The Tipping Point for a Bottle of Garrison Brothers Bourbon
This is an exciting time for The Best Little Stillhouse in Texas™. As I write these words, an order for 14 cases just came in from Pinkie’s Liquor Stores in West Texas. Yesterday, Landry’s Inc. reserved the last 16 cases of The Fall 2011 Vintage for their properties (McCormick & Schmicks, Morton’s of Chicago, Willie G’s and the Tower of the Americas). In Dallas, 20 cases vanished from Republic National Distributing Company’s warehouse in the past 24 hours.
Thanks in no small part to the fine folks at Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine (see the story here), seems like word is getting out about our little “redneck-distilled” bourbon.
We’re bottling The Spring 2013 Vintage now and I can’t wait to tell you about it. But first, I feel the need to rant!
Enough with the Brown Vodka
If you’ve been to our distillery in Hye, you’re probably aware that we refer to “blended whiskies,” “spirit whiskies” and bulk-bottled-bourbon as brown vodka. (Admittedly, I stole the term from Chuck Cowdery … because it’s such a good one.)
The reason for our disdain is that the government’s standards of identity state that “spirit whiskey” can be a combination of as little as 5% actual whiskey. The other 95% of the liquid is grain neutral spirit, also known as vodka. “Blended whiskies” only have to contain 20% straight whiskey. The remainder? You guessed it.
Worse still, if a bottler is not happy with the resulting color or taste of their artificial spirit, they can add wood chips, red dye #7, caramel coloring, or vanilla flavoring and still call it whiskey! When you put this all in a bottle and shake it up, what you have is brown vodka. (It’s perfectly legal by the way: Many of the “Texas whiskies on store shelves today were cooked, fermented, distilled and barreled in Canada, Indiana or Kentucky. The faux craft distillers just add water to it and bottle it.)
But some people like brown vodka. And more power to them. In fact, since we started our little operation in 2005, today there are now dozens of “craft whiskies” on the shelves at Texas liquor stores that claim to be made all over America. Some of these fine products are actually made (cooked, mashed, distilled, barreled and bottled) in Texas. Others are simply bottled here.
I think some of the finest craft distilled spirits in the world are being made right here in Texas. But it’s very difficult for the small quality-focused distillers like Railean Distillery and Ranger Creek Distillery and Brewery to compete with the mass producers who buy spirits in bulk and just slap a “Made in Texas” label on it.
It’s not becoming of me to criticize other brands by name and I’m not going to do it here. But I do want to offer some advice to those who actually give a shit about what goes into their body. There are ways to tell the difference between brown vodka and real bourbon.
- Study the producer’s statement. By law, all bottles must feature what’s called a “producer’s statement” somewhere on the bottle. The language of these statements normally reads “Distilled and bottled by Rocky Spring Distillery in Rocky Spring, Tennessee” or “Produced and bottled by Old Goat Distillery in Goat, Kentucky.”Does the producer’s statement say “made in Texas” or “Texas made?” Does it say “distilled in Texas” or does it say “produced” or “bottled” in Texas. These words should provide a clue. If they are making their own juice from scratch, you can bet your ass they’ll want to tell you so.
- Hold a bottle of that whiskey up to the light, preferably next to a bottle of Garrison Brothers Straight Bourbon. Is it yellow? Is it pale? Does one bottle look like it might be brown vodka? If it does, it probably is.
- Visit the distillery that makes the spirit and watch them make it. If they let you in, ask questions. If all they show you is a bottling line, then they may have already answered your question. Just maybe, that’s all they really do.
Bourbon 101 Classes
If you enjoy listening to me rant about things like this, you may be a little bit crazy. If you are, consider attending my Bourbon 101 Classes coming up this spring and summer at Specs stores throughout Texas. In between the bitching and drinking, we’ll discuss how bourbon whiskey is made; the differences between bourbon whiskey, Scotch Whiskey, Irish Whiskey, Canadian Whiskey, Blended Whiskey and Spirit Whiskey; and the proper way to “nose” whiskey. We’ll also talk about the liquor industry and America’s ridiculous Prohibition Hangover.
- March 28, 6 to 8 – Spec’s in Austin at 4970 West U.S. Highway 290, Austin Texas
- April 18, 6 to 8 – Spec’s in Houston at 2410 Smith Street, Houston, Texas
- May 16, 6 to 8 – Spec’s in Fort Worth at 4720 Bryant Irvin, Fort Worth, Texas
- August 22, 6 to 8 – Spec’s Dallas at 9500 North Central Expressway, Dallas, Texas
Since Spec’s doesn’t value my rants as much as I do, the classes are free. We’ll have appetizers and hard-to-come-by samples of the few remaining vintages of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey for you to taste. To make a reservation, call 832-660-0250.
Future classes will be held at Twin Liquors too and we’ll have these up on our calendar soon. You can always learn more about Garrison Brothers Bourbon “happenings” across the great state of Texas at http://www.garrisonbros.com/garrison-brothers-events.
The Redneck Maquiladora, Back In Action
As Santa Anna’s Mexican army approached the Alamo, twenty-six-year-old Colonel William Barrett Travis drew his sword with a flourish and slowly marked a line in the sand. “I now want every man who is determined to stay here and die with me to come across this line,” he said. Every man but one did just that.
Once again this February, the daring, camaraderie and generosity of Texans brought a big ol Texas smile to my fat, bearded, liver-spotted face.
Roughly 150 brave warriors descended on our distillery in Hye to help us bottle The Spring 2013 Vintage of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Bottling always reminds me that we can “out-redneck” just about anyone and those Duck Dynasty boys have nothing on us. There were veterans in the group, like the board of directors of the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) who come help every time. (They also drink more bourbon and beer than Hank Williams Junior and Senior combined.)
But we also had a rag-tag bunch of first-timers, who we affectionately refer to as FNGs. Between the occasional quality control samples, the plentiful cases of Real Ale, Shiner Bock and Lone Star, and the mediocre-at-best breakfasts and lunches, we somehow managed to fill, cork, bottle, wax, polish, sign and carton about 7,000 bottles.
As always, our incredible, hospitable crew managed to keep a bourbon-infused smile on everyone’s face. There was an occasional food fight. Spontaneous dances broke out to Robert Earl Keen and Willie Nelson songs. Everyone sang along to Mexican Dog by Chute Nine and Georgia On a Fast Train by Billie Joe Shaver. Lasting friendships were made. Bourbon vanished. And everyone left … happy … happy … happy.
The two weeks of bottling were made all the more interesting when a pair of TTB Agents – that’s right, Revenooers – decided to make an unannounced appearance right in the middle of the chaos and conduct a full blown audit of our operation.
For those who weren’t able to participate, please be patient with us. More than 900 Texans have now offered to cross over that line in the sand and help out. We are working everyone in as fast as we can. This fall, we’ll be bottling for six-weeks-straight beginning September 1, so we’re really gonna need more rednecks.
If you want to cross that line, please send an email with your contact information to our Bottling Queen Laurel Hoekstra at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Spring 2013 Vintage — Where in the Hell Did This Bourbon Come From?
As most know, we release two vintages a year — one in the fall and one in the spring. Each vintage differs considerably from the previous and we take great pride in assuring each vintage has a different and unique flavor profile.
Like Texans, bourbon barrels have their own personality and character. A handsomely constructed, smooth grained, four-year-old barrel can yield a spirit that tastes like paint thinner. A poorly built two-year old, with visible leaks and knots in the wood, can yield the nectar of the Gods. You just never know.
Some of this has to do with the Texas climate. Heat and humidity can be bourbon’s friends. Sometimes it’s a result of where that barrel was stored, closer to the sun, or on the lowest rick of the barrel barn, underneath hundreds of other barrels.
This is the reason that my master distiller Donnis Todd and I taste every barrel of Garrison Brothers bourbon BEFORE we decide if it’s ready to be bottled. When it’s ready, it’s ready. If it’s not, we’ll put it back in the barn. If it’s not ever going to get there, it might fall victim to an accidental spill (which brings tears to our eyes).
That is why I am so excited about The Spring 2013 Vintage of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Every barrel we selected was two and half years old or older. They spent the first two years of their lives baking in our “hot boxes” soaking up the warm Texas sunshine. Then, we transferred them to our finishing barn to cool them down and let them breathe.
Spring 2013 Vintage Tasting Notes
Everyone’s palette is different. How you taste things is a combination of memories and associations from your past. You might fondly remember the cinnamon toast your mom made when you were a kid. You might recall sweetness as a memory of the first time you tasted an exquisite glass of Bourdeau. My own tasting notes are comprised of similar associations that “tasting and nosing” my bourbon bring to mind. So, when you taste it, and you should, you may have a very different reaction.
Amber, gold and honey appearance. Crystals of floating flavor in the light. Earthy nose with cloves. A pleasant effervescent, brown sugar sting along the middle of the tongue. Strong licorice, but nutmeg, toasted almonds, cloves and cinnamon also explode in your mouth. Lingering, blissful finish of cayenne, cocoa and chili powder.
Best served straight up so you can enjoy the sugars from the oak, but if you add a few cubes of ice, you’ll be shocked at how the sweet flavor of the corn reveals itself.
All 118 barrels that went into this release were tasted and selected by Donnis Todd and he did an outstanding job. (Dulce Vida Spirits bought all of the emptied barrels to age their superb Lone Star Edition Anejo Tequila.)
If you are a bourbon bottle collector, look out for bottles numbered 4,753 and higher. These were all signed and numbered by Donnis while I was out on the road living the life of a glorified whiskey peddler.
Nine hundred cases of this bourbon are currently on their way to fine liquor stores across the great state of Texas. The suggested retail price is $69.95 but you know it will be higher on the shelf and there ain’t much I can do about it.
Glorified Whiskey Peddler
According to Peter Krass’s excellent 2004 biography, Blood and Whiskey, Jasper Newton Daniel (or Jack as we all know him today) did not lead a glamorous life. Most of his time was spent on the road hauling barrels of whiskey by horse-drawn wagon to saloons and mercantile stores. He was a salesman. He was a whiskey peddler.
I think about that as I’m driving my beat-to-hell 2007 Dodge truck all over the back-roads of Texas. The truck is full of cases of bourbon. The truck reeks of the delicious aroma of bourbon — vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, honey — and usually so do I.
But I never drive drunk. At tastings and dinners, I have a drink or two with the hosts and guests early on but then I quietly switch to soda, water or coffee for the last two hours of the event. I also keep the Yeti cooler in the back of my truck loaded down with bottles of water and I always chug a few water bottles before I hit the road to the next gig.
As I write this, I am in Lubbock for a happy hour at the Jones AT&T Football Stadium at Texas Tech. I’ll have Lubbock in my rearview mirror tomorrow morning at 5 am (sounds like a Mac Davis song) when I leave for Austin, hopefully arriving in time to share bourbon with attendees at the Cattle Baron’s Ball for the American Cancer Society. The week after that, it’s Houston, Dallas, Hye, Round Rock, and La Grange. Then in April, I have been asked to serve as the keynote speaker at the American Distilling Institute Conference in Denver, Colorado.
To the uninitiated, this may seem a glamorous life. It ain’t! I put 60,000 miles on my truck last year. I rarely see my family or my crew at the distillery (whom, thankfully, can run the place without me). And I sleep in the cheapest motels my Hotwire app can find. Tonight it’s a Best Western (and if this is truly their Best, they ain’t bringing their A-game).
The Yeti cooler in my truck is loaded with health food — fruit, nuts, salads, and meat — so I don’t have to stop at the endless procession of Whataburgers, Sonics and Taco Bells. Last night’s dinner on the road — in the snow somewhere between Dalhart and Amarillo — was Walmart frozen shrimp, elegantly served from a plastic motel ice bucket, lifted from a Motel 6 in Grand Prairie.
I think that if Jack Daniel was alive today, he’d say: “Quit your bitchin son; we got mouths to feed.” And he’d be right. But the job does have its perks. Every night I drink great bourbon with a few new friends. And to that … Salud!
Eating and Drinking Well
- Monday, March 4 – Four Curse Bourbon Pairing Dinner with Chef Jason Ferraro at Hibiscus
- Thursday, March 21 – Bourbon Pairing Dinner with Chef Scott Reed at Homefield Grill
in Round Rock
- Friday, March 22 – Guest Bartender at Frank’s Americana Revival in River Oaks
- Thursday, April 11 – Lone Star Libations & Culinary Creations at The Hyatt Market Center
in The Woodlands
Information about how to RSVP to any of these events can be found at http://www.garrisonbros.com/garrison-brothers-events.
Cowboy Bourbon and Senate Bill Whatever
I promised many of you that I would give our newsletter readers advance notice about when the first completely new bourbon from Garrison Brothers – our Cowboy Bourbon — will be introduced. But we have decided to delay this until a little later in the year to give liquor stores and our distributor more time to prepare for the bull ride.
If you’re hoping to get a bottle – there will only be six hundred available –you’ll have to sign up for my blog at www.garrisonbros.com. I can promise that this announcement will happen very soon.
I also promised to let you know about the bill at the Texas legislature that will permit little distilleries like ours to sell a souvenir bottle directly to distillery visitors. Sadly, though I’m sure our state representatives are working tirelessly on it, a bill number has not yet been assigned. As soon as one is, I will get the word out to our followers and friends. We would seriously appreciate any help you can provide convincing our state’s leaders to pass this legislation.
Welcome Laurel Hoekstra and Jason Brand to The Garrison Brothers Family!
If you’ve visited us here in Hye, these handsome people are already familiar faces.
Laurel Hoekstra has been working for us part-time for almost two years. She’s responsible for coordinating all of our bottling activities. Though completely deaf and partially blind, she somehow seems to make everything work flawlessly. She also occasionally pats me on the butt when I’m signing bottles, which makes me feel 16 years old again. (Honey, please take note.) Laurel now joins us full time and she has a monumental task ahead of her since we’ve decided to keep the Redneck Bottling Maquiladora in place for the unforeseeable future.
Jason Brand joined us part-time in 2012 as The Mash Man. His former career as a broadway actress just wasn’t paying the rent. Hell, look at him. We were sympathetic and took him under our wing. Like many on our crew, Jason served our country in the Army, and believe it or not, is also an ordained minister. We call him The Reverend. Today, Jason runs our entire kitchen solo and will soon start distilling. Starting before the sun comes up and finishing well after dark, he grinds grain, fills tanks, spit-shines kettles and makes the finest tasting distillers’ beer in the country. He’d probably want me to tell you he’s single and available but I should warn the ladies out there that there’s a family of squirrels living in his beard.
Please join me in welcoming these two wonderful people to the team.
Drink All We Can and Sell the Rest
Please remember that if you can’t find Garrison Brothers near your home or can’t afford it, you can always come share bourbon with us in Hye. We conduct tours Wednesday through Sunday at 10, noon, 2 and 4. Stephanie will make you feel at home. This ain’t a wine tour though. We don’t have a “tasting room.” We don’t offer artisan cheeses. And we don’t sell candles or lace doilies.
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. No need to call ahead; we can always make room for a few more. But we strongly recommend you come VERY early on Saturdays. We have had so many people come out on recent Saturdays that soon we’re going to have to put a reservation system in place.
If you are looking for Garrison Brothers’ gear, there’s no need to drive all the way out to Hye. We’ve launched Garrison Brothers’ Dry Goods Store. You’ll find t-shirts, hats, bumper stickers and cool bourbon shit there.
Vaya con Dios. We’ll check back in with ya’ll in the fall.
Proprietor and Distiller