Some things are American by tradition and others by birth. For example, apple pie and hot dogs may seem as American as baseball but in fact they did not originate from our great land. Harley Davidson and Bourbon on the other hand are born and bred right here in the good ole USA. In fact bourbon is the only liquor that by law has to be made right here in the states. Most people think of Kentucky when they think of bourbon but I’m here to tell you that Texas is bourbon country. It has that cowboy appeal. If it’s good enough for J.R. Ewing, then it’s good enough for me.
In 2007, Garrison Brothers Distillery was the very first bourbon maker in our great state and they have set the standard for bourbon makers everywhere. Virtually all of the ingredients of their sweet mash bourbon is raised in the Lone Star State. The only part not from Texas is the barley that is obtained from the northwest U.S. or Canada since the climate here is not the best for growing this grain.
My wife, Amie and I drove down to their distillery in the Texas hill country (Hye, TX) last weekend to pick up some of their used bourbon barrels and they were kind enough to give us a tour of their operation. They are open for “Sit and Sip” tours to the public most of the year with a few days closed for holiday and other events. Check their website – www.garrisonbros.com.
When you get there you’ll get the opportunity to see how they make their Texas Bourbon starting with a 75% corn mash in the cookhouse. The mash is then pumped over to the stillhouse where the white dog is made. Dan Garrison was kind enough to take a break from signing and numbering each bottle of the Cowboy Bourbon (ready for packaging the day we arrived) and gave us the low-down on how he started the distillery after a trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The Copper Cowgirl still, originally built for Wild Turkey is one of several stills now in operation.
From the stillhouse the white dog is poured in to new white American oak barrels. This is where the magic happens. It becomes bourbon. By law it can only be aged in new charred American white oak barrels. As the bourbon works its way in and out of the charred oak it brings with it the color, vanilla, butterscotch and caramel flavors that give it that distinct taste. They have a secret here in Texas that can’t be duplicated in Kentucky. With the Texas heat speeding up the aging process, Garrison Brothers have the upperhand over the “good ole boys” in Kentucky. Aging their Texas bourbon for about 2 years here and it would take them the equivalent of 5 years in Kentucky. Not to mention they age in 15 and 30 gallon barrels instead of 53 gallon which age at a much faster rate too.
When it comes to flavor there is not much of a comparison. There is something about the small distillery handmade craft that brings out the flavors with a bit more distinction. Garrison Distilleries does most everything by hand. I think the bottle washer is about the only automated piece of equipment we saw. I was curious how he gets all volunteers to help bottle and package the delicious Texas bourbon each day. That is until I realized that they get the pleasure of performing some extra “quality control” duties as well, with occasional shots. Sign me up Dan!
Bourbon can average in price anywhere from about $20 – $200 a fifth. Most of the mass produced bourbon (i.e. Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, etc) is closer to the $20 per bottle range. Although Garrison’s Bourbon will set you back about $70-$90 (depending on the the state) it is well worth the flavor of a $200 bottle of bourbon. If you are looking for a bottle of “just any whiskey will do” then Garrison is not your drink. If you want to take the time to sip and really appreciate the individual notes of a bourbon that was made with the care and attention it deserves, then this one is for you. You don’t have to be a Texan to enjoy it either. Garrison Bourbon is now available in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Tennessee and Washington DC.
You may also notice, if you try more than one bottle that each release is a bit different. Dan loves to tweak things a bit by changing one thing or another just to make each season’s vintage unique. If you get the chance to visit the Texas hill country, just west of Austin and east of Fredericksburg, there is a small town of about 100 called Hye. Stop in and take a tour and tell them Steve from Red Head Barrels sent you. Cheers!