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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Catoctin Creek, Virginia, USA

No, I hadn't heard of it either....  In fact I have a growing suspicion that even those of us who think we know a thing or two about "craft distilling" actually don't know a signficant amount about what is going in various small towns and industrial parks around this country and perhaps the world.  On a June day in 2014 I found myself in Virginia on business trip with a few hours to kill and so thanks to the miracle that is smart phone technology I searched for, and found, a craft distillery offering tours and tastings less than 50 miles from my hotel in the Washington DC area.  The site, a former car dealership and furniture store, is quite new as they started (as many craft distilleries do) in a nearby industrial unit in 2009, outgrew it and in 2012 purchased a very nice facility in downtown Purcellville.  They make rye whiskey (and some gin from the whisky tails - interesting) and sell some rye spirit as well.  I started with a $10 tasting flight which included the rye spirit, bottled at 40% abv, their "standard" 2 year old Roundstone Rye and their newest / latest batch of 3 year old Roundstone rye. For another $5 you can take a tour of the distillery (ie go into the next room) and have the whisky making process explained which I did.  Would I recommend you travel far to seek this out?  Probably not.  Did I accidently discover the best kept whiskey secret in Virginia and a product so stunning that John Hall should melt down his stills and go back to wine makling.  Also a no.  But if you are in the DC area and need to get your "whisky geek" on it is a very professional set up and worth the short trip.

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Garrison Brothers, Texas, USA

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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