When I first purchased the plot of land that would become Garrison Brothers Distillery in 2004, the distillery’s new home of Hye, Texas was a far cry from the close-knit community you might typically expect from a small Texas town. Sure everyone would lift a hand, a hat, or a finger and wave it as trucks passed each other on Hye Albert Road, as they still do today, but none of the ranch owners seemed to know each other. It was quiet, which was nice.
Growing up, I visited dozens of the tiny towns dotted across the Lone Star State. Wherever I went, I was always greeted with a sense of community and friendship. These were the towns where everyone knew their neighbor, and you could always count on your neighbors to help you out if you were in a bind.
Rather than an Andy Griffith-style world where everyone knew each other and welcomed their neighbors as friends, Hye was a town where most of the residents kept to themselves. These were the German emigrants of the 1800s. They were all good, solid hard-working folks, but the town lacked the sense of camaraderie that I desired in my new home.
I believe “Good Bourbon Can Change The World”, and more specifically, that good bourbon has the ability to bring people together. If I was going to be making bourbon, I wanted to be doing it in a community of people who all looked out for each other. Small towns need to stick together, and to make that happen in Hye, I had to go back to the beginning.
The town now known as “Hye” was originally founded in the 1860s by a community of ranching and farming families, and was originally christened “Rocky”. The town received a notable burst of growth in 1880, when newcomer Hiram G. “Hye” Brown established his general store, providing a much-needed pitstop for travelers making the trip from Austin to Fredericksburg.
This iconic building serves as one of Hye’s most notable landmarks, and six years later, Hiram added on to the store with what is arguably Hye’s most well-known feature: The Hye Post Office.
The Post Office provided a convenient way for Hill Country residents to stay in touch with the world at large. Whether it was corresponding with friends and loved ones, ordering much-needed supplies, or staying up-to-date on current events with incoming newspapers, the Post Office was a vital link to the world outside the Hill Country. In fact, The Post Office even found its way to the national spotlight, when local boy and U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson swore in Lawrence F. O’Brien as the U.S. Postmaster General on the Post Office steps.
Interestingly enough, the Post Office also became equally important as a way for the residents of Hye to keep in touch with each other. The Post Office and General Store became a sort of de facto community center, where residents and visitors alike could gather around, share gossip, and break bread after a long day of work.
As the years went on, however, the Post Office became less and less of a fixture in the community’s lives. New shipping methods and electronic messaging meant that there were more and more ways for the community to get what they needed, and the increasingly-busy population of Hye had less time to pass the time at the store. By the end of the 20th Century, Hye had become just another out-of-the-way spot in the Texas Hill Country. I wanted that to change.
When my kids were younger, they spent many of their summers at a variety of camps in Hunt, Texas. Whenever I came to drop them off or pick them up, I was always happy to see the residents of the town out and about and enjoying themselves. After a bit of chatting with the locals and asking around, I discovered that a large portion of this was due to the Hunt Preservation Society, a local non-profit dedicated to bringing the community together.
In addition to looking out for the community through intervention against large corporations encroaching on a small town, the Hunt Preservation Society kept the community active through food drives, ice cream socials, dances and other events through the year.
In short, it was a group dedicated to retaining that small-town feel and protecting the community. Which was exactly what I wanted to see in the town of Hye. So, in mid-2011, I set to work creating the Hye Preservation Society (HPS).
Working with a few prominent Hye residents, such as Oliver Deike (the current owner of the Post Office), Jason Cooke and Chris Brundrett of William Chris Vineyards, local cattle rancher John Hever, Resident Roger Hughes, and Bill Blackmon, we put together a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to reinvigorating the Hye Community. We began putting plans in place for a weekly newsletter, monthly barbecues, community beautification events, and much more.
But before we could even get things off the ground, we found our first big hurdle to deal with: The United States Postal Service announced its plans to shut down the Post Office. This called for guns and pitchforks.
While it may not have been the community center it once was, the Post Office was still an iconic historical landmark, and still held a fond spot in the hearts of many residents. It was a symbol of everything the town used to be and everything we wanted the town to be in the future.
We rallied all of our friends and colleagues, and put together a day-long rally to show off our love for the Post Office and all it had done for us. After a Town Hall chat with the USPS administrators in Garrison Brothers Barrel Barn, and a lot of back-and-forth, they agreed to keep the Post Office open for the community, and the Hye Preservation Society had its first victory. Since that time, we’ve been working to look out for the community and looking for ways to keep everyone connected.
The most prominent initiative to provide support for the Hye Preservation Society in recent years has been the annual Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner celebration. Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner (or “WWCD” as it is affectionately called) is a sprawling celebration of all things Hye, in partnership with our sister city of Stonewall.
After a kick-off at the Stonewall Peach Parade, where local residents and businesses will put together floats and show off their love for the community, the party moves over to Garrison Brothers Distillery. There, the distillery features multiple bands, auctions of rare bottles and painted barrels, and a fried chicken dinner with all the trimmings prepared by the Garrison Brothers team. Proceeds from the live auction and from each ticket sold are then donated to the Hye Preservation Society so it continues to take care of the community.
Today, the Hye Post Office is still going strong when postmaster and pseudo-mayor Bobby Berg decides to open it, providing postal service for the members of the community. It’s tucked away inside Hiram’s general store, which has been transformed into Hye Market, a wonderful little deli serving sandwiches, salads and locally produced beer, wine and cider to the populace. If you drive by on any given afternoon, you’ll see groups of people hanging out, enjoying their food, and chatting with one another in the Hill Country sunshine. Many are locals, but many more are just coming back from a tour and tasting at Garrison Brothers. They’re often on their first trip to Hye, and it isn’t uncommon for them to fall in love with this little Hill Country town. When I set out to create the Hye Preservation Society all those years ago, that was exactly what I wanted: to make sure Hye would always be a town you could fall in love with.
Much like the Post Office, the HPS is still chugging along, releasing newsletters and providing support to the community wherever possible. We’re still active on Facebook, so if you haven’t already, join the group and stay up-to-date on everything going on in our little slice of heaven in the Hill Country. Now that COVID is behind us, we’re going to start organizing some social events, dances, neighborhood get-togethers, and perhaps a few illicit poker games at Hye Hall. Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner is all sold out for 2021, but be sure to join our email list to be updated when tickets are available for 2022.
It’s my belief that bourbon is only as good as the place that made it. And for my money, it’s hard to find a better spot for bourbon than a tight-knit small town in the Texas Hill Country. Whether you’re a lifetime local or a newcomer, you can count on the Hye Preservation Society to maintain Hye’s status as the perfect place to make friends, make memories, and make bourbon.