Welcome back to my occasional “state of the business report” about Garrison Brothers Distillery and my scathing indictment of whatever is currently pissing me off in liquor-land. I was once good about publishing this with some frequency but have spent too much time traveling in recent months.
I would like to thank actor Matthew McConaughey for jolting me out of my writer’s cramp. More on that later.
Sourced Whiskey Sucks
First, I want to talk about why I think Sourced Whiskey Sucks. Today, there are more than 300 brands of some form of whiskey that looks like bourbon on Texas liquor store shelves. When I started this business ten years ago, there were just 25 brands out there. Where did they all come from?
Many are named after famous folks or deceased distilleries. A celebrity car repair guy has one called Jesse James. There’s another named after legendary Texas cattle trader Charles Goodnight, which is owned by a California wine company. Even Larry Hagman from the TV show Dallas managed to posthumously release the J.R. Ewing bourbon brand. Pretty bottle too. There’s a brand out there named after virtually every dead tough guy that ever lived.
Bourbon brands are now a dime a dozen. Not one of these brands explains how or where the liquid was made; how the grains used were farmed or selected; or who made the barrels that were used. Many don’t even know if the bourbons they offer are made with wheat, rye or another flavor grain. If you visit the websites of these brands, you’ll find they don’t list phone numbers or email addresses. If you want to reach them, they make you fill out a form and they claim they’ll get back to you. That seems strange to me. Don’t they want to talk about their whiskey?
Indeed, none of them claim to be any different from any other bourbon whiskey. Their only claim is that the guy pictured on the bottle liked whiskey that might have tasted like the liquor in the bottle. Some even claim the dead guy, like Al Capone, created the recipe for what’s in the bottle. It has become a trite story. Personally, I wouldn’t want to piss off Al and run into him later in a dark alley in an afterlife.
When I was younger, there were clear, noticeable differences between bourbon brands. There were nights when a Blanton’s was perfect for what I was doing or what I was eating. On other nights, I’d read a book while sipping from a glass of something old and rare. If I was angry for some reason and wanted to blow off some steam, Rebel Yell would suffice. Today, everything is starting to taste the same.
If you truly don’t care who grows, cooks, distills or bottles what you put in your body, then sourced whiskey is for you. Drink the dead guy’s juice.
But consider this: beverage alcohol is the only consumer product where there is no accountability whatsoever for the actual producer. The producer is anonymous. Though every bottle is required to have a “producer’s statement” on the label, which explains who made it and how they made it, more often than not the company name is fictitious. It is a DBA (“doing business as”). Ever visited the Noah’s Mill Distillery? No one has. It doesn’t exist. It is a DBA.
I am ecstatic that Blue Bell Ice Cream is back on store shelves. When I enjoy my Blue Bell vanilla milkshake drizzled with a hefty Garrison Brothers floater, I know that the ice cream in that shake was made at a Blue Bell Creamery. But if you drink sourced whiskey, and you don’t like it or it harms you, there’s not much you can do about it.
I am NOT calling for nutritional labels on liquor bottles. The amount of crap the regulators already require on a liquor label makes designing a bottle daunting. However, I do believe that a truthful producer’s statement should be a mandate. Consumers should insist on it. A Garrison Brothers bottle reads: “Cooked, distilled, barreled and bottled by Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye, Texas.” So there it is: You don’t like my bourbon? You know who to talk to about it.
Marketing companies are talented though; they can create fictitious brands and founder’s stories out of thin air. McConaughey would say with a slow west Texas drawl that they know how to “soooo-liccccc-ittttt.” Thank goodness he won’t be doing that for Wild Turkey.
There are other reasons that I encourage you to buy whiskey from those who actually produce the whiskey. These reasons have to do with American jobs, our economy, our growing national debt and our shrinking gross domestic product. But all that sounds like an educational buzz-killer, so I won’t go into it now.
I will tell you that I love the people who work for me! And if you’re drinking sourced whiskey instead of ours, it makes it difficult for me to pay my people what they deserve.
How To Sell Our Foreign-owned Stuff to Millennials (read: “our children”)
Recently, it was announced in the New York Times that Uvalde, Texas native Matthew McConnaughy would be the new spokesperson (oops, I mean creative director) for Wild Turkey bourbon. My favorite line in the Times article about McConaughey accepting the position is: “They can smell it. Millennials, and I know this for a fact, can smell sooo-lic-it-a-tion. And it’s a turnoff.”
They’re certainly smelling it now.
Don’t get me wrong. I love McConaughey. Linklater’s Dazed and Confused is the ultimate portrayal of my teen years growing up in the Spring Branch area of Houston. The guy is an outstanding actor and writer. I’m a Texas Longhorn and a Life Member of the Texas Exes so I know what a big supporter McConaughey has been for the team.
I am also a huge fan and admirer of Jimmie and Eddie Russell who make Wild Turkey. Wild Turkey was and is a distinctly American product. I have had the honor of raising a glass with Mr. Russell at a bourbon tasting. I’ve even glowed about their bourbons in an earlier bourbon blog. I love Wild Turkey bourbon! And kudos to Gruppo Campari for giving Jimmy and Eddie the freedom to collaborate on a slew of exciting super-premium bourbons that they have released in recent years.
If you watch the introductory mini-movie McConaughey created for Wild Turkey (see link here), while walking around the Wild Turkey distillery, he says that he senses that there is “a story here.” He’s right and it goes like this…
The Wild Turkey Distillery was built in 1869 in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky by the Ripy Brothers. You can still visit the Ripy mansion in Lawrenceburg, which has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Ripy Brothers sold Wild Turkey to the Gould Brothers in 1952.
In 1980, the Gould family sold Wild Turkey to Pernod-Ricard, a multinational French company and the second largest distilled spirits company in the world. Wild Turkey was then sold again to Gruppo Campari in 2009 for $575 million. This was a huge mistake by Pernod-Ricard because an enormous bourbon sales boom was right around the corner.
So, technically, the Wild Turkey brand has been foreign-owned for more than 36 years. Wild Turkey is not alone; many distilleries are no longer American-owned. Japanese brewer Suntory owns Jim Beam Brands and Makers Mark. Japanese brewer Kirin owns Four Roses. Hudson Baby Bourbon from New York is owned by William Grant & Sons (London).
Matthew just accepted heaps of Euros from a multi-national liquor company called Gruppo Campari. Who can blame him? Interestingly, one of the objectives cited for bringing on McCounaghy as their spokesperson was to attract more international customers and more women. That is awesome! Because there is nothing more attractive than a lady with a glass of good bourbon in her hand.
I visited the newly expanded Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg last year and took a tour of the impressive facility overlooking the Kentucky River. Campari spent $50 million to expand the operation. The visitors’ center is stunning. You can drink off the floor. The new 134,000 square foot facility expansion makes Wild Turkey one of the biggest whiskey distilleries in all of North America. It is capable of producing up to 11 million proof gallons of liquid annually.
What struck me while I was there was not the stunning river views, the rich history of the Ripy’s and Gould’s, or the tour guide’s bad jokes. What surprised me — what shocked me, really — was that there were no people, anywhere. There weren’t even Oompa Loompas helping out.
We spent two hours driving all over the property from the gift shop to the fermentation rooms to the stillhouse to the rickhouses and back to the visitors’ center. Other than the two clerks working in the gift shop and the tour guide, the only other humans we observed at the distillery were two guys hunched over a computer in a room that looked like the SpaceX mission control center. Other than a few lonely souls in the bottling hanger, it appears the entire Wild Turkey Distillery, which can churn out 50 million bottles a year, is almost entirely automated.
Jimmy and Eddie Russell make great bourbon. But are you buying “American” when you buy Wild Turkey? Tough call. All bourbon must be made in America but that does not mean the bourbon that’s produced is American-owned. Though Wild Turkey is made here, the profits and many of the jobs they create are headed to Italy. If you buy Wild Turkey bourbon you are supporting a brand with a rich American history. But don’t let McConaughey fool you into thinking you are creating jobs or helping our economy.
And Matthew, couldn’t you show a fellow Texan a little love and consider signing on as our creative director? We can’t afford a pot to piss in. We don’t have any Euros to throw your way but we’re willing to offer a Whataburger double-meat cheeseburger, a cool t-shirt and a really good bottle of bourbon. I recognize this is a low-ball offer and you probably won’t accept it but Matthew… “it’d be a lot cooler if you did.”
About Garrison Brothers Bourbon
Today, we offer three brands of bourbon:
Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey (The Flagship) – This is the brand that got us where we are today. She is our workhorse, and we are damn proud of her. Every year we release a new vintage of this highly coveted bourbon. Today, every barrel that’s married together to create our flagship small batch bourbon is three to four years old.
I can say without hesitation that The Flagship is the highest quality, finest tasting bourbon whiskey in the world. And yes, we have the quantitative and qualitative scientific research to reinforce this claim. Gas chromatography and mass spectrometry testing indicates our bourbon contains lower levels of higher alcohols (the stuff that causes headaches, hangovers, burn and dryness) than any bourbon on the market. We have also conducted hundreds of blind taste-tests with bartenders and sommeliers of Garrison Brothers against more than 25 brands of bourbon, some as old as 23 years of age. In the tests, Garrison Brothers is selected as the favorite 90% of the time.
A few cases of the 2014 vintage (my personal favorite) and the 2015 vintage are still available at liquor stores but only for a limited time. When they’re gone, they’re gone forever. The 2016 vintage should start reaching liquor stores in late October. More on this beautiful liquid later.
Garrison Brothers Single Barrel Bourbon – Garrison Brothers Single Barrel Program is sold by the barrel and is unique — we ONLY offer 15-gallon barrels. This is ideal for consumers, retailers, and bars because they do not have to commit to 225-250 bottles like they would with a traditional 53-gallon barrel. Instead, the bottle yield after Angel’s Share is just 50 to 80 bottles.
You can taste some very unique Garrison Brothers Single Barrel bourbon at bars in Texas like Reserve 101 in Houston, The Houstonian Hotel, Stampede 66 in Dallas, and Moonshine Patio and Grill in Austin. You can also buy a bottle at all Total Wine and More stores, at Pogo’s in Dallas, and dozens of other Texas liquor stores.
Want your own barrel of our bourbon? Done deal. Simply visit this page and email me the order form. You can come to Hye as our guest and taste all the barrels you’d like. A Single Barrel order is confirmed when we receive a completed Single Barrel Order Form. I’ll make the arrangements with your favorite liquor store and our distributor to make sure you get your bottles within 60 days. Nice Christmas present, huh? Most retailers will charge you $100 to $110 a bottle. But I’m happy to negotiate on your behalf.
Garrison Brothers Single Barrel Sampler – Don’t want to commit the cash for a full barrel? No problem. The Single Barrel Sampler carton contains six bottles from six different barrels. Each bottle is unique and unusual: different color; different tint, different mouth-feel; and different flavor. You can find these at Twins, Specs and many other great liquor stores. If they don’t have any, please make them order you some.
Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon – Every odd year (2015, 2017 and 2019), we release one of the most highly coveted bourbon whiskies in America: Cowboy Bourbon. This was the American Whiskey of the Year in Jim Murray’s 2014 Whisky Bible! Like Pappy Van Winkle, bourbon connoisseurs wait outside liquor stores for the bottles to be delivered and snatch them up to sell on the black market. The next release is in the spring of 2017.
Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey, The 2016 Vintage
This new bourbon is the definition of a collaboration. Initially, our master distiller Donnis Todd selected 202 30-gallon barrels that were 38- to 41-months old. All of these barrels were 24-month seasoned oak, commonly known as wine wood instead of whiskey wood, which makes them damned expensive. The yard-seasoning reduces the bitter tannins in the wood. They had all aged in the rick-house we call Barrel Barn Dos and were originally filled at 114 to 116 proof. The bourbon was good — really good — but in my estimation, not perfect.
I pulled rank and convinced Donnis to marry in another 110 15-gallon barrels that were 48- to 53-months old. He acquiesced and the 2016 Vintage of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey was born.
Tasting Notes: Sparkling tawny, burnt orange appearance. Clever effervescence. A deceptively flat gunsmoke and leather nose. Captivating malted milk balls and white chocolate taste, melting with an astonishingly gooey finish, rich with marzipan, dried cherries and apricot.
We are releasing 24,000 bottles of this bourbon whiskey this fall. I hope you’ll purchase a couple for yourself and your friends. If you like it, please tell everyone you know. If you don’t, just keep that to yourself.
Let’s Get Together for a Drink
This fall, we have committed to hosting a shitload of exciting tastings, classes and bourbon pairing dinners around the country. I’d love to see you in Dallas at the Stampede 66 dinner with chef Stephan Pyles. Come visit and let us buy you a drink! This should be an event for the ages.
To make a reservation, please contact the bar, restaurant or store directly. More information is available at www.garrisonbros.com/events.
|Thursday, September 29, 2016 – 6:30pm to 9:30pm||Stampede 66: Garrison Brothers Bourbon Dinner w/ Dan Garrison||Stampede 66 at 1717 McKinney in Dallas|
|Monday, October 3, 2016 – 7:00pm to 10:00pm||Texas Tailgate & Craft Roadshow with Dan Garrison||The Silo
4601 Clinton Drive
Houston, TX 77020
|Wednesday, October 5, 2016 – 6:00pm to 8:00pm||TWM: Bourbon 101 Up Close and Personal with Charlie Garrison||Total Wine and More
Centennial Gateway East
5720 Centennial Center Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89149
|Thursday, October 6, 2016 – 6:00pm to 8:00pm||TWM: Bourbon 101 Up Close and Personal with Donnis Todd||Total Wine and More
San Antonio “The Rim”
17530 La Cantera Pkwy Ste103
San Antonio, TX 78257
|Thursday, October 6, 2016 – 6:00pm to 9:00pm||TWM: Bourbon 101 Up Close and Personal with Dan Garrison||Total Wine and More
Plano East Collin Creek Village
721 N Central EXPY Ste 200
Plano, TX 75075
|Friday, October 7, 2016 – 6:00pm to 8:00pm||TWM: Bourbon 101 Up Close and Personal with Charlie Garrison||Total Wine and More
Stephanie Street Power Center
501 N. Stephanie Street
Henderson, NV 89014
|Friday, October 14, 2016 – 6:00pm to 8:00pm||TWM: Bourbon 101 Up Close and Personal with Dan Garrison||Total Wine and More
981 Interstate 20 W
Arlington, TX 76017
|Saturday, October 15, 2016 – 6:00pm to 8:00pm||TWM: Bourbon 101 Up Close and Personal with Dan Garrison||Total Wine and More
Hulen Fashion Center
5200 S Hulen St
Fort Worth, TX 76132
|Friday, November 18, 2016 – 4:00pm to 8:00pm||Garrison Brothers Tasting @ Fossil Creek Liquor with Dan Garrison||Fossil Creek Liquor – Plano
1100 Preston Rd P
Plano, TX 75093
Speaking of Grabbing a Drink
Come have a drink with us in Hye. We conduct distillery tours at 10, noon 2 and 4. You can make a reservation or buy a fancy t-shirt here: www.garrisonbros.com. You don’t have to take a tour to taste our bourbon. We are serving tastings at our Hospitality Cabin Wednesday through Sunday from 10 to 5.
Thanks for drinking good bourbon and Vaya con Dios.
Distiller, Whiskey Peddler and Toilet Scrubber