Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Garrison Brothers Distillery
Distillery: Garrison Brothers Distillery
Release Date: 2021 (Ongoing)
Age: 3 Years
Mashbill: 74% Corn, 15% Wheat, 11% Malted Barley
Color: Dark Chestnut
Price: $75 (2022)
Garrison Brothers Distillery is located in Hye, Texas which is about an hour’s drive west of Austin, Texas. The distillery was founded in 2005, making them the first and oldest whiskey distillery in Texas. The distillery was founded by Dan Garrison, who had left a position in software marketing to follow his dream. With help from friends, family, and the late Dave Pickerell, Garrison Brothers Distillery overcame challenges specific to Texas. This includes aging whiskey in the state’s dry heat, which tends to draw the whiskey out of the barrels much faster than usual, resulting in a lot lost to leaky barrels and evaporation. Distillery operations are headed by master distiller Donnis Todd, and according to the company’s website the distillery is owned by the Garrison family and a few friends. Their first bourbon, called “Young Gun,” was released in 2010, which, according to the company, was the first whiskey ever legally made in Texas.
In 2018, Garrison Brothers formed a nonprofit called Good Bourbon for a Good Cause, to raise money to renovate the Balmorhea State Park. Along with the assistance of other organizations, the park was renovated between 2018-2021. Now, according to the organization, “funds from Good Bourbon for a Good Cause are distributed to charitable organizations primarily, but not exclusively, in Blanco and Gillespie counties of Texas and also to charitable organizations that serve current and former American military personnel.”
Small Batch Texas Bourbon is batched and released annually. The bottle in review is from the 2021 batch, bottle number 66323.
A robust array of scents made up of tobacco leaf, barrel char, and raw sugar cane hits with ferocity. Hints of ginger root and Coca-Cola follow, with a light intensity. The aroma suggests a unique, assertive bourbon lies ahead, one that could be exciting or off-putting depending on how it plays out. This makes for an interesting, memorable nose that will get your attention.
Even bolder than the nose, the sip strikes with brazen intensity. Honey, cane sugar, and dry leather combine to form a sweet-savory base of flavors. They’re joined by tobacco, graham cracker, and an intense peppery oak note, which is characteristic of bourbon aged in smaller barrels. This can be good or bad, and in this case it leans towards the good side, complementing a unique combination of flavors nicely. All of this is delivered with a level of heat more in line with a 100+ proof bourbon, and with a chewy mouthfeel to boot. A bit too much for some, but perfectly bold for others.
As the bourbon finishes, sweet flavors overtake the heat from the palate, with brown sugar, maple syrup, and amaretto intensifying throughout. New leather and dry seasoned oak mingle in as well, providing balance. As the long finish fades, a hint of cinnamon creeps in, contrasting the sweetness with a bit of spice. The finish ties things together nicely.
One thing is clear about Garrison Brothers - they don’t cut any corners. The company makes it clear that they distill all of their own whiskey, and just a short few minutes of research reveals some of the obstacles the distillery faced, including Dan Garrison's breakup with his original business partner who had a very different vision than he did. Moreover, the distillery highlights a focus on doing good, which is evidenced by their charitable endeavors. When it comes to bourbon - a spirit many see as more than just liquid in a glass, and instead feel some level of connection to - this matters.
Garrison Brothers is known for their use of 15 gallon barrels, which is their most commonly used barrel size though they also age bourbon in 10, 20, 30, 53, and 59 gallon barrels. While craft whiskey has seen a range of bourbons produced by aging in smaller barrels, many off-putting most likely because they were simultaneously learning how to distill and bottling before the bourbon was completely ready (or even over-aged), there are noteworthy exceptions. One of those is Kings County Distillery, who offers a one-of-a-kind flavor profile that draws a correlation through many of their whiskeys. Garrison Brothers joins them, offering a refreshingly robust and unique flavor profile that draws similarities with Kings County Distillery, but finds territory all its own. This is a bourbon that was made in Texas and clearly embodies the well known mantra of “everything is bigger in Texas.” The result - a bourbon that unapologetically drinks higher than its proof, offers a somewhat raw, brash flavor profile, and one that is not easily forgotten. In a sea of bourbons, Garrison Brothers Small Batch Texas Bourbon stands out due to its unique flavor profile.
Unfortunately, the price of admission makes Garrison Brothers Small Batch Texas Bourbon a hard sell. At only three years old, $75 seems high even by craft whiskey standards. The company states that the age will keep increasing over time, but what’s in the bottle now is still under the four year mark and to many it’s still an unknown brand. That’s not to say the bourbon isn’t ready or that it needs to change, it’s good how it is right now. But consumer perception matters, and the $75 mark tends to bring higher proof, higher age, a finish of some kind, single barrel designation, or some other marketable trait to draw in consumers. In order to justify its price, you will need to have some faith in the company and want to seek out something different that they have to offer.
Garrison Brothers Small Batch Texas Bourbon is unapologetically bold, offering a unique flavor profile entirely its own.
Over the years I have tasted different editions of Garrison Brothers bourbon, but at $75 (or more) on the shelf, pulling the trigger on a bottle of the brand's Small Batch Texas Bourbon was always a tough sell. When I finally did, I was surprised by how keenly Small Batch Texas Bourbon will please those who are looking for a unique, robust pour, but probably shock those looking for a balanced easy-drinker. I’m sure “bold and unique” is what Garrison Brothers is going for, and they hit their target smack dab in the center. It’s a bourbon overflowing with character which means it will be polarizing and one of those bourbons you will just need to try for yourself. In many ways I hope it doesn’t change too much, even as they continually push the age upward.