If you’ve been here lately, you’ve felt it. Hye, Texas (pop. 105) is smack dab in the middle of an awe inspiring spiritual, cultural and economic renaissance like nothing we’ve seen since Gore invented the Internet.
Sure, subtle signs of normalcy remain, if you look hard enough: Ranchers still gather at sunrise down at the Pipe and Feed to load feed and talk about the rain while trying to stomach Mike Buck’s Folgers coffee. The guys down at Deike’s Garage still haven’t moved a single rusting vehicle from their parking lot. And, the Post Office still opens at 9, most of the time.
But change is underway and everybody knows it.
For one thing, there’s soon to be a new business in town. Over the past few months, half the antique store next to the legendary Hye Post Office has been slowly transformed into a star-studded retail mecca. That’s right; we have arrived! Hye’s going to have its own liquor store.
HYE SPIRITS will open this November just in time for deer season. Rumor has it they’ll have an excellent selection of rare, hard-to-find bourbon whiskeys. In fact, I insisted that bourbon whiskey should be the only thing they sell, but the bourgeoisie owners have other ideas. They want to bring in froo-froo beverages like beer from Real Ale in Blanco and wines from Becker Vineyards, Torre Di Pietra and Woodrose Winery. They’re also going to offer locally-made gourmet food. They’re even talking about hosting bourbon and wine tastings on the front porch on Friday afternoons. What’s next? Crepes? It all sounds a little hoity-toity to me. Even so, I’ll probably show up early at those bourbon tastings and occasionally will bring along a few bottles of my own.
Hollywood Comes to Hye
In June, strangely enough, we were contacted by two different television production companies from Dallas. The producers of Body Shots wanted to come to our distillery with two beautiful swimsuit models. Though the offer was intriguing, parting with so much good bourbon was out of the question. We respectfully declined.
The second production company had an exciting idea. They wanted to create a documentary style pilot program about artisan distilleries in America: who is making what, how they’re making it, and what the experts think of the product.
The trucks, campers, lighting equipment and cameras rolled into little old Hye the last week of July. They filmed at our distillery, in Fredericksburg, Stonewall, Hye and Austin. As part of the production, they interviewed the director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the owner of Twin Liquors, the former master distiller at Makers Mark, and a number of chefs from famous Hill Country restaurants.
The production is in editing now in Dallas. The producer’s plan is to pitch the series as a replacement for the spring 2010 television line-up and they are already in discussions with the Travel Channel and other networks. Well, we’ll see if it works. We all think it might be kind of fun to see little Hye on the TV.
Bourbon Camp 2009
Another prime example of changes taking place in Hye happened the second weekend in September. A cavalcade of shiny Cadillacs, Mercedes and Lexuses from big cities across Texas descended on Hye for the commencement of Texas’ First Bourbon Camp™. Fifteen founding members of Garrison Brothers’ Old 300 Ambassador Club rolled into town to learn how to make and enjoy fine bourbon whiskey. We had a spectacular dinner Friday night with Johnny Nicholas at the The Hilltop Cafe. Saturday morning started early with bourbon and breakfast at the ranch. Our guests sampled a wide variety of bourbon whiskeys throughout the day, even as we cooked and distilled a barrel of our own.
That evening the Old 300 Ambassadors rejoined us at the distillery for more bourbon, along with butlered appetizers such as boneless breast of quail in a bacon & jalapeno wrap and tiny tarts of Blanco goat cheese with handmade onion jam. Dinner was spectacular. Guests enjoyed Caesar salad in a parmesan tuile with homemade dressing & croutons, grilled bone-in rib eye steaks with braised shallot and Garrison Brothers bourbon demi glace, potato & garlic chive griddle cakes, roasted harvest vegetables, and Dutch-oven cornbread. Dessert was out of this world: croissant-white chocolate bread pudding with Garrison Brothers bourbon sauce.
That night we danced in the rain to live music from acoustic guitar player Scooter Pearce of the Gypsy Cowgirls, who happens to be a Hye native. Did I mention we enjoyed a little bourbon?
If you’re an Old 300 Member and you couldn’t make Bourbon Camp 2009, please plan on attending the second gathering in the spring of 2010. We’ll let Old 300 Members know the date soon.
The Best Little Still-house in Texas
All that “change” and “hope” may be fine in metropolitan Hye. But up the hill at The Best Little Still-house in Texas, we don’t like change much. The three rednecks — Fred, Donnis and I — are still out here every day making fine bourbon and we wouldn’t change that for all the money in the world. This month we filled our 400th barrel and placed it in the barn to mature. By year end, we’re shooting for 687 barrels (more than 30,000 bottles). We’ll make that goal easily but we’re not going to rush things. Barrel #6 reached its one-year-old birthday in May. We brought it in from the barn, said a little prayer, and then gathered around as the bung was hammered out. We transferred the dark, crimson-colored liquid (darkest bourbon I’ve ever seen) into a stainless steel tank and eagerly put our noses over it to smell what we had. To be honest, we were a little disappointed. There were subtle hints of vanilla, licorice, and plenty of oak, but she just wasn’t yet the alluring ambrosia we’d hoped she would be. Dejected, we went back to work.
I returned to the same tank just thirty minutes later and nosed the aroma again. Lord what a difference a few minutes can make! I let out a yell that had Fred and Donnis running to the tank.
Like a fine 1982 Bordeaux, the bourbon had come into contact with oxygen and had quickly evolved into a glorious spirit. As she breathed the surrounding air, her bouquet opened up to reveal peppermint, almonds, caramelized brown sugar, and heavy doses of fresh coconut, butterscotch and vanilla. After enjoying a few samples and sharing a few pats on the back, we were in agreement that we had created something special. Barrel # 6 — at only one year of age — was bottled, then and there, as our benchmark, our profile — the finest bourbon whiskey I’ve ever tasted. All the Kentucky and Tennessee bourbon whiskey bottles we’d been testing ours against were removed from the distillery. From then on, the new standard that the other aging barrels would have to live up to was our own.
What this means to you — the discerning Texas bourbon drinker — is that bottles of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey™ WILL be available at your favorite restaurant, bar or liquor store by the fall of 2011. Once you’ve tasted it, I know you will share my enthusiasm.
Since May, the quality of dozens of our barrels has been tested. Many, at just one year of age, have neared or surpassed Barrel #6 in terms of color, aroma, legs, taste and finish.
We make our bourbon one batch at a time and one barrel at a time. As the White Dog comes off the still, we’re taking each gallon and running a number of quality control tests to assure the quality. Only the sweetest, fruitiest White Dog makes the cut. If it meets our high standards, it goes into a barrel for maturation.
As it matures, the bourbon attempts to evaporate from the barrel, soaking deep into the wood on hot Texas afternoons. When it does, it mingles with the sweet chemical compounds in the wood (guaiacol, eugenol, furfural, oak-lactone and vanillin) that give the bourbon its buttery caramel and vanilla flavors and its amber color and earthy texture. The bourbon escapes the wood when it’s cold and returns to the inside of the barrel, taking these flavors along with it.
Dave Pickerell was the master distiller at Maker’s Mark for the past fifteen years. He was very much responsible for the outlandish growth of the brand, which continues to grow at a clip of about 10% per year. He’s also a good friend of Garrison Brothers and was the first master distiller to genuinely welcome us to Kentucky back in twenty-aught-six. During his visit for the television production, we poured Dave a sample of our one-year-old. Here are Dave’s unedited tasting notes:
- Visual: Color – Very dark amber
- Legs: Long and lingering
- Nose: Delightful and surprisingly complex … Caramel and Vanilla abound with a well defined hint of butterscotch
- Taste: Wonderfully sweet and full mouth without any hint of bitterness. Caramel, honey, vanilla, butterscotch, and oak in great depth.
- Finish: Crisp, clean and long … incredibly warm and long
Making Bourbon This Good is Expensive!
Every month we’re cooking 20,000 pounds of the most expensive corn in the world and we’re filling 50 equally expensive northern White American Oak slow-growth barrels. So, yeah, we’re burning through some cash.
If you’re willing, we’d like your help offsetting some of these expenses. We’ve launched Garrison Brothers’ Dry Goods Store and you’ll find some nice t-shirts and bumper stickers there. Please take a look and consider buying one. Each time you do it enables us to make more bourbon.
If you really want to help or get involved, you can join our ambassador association, The Old 300. If you choose to join, I can personally guarantee you’ll soon know more about fine bourbon whiskey than anyone else in Texas and you’ll have a great time learning.
When Can I Get A Bottle?
No one wants to sell a bottle of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey™ more than I do. The bourbon in our barns is getting better every day. Donnis, Fred and I visit the barn once a week and take samples. We’re not convinced we’re ready yet but we’re getting very close. Complexity and character come quick around here, but – we will not bottle any bourbon before its time! We’re going to give it all the time it needs to become truly spectacular.
As soon as the bottled bourbon leaves our distillery on its way to stores, restaurants and bars, we’ll let members of The Old 300 know first where they can buy a bottle. They’ll help spread the word. And I promise you, the whiskey will be worth the wait!
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