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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Garrison Brothers, Texas, USA

This visit had a lot of firsts for me.  It was my first bourbon distillery, my first US distillery and the first distillery where we were greeted by the founder and owner of the distillery, in this case Dan Garrison of Garrison Brothers.  Pretty cool.  Located in Hye, this is Texas’ first legal bourbon distillery since prohibition and is producing a very nice product.  They charge $10 for a tour but this is one of the most interactive distillery tours I have ever been on and as they patiently waited for their whiskey to mature while resisting the temptation to sell white dog spirit or put an immature product on the market I didn’t mind paying.  My favorite aspect of this tour (other the laid back hospitality I have come to love about Texas) was the fact we were able to try and taste at every stage of production.  We could taste the mash after the corn, wheat and malted barley had been cooked (it was bit like sweet breakfast oatmeal), then taste the distillers beer during fermentation (quite sour but with some fruit), white dog spirit off the still at 140 proof (hot and herbal) and finally (of course) the matured, Texas straight bourbon.   

What are the main differences between a single malt and bourbon distillery? The first was the grain recipe.  Garrison Brothers use corn, wheat and malted barley (but no rye which is often found in bourbon recipes) while single malt distilleries of Scotland use only malted barley.  In Scotland the sugars are extracted by adding hot water to the grains, in bourbon making the process involves actually cooking the grains in water to extract the sugars.  The fermentation process in most malt distilleries produces a “beer” of around 8% ABV, Garrison Brothers beer was closer to 16% ABV.  Finally the distillation of the bourbon was done in a single still but single malt is always double distilled and sometimes triple distilled.   Garrison uses 500 gal of beer at 15%  ABV which is put into the steam heated stills and in turn produces about 150 gal of 140 proof (or 70% ABV) white dog spirit that is aged for at least 2 years in oak casks so that it can be called “straight” bourbon.  Garrison Brothers use a #4 char, also known as alligator char (and the "alligator" in the Ardbeg Alligator).

They have no license to sell liquor so we couldn’t actually buy a bottle at the distillery so I bought a T shirt instead, but there is a licensed store when you turn off the main road for Garrison Bros.  I believe if you are whiskey loving Texan you will love this place and being in the middle of Texas wine country (yes that really exists) there are plenty of other reasons to make the trip and visit the area as well.  If I had to complain it would be the price per bottle.  At almost $80 / bottle retail this is very expensive for a bourbon, but there are good reasons for that.  In it's defence it is not bad when compared to the price of many Scotch single malts in Texas and hopefully with some sustained success, time (and of course increased volumes) we will see the price point reduce. 

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Macallan, Speyside, Scotland

Macallan, Speyside, Scotland The Macallan is the distillery in Craigellachie where many of the myths espoused by other distilleries come to die.   It is a place of contrast and contradiction and I loved it. 

The distillery visitor's center is small and it is a place for whisky lovers to pay homage, not for the tourists.  No café or other family facilities, people come here to see the whisky being made and to buy from a very wide range of products available including many that cannot be found anywhere else in the UK.  The tour is very informative and goes into great depth into some of the areas of whisky production that others skirt over, particularly barley varietals (Macallan favours the less popular Golden Promise) and wood.  In fact they have an entire wood exhibit.  I don't mean the exhibit was made of wood, but a detailed exhibit on the types of wood used in their range and even goes in the detailed biochemistry of oak to explain the impact on the taste and aromas of their whisky. 

But what strikes you walking around the site is the industrial nature of the site.  This is not your quaint, Victorian, artisan, highland distillery, this is first and foremost a whisky factory with huge modern warehouses looming over you on the hill behind the distillery like the dark satanic mills of the famous hymn Jerusalem.  They use different mash tuns, different styles of wash backs (some steel, some wooden) and they even have two different still houses on the site with some still direct heated while others are steam heated.  All the sorts of variations in process that many other distilleries claim to reject and say would greatly affect the nature of final spirit seem less important to Macallan who produce a single malt, The Macallan 18 year old, sometimes called the Rolls Royce of Whisky (admittedly usually by them), and many consider one of the best single malts in the world.

Interestingly, despite being now reported as the second largest global brand of single malt whisky in sales, behind the Glenfiddich and ahead of Glenlivet, the success and globalization of brand Macallan does not seem to generate the angst and backlash Glenfiddich occasionally does within certain parts of the whisky community.  Discuss.

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