In the moonlight of a chilly September morning in Hye, Texas, a line of cars stretches for miles down a quiet country road.
Following the first car’s arrival in the early hours of the morning, nearly 300 people have queued up and are spending their morning making memories, forming friendships, and, above all, eagerly awaiting another release of one of the finest bourbons in the world: Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon®.
This cask-strength, unfiltered juggernaut has been the pride and joy of our distillery since its inception, and the Cowboy Release is pretty much guaranteed to be our biggest event of the year. What everyone lined up to get their hands on a bottle of Cowboy might not know, however, is that the supreme embodiment of Texas bourbon first came to life purely by accident.
Back in 2012, our founder Dan Garrison and Master Distiller Donnis Todd were conducting their routine search for bourbon barrels to be used in our Single Barrel program. Normally, these barrels are picked due to one or two especially strong flavor notes, which not only creates a unique experience unable to be found in any other bourbon on the market, but also ensures that we’re able to keep these exceptionally powerful notes from affecting the smoothness of our regular Small Batch bourbon.
On this particular trip, however, Dan and Donnis stumbled upon 11 barrels that far surpassed anything they’d seen before. In each one, they discovered a rich, oily bourbon that was nearly pitch-black in color with overwhelming flavor notes— so overwhelming, in fact, that they couldn’t be enjoyed on their own as a Single Barrel. This left them with a bit of a conundrum: what to do with these barrels of bourbon?
As you may already know, one of the key tenets of bourbon is that it must be entirely genuine, with no additional colors or flavors. Because of that, if a particular batch of bourbon ends up being a bit on the lighter side, a darker batch may be added to deepen it to that amazing amber-crimson hue. Since these particular barrels were incredibly dark, they could potentially be used to even out the color profile of a different batch down the line. So, Dan and Donnis made the decision to dump the barrels, set this ultra-dark blend aside, and make use of it in the future if the need ever arose to even out a lighter batch.
What they didn’t see coming was that when all of those undrinkable barrels were dumped and blended together, something amazing happened.
The angels must have been smiling down on these barrels, because blending them produced a match made in Heaven. Each of these overpowering flavor notes melded together perfectly, creating an unfiltered, barrel-proof masterpiece that was absolutely bursting with flavor. As Dan put it, it was “George T Stagg on acid”, which was exactly the type of bourbon he and Donnis had set out to make. It was everything a Texas bourbon could, and should, ever hope to be, and with that in mind, there was only one name for it: Cowboy.
After this incredible batch was bottled up, the Garrison Brothers team set out to distribute to local liquor stores. Once whiskey enthusiasts started getting their hands on it, Cowboy spread like wildfire. After three years of Small Batch bourbon slowly carving out a name for Garrison Brothers on the bourbon scene, Cowboy was the one that put Garrison Brothers (and Texas bourbon as a whole) on the map.
Nowadays, the search for the perfect Cowboy barrels is a bit more methodical than that accidental discovery all those years ago. Every morning, as the sun is just cresting over the hills in Hye, Donnis ventures out into the barrel barns and drills a few barrels to sample. Most will be used for the weekly production of Small Batch, and a few will be sent over into the Single Barrel Program.
But every so often, Donnis will find a barrel rife with those same overwhelming flavors he discovered in 2012, and add it to his collection of “piggy banks”, which he will closely keep track of in the months leading up to the selection of which barrels to use for Cowboy.
This year’s Cowboy Bourbon clocks in at a whopping 134.8 proof, but according to Donnis, it’s the sweetest and most drinkable of any Cowboy that we’ve had so far. Those eight to nine years spent in the barrel have resulted in a warm, mellow sipper far smoother than any bourbon of that proof has any right to be.
Once the gates opened at 8 AM sharp on September 24th, the newest batch of Cowboy was released to the world. Even with a crowd of hundreds waiting eagerly to taste it, every single person who came through the line was able to pick up their very own bottle of the latest batch of our Nectar Of The Gods. And based on what we’ve been hearing, it’s the best damn Cowboy we’ve ever made. Of course, that just means that Donnis will continue to set out bright and early every day, keeping an eye out for a new set of piggy banks to set aside for the next batch of the legendary bourbon that’s been delighting our fans since that fateful happy accident.
If you weren’t able to make it out to the release, the latest batch of Cowboy is working its way out to retailers now, so check with your local liquor store to see if they’ll be getting a shipment of the best damn bourbon on the planet.