Welcome back to my untimely, controversial and partially clad “state of the business report” about Garrison Brothers Distillery.
I hope you’ll appreciate the sarcasm in the title of this newsletter. Being “the best” is an odd thing. If you make cheeseburgers, it’s pretty important that somewhere in your establishment there is a sign that says “Voted Best Cheeseburger.” Customers who read it will assume that at some point in your history an impartial third party stated in print that your place had the best cheeseburger. That shit is important! How many of us have been on a long road trip and decided that we could use a cheeseburger? What’s the first thing we do? We Google “Best cheeseburger in East Bumtruck.” No matter how small East Bumtruck is, there will be a joint in town that claims it has been recognized as having “Bumtruck’s best cheeseburger.”
Texas Monthly does this better than anyone. They have a Best Steakhouse issue, Best Burger issue, Best Mexican Food issue and Best Barbecue issue. As Texans, we defer to the experts at Texas Monthly and rarely write them hate notes when they get it wrong. Plus, they’re really good at it. Even if we don’t agree with who is number 1, their list is normally exhaustive. They manage to fit almost everyone in the issue somewhere, and the type size gets smaller, and smaller, and smaller.
So, two weeks ago, USA Today readers, judges and our own fans and followers voted Garrison Brothers Distillery the #1 Best Craft Whiskey Distillery in America. This award MUST be taken at face value. It was a popularity contest. The contest was fun. There were probably ways to cheat. But everyone seemed to get in the game anyway. No one took it too seriously, I hope. We had a great time voting, heckling our competitors, and cheering each other on.
So, what does it mean for our business? Absolutely nothing. But we still have an obligation to our investors, partners, staff and friends to announce the award. Which is why when I was asked by our public relations expert to come up with a flattering quote about the victory, I wrote, “From this austere platform, we will now attempt to become People Magazine’s Sexiest Distillery of The Year.”
Now that would be cool, if there is such a thing.
Operation Hurricane Tough
Like many Americans, those of us at Garrison Brothers Distillery watched with concern on August 25, 2017 as Hurricane Harvey slammed into our beautiful Texas coast, wreaking havoc and tragedy upon the homes, businesses, and lives of our friends and family there. Our business has family and partners up and down the coast, such as Spanky’s Liquors in Port Aransas, which was wiped out.
That afternoon, our events manager Andrea Rohus pulled me out of a meeting. “We have to do something,” she said. I agreed and called master distiller Donnis Todd. I explained that we needed to raise relief money for the victims and I asked how many barrels we filled that morning. “Nine,” he said.
“So, if that bourbon were to go into 750ml bottles we’d be looking at 585 or so bottles?”, I asked.
“Yep,” he replied, “but the objective here is not to sell bourbon. These people need help and money, so let’s bottle this bourbon in specially designed 375ml bottles that could become collectors’ items. The more bottles we donate, the more money we can raise for them.” Operation Hurricane Tough was born.
The Reverend Jason Brand and Andrea began due diligence on charities who might become our partner. “Rev” identified an ex-military group called Team Rubicon, a crisis relief organization comprised of veterans looking for direction and a job. (Coincidentally, Team Rubicon were the first responders when the Memorial Day flood trapped residents along the Blanco River on May 23, 2015, and they were the last to leave when the floodwaters receded.) We talked with their leadership and knew these were our guys.
Our marketing director Rob Cordes created a special bottle design and a website that sent the money directly to Team Rubicon. Every person who made a donation of $100 or more would receive one of the 1,000 or so bottles of Hurricane Tough bourbon that would be bottled in four years. The website was live at noon on Friday, September 1 at: https://fundraise.teamrubiconusa.org/campaign/garrison-brothers-distillery-supports-team-rubicon-hurricane-harvey/c143825. We issued a press release, posted a message on Facebook, and then sent an email to all our former bottlers and Old 300 members.
Just 72 hours later, YOU had donated
more than $136,000
for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.
I can honestly say that this three-day period was the most exciting and rewarding time in my fourteen years running Garrison Brothers Distillery. It feels so good to do good, and you crazy, wonderful people who contributed to this campaign are the best that humans can be. God bless you all!
But we ain’t done yet. First our distribution partner Republic National Distributing Company has agreed to contribute $2 to Operation Hurricane Tough for every bottle of Garrison Brothers Boot Flask Bourbon (more on that later) that is purchased in Texas between now and December 31, 2017. So please be on the lookout for those badass little bottles.
Plus, we really don’t know how much bourbon those nine barrels will yield when they are dumped in 2022. We guaranteed 1,000 bottles. But we may get 1,100, 1,200 or 1,300. So, if you’re still interested in one of those collectors’ edition bottles, please visit the website above and make a contribution. Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria may be grabbing everyone’s attention today but let’s not forget our fellow Texans along the coast who are still struggling to rebuild their lives after Harvey.
Alright. Enough of this compassionate bullshit. Let’s pour a drink and talk about whiskey!
Garrison Brothers Boot Flask Bourbon
Yeah, we get it. Good straight bourbon is expensive. And it comes in big, bulky bottles. It’s too expensive to take to the ball game, the rodeo or the dance, and your cheap ass friends rarely pitch in for their fair share. And you’ve got to hide the shit when cousin Jim Bob comes over. But once you’ve become accustomed to the good stuff, drinking the cheap stuff sucks arse.
We’ve got your back! We’ve got your back-pocket. Your boot. Or maybe your purse. Introducing the Garrison Brothers Boot Flask.
This bad-ass little bottle contains the same Garrison Brothers straight bourbon whiskey that you’ve grown fond of or have read about. But it comes in a handy little 375ml bottle that is truly ergonomically designed to fit snugly around your calf in your most comfortable pair of boots. The metal star juts out from the bottle locking the package into the boot-leather. By simplifying the package and the bottle decoration, we’ve also made it more affordable.
The Garrison Brothers Boot Flask bottle is hitting liquor stores across the state right now. Just look for these hard-to-miss displays.
- 94 proof (47% ALC/VOL)
- Youngest barrel: four years old
- 12 bottles per case
- 375 ml bottle
Available at retail for about $40 a bottle. Price will vary greatly depending on state regulations and taxes.
As mentioned, our distribution partner Republic National Distributing Company is donating $2 to Operation Hurricane Tough for every bottle of Garrison Brothers Boot Flask bourbon that is sold in Texas between now and the end of the year. Take one to the game! (Note: Pewter star may set off alarm at TSA security checkpoints. Testing underway now at Austin Bergstrom International Airport. We’ll get back to you.)
This Is Where The Cowboy Rides Away
Those who follow the gossip tabloids may have read that earlier this year a federal judge in Austin declared that a California merchant bottling company promoting a brand of whiskey called Cowboy Little Barrel had abandoned their trademark for the product. The California company had sued us three years earlier for trademark infringement. Despite the ruling, the company continues to brazenly market their brand and has even now done away with the words “Little Barrel” on some of the bottles you might see in stores. We think they may be honoring our “cease and desist” request now but it’s tough to tell. And who wants another lawsuit!
In any event, I mention it here to assure that you-the-consumer do not confuse their Cowboy Little Barrel blended whiskey with Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon. We’d hate for you to get screwed at checkout.
On Friday, September 29 at HYE NOON, we will be releasing the 2017 edition of Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon at the gift shop in Hye! (I told you this newsletter was untimely.) Uncut and unfiltered, this batch comes from some of the oldest, tastiest barrels on the ranch and packs a punch at 137 proof. Our ’13 and ’15 releases won American Micro Whiskey of The Year in Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible. We plan on doing that again real soon.
Our gates will open at HYE NOON. No sooner, no later. So, make sure you get there early to grab a spot in line. We’ll keep the Cowboy bottles flowing until we run out. State law limits us to no more than two bottles per person and everyone will need to present a valid drivers’ license indicating they are over 21 years of age. Liquor stores should start receiving their allocations any day now, in case you want more.
So, if you want to grab a bottle of The Real Cowboy, get your ass down to Hye for a visit on the 29th! Only 900 bottles will be released at the Bottle Shop. When it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Hope to see y’all there!
But Wait, Could There Be More Cool Bourbon On The Horizon?
Those who visit frequently or bottle with us have probably been privy to top-secret, classified discussions regarding a few highly-anticipated research and development projects that have been tucked away in one of Donnis Todd’s hidden mystery barrel warehouses. (If one walks the ranch and pays careful attention, one might notice occasional convex protrusions from the earth. These are where the bodies of those unable to keep confidential secrets confidential might be buried. Shhhh.)
Craft whiskey distilleries are known for pumping out exotic blended whiskies that have been smoked or flavored or otherwise treated with wood. Some offer dozens of flavors. With blended whiskey and spirit whiskey, these techniques are common, expected and necessary since most are just brown vodkas; They need to be flavor- and color-enhanced. Believe it or not, some carnivorous, fat-obsessed craft distilleries have even introduced bacon- and brisket-flavored whiskies.
But straight bourbon is a whole ‘nother ball game. Father time rules this game. It takes a minimum duration of two years to produce straight bourbon. Add another six months or so if you factor in cooking and fermenting from scratch and then bottling the liquid once it has aged.
To properly “treat” it with smoke or naturally finish it in another type of barrel, without fake chemical additives, may take another two years. The point I’m trying to make is: flavoring fake whiskey, vodka, gin or rum can be done in days. Research and development of new releases in the bourbon business can take decades.
But good news, my friends: The wizard of whiskey has been hard at work and the mole on Donnis’s nose becomes more pronounced each day. It gives me great pleasure to introduce The Handcrafted Experimentals from Garrison Brothers Distillery.
In West Texas, about 40 miles south of Pecos, there’s a little swimming hole where I took my kids when they were young. According to the park’s website, San Solomon Springs has provided water for humans and animals for thousands of years. It’s thought that big game hunters may have gathered at springs in the Balmorhea area around 11,000 years ago. Native Americans also used the springs before the sadistic Spanish explorers and settlers came to the area. In 1849, the springs were known as Mescalero Springs, for the Mescalero Apache who watered their horses here.
Mexican farmers called the springs “San Solomon Springs.” They dug the first canals by hand, and then used the water to irrigate crops. They sold those crops to residents of Fort Davis. With plentiful water and the arrival of the railroad, a cattle ranching industry emerged in the 1880s. In 1927, the Bureau of Reclamation dredged the springs and constructed a canal to better harness their flow. To see the water flowing up from the actual underground spring into the canals is mesmerizing, and undeniable evidence that God exists.
In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) to create jobs for Americans following The Great Depression and Prohibition. The Corps arrived here in July 1934. They built barracks, a mess hall and a kitchen to support 130 to 200 men and their supervisors. This would be home for the next few years. The CCC men crafted a 1.75-acre pool around the springs, along with a concession building, two bathhouses, San Solomon Courts, and other improvements in the park. They used local limestone and fashioned adobe bricks for building materials. After laboring all day, the men enjoyed evenings in the rec hall and an occasional baseball game, dance or play.
I’ve always found it fascinating that geographical or historical names from such odd originations can grow to take on magical or spiritual proportions. The park’s name comes from four men’s surnames: E.D. Balcom, H.R. Morrow, Joe Rhea and John Rhea. Hence the name Bal-mor-hea. These men formed an irrigation company in the area in the early 20th century.
Today, after the spring water flows through the pool and cienegas, it enters irrigation canals and travels about 3.5 miles east to Balmorhea Lake. Farmers use that water to irrigate thousands of acres of crops such as alfalfa and cotton. Many environmentalists are concerned today that fracking could hurt the water quality or otherwise damage this beautiful child of Mother Nature.
About The Bourbon with the Spiritual Name
In 2012 or 2013, we’re really not sure, Donnis filled 22 barrels with fresh 114 proof white dog. These barrels came from The Barrel Mill, a cooperage in Minnesota. In October of 2015, Donnis lugged these barrels in from the barns and dumped the liquid within into stainless steel tanks. He then rolled a few 27-gallon Kelvin Cooperage barrels below the tank spigot and filled the barrels with the already-two-year old straight bourbon. This second round of barrels had far different lignin and chemical compositions than the original barrels because they had been scorched and toasted differently, thus caramelizing the sugars in a wonderful new way. (I can’t explain more or I’d have to bury you in a field.)
In 2017, we transferred these barrels back to The Stillhouse. The bourbon was dumped into a long thin stainless steel trough we call The Whiskey Girl and we all began nosing and tasting the results.
After a round of tear-filled high fives and brotherly hugs, we started talking about names and bottle design, the easy part of getting this sensational liquid to market.
Encased in a 375ml Boot Flask bottle with a Balmorhea blue label and silver wax, the Balmorhea barrels yielded just 4,008 bottles. These little babies will be available for sale to discerning bourbon drinkers from the Hye Atop Bottle Shop on Friday, October 20 at noon. If they don’t sell out that afternoon, they will remain available there until they all find good homes.
We want you to let us know what you think of Balmorhea. If you like it as much as we do, it will have a commercial release to liquor stores probably around 2020.
- Aged two years in white American oak
- Aged another two years in a second new white American oak barrel
- Proof: 107 PROOF (53.5%ALC/VOL)
- Release date: October 20, 2017
- 375 ml at $69.99
- Available at Garrison Brothers’ Gift Shop only
- Master Distiller’s Tasting Notes: Bourbon candy. Frozen Popsicle fudgsicle bars, amaretto coffee with cream, sticky buns and pecan brittle. Thick white chocolate syrup.
Founded in 1976 on the Texas High Plains near Lubbock, Llano Estacado Winery has a storied history. The company has been making great wines for more than three decades. They called us in 2015 and asked if we’d consider a collaboration. We jumped at the chance. We dumped ten 15-gallon barrels that had held straight bourbon for two years. We poured the bourbon into stainless steel tanks and loaded a trailer with the barrels. Later that evening those barrels made it to the High Plains.
At Llano Estacado, wine maker Jason Centanni and James Floyd unloaded the barrels and then stacked 8 large Port Wine barrels on the trailer. The driver turned around and headed back to Hye.
Immediately upon arrival, Donnis and our production guys filled the Port Wine barrels with the straight bourbon that was in the stainless steel tank. Every three months after that, Donnis dutifully tasted samples from each of the barrels. After nine months, he walked up with a nosing glass and said try this. I did and Estacado was born
- Aged two years in white American oak
- Aged an additional nine months in French oak casks that formerly held Llano Estacado Port Wine
- Proof: 115 Proof (57.5%ALC/VOL)
- Release date: November 17, 2017
- 375ml for $69.99
- Available at Garrison Brothers’ Gift Shop only
- Master Distiller’s Tasting Notes: Still to come
People You Need To Meet
Samantha Olvera – Probably the hardest worker I’ve ever met, Samantha Olvera is a jack of all trades at Garrison Brothers Distillery. She gives tours, works the gift shop, cooks mash, runs the stills and is a fiery, hilarious orator. I love working with her. We all do. This summer, she and I were running the gift shop together on a slow day. “Go home,” I said. She left and came back two hours later driving the Polaris Ranger. The bed of the Ranger was filled with trash she’d collected off Hye Albert Road. No one asked her to do this.
Kaitlin Rangel – After the business went through some challenging times last year, Kaitlin approached me and said I want to run the gift shop and tours. “Absolutely not”, I said. “You don’t have any retail experience.” “Whatever,” she said. “I’ll be in the gift shop if you need me.” Today, she runs the gift shop and tours. Our t-shirt, bourbon, and merchandise sales revenue have increased pretty much every month since she took over. I greatly underestimated her. She is simply fantastic.
Andrea Rohus – Talk about a personality. Andrea Rohus is an amazing piece of work. She is on top of details like no other. She is the Energizer Bunny and she never stops working. For the first six months she was with us, I had no idea what she was talking about. At first I thought she was crazy, then I started to “get” her jokes. She is whipsaw funny.
Larry Lindsey – Larry drinks a lot of beer.
2017 Legislative Recap
For those who are fans of making sausage, here’s a quick summary of the excitement at the state capitol during the 2017 legislative session:
- As always, the distribution tier controlled the money.
- The money flowed freely from distributors as donations to leaders and legislators.
- The Governor padded his reelection campaign.
- The Lieutenant Governor sat on multiple bills and padded his war chest, probably to run against Abbott.
- Legislators voted against everything the distributors disliked and also against anything small business owners proposed. Nothing material passed in either house.
- The Texas liquor monopoly became further entrenched.
- Consumers, craft distilleries, breweries and wineries got the shaft.
- Everyone blamed the poor administrators at the TABC and they all got fired.
Nuff said. Same old shit. God bless Texas politics!
Good Places to Drink Good Bourbon
- September 29 at Noon – Garrison Brothers 2017 Cowboy Bourbon on sale at the Hye Atop Bottle Shop
- October 5 from 5 to 7 – Dan Garrison will be pouring samples at Mirage Wine and Spirits in Colleyville
- October 5 from 8:30 to 10 – Dan Garrison is buying drinks and playing guest bartender at Taverna Rossa in Southlake
- October 6 from 5 to 7 – Dan Garrison will be pouring samples at Bear Creek Spirits in Colleyville
- October 7 from 2 to 5 – Tasting and Bottle Signing with Charles Garrison at Total Wine and More on North 75th Avenue in Glendale, AZ 8530
- October 12 from 11 to 2 – Tasting and Bottle Signing with Charles Garrison at Fort Eustis Army Base at 667 Monroe Ave in Ft. Eustis, VA 23604
- October 12 from 3 to 6 – Tasting and Bottle Signing with Charles Garrison at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, VA 23665
- October 13 from 11 to 2 – Tasting and Bottle Signing with Charles Garrison at Norfolk AFB in Norfolk, VA
- October 13 from 3 to 6 – Tasting and Bottle Signing with Charles Garrison at Oceana Naval Air Station at 1750 Tomcat Blvd in Virginia Beach, VA
- October 13 from 5 to 7 – Samantha Olvera is pouring samples at the Indianapolis, Indiana Whiskey and Fine Spirits Exposition
- October 13 from 6 to 8 – Dan Garrison will be pouring samples at Raymond’s Liquors in Mansfield
- October 14 from 11 to 2 – Tasting and Bottle Signing with Charles Garrison at Little Creek Naval Base in Norfolk VA
- October 14 from 3 to 6 – Tasting and Bottle Signing at Portsmouth Naval Base in Portsmouth, VA
- October 18 from 2 to 6 – Mile High Spirits Tasting (Private – Industry Only) at Mile High Station at 2027 W. Old (Lower) Colfax Ave in Denver, CO 80204
- October 20 from 7 to 10 (Early Admissions) and 7:30 to 10:00 (General Admission) – Tasting with Charlie Garrison at Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa at 11011 W. Charleston Blvd. in Las Vegas, NV 89135
- October 20 at noon – Garrison Brothers Balmorhea bourbon on sale at the Hye Atop Bottle Shop
- October 21 from 4 to 7 – Dan Garrison will be pouring samples at the Hoot & Holler in Gun Barrel City
- October 26 from 4 to 7 – Tasting and Bottle Signing at Total Wine and More at 5870 East Broadway Blvd #448 in Tuscon, AZ 85711
- November 1 from 7 to 10 – Bourbon Dinner with Dan Garrison and general manager Kent Johnson at the Elkridge Club in Baltimore, Maryland
- November 2 from 6 to 8 – Bourbon Dinner with Charles Garrison at Phoenix City Grille, 5816 N 16th St, in Phoenix, AZ 85016, USA
- November 17 at noon – Garrison Brothers Estacado bourbon on sale at the Hye Atop Bottle Shop
- November 17 (pending) from 3 to 8 – Bourbon Tasting with Charlie Garrison at Whiskey in the Winter at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch at 315 Chestnut St, in St. Louis, MO 63102
- December 20 from 6 to 9 – Bourbon Dinner and Bourbon 101 Class with Charlie Garrison at Encanterra Country Club at 36460 N. Encanterra Dr, in San Tan Valley, AZ 85140
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 though. We are serving tastings and cocktails at our Hospitality Cabin Wednesday through Sunday from 10 to 5.
Thanks for drinking good bourbon. Vaya con Dios,
Distiller, Whiskey Peddler and Toilet Scrubber