There’s something to be said for being the first. Garrison Brothers was the first to come out with a Texas distilled and aged bourbon, but in the intervening years there have been plenty of others who have followed their path. The question is: how well does the original hold up?
In 2006, founder Dan Garrison found himself wanting to do something else besides software marketing (probably one of the most stereotypical Austin, Texas professions) and was granted the first distillery permit for production of bourbon in the state of Texas. The distillery remains family owned and operated, with Dan Garrison at the helm and his parents, spouse, and children all working in some capacity for the facility.
Since their first batch was released on March 2nd of 2010 (Texas Independence Day), the distillery has continued to grow and the Texas produced bourbon can now be found in most states in the US.
Garrison Brothers regularly holds volunteer bottling events where members of the public can apply to be a bottler for the day, helping the distillery to package their product for sale while “quality control” sampling some of the spirit themselves.
The whiskey starts its life as a mixture of 74% Texas white corn, 15% wheat, and 11% barley. The mixture is cooked, fermented, and distilled on site in Hayes, Texas (just southwest of Austin).
The thing that Garrison Brothers relies upon to differentiate themselves from other bourbons is the extreme Texas heat that matures their whiskey. Instead of the more gentle warming and cooling cycles experienced in places like Scotland, the weather in Austin swings wildly and severely during the year. This temperature swing pushes and pulls the whiskey into the wood of the barrel more forcefully, leading to a deeper and richer taste. To combat the stress of that movement, the barrels used by Garrison Brothers are stronger and thicker than typically seen and need to be custom ordered.
Technically this is a NAS, or No Age Statement, whiskey — meaning they don’t make any claims about the age of their spirit. Rumor has it that the latest batch was aged for about three years, but that’s admittedly pure gossip.
Despite being called “Texas Straight Bourbon”, there actually isn’t a formal definition for that appellation. So while it does meet the requirements to be technically called a bourbon, there’s not really anything to hold them to for the “Texas straight” part.
The bottle isn’t breaking any new ground for design here. Especially the smaller versions in the 375ml range — it’s pretty much a standard hip flask.
I appreciate that the logo is simple and the branding is on a transparent background, allowing the rich amber color of the whiskey to take center stage. I get annoyed when I can’t really see what it is I’m purchasing.
The bottle is capped with a cork stopper which is dipped in wax (similar, but legally distinct from, the way Maker’s Mark does their wax). There’s a leather strap that is embedded under the wax that is used to break the seal and allow you to pour the delicious contents.
The liquid is a dark amber color, almost like a tobacco leaf and less like the caramel color you get in something like Bulleit Bourbon. It smells stronger, too, with a heavy dose of earthyness and less of the typical sweet caramel and vanilla tones. Those things are still present, but the richness seems to push them to the background. That said, toffee and vanilla are the primary flavors I can tease out of the scent.
Taking a first sip, the flavors are more nutmeg and chocolate, richer and earthier than the usual bourbon. It’s still as sweet as I’d expect a bourbon to be, but less ‘caramel apple’ and more ‘winter spiced cider’. It seems that more of the flavors from the charred barrel have made their way into the spirit than the Kentucky variety of bourbon — which makes sense for the bolder, wilder Texas weather.
Overall the flavor is consistent and clean with no bitterness or bite.
With the addition of a couple ice cubes, the harsher nature of the alcohol tends to mellow out. Those nutty earthy tones give way a little easier to the caramel and vanilla of the underlying bourbon, and this makes it a little more sippable in my opinion.
It’s still a strong spirit, there’s no doubt about that. Strong in flavor, at least, if not just alcohol content. But there’s more nuance and sweetness to the flavor with the added ice.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting the orange bitters to do much damage against the bold flavors of the spirit, but in this case I think it works nicely. The bright and cheerful orange zest lifts the otherwise dark and rich flavors and makes for a well balanced drink.
The spirit isn’t quite sweet enough to carry the cocktail on its own so a little bit of sugar or (if you must) some simple syrup will go a long way.
This is where those earthy and rich flavors really come into their own. In something like a mule, you need some lower richer tones to balance out the sugary and tangy ginger beer — which this bourbon does in spectacular fashion.
I almost hate to waste a good small batch bourbon in such a mixed drink where it really isn’t the star of the show, but it just works so well!
Garrison Brothers is the oldest bourbon being produced in the state of Texas, but it is no longer the only game in town. There are a ton of other Texas distilled and aged bourbons so they can’t lean on that distinction anymore. The good news, though, is that they really don’t need to. Their bourbon is delicious and smooth, with a rich and complex flavor. It easily holds its own against the newcomers.
Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Owner: Garrison Brothers Distillery
Production: Hye, Texas
Grain bill: 74% Texas white corn, 15% wheat, 11% barley
Aging: No Age Statement (~3 years)
Proof: 47% ABV
Price: $73.65/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
You’re the first. You’re not the last. And you’re everything I want in a bourbon.