Somewhere in here there’s an announcement that might be important to those who enjoy Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey. But first, I feel the need to step up on my soap box.
SOME SAY TEXANS ARE A LITTLE TOO PROUD…
It is rare today to find a business or a product that is 100% authentic, especially in the liquor business. This is why:
Making a distilled spirit can be done fast and cheap or slow and well, the latter at great cost to the distiller. Ninety-nine percent of today’s “artisan spirits” are pre-distilled refinery-produced ethanol or bulk foreign whiskey with coloring and flavoring added. For many of the individuals who make this stuff, the glass bottle, the label and “the marketing spin” are the greatest expenses.
Few are willing to take the time or spend the money it takes to make real, authentic bourbon, as we have. Bourbon must be distilled at below 160 proof. That takes time and its expensive. Bourbon cannot be “flavored” or blended. Bourbon must be aged in new barrels and new whiskey barrels are damned expensive!
Unlike bourbon though, whiskey can be bought in bulk and it can be chemically altered to taste better. But still, no sane whiskey businessman would consider making his own when he can bring in cheap whiskey by the tanker-trailer-load from elsewhere for pennies on the dollar. And who can afford to wait years and years for the whiskey to properly mature when they can buy barrels full of the stuff from the refineries in Canada, Kentucky, Indiana or Missouri?
Hell, all they have to do next is slap a snakeskin label on the bottle that says “Made in Texas” and they’ve made a Texas whiskey, right? And who can blame them? They want to make their million dollars tomorrow — damn it — not in ten, twenty or thirty years! Good Lord, who has that kind of patience?
Those who visit us at Garrison Brothers Distillery tell me the same thing: You guys are clearly proud of what you do. Some are ribbing me about the price of my bourbon. Others have deeper vision.
The fact is that we are intensely proud of what we do… and where we do it. Our pride shows in the magnificent carpentry of our barrel barn, our guest cabin and our buildings. When a visitor stops by, we drop what we’re doing to show off our stills and explain our process. That’s pride! Our pride shows in how clean our facilities are. It shows in how we are good stewards of our land and its resources. Indeed, if you throw a cigarette butt out your car window on distillery property, you had better pray we don’t see you. Signs throughout the property forewarn: we will cut your nuts off!
You can see pride in the intense determination on the faces of the volunteers who help painstakingly hand-wax our bottles, etching the Texas Star deep into the wax. Every one is a unique, polished work of art. There’s no doubt in my mind that the price of a bottle of Garrison Brothers does not come close to reflecting the quality of the bourbon that goes into it.
Those who bring in vodka or whiskey made elsewhere and claim it’s from Texas will never know the pride I feel right now as I sip on a tall glass of Garrison Brothers.
I guess by publicly revealing how all this works I will never get an invitation to join the “craft distillers” for brunch at the country club. What a shame, huh?
Indeed, I have never been more proud of our business, our staff, our community, our volunteers, our state, and our bourbon than I am right now. I am also proud to announce that the Fall 2011 Release of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey is on its way to fine liquor stores, bars, restaurants and hotels throughout Central Texas. And I can confidently boast that this is the best bourbon we’ve made yet!
As promised, readers of this newsletter are the first to know. We are not going to announce the release for fourteen days so you can get yours first.
But, fine bars, hotels and restaurants throughout Austin and San Antonio are wisely starting to list Garrison Brothers on their bourbon menus. They will get their share and they order quickly! So, this time, please don’t call and bitch at me when you can’t find any in stores.
We’d appreciate it if you’d consider buying a case of our bourbon for Christmas presents. You’ll make a bourbon drinker’s holiday, and you’ll make us here in Hye – and our extended family of bottlers and supporters throughout the state — even more proud of what we do.
Now, About This Bourbon
Back in August (yeah, it was hot), we moved 208 barrels (each weighing about 135 pounds) by hand from our warming barns into the finishing barn. Many of these barrels – all cooked and distilled in 2008 — were three years old, a few two and half. The proof of the whiskey in each ranged from 128 to 139. In the finishing barn, I began tasting from each using my little glass whiskey thief, a few dozen nosing glasses and a bucket of rainwater. Having learned my lesson previously, when my tongue swelled up like a grapefruit, I decided to taste from just five barrels in the morning, five after lunch and five in the evenings. This may sound romantic to the uninitiated, and at first it is, but after a week it feels like work.
I narrowed my selection down to 141 barrels to marry together for this “small batch.” I also found seven barrels that will be set aside for their own spectacular future (more on that in a future newsletter). To make sure I wasn’t literally drinking my own Kool Aid, I called a special joint session of the redneck investigative sub-committee.
I asked Donnis, our distillery director, to reaffirm my selections. He concurred, as did Fred, and our newest redneck J.D., commonly known by his nome de guerre, Mash Man. It was official. We had a hillbilly consensus. Fred struck the gavel. Meeting adjourned. (We actually have a gavel, constructed of an oak dowel rod and a barrel bung. It works really well.)
These barrels yielded the Fall 2011 Release of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey. This bourbon is bottled at 94 proof — because we like it that way – in clear 750 ml glass bottles. The suggested retail price is $69.95. We believe it is worth much more than that; apparently retailers do to, so you may not be able to find it at that price.
This one is sweeter and smoother than any previous release: Yeast, grain, vanilla and oak on the nose. When you swallow, you will taste sweet panhandle corn on your tongue and it opens up your senses. As always, it lingers on your palette with a warm, buttery, toasted butterscotch and caramelized maple syrup finish. Stay with it and you might detect chocolate, coconut, coffee and figs. Seriously. If you want more of the sweet wheat flavor, add a splash of soda or water and a few cubes of ice.
Hill Country liquor stores in Blanco, Fredericksburg and Hye will get theirs first, probably by October 28th, because we look out for our own out here. The remaining bottles should be in fine liquor stores, restaurants, hotels and bars, stretching from as far north as Temple and as far south as South San Antonio, by Friday, November 4th.
Keeping with tradition, each bottle is hand-dipped in hot black wax by a fellow Texan, for a thick seal, and is signed and numbered by me. Deerskin lace securely wraps each neck and the Texas Star is etched deep into the wax by hand with a leather tool. Some of the corks can’t handle the heat of the wax, so you may need a corkscrew to get into it. It’s worth the effort.
As in the past, this is a limited release that will sell out quickly. If you want a bottle, I strongly encourage you to call your local liquor store today. If they haven’t started a waiting list, you might politely suggest they do so. We won’t be releasing more bourbon until Texas Independence Day and that release will be smaller than this one.
All of the barrels I’d selected were proofed, weighed (the government gets their cut) and emptied into a 500 gallon proofing tank named “Whiskey Girl,” because she looks like a sailboat without sails, which we stole from The Beer Boys at Real Ale in Blanco. We then added Hill Country rainwater to bring the proof down to 94. We delicately pumped this “cut” bourbon into our most recent acquisition, a 3,300 gallon stainless steel tank, which may have been stolen from a Wisconsin Dairy. She’s named “Elsie, The Bourbon Cow.”
It was time to bottle. I sent out a blog (if you like hearing me rant, you can sign up for these on our website) announcing a call for help. Within 48 hours, Lolo our bottling queen had more than 150 emails from brave volunteers.
This always reminds me of The Alamo, when Colonel Travis drew that line in the sand, and only the crazy people stepped across. Dramatic? Maybe. But these wonderful folks take two days off from work; drive all the way out to Hye; pay for their own gas and lodging; and then bust their ass for two days of daunting craftsmanship. All we offer them is a signed “thank you” bottle, a couple of questionable meals, and a handshake to say thanks. Sure, every hour they are offered a small sample to assure quality control — and maintain their courage — but is it really worth it?
We are indebted to those of you who played a role. Thank you for your service and we hope we were good hosts while you were in Hye. Please come back soon!
Bourbon Camp 2011
On September 24, we held our third annual Old 300 Bourbon Camp at Garrison Brothers. I’ve included a few pictures of the beautiful people (my wife is in one of the pictures, so I have to say that.) We started the morning with Bourbon for Breakfast in the form of a Hill Country Sunrise: Garrison Brother’s bourbon, fresh squeezed orange juice and prickly pear puree. Guests enjoyed the stunning and lavish breakfast buffet brought in by Silver K Café in Johnson City.
After that we went to work bottling the first bottles of this release. By noon we had bottled a few hundred of the most surreal bottles of Garrison Brothers I’ve ever seen. It is disturbing to witness firsthand what black wax can resemble after a few breakfast cocktails.
At noon, we broke for lunch: fresh squeezed lemonade, iced tea and Garrison Brothers, which we call a John Daly. The Silver K Café provided a spectacular lunch too. Our Old 300 members tell me it was sensational though I can’t remember what it looked or tasted like. We bottled into the late afternoon when our guests retreated to the Hanger Hotel for siesta.
That night the Old 300 returned to Hye for an evening I’ll never forget. Our staff had spent weeks preparing the barrel barn with romantic mood lighting, beautiful flowers, white tablecloths, mood music, and well, feminine, decoration.
As dusk approached, the temperature dropped to a sensational 65 degrees and the Milky Way lit up the night like a million incandescent bulbs. Showing no signs of sophistication and little respect for the hours spent on interior design, our guests began to carry their wine and nosing glass-filled dining tables out on to the spacious porch so they could be under the stars. Below the ethereal blanket of light, Scooter Pearce played guitar and sang until no one could dance another step.
Hollywood Comes Back to Hye
We receive bottle requests from hip New York and California magazines all the time. We turn most of them down, unless they have a large Texas readership, because we just don’t have enough to spare. Earlier this year, we were profiled in The New York Times, ATX Man Magazine, FD Luxe, The Dallas Observer, Houston Press and The Standard, as well as fine local publications like the Austin Chronicle, the Austin American-Statesman and the San Antonio Express News. We don’t know much about it yet, but we hear we’ll be in Southern Living Magazine in November.
I’d be lying if I told you the attention doesn’t add to the pride we already feel. We truly appreciate the writers and photographers who have come out to visit us in Hye. Sincerest apologies if I missed anyone.
Make More Bourbon, Damn It!
My kids showed me how to use Facebook but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Every time I go there someone is pissed off because they can’t find our bourbon. It’s always the same question: When can I get Garrison Brothers in Beaumont, damn it?
I wish I had a good answer. When I started making bourbon, I thought releasing 7,000 bottles would mean our bourbon was already available in Dallas, Amarillo, Houston and Central Texas. I was dead wrong. The thirsty-ass Central Texans keep drinking it all!
What we don’t drink ourselves, we really do plan to sell. You have my word that by 2015 we’ll be in all four corners of the great state of Texas. We appreciate your patience and your support.
A Hill Country Ranch That Makes Fine Bourbon Whiskey
Good news though: Even if you can’t find Garrison Brothers near home, you can always come share our bourbon with us in Hye. We conduct tours and tastings Wednesday through Sunday at 10, noon, 2 and 4. Our sweet and stunning hospitality manager Stephanie will greet you with a smile and make you feel at home.
This ain’t a wine tour though. We don’t have a real “tasting room.” We don’t offer a selection of artisan cheeses. And we don’t sell candles or lace doilies. Chances are, we’ll hand you a pair of work-gloves and make you rotate barrels. But if you have an interest in home-grown liquor, agriculture, history, microbiology, chemistry, engineering or art, this may be right up your alley.
You’ll see the entire operation. 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.
(If you’re coming out on a Saturday afternoon or a holiday, you might want to make sure we aren’t closed for a private event. Stephanie’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org)
Making Bourbon This Good is Expensive!
Every month we’re cooking 60,000 pounds of the most expensive organic sweet corn in the world and we’re filling 200 or so equally expensive, white American oak barrels. So, yeah, we’re still burning through some cash.
To alleviate some of the pain, we’ve launched Garrison Brothers’ Dry Goods Store. You’ll find t-shirts and bumper stickers there and we’re trying to add more cool stuff. Please consider buying something. Each time you do, it enables us to make a little more bourbon.
If you really want to get doused in Garrison Brothers, consider joining The Old 300. If you do, I personally guarantee you’ll soon know more about fine bourbon whiskey than anyone else in Texas and you’ll have a great time learning.
As always, if you don’t buy this high-powered marketing propaganda about our bourbon, then come on out and taste it.
Happy holidays from the Rednecks at Garrison Brothers. Vaya con Dios. We’ll check back in with ya’ll in the spring.
Proprietor and Distiller