I'm a big fan of the Garrison Brothers distillery and their bourbon, as you may have read in one of my recent articles. I am particularly fond of this bourbon not merely because it was the first true bourbon distilled in Texas and represents our state well, but because it's really unique among bourbons I've tried. Despite the wide variety of small-batch brand names available to bourbon drinkers these days, the bourbon world is relatively lacking for diversity, as many of these labels belong to a handful of conglomerate bourbon producers or otherwise source
As a result, many bourbons are made from only a handful of recipes, and thus tend to contain similar characteristics. Bernie Lubbers suggests there are basically only three unique mash bills http://www.whiskeyprof.com/theres-only-3-general-bourbon-recipes-yall/ ; this GQ chart better breaks down the connections between bourbon labels. http://www.gq.com/life/food/201311/bourbon-whiskey-family-tree (This is why you can buy Weller 12-year for $25 and not really be much worse off than if you located a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle [check year]). They all tend to start with caramel and that hint of mouth-smacking sweet corn liquor; the recipes with rye tend to give way to spicy, peppery notes, while the ones with wheat finish smoothly, allowing more vanilla flavors to come through.
I like the Garrison Brothers because it's not so easily pigeonholed. The 2013 releases I drank tended to be well-balanced and not too overpowering, with a texture and flavor I could only best describe as "grainy" and "breakfast cereal". That may sound unappealing to you, but I love breakfast cereal: I was intrigued, and further tests revealed this unique flavor profile to be real and consistent. I don't know what exactly is its primary cause-- the mash bill; the uniquely coopered barrels, designed to be smaller and sturdier in the face of the Texas heat; or the Texas heat itself-- but it won me over quickly. When I visited the distillery, I bought a bottle of their single barrel bourbon, Spring 2014 edition, both because you can only buy their single-barrel releases at the distillery, and because they were proud of it, calling it their best bourbon yet.
I don't know their bourbon as well as they do, but I'd be hard pressed to disagree.
Garrison Brothers' unique flavors are there, and in this variation, I find them more subtle and intermingled than in the Fall 2013 batch (and really, more subtle than most bourbons). While the taste of corn liquor is in there, it isn't harsh, and it's well balanced by the soft, cereal-grains nose and the caramel on the palate and finish. The bourbon finishes more smoothly than ever, as one might expect from a single barrel.
The Spring 2014 release was the one aged for the longest time yet in the barrel, and I think this is the cause of its more pronounced caramel flavor up front. This is the biggest distinction I noticed from this release compared to earlier releases: it's still got that familiar Garrison Brothers mouthfeel I described earlier, and that flavor and aroma that evoke cereal grains, but the caramel is more strongly present than ever before. I liked it: It's still far from overwhelming, and more than anything, it makes for a better balance of wood and grain in the spirit than in previous released.
Now, granted, this bourbon is a commitment: It's somewhere north of $100 a bottle for the single barrel, and you can't buy that anywhere but at the distillery, which is about three hours away from Houston via I-10 and TX-71. (When you do, though, you get to choose your bottle and then seal it in was yourself.) If you've never had Garrison Brothers, you may want to start by sampling the standard release, which runs around $70-80 a bottle and can also be found in more than a few local bars. (Poison Girl and Reserve 101 definitely have it, and I believe Bad News Bar does as well, for starters.)
If you're already a confirmed fan, though, I heartily recommend it, and not just for the distillery tour: the Garrison Brothers single barrel isn't just the best bourbon they make, it's about as good as bourbon gets. (That is, until, and unless, you can get your hands on some of their award-winning, uncut "Cowboy Bourbon", and if you can, call me.)
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.