It’s hard not to respect the work that the Garrison Brothers are doing out in Hye, Texas. In an era where so many micro-distillers are using merchant whiskey from other states for their initial releases, it’s refreshing to see a distillery take a true artisan approach to their products. On each bottle of whiskey, Garrison Brothers proudly trumpet that it’s “cooked, distilled, barreled and bottled by Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye, Texas.” The Garrison Brothers are also excellent about disclosing what’s in the bottle. Our bottle of Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey states that it’s made from #1 panhandle white corn, harvested in 2010 from farms in Dallam County, distilled and barreled in 2010 and released in Spring of 2014, bottle number 18953. Aside from disclosing their exact mashbill (which, in addition to the corn, contains Winter Wheat grown on the Garrison Brother’s distillery ranch, as well as barley), that’s about as much information as you’re going to get on a bottle of whiskey.
In addition to providing so much information on the bottle, Garrison Brothers are quite savvy with their packaging. The Garrison Brothers Whisky bottle features the Texas lone star front and center on the bottle as well as embossed on the wax-covered top. Garrison Brothers have managed to skirt the Maker’s Mark “dripping wax” trademark by expertly squaring off the base of the wax on the bottle. Again, it’s a smart move from a distiller who seems to have a very clear vision of what they are doing.
Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey (47% ABV / 94 Proof, $70-$90) – dark amber in color, this two year old whiskey seems to have been aged in smaller barrels to give it more surface exposure and therefore more color in a shorter period of time. Using small barrels is also apparent on the nose, which leads off with young wood, with an aroma like walking into one of those unfinished furniture stores. Underneath this wood is caramel, coconut, pecan, cornmeal, and a touch of cinnamon spice. Two years is pretty young for a whiskey and that youth is apparent on the nose, which has some nice aromas, but they’re not very well integrated. You also have to dig pretty hard past the young wood and sawdust to get to them.
The entry for Garrison Brothers whiskey follows on with the nose pretty closely, bringing together the sawdusty raw wood with dry cornmeal. The opening would be too dusty and dry were it not for the support of caramel, which helps give it some balance and rounds thing out for a pleasant mouthfeel. The midpalate shows some promise as it seems to blow off some of the sawdust notes from the entry in favor of some spice with clove, black pepper, and cinnamon. There’s also a slightly bitter note underneath which reads like dark chocolate or coffee grounds. It’s here where the alcohol rears its head with a dash of heat that gives the whiskey some solid structure, which further benefits the whole taste equation. The finish is medium length, driven by the heat in the midpalate, and features that slightly bitter and subtle dark chocolate note from the midpalate.
While there is some promise in the mix with this Garrison Brothers’ whiskey, it’s greatly hampered by the same things that tend to hamper most craft whiskeys: it’s too young and it’s been aged in too small barrels. There’s simply no replacing time when it comes to whiskey, and while Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey has nice elements, it’s just not ready. If Garrison Brothers put this whiskey in 55 gallon casks and let it age 4-6 years, blending those casks to a unified taste, they might have something really special. Unfortunately, this isn’t that whiskey. The price is also absolutely astronomical compared to the taste experience. Tasted side by side with another wheated bourbon, Larceny (which is less than half the price of Garrison Brothers), and it’s clear that while Garrison Brothers is an interesting whiskey, it’s just not nearly as actualized, integrated, balanced or delicious.
We respect the hard work of craft distillers, but Garrison Brothers Whiskey is another example of the need for craft distillers to be patient with their whiskey. When it comes to whiskey, there are simply no short cuts. Garrison Brothers has gone to great lengths to use quality, organic, locally sourced ingredients for their whiskey, and lovingly and painstakingly “cooked, distilled and barreled” them. Now they need to have what’s impossible to ask of a small, independently run distillery: patience, lots and lots of patience.