Dan Garrison, founder of Garrison Brothers bourbon distillery, would tell you himself that Mike Raymond and Reserve 101 were instrumental in helping him launch his company in the Houston market. What Raymond described as their "budding bromance" has led to their latest partnership: Garrison Brothers' first private bottling. In 2013, Garrison invited Raymond up to the Garrison Brothers ranch in Hye to pick a barrel from about ten or twelve of his best. In February, that barrel was finally bottled, and those bottles arrived at Reserve 101 last week.
Garrison was on hand to introduce the bourbon and guide a tasting of it, in an event held to benefit Lucky Dog Rescue of Houston. We tasted the two bourbons on hand-- Garrison Brothers' Fall 2014 release, and the Reserve 101 single barrel-- and got to talk briefly with Garrison and Raymond about the whiskey.
Picking the barrel was a tough process. Garrison says the bourbon evaporates much more rapidly here in Texas than in Kentucky; the "angel's share" is about 13 percent yearly for Garrison Brothers barrels, whereas Kentucky bourbons only lose about 4 percent per year to evaporation while aging. This is one of the reasons Garrison Brothers doesn't age their bourbon for as long as Kentucky brands do: too much would evaporate. (The other reason, as I mentioned last time, is that the Texas heat forces more interaction between wood and spirit in a shorter amount of time.) The result of all this is that Raymond was sampling barrels that had become extra-concentrated-- a lot of flavor, but also as high as 145 proof. (Raymond tried the bourbons both at barrel proof and watered down to a more manageable 100 proof. Garrison Brothers bottles at 94 proof.)
Raymond said when he was choosing a barrel, he was looking for unique flavors (and, of course, factoring in how it would continue to age). After sampling from an initial pool of 10-12 barrels, Raymond quickly narrowed it down to three. The competition between them lasted a bit longer and was more difficult; it was several hours before Raymond made his choice.
As far as the bourbon itself: I've mentioned that I'm a big fan of Garrison Brothers, in part for being one of a handful of Texas distilleries that doesn't source their whiskey, but mostly for the quality of the product they make. (I have a bottle of Spring 2014 single barrel I picked up in my visit to their distillery last summer.) These, I believe, are Garrison Brothers' two oldest bourbons to date, and it shows: the flavor profile is much heavier on the caramel and the mouthfeel is a little softer. Earlier Garrison Brothers releases had a more pronounced cereal flavor, which I liked, so I was honestly a little surprised I liked the bourbon even more when that flavor wasn't as present. The tastiness of the caramel and the softer mouthfeel more than made up for it. The bourbons aren't without a little kick, though, as they both finish with a bit of spice and heat.
The single barrel in particular was a real treat, with a uniquely soft texture for a bourbon. Raymond chose well, considering the barrel had about 18 months left to age when he had to decide. The bourbon has a rich, buttery mouthfeel to it, softer around the edges than I would have expected. (It's almost like the effect that finishing in a wine barrel might have on the whiskey.) It's all the more impressive to achieve this mouthfeel and flavor, given the legal restrictions on the production methods for making bourbon.
Reserve 101 will only have 36 bottles of this barrel, and when it's gone, it's gone. They'll still stock other Garrison Brothers bourbon, of course, and some local liquor stores will be acquiring their own hand-selected barrels as well. Check with your local store on its availability, or visit Reserve 101 to try a shot. Or do both-- since the barrels selected by each whiskey purveyor are different, the flavor profiles of the whiskey inside will be different as well.