It is my great honor to report that Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey is now, finally, distributed and available throughout the great state of Texas!
But before I tell you about this new vintage and where you can get a bottle, I have something else I want to get off my chest.
A Word About Authenticity
Visitors to Garrison Brothers like to tell me: “My favorite bourbon is Old Goat brand.” (Substitute any name you want for “Old Goat”). Everyone has their favorite bourbon and that’s great. But it always makes me laugh because there’s so much more to bourbon than a brand name.
Sometimes you’ve got to be careful. Before bragging to your buddies that Old Goat is the best bourbon you’ve ever tasted; you might want to look into who the makers are and the distillery that makes it. It’s highly likely that your prized bottle of Old Goat is nothing more than a mass-produced, bottom-shelf bourbon in a goat-shaped bottle. And you may be paying $20 for that bottle!
(By the way, this same logic applies to whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, wine and beer.)
The truth is: there are more than 150 bourbon brands on liquor stores shelves. Yet there are only about a dozen distilleries in America making bourbon. If I considered myself a bourbon expert, I’d want to understand how that’s possible. Could it be that it’s all the same bourbon from one single distillery but each bottle has a different label? Might the only difference between the brands be the proof? The age? The bottle? The goat?
The best way to determine the authenticity of YOUR bourbon is to visit the distillery that makes it and see them make it. If they let you in, ask questions: Where do they get their grain? Do they have grain silos? How do they grind and cook that grain? Do you smell fresh cornbread? Do they have fermentation tanks? You’ll smell the beer fermenting if they do, trust me.
If they won’t let you see the operation, well then, they must not be very proud of what they do.
If you find all of this as interesting as I do and want to learn more, I encourage you to read Chuck Cowdery’s story, Who Made My Bourbon?, in the fall 2012 issue of John Hansell’s Whiskey Advocate. No one is better at tackling sensitive and potentially embarrassing issues with delicacy than Chuck. If you really want to dig up some dirt, consider joining the forums at www.straightbourbon.com. These guys really know their bourbon.
Vaya Con Dios Mis Ninos
Tears welled up in my eyes as they left the distillery last week. Nine thousand bottles of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey were hijacked away from our little ranch in Hye to make their way in the world. Some are destined for awe-inspiring cities like Dallas and Fort Worth. Others will take their place next to their brothers on liquor store shelves in rustic, rural towns like Beaumont, College Station, Longview, Lufkin and Lubbock.
It feels like I just put my kids on a school bus and sent them off on their own for the first time. I can only hope that they will be adopted by a family or individual who loves fine straight bourbon as much as I do. If the bottles find good homes, it is my hope they will be treated like the fine individuals they are. I hope they won’t get blended in with the wrong crowd, such as vodkas, brown vodkas, Cokes, Sprites and cucumber-infused cocktails. I hope they will be enjoyed in moderation.
Fortunately, I am certain they are ready for the world. They are each unique and truly outstanding on their own. These bottles of bourbon can hold their own with any bourbon from any distillery in America.
If you encounter one of these bottles at a liquor store, please consider spending some time with it and getting to know it. You will find the investment worthwhile.
Down On The Farm
It has been an 8 second bull-ride of a summer in Hye. After winning yet ANOTHER well-deserved Blue Ribbon with our parade float in June’s Stonewall Peach Parade and Rodeo, we celebrated with our annual WINNER, WINNER CHICKEN DINNER in the barrel barn.
Then, we shut the entire operation down for maintenance in July. This is something we plan every year to assure our equipment is cared for. It also gives our staff some overdue family time and assures we don’t waste well water or rainwater during the hottest month of the year. When we do this, we hang a sign on the gate that says “Gone Fishin.”
In September, our Old 300 Ambassadors came rolling into Hye for Bourbon Camp. They helped us start bottling the fall 2012 release throughout the day. God bless them. That night, we danced in the rain on the porch of the Barrel Barn while Thomas Michael Riley and Scooter Pearce played acoustic guitar.
Things got a little out of hand this year when we introduced our guests to the Hill Country Truck Bomb. The complex recipe goes a little something like this:
HILL COUNTRY TRUCK BOMB
(courtesy Billy Graham, general manager at Matt’s El Rancho in Austin)
- Drop a one ounce shot glass of Garrison Brothers into a ¾ full pint glass of Real Ale Oktoberfest.
- Down the entire pint glass
- Hand car keys to wife or take your horse home.
Fancy, Automated Assembly Line
Yes, that's a crockpot
A pretty, bourbon-infused smile
Later in September, we hosted 150 of the finest Texans I have ever met in Hye. Volunteer bottlers from all over Texas, and a few displaced Texans from Louisiana and Oklahoma, descended on Garrison Brothers Distillery to help us bottle the fall release. A few of our Old 300 returned too.
As one would expect from this whiskey-swillin’, skirt chasin’, redneck posse, all matter of transportation was used. People showed up in travel trailers, ambulances, on Harleys and on horseback. Some walked here. My favorite toast was from one of our pretty lady bottlers: “My friends know I’m a drinker and always ask me how I hold my liquor. I always tell them ‘by the ears.’”
It was a three-week-long, quality control-fueled, redneck maquiladora. Somehow, we managed to bottle, case and palletize 700 bottles at the end of each and every day.
Of gods and Texans
I have learned from this experience that if you give a group of Texans a difficult job to do, and a bottle of bourbon to share, the job gets done well and the bourbon goes away. Through the hard work, a sense of family is established, as well as a sense of accomplishment.
It’s often hard for me to distinguish between gods and Texans. There’s something indefinable and special about being Texan. It’s much more than the common pride we all share and it’s bigger than the state itself. We can gather together with a bottle of the good stuff, and within a few hours, we’ll all consider each other friends. Sure we sniff each other out a little but eventually we come around.
I cannot say enough about how wonderful all the volunteers are who take part in this semi-annual love affair with bourbon. It feels like a Robert Earl Keen song-inspired family reunion that grows larger and bawdier every time. Those who have been here know exactly what I mean. We thank you and hope you’ll come again soon.
I also want to apologize to the 700 brave people who offered to cross that line in the sand but did not get in on the battle. We are keeping your names and contact information on a waiting list and promise to work you in soon. We truly appreciate your patience.
The real horses and heroes in this process are the gods who work at Garrison Brothers: Laurel, Donnis, Fred, Stephanie, Jason, JD and Cindy. Though they hoot, holler and tell raucous stories to entertain our guests, behind the scenes they are breaking their backs to be sure every bottle is perfect and to make sure we get home for a few hours’ sleep each night. I am so proud to be associated with these individuals. They are my gods and heroes.
Tragedy in Hye
Bringing it up is a real downer for what’s intended to be a positive newsletter, but I must mention that we lost two of my other heroes this summer. On September 20, my dogs Whiskey and Tango were both run over by a truck near Hye. They both died instantly.
I want to thank everyone for the cookies, flowers, brownies, phone calls, notes and letters you sent to our family. We truly appreciate your support. We are slowly getting through it.
And just in case this is read by the truck driver, I want to make sure he knows that it was not his fault. It was bad luck, tragedy and stupidity on my part.
As Forrest Gump eloquently said, “That’s about all I have to say about that.”
Ambrosia and Craftsmanship
Thinking about the tragedy and the gods who are my staff also got me thinking about more pleasant things such as ambrosia. The Greeks used ambrosia to confer immortality on those who consumed it.
Admittedly, it’s a bit of a stretch, but we are in search of ambrosia here at Garrison Brothers. We spare no expense to make it. If we think a custom-built $3,000 bourbon barrel made from wood from a forest in Sparta might yield ambrosia, we’re going to buy that barrel. I believe our bourbon has come closer to ambrosia with every release we have introduced.
Most people may think the idea of actually creating ambrosia is ridiculous. But I have worked alongside this crew for some time now, and I think we can do it.
One of our bottling volunteers presented me with a bottle of our bourbon shortly after the dogs passed. He had taken the time to carve my dog’s initials W and T into the wax along the neck of the bottle and had done a beautiful job. That bottle now rests atop my dogs’ grave — just in case our bourbon is ambrosia, and just in case ambrosia can do what the Greeks claimed.
The fall 2012 vintage is the sixth release from Garrison Brothers. 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.
These profile changes are an intentional result of the grain used in the recipe; the types of new white American oak barrels that are selected for aging; using different filtration methods to remove barrel wood and charcoal; and the age of the barrels that are selected. The Texas climate and agricultural factors, such as the quality of the grain and the rainfall in the forest from which our barrels were harvested, also affect the flavor profile.
The profile of the fall 2012 release that is hitting stores now is far and away our most unusual. It has plenty of what the Japanese refer to as a savory Umami, a rich syrupy finish that coats the palate and warms up your entire body. It has the typical rich, velvety, butterscotch-laden mouth-feel that Garrison Brothers drinkers have come to expect. But this one has something new: a smoky hazelnut and brown sugared-butternut squash taste.
This release is the oldest bourbon the distillery has introduced. The youngest barrels selected were aged in our barns for more than two and a half years. Some of the older barrels were well over three years old.
Though the flavor nuances are subtle, connoisseurs and sophisticated bar owners are taking note. A Fredericksburg, Texas restaurant and bar called The Buffalo Nickel, owned by New England Culinary Institute graduate chef James Welliver, features a Garrison Brothers bourbon menu that offers a small sample of every vintage. An ounce-and-a-half pour of the first release, which we called the Young Gun, will set you back $38. An ounce-and-a-half pour of the latest vintage is $13.
Yeah, it’s an expensive night out, but it’s a great way to learn where we’ve come from and where we are now.
Getting Your Hands on a Bottle
As I understand it, there are only 200 cases of the fall 2011 vintage remaining at Texas liquor stores. Just 400 cases of the spring 2012 release are out there somewhere. And this latest release, the fall 2012, included 1,500 cases. All previous releases have ridden off into the sunset. According to our distributor, liquor stores are selling 100 to 200 cases a month. So, at this rate, we anticipate it will all be gone by the spring or summer of 2013.
Sure, we’ll make more, but it’s not easy to quickly make a three-year-old bourbon. And it shouldn’t be.
Texans drink a ton of bourbon in the winter and they are starting to drink lots of ours. So, if you want a bottle or a case for someone special for Christmas, we encourage you to visit a liquor store and get it before the holidays get underway.
If you don’t see it on the shelf, please ask your local retailer to take a bottle out of their glass case. People keep stealing the stuff, so they keep it under lock and key.
But it’ll be there somewhere. If it’s not, please tell the manager how you feel about that. I’d sure appreciate it. And if they tell you it is being “allocated,” they’re not shooting you straight.
Could the Planets Be In Alignment?
As many of you know, I have used this forum before to bitch about the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. Hell, I’m a firm believer in the free enterprise system. It’s no secret that I believe that I should be able to sell you a souvenir bottle directly from my distillery at the end of your tour of Garrison Brothers. If I’m producing a legal product and you are over the legal drinking age, and you are not intoxicated, I believe you should be able to buy as much as you want, at a fair and reasonable price. Further, I believe that the government has no right to tell me – the owner of an agricultural business who happens to make bourbon – how much I can sell, who I can sell it to, where or when I can sell it, or what I can charge for it.
Well – knock on wood – because changes to the code could be a real possibility in the next legislative session.
Here’s what’s going on behind the scenes: The TABC has informed state legislators that it fears future lawsuits from unhappy industry participants, like the recent case of Jester King versus TABC, because the state’s alcohol code is so mismatched and screwed up. Senators Leticia Van De Putte and John Corona have organized a series of workgroup sessions inviting all the parties to the table to discuss what changes to the code can be made that will prevent lawsuits. I attended these sessions. I scoffed at the initial hearings, and frankly was a little rude, but now I believe they may be serious. This could be all hogwash but I am impressed with the seriousness of purpose Senator Van De Putte has brought to the proceedings. She has been “a dog on a bone” and I mean that with complete respect. She also has an outstanding sense of humor and never lets productive discussions become over-heated.
We are now waiting to see how the code will be rewritten and what “permissions” will be allotted to Texas distillers. We will submit our own recommendations. Bill language has not yet been drafted. When it is and a number is assigned, we will then marshal political support from our friends and allies. You’ll certainly hear about it from Garrison Brothers Distillery. Hope you’ll help.
Over the next few months, some of us here in Hye will be hitting the road to share our ambrosia with Texans all over this great state. But it’s a really big state. I put 47,000 miles on my truck this year just trying to cover The Coastal Bend, The Rio Grande Valley, The Big Country and The Panhandle. So, I’m enlisting a few Whiskey Peddlers to help me out.
Donnis Todd, Master Distiller
Donnis Todd, Master Distiller
In 2008, I took a week off for some family time. When I returned to Hye, there was a Harley Davidson parked on the front porch of the distillery. I walked inside to find a hulk of a man with a full beard and bitchin’ tattoos covering his arms and shoulders. This was our exchange:
Dan: “Who are you and what are you doing in my distillery?”
Donnis: “I’m Donnis Todd and I want to make bourbon.”
Dan: “Well you can’t do it here. I don’t have any money to pay you.”
Donnis: “Well, I ain’t leaving, so you better put me to work.”
A week later, Donnis was living in a condemned travel trailer, with no AC, heat or running water, about a mile from the distillery. He was literally squatting on someone else’s land. At night, he would lock himself in the stillhouse and study my notes from my Kentucky trips. He would write angry, educated notes in the margins of books of prestigious academics, often arguing with a chemical theory that had been presented. He would even correct my math when we were making an important calculation. And he still does today.
If you have visited Garrison Brothers, you have likely had an opportunity to experience a chemistry, microbiology and engineering lecture from Donnis. I’m here to tell you, he really is that freaking smart.
It is a great honor for me to announce that Donnis Todd is now the master distiller at Garrison Brothers Distillery. In a few years, when you taste some of the experimental bourbon recipes he’s working on now, you’ll better understand why this was an easy decision.
Every bottle of Garrison Brothers is hand-numbered and hand-signed by me, except for this release. One thousand bottles from this release rightfully have Donnis’s signature on them. It was Hye time for that to happen.
Charlie Garrison, Whiskey Peddler
Charlie Garrison, Whiskey Peddler
Blood may be thicker than bourbon. But that really depends how much of the later is running through your veins.
My brother Charlie spent his summer here working with us at Garrison Brothers and learning the business. He has been a breath of fresh air, although he rarely smells like one. He has spent most of the past 15 years with his wonderful family in Arizona running his own restaurants. But the economy out there is slow and the bourbon business back home has its allure. So, I asked him to come home, and just in the nick of time. This fall, he will be wandering around the country where we grew up, Houston, Beaumont, College Station, Galveston, The Woodlands, Katy and Spring, visiting with retailers and thanking them for carrying Garrison Brothers.
He’ll also be pouring samples of our ambrosia for bartenders, mixologists, sommeliers, chefs and customers at many of the Gulf Coast’s better restaurants, bars and hotels. Please stop in and say hello. The two things he does best is buy drinks and tell the same stories, over and over and over again.
Sharing and Enjoying Our Ambrosia
I heard a saying about Garrison Brothers the other day that I really liked: “The first time you by a bottle, it seems outrageously expensive. Then you’ll buy two.”
We want you to try Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey. To that end, Donnis, Charlie and I will be canvassing Texas this fall visiting with folks at liquor stores, bars and restaurants.
If you happen to be buying a bottle as a gift for someone special, please come see us so we can write a personal note on the back of the bottle. The Tasting and Bottle Signing schedule is posted on our website and is also available here. Please come visit with us.
And remember, if you can’t find Garrison Brothers at a store near your home, you can always come share bourbon with us in Hye. We offer tours and tastings Wednesday through Sunday at 10, noon, 2 and 4. 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. There’s no need to call ahead unless you’ve got a large group or want to schedule a special event; we can always make room for a few more. Stephanie will make you feel right at home.
If you really want to get doused in Garrison Brothers, consider joining The Old 300. If you do, you’ll know more about fine bourbon whiskey than anyone in Texas and you’ll have a great time learning.
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, hats, bumper stickers and cool bourbon shit.
Vaya con Dios. Have a great fall.
Proprietor and Distiller