This winter has been brutally cold. As I write this, it is 30 degrees and raining. We’ve been bottling bourbon out here in Hye and freezing our corks off. Thank God for the gorgeous glass of warm, amber liquid beside me. That’s straight bourbon and it’s good.
Never mind that it’s 6 am. And quit judging me.
Speaking of Bourbon
According to a story by Clay Risen in the February 24 issue of Fortune Magazine, “domestic whiskey sales have soared by 40% in the past five years — NASCAR-fast numbers in a sector where good growth often means 2% or 3% a year. And things are even better abroad. In 2002, American distillers exported just $376 million in whiskey; by 2013 that number had almost tripled, to $1 billion.”
I like to think that Garrison Brothers Distillery and our fine friends who drink our bourbon might have played a small but important role in that growth. And you know what; it’s about damn time Americans and Europeans alike started realizing that scotch and vodka are inferior spirits, certainly in terms of quality, and definitely in terms of authenticity.
Did you know that there are more than a dozen “Texas whiskies” available now? I suppose if imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then we should be blushing. When we opened up back in 2006, our little business was the first legal whiskey distillery in Texas history, and according to Bill Samuels Jr. at Makers Mark, the first new bourbon distillery built in America since before Prohibition.
Today, everyone and their dog has their own whiskey brand. Some are actually made here; some are not. But who really cares? As far as I’m concerned, there can never be too much great bourbon whiskey. So keep ‘em coming.
But please do look for those “produced and bottled by” statements on the side of the bottle. You might just save a little money with a bottle from Kentucky that contains the same liquid as the one that was “produced in Texas.” Our bottle reads: “Cooked, distilled, barreled and bottled by Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye, Texas.” Enough said about that.
American Micro Whiskey of the Year
I got to open my first Christmas present early this winter. My wife had gotten her hands on an early release of Jim Murray’s 2014 Whisky Bible. I have been a longtime reader of The Bible and an admirer of Jim Murray. His process and his vocabulary are hard to believe. He actually tastes more than 5,000 whiskies every year and provides detailed tasting notes on every single bottle. The Bible is truly a whiskey encyclopedia and no one can capture flavor notes like Mr. Murray.
He named Cowboy Bourbon from Garrison Brothers his American Micro Whisky of the Year and gave it an astounding 96 rating. Here’s what he had to say about The Cowboy:
Score 96- Superstar whiskies that give us all a reason to live
(Nose 23.5) Could be a blueprint for a solid bourbon aroma: beautifully waxy and nutty with a gathering of ever more intensifying tannins, the spice always well proportioned;
(Taste 24) Massive, not exactly Stagg like, as this has some very helpful sweetness to lessen the impact. And there is obviously less age involved. But, again, the weight and pace of the heavier notes, the citrus-studded hickory, even hints of burnt fruit cake (presumably from the rye) are all set to ensure maximum flavor fulfillment; treacle tinged with ulmo honey.
(Finish 24) Now lightens to allow the liquorice and Sumatra coffee to mix and relax; the treacle lessens to Demerara and manuka honey; the waves just keep on lapping for a ridiculously long finish;
(Balance 24.5) I always know when I have a truly great whisky on my hands; it takes every ounce of my professionalism to spit it out!
This has, and make no mistake, raised the bar for bourbon made by the micro distillers; it is truly world class, three year old or not. In fact the name is a misnomer; there are no cowboys at work here. This is damned tootin’ fine whiskey. Yessiree. 68% 600 bottles
I have been making bourbon for eight years now and have always believed my bourbon was delicious. I’ve always known that each release was getting better too. I know how hard we’ve worked. I’ve watched my crew sweat, bleed and suffer to get the job done. I know how many sleepless nights there have been for all of us. And I know how much risk and danger I’ve put my family and friends through with this insane entrepreneurial adventure.
So Mr. Murray’s acknowledgement of the quality of our bourbon was more than flattery for me. It was a delicious and savory milestone. I’m a pretty big guy, and some might say pretty tough, but I cried like a little girl when I read his review.
Mr. Murray also gave our Spring 2013 Vintage a 91 score and said nice things about it as well. For the second year in a row, he deservedly named George T. Stagg from Harlen Wheatley at Buffalo Trace American Whisky of the Year and it received a 97.5 rating. Stagg is a great bourbon.
Speaking of Great Kentucky Bourbons, I recently visited with Bobby Fitzgerald, who owns The White Chocolate Grill in Scottsdale, Arizona and he poured my brother Charlie and me a little Wild Turkey American Spirit 15-year-old, bottled in bond. Damn, you should get your hands on a bottle of this. Jimmy and Eddie Russell hit the ball out of the park with this bourbon.
Texas and Beyond
As ya’ll know, our philosophy has always been to drink all we can and sell the rest. Today, we’re drinking more than our fair share but there’s still bourbon left over. With requests for our bourbon coming from all over the world, with Mr. Murray’s review in hand, and with thousands of cases now coming off the little distillery in Hye this year, we had a tough decision to make.
I’m reluctant but pleased to announce that Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey will soon be available beyond Texas. In fact, at this moment, cases of Garrison Brothers’ bourbon are in route to Arizona, Germany and New York. We’re distributed in Arizona by Young’s Market Company. In Germany, our bourbon is available from Mike’s Whiskeyhandel in Munich. Blueprint Brands will be distributing Garrison Brothers in New York. Soon, we’ll identify distributors in Washington, D.C., Colorado, California and Louisiana.
In 2016, we plan to begin distributing our bourbon in Hong Kong and Singapore. For those who might question Hong Kong and Singapore, I remind you that last month Japanese beer company Suntory bought iconic AMERICAN bourbon distillery Jim Beam for $13.6 billion dollars. No, we have no intention whatsoever of selling this business, especially not to a foreign company, but there are serious bourbon drinkers in Asia and the Far East. We think it’s Hye time to bring a little of their money back to America for a change.
This decision is bittersweet for me. I always wanted ours to be a Texas Born and Bred Bourbon that was only available in Texas. But if we’re ever going to turn a profit, and my wife keeps telling me that it is important to do so, we have to start sharing our bourbon with bourbon drinkers elsewhere.
So … good luck and good fortune to my babies … wherever they may roam.
The Road Goes On Forever and The Party Never Ends
If you’ve taken the time to visit the events page at www.garrisonbros.com, then you’re aware that I am in my truck traveling somewhere across the great state of Texas almost every day. 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.
So, how the hell are we going to do the same thing in four new states this year? Good question. I have no idea. I do know that our master distiller Donnis Todd will be on the road here in Texas and will likely be a more engaging and better looking spokesperson than I am. I am turning events in Arizona over to brother Charlie, who at my urging has finally left the restaurant business to join Garrison Brothers full time. I anticipate that he will drink more than he sells.
But if you are one of those strange people who never tires of my weary, worn out bullshit, trust that I’ll still be wandering around Texas with a bourbon-fueled grin on my face. Here are a few upcoming events where we can all get together for a drink. Hope you’ll come visit with us.
- Tuesday, February 27 — Multi-course Bourbon Pairing Dinner at 135 Prime with Chef Glen Espinosa, Waco
- Wednesday, February 28 — Guest Bartender Dan Garrison at Katy Trail Outpost in Plano
- Tuesday, March 4 — Bourbon 101 Seminar with Master Distiller Donnis Todd and Charlie Garrison, and the legendary Marius Donnelly at Trinity Hall Irish Pub and Restaurant, Dallas
- Thursday, March 6 — Bourbon Tasting and Seminar at the Dallas Petroleum Club, Dallas, with Donnis Todd, Charlie Garrison and General Manager Javier Ibarra (Member Only Event)
- Friday, March 21 — Bourbon Tasting at Shave and The Refinery with Owners Michael Collins and Patricia Ramirez, and Dan Garrison, Houston
- Friday, March 21 — Guest Bartender at Frank’s Americana Revival with Dan Garrison and Owners Chris and Mike Shine, River Oaks
- Sunday, March 30 — Bourbon Dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse with General Manager Chris Petruska and Dan Garrison, Fort Worth
- Saturday, April 12 – Stillhouse Series Dinner with Guest Chef Jon Bonnell in The Barrel Barn at Garrison Brothers Distillery, Hye
- Wednesday, April 16 — Bourbon 101 Seminar, Tasting, and Fundraiser for Military Veterans at The Austin Club with Dan Garrison, Austin
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 Garrison Brothers’ bourbon flows freely.
It Happened In The Blink Of An Eye
We are bottling a boatload of bourbon right now, about 18,000 bottles. As you have probably heard, we have a bottling volunteer waiting list with almost 2,000 names on it. But we had to fill 600 spots over 5 weeks of bottling. We were nervous. After all, if we can’t bottle the bourbon, we can’t sell it. If we can’t sell it, we’re out of business.
This year, we tried a different tact for recruiting volunteers. We created an online calendar and included a link to the calendar in an email so that volunteers could select their own bottling days. As we set the wheels in motion, we were worried. Would volunteers be angry that we’d gone from personalized communication to an automated system? Would the system work? Would we have enough volunteers?
What happened next was mind-blowing. Here’s the chronology of Wednesday, January 8:
1:31 pm – The email was blasted out.
1:37 pm – First volunteer signs up
1:40 pm –The second signs up
5:13 pm – Only four spots left
5:56 pm – Every bottling slot 100% filled – ALL 600 OF THEM!
The Redneck Maquiladora is Fired Up
This week hundreds of proud Texans descended on the best little stillhouse in Texas to start bottling the Spring 2014 Vintage of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
This semi-annual freak-show of bourbon-fueled bottlers never ceases to amaze me. The cast of characters is endless: television and movie actors, chili cooks, engineers, writers, oil and gas types, strippers, politicians, bank presidents, teachers, lobbyists, country music singers, truck drivers, chemists, novelists, former NASA space shuttle captains, and this year a Top Gun. No bullshit, just like Tom Cruise in the movie. (Read his bio here.)
The day after the Top Gun bottled, the crazy son-of-a-bitch — with his gorgeous country music singer wife flying co-pilot — conducted an unauthorized fly-by right over the stillhouse, literally trimming the trees, in his World War Two Vintage 1940 Steerman Biplane. It scared the snot out of us. He was so low that a well-thrown whiskey bottle could have taken out his plane.
And that was just week one.
But what really makes this gathering of nonconformists so interesting is that they’re all great people. Everyone has great stories, bad jokes and salacious toasts. They drink bourbon like blowfish but no one is ever over-served. We spend about seven hours together, laughing, dancing, singing and telling stories. By the end of the day, everyone has become friends. Phone numbers and email addresses are exchanged. And everyone plans to get together again next time.
I have never met a bourbon drinker I did not like. I love these people.
Can’t wait to see what happens next week.
Now About The Bourbon in Those Bottles
The bourbon we are bottling as the Spring 2014 Vintage came from 262 barrels that have made their way around our property through an assortment of barrel barns. The mash was cooked, the beer was fermented, and barrels were filled with White Dog in 2010 and 2011.
The barrels started out in one of our hotboxes in the northeast corner of the property. The bourbon in those barrels suffered through two years of brutal temperatures soaring to 125 degrees on hot summer days. At night we tried to cool the barrels down by opening up the doors to the containers and letting the barrels breathe. Often we left those doors open for a day or two. As a result, the barrels at each end of the container were practically empty, having suffered the worst of the Angel’s Share when they were exposed to direct sunlight. (For those unfamiliar with the term Angel’s Share, it refers to the bourbon that evaporates in vapor form through the walls of the barrel when it gets hot. We don’t get to drink the Angels Share until we get to heaven.)
The barrels were moved to our finishing barn in the summer of 2013 where they rested and relaxed for about seven months. In December, our master distiller Donnis Todd began tasting small samples from each barrel. He selected those that had a lighter, spicier profile for the Spring 2014 Release. He and I sat down together in January and compared notes. Bear in mind that neither of us has Jim Murray’s vocabulary, but we were quite pleased with the result:
Spring 2014 Tasting Notes
Reminiscent of hot summer days gone by in Hye, Texas.
Aroma is dry oak with light traces of cinnamon, peanut butter, dates and figs. Ticklish top-of-mouth taste revealing buttery toast, orange marmalade, redskin peanuts and baked raisins. Peppery but quick finish with cilantro and pequin chilis. Hot and spicy.
If you liked previous Spring Vintages, this one’s for you.
New York will get 3,000 bottles. Arizona will get 1,200 bottles. A few hundred bottles are already in Germany. And the lion’s share, as always, will be reserved for Texans. Come and take it!
Where Can I Drink This Stuff?
Today, our bourbon is showing up behind bars all over the state. It’s getting a reputation as the bourbon that the bartenders drink at the end of their shift. So, it is just not possible for me to list all the Texas bars, hotels and restaurants that serve Garrison Brothers bourbon. For one thing, I have no idea who they are due to the four-tier distribution system in Texas that requires bars to buy their bourbon from liquor stores. I do know that if you’re traveling into or out of Texas by commercial jet, you’re in luck. Garrison Brothers is selling like crazy at Bubba’s Bayou Grill and Lefty’s Lone Star Grill at Houston Intercontinental Airport and will be available just in time for spring break at Reata, Sky Canyon, III Forks and Cool River Café at DFW airport.
However, if you visit our Facebook page, you’ll find hundreds of “Bourbon Behind Bars” postings. When our friends see a bottle in a bar, we ask them to take a picture of the bartender with the bottle and post it up there. It’s still a game of bourbon bottle bingo, but it’s a good place to start.
And if you head out one night and find a bar that does not serve Garrison Brothers, please insist that they start doing so immediately. You’re really helping us out when you do that. We have a staff of 6; so we just can’t be everywhere.
Garrison Brothers Single Barrel (From Hye, Texas)
In November 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.
Bob Stickney is An American Bad Ass!
A few years ago, I received a call from a retired gentleman from San Antonio who loves good bourbon. He politely asked if he could visit the distillery and take some pictures. “Of course,” I said. Since then Bob has been chronicling our growth and visiting often. Almost every picture I’ve ever included in this newsletter and on our website has come from Bob. If you like his work as much as I do and want to see more, please visit: http://www.stickneyphotography.com/
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 and Chris 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 spring and summer.
Proprietor and Distiller