It began with an exchange.
Twenty premium quality Garrison Brothers charred white American Oak bourbon barrels traded for twenty decades-old port casks.
Back in 2016, Garrison Brothers Master Distiller Donnis Todd was hard at work, nurturing his latest experiment. In his never-ending quest to make the finest bourbon whiskey on the planet, he had gathered together a small batch of barrels from across the ranch that were exhibiting especially bright, fruity notes. With these barrels in mind, he made the decision to do something Garrison Brothers had never done before: finish a bourbon in Port casks.
For anyone who has not had the pleasure of trying it, port is a sweet fortified wine with flavors of raspberry, blackberry, caramel, cinnamon, and chocolate sauce. Older, fine Tawny Ports have an even wider array of subtle flavors including graphite, green peppercorn, hazelnut, almond, butterscotch, and graham cracker. Naturally, these flavor characteristics have great appeal to a bourbon maker, and with a set of especially-sweet bourbon barrels on-hand, Donnis knew it was time to give it a shot.
To see how this experiment would turn out, we reached out to our friends at Llano Estacado winemakers, located far up north in the Texas Panhandle. As one of Texas’s oldest and finest wineries, Llano Estacado has long been recognized and admired for their delicious grapes and finely-crafted wines.
Somehow, the collaboration exceeded our already high expectations. Llano Estacado used our beautiful bourbon barrels to age a Cabernet Sauvignon wine that came out about 17% alcohol by volume and 100% delicious. In turn, we used their tawny port casks to age a four-year bourbon whiskey, which emerged 107-proof, delightfully amber in color, and utterly delectable. That was our Estacado, which rapidly became a fan-favorite.
We were so pleased by the quality and flavor of our port-finished bourbon that we reached back out to Llano Estacado two years later to continue the project, planning to expand on a national commercial basis. However, upon reaching out we learned that they too had been so pleased with their results that they’d decided to move forward aging more Cabernet, sourcing their new barrel supply from a distillery up in Kentucky. They’d assumed we wouldn’t be able to produce enough barrels to adequately expand the venture.
At that point, we knew there was no way we were ready to part with the distinctive port-finished flavor the Estacado had graced us with. Garrison Brothers Master Distiller Donnis Todd decided to go straight to the source, working with Portuguese winemakers to acquire their rich, juicy port casks straight from the Douro valley and forge ahead with our original plans of expansion.
Donnis Todd selected 90 thirty-gallon bourbon barrels, originally filled in 2015, to be finished in these newly imported port casks. The four-years-aged liquid was then poured into twenty-six 59-gallon port casks in 2019, where they remained for two years, absorbing the port wine’s vibrant flavor and taking on a fiery crimson hue. And upon taking a sip of this rich nectar, Donnis’ first response said it all: “I’ll never be able to make enough of this one.”
Thus, Guadalupe was born: a lush, sumptuous bourbon, rich with notes of ripe plum, fresh, juicy berries, and strawberry jam spread across flaky-soft breakfast pastries alongside an underlying toasted creaminess and a light, sweet finish.
Our Port-Finished Guadalupe Bourbon debuted in 2021, released in a limited batch that drove crowds of eager enthusiasts running to our distillery in Hye to get their hands on a bottle of the vibrant spirit. It sold out within hours, with y’all lining up down the street in anticipation!
For the return of Guadalupe in 2022, Donnis continued to improve on the process that produced this port-finished perfection. In honor of the release year, he selected 22 59-gallon port barrels that had been baking in the baking in the Texas sun, and married them together to create another batch of Guadalupe. And while he may not ever be able to make enough, he’s certainly going to give it his best shot, because if this year’s release is anything to go by, it might be y’all’s favorite bourbon we’ve made yet.
On the morning of July 23rd, 2022, dozens of you crazy-beautiful people were lined up and ready to snag a bottle. But unlike many of our earlier releases, the line of devoted GB fans did not stretch all the way back several miles to Hye-Albert road as it had done in the past. Of course, this wasn’t due to folks not wanting a bottle for themselves. Quite the opposite, in fact: due to the sheer number of cars at previous releases and requests from the sheriff, we’d unfortunately had to make the decision to respectfully ask everyone not to camp out overnight in their cars. As much as we loved partying through the night with everyone at earlier releases, having hundreds of cars along the road for several days was just too much for old Hye-Albert Road to handle.
However, once the gates opened at 8AM, we were off to the races on another amazing release. After working our way through the line in record time, we were delighted to have so many devoted Garrison Brothers fans join us for food, cocktails, and music as we celebrated the newest release of the Nectar Of The Gods.
Thank you to all of those who have helped make Guadalupe one of our most sought-after bourbon yet, and we look forward to seeing y’all in 2023 when we discover how the next round of barrels brings that port-finished flair to our bourbon. Salud.