been with the business since its inception. Wishful thinking. Charles has been living with his wonderful family in Arizona for the past 20 years. They owned and operated successful and popular casual restaurants in Scottsdale. But we have always wanted to work together. When a lease on one of his restaurants expired in 2013, Charles started doing double-duty as we began distributing our bourbon in Arizona and Colorado. He managed the restaurants during the morning and spent afternoons and evenings peddling whiskey at bars, restaurants, hotels and liquor stores.
Now, finally, he is Garrison Brothers’ full time whiskey peddler. You’ll see Charlie all over Arizona, Colorado, Indiana and Illinois – probably at a bar. Sadly for the business, he drinks more bourbon than he sells.
Chris Feller is an American bad ass. He showed up last summer interviewing for a hospitality assistant position wherein he would help Stephanie manage tours, events and the gift shop. He kind of shocked everyone with his wit, personality and uncompromising work ethic. He’s also one hell of a carpenter. I can count on being cornered every time I am at the distillery by Chris, who will unload his next great idea on me. They are always spot on and Chris executes them with enthusiasm and skill. Always wanting more responsibility, Chris will soon take over many of Laurel Hoekstra’s daunting bottling responsibilities.
James (“Jack”) HeikkeneKeennenenennen
Jack joined us fresh out of Schreiner University where he majored in mathematics and minored in chemistry. It is almost impossible to correctly spell his name: James (Jack) Heikkenen. Seriously, how many Ks and Ns does one really need in a last name. For that reason, Donnis re-named him Jack. He will always be Jack. If you come visit us, we ask that you please refer to him as Jack. We don’t want him to develop some sort of identity crisis.
During his interview with Donnis, Jack was asked the standard, everyday interview questions:
Donnis: “What kind of knife are you carrying right now?”
Jack: “An Emerson Knives Model EDC-1, nicknamed Widowmaker.”
Donnis: “Do you have a pen on you?”
Jack: “Yes, Sharpie Permanent Marker, fine point, black.”
Donnis: “How many guns do you own?”
Jack: “I’ve never counted them all. I’m on the board of directors of the Kerrville Gun Club.”
He was hired on the spot (we seriously considered making him our CEO). He has been a tremendous asset, breaking his back cooking sweet mash in our 100-plus degree kitchen every damn day, and charming the ladies with his mischievous grin.
Paige (“Shine”) Blumenshine
This summer we began looking for help with our tour operation. We were getting so busy on Friday’s and Saturdays that we could barely keep the frigerator stocked with cold beer. And along came Shine.
Hailing from Maurice, Louisiana, Paige Blumenshine is a coonass. She can’t spell “Go” without an E, A, U and X. And she works her coonass off. During her summer F.N.G. internship, she and Chris stained barrels, varnished the Hillbilly Hay Ride, swept floors and rebuilt the gift shop. No one asked her to do any of this. She just did it.
She always has a smile on her face. Hence, the nickname “Shine.” If you come visit us at Garrison Brothers, you might be tempted to flirt with her. Don’t. First, there is a mysterious boyfriend in the picture. Second, her big brothers at the distillery will kick your ass.
During 2013, I kept dropping the ball, missing important events I’d agreed to attend and missing meetings, flights and deadlines. Plus, since I was always on the road, nothing was getting accomplished. Alex Thompson stepped in this July and quickly brought order to my chaos. If you need something from me, it’s probably Alex that will get it to you. If I make a flight or a meeting, it’s because Alex pushed me out the door on time. If there’s a type-o in the newsletter, it is all Alex’s fault.
We share a little office in Austin, which has become our sales and marketing office. If one has to share a small office with someone, one could not ask for a better person than Alex. After a rough start – like jumping onto a high speed train – she has quickly caught up and is making life easier for our family.
But Back to Bourbon
There is no doubt in my mind that the Fall 2014 Vintage of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey is the smoothest, creamiest, most sophisticated bourbon we have ever released. When Donnis and I married the barrels together, we knew it would be good, but even we were surprised. We put our heads together and came up with these tasting notes:
Fruit forward with orange blossom, wildflower honey and lemon meringue. Honey, pears, peaches, and cinnamon-caramel candied pecans. Rich, smooth and creamy caramel finish. Perhaps the fruitiest, sweetest Garrison Brothers yet. Well balanced, smooth and playful. A true joy to drink with an addictive finish.
Please consider picking up a bottle or a case to celebrate something special: a marriage, graduation, divorce or deer season. You won’t be disappointed.
And if you just want a taste, please consider visiting one of Texas’ sensational Saltgrass Steakhouses. Our good friends at Saltgrass have just brought Garrison Brothers in behind the bar at about 30 locations in Texas, Louisiana and Colorado. The people, the food and the service at these fine restaurants are exceptional.
Do You Serve Garrison Brothers?
It honestly boggles my mind to tell you this: Today, Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey is sold at liquor stores and served at fine hotels, bars and restaurants in 13 states in America. We are distributed in Texas, of course. But also in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Washington, D.C., Tennessee, and now – believe it or not – Kentucky.
Yeah, you heard that right, Kentucky. Kentucky is and always will be the rightful birthplace of bourbon. There are more barrels of bourbon in Kentucky than there are people. Kentuckians drink more bourbon per capita than anyone else in the country. We’ve been distributing our bourbon in Kentucky for just a month but have already sold about 100 cases there. The reception has been outstanding. Thank you Kentucky! We love your bourbon too.
It’s no big secret that we at Garrison Brothers are proud supporters of the men and women serving our country in the military. Many of our staff are former Army and we built the “Wall of American Badass” in our kitchen, which contains hundreds of unit patches from servicemen and women who have visited the distillery.
So, by far, the most exciting news for us this fall were the purchase orders we received from American military bases all over the world. More than 300 cases of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey are currently in route to Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard bases in Inchon, Korea, Okinawa, and Germany, as well as bases here in the states in Fort Knox, Louisiana, Maryland and Fort Hood. Soon, we’ll have the opportunity to visit these bases and pour samples for the American bad-asses who have got this country’s 6. We’re really looking forward to it. And thanks to all of you and your families for your service and dedication.
The Party Never Ends
If you’ve taken the time to visit the events page at www.garrisonbros.com, then you’re aware that when I’m not in Hye distilling or bottling bourbon, I am sharing our bourbon with new friends in faraway places. Last year, I put 50,000 miles on the black bourbon beast from Dodge. Donnis is taking over events and sales in Louisiana and doing a great job in Texas. Brother Charlie is hosting events in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana and Illinois
If you are one of those strange people who never tires of our weary, worn out bullshit, please come have a drink with us. Here are a few upcoming events where we can all get together for a drink.
- Saturday, November 8 — Bourbon Tasting at Oak Liquor Cabinet in Austin with me and Alex
- Tuesday, November 11 — Bourbon Pairing Dinner at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House, New Orleans, LA with Dan Garrison and Donnis Todd
- Wednesday, November 12 — Bourbon Pairing Dinner at ALC Steaks, Austin, TX with me and Chef Christian Mertens
- Monday, November 17 – Bourbon Tasting with the Kentucky Bourbon Society at Westport Whiskey & Wine in Louisville, Kentucky
- Tuesday, November 18 — Bourbon and Steak Dinner at SIDEBAR at Whiskey Row, Louisville, KY with me
- Saturday, December 6 – Bourbon Tasting at Fort Knox in Fort Knox, Kentucky with our master distiller Donnis Todd
- Wednesday, December 17 – Bourbon 101 Seminar at Twin Liquors, San Antonio, TX with Dan Garrison
To make reservations and for a complete list of all the fandangos we have planned this spring, please visit www.garrisonbros.com/garrison-brothers-events.
All these events will sell out quickly. That seems to happen when our bourbon flows freely.
Garrison Brothers Single Barrel (From Hye, Texas)
In November 2013, we began selling Garrison Brothers Single Barrel Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey from the distillery. The response has been tremendous.
Every barrel has its own unique personality and flavor profile. We truly don’t know what that barrel is going to yield. Each week our master distiller Donnis Todd selects a barrel he likes from the barn. We cut the bourbon inside to 94 proof with rainwater and then bottle that bourbon individually without mingling it with any bourbon from other barrels. If you come visit us, we’ll let you wax your own bottle of Single Barrel to seal in the contents. Then we’ll gift wrap it for you and it’s yours to take home.
If you’ve got a friend or family member who likes bourbon and wants something truly unique, this is the ultimate gift. Please bear in mind, though, the great state of Texas will only permit us to sell up to two bottles per person from the distillery.
However, since we’ve had such a great response to the Single Barrel, we have decided to start distributing it throughout the country in 2015. More news on this sensational release in January.
Back at the Ranch
If you can’t find Garrison Brothers at a bar or store near your home, you can always come drink with us in Hye. You can smell and taste the corn cooking; walk through the fermentation rooms; nose and taste the “White Dog”; sample a little bourbon from one of our releases; and ask all the questions you want. Trail bosses Stephanie, Chris and Shine will make you feel right at home.
We offer tours and tastings Wednesday through Sunday at 10, noon, 2 and 4. Reservations can be made here: http://www.garrisonbros.com.
Finally, you don’t have to come all the way to Hye to pick up some Garrison Brothers gear. We’ve launched Garrison Brothers’ Dry Goods Store. There you’ll find t-shirts, whiskey nosing glasses, hats, bumper stickers and cool bourbon shit.
Thanks for staying with us to the end. Vaya con Dios. Have a great Thanksgiving and Christmas and Drink Texas Bourbon.
Proprietor and Distiller