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Garrison Brothers Distillery
by
Terry Sullivan

Garrison Brothers DistilerySummary: Hidden from Rt. 290 in the Texas Hill Country, Garrison Brothers is crafting bourbon. The small boutique distillery offers excellent tours. Each bottle is signed by the Garrison brothers.

After parking, you walk to a building and realize that you are not in Kentucky and at one of the large campus-like distilleries. A lone building offers an assortment of water, beer and wine for you to drink while waiting for the trailer that will take you to the distillation facility. The beverages are on an honor system. An amount is suggested for the drinks. Kathy and I spotted a swing made from an oak barrel and decided to experience a past time daily activity. In the heat of the Texas day, the swing under a shade tree offered some relief. At 2:00 pm, a jeep pulling a trailer pulled up and about twenty interested people went for a ride to the distillery area.

Garrison Brothers DistileryOur guide, Stephanie, told the group that Dan Garrison started the distillery in 2008. He wanted to make the best bourbon in the world and noted the importance of water. Both distilleries in Kentucky and Tennessee sit on top of limestone. The rain water that trickles through the limestone creates a premium water used for whisky production. The location of Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye, Texas also sits on limestone. The site has a great source of water for bourbon distillation. Stephanie noted that the distillery is small enough that all tasks are done by hand.

Garrison Brothers DistileryThe distillery complex consists of a few buildings. We met outside the back of the first building. Three grain silos store grains delivered to the distillery. Stephanie stopped at a display of the grains. She showed us the grains in bottles before they crush the grains and after the grains are crushed. Garrison Brothers' recipe is 74% corn, 15% wheat and 11% malted barley. The higher amount of corn provides more sweetness. All grains are number one organic food grains. From the silo, a hammer mill grinds the grains.

Garrison Brothers DistileryWe were led to the first section of the building where the grain is cooked with water. The cooking begins to turn the starch into sugar. Our first tasting was at this point. We were given a small vile of cooked grain. It was reminiscent of cooked cereal and you noticed the sweetness of the mixture. I asked the distiller how he knows when the grains have reached the correct amount of sugar. He uses his sense of taste as well as a refractometer to measure the ºB (brix) level. This tells him the percent of sugar.

Garrison Brothers DistileryOur group was then led to the next room where fermentation bins were fermenting the mash. Garrison Brothers uses commercial whisky yeast to breakdown the sugar and turn it into alcohol. Several of the bins were actively fermenting as witnessed by the bubbling that was taking place. It takes five days to ferment to the desired alcohol level. The liquid then goes to the stills in the still room.

Garrison Brothers DistileryThree stills are set up for distillation. Each is a combination of a pot-belly and column still. Once the distillation process begins, careful attention is paid to the hydrometer. The specific gravity level can tell the distiller when the distilled liquid is a head, heart or tail. The hearts are what is wanted to make bourbon. The heads and tails are discarded. They do not redistill them. We tasted a small vile of white dog, the clear liquid high alcohol that comes from the still. Most people did not like it in this state. The white dog is then put into barrels to age.

However before going to the barrel room, in another building, we went to the bottling line. The bottling line uses several people to wash the bottles, fill the bottles and then cork the bottles. Afterwards, the bottles go to one of several stations where a worker turns the bottle upside down and lowers the cork and part of the neck into hot melted wax. The bottle is quickly taken out of the wax and held over the pot for a few minutes to drain. If any bubbles are formed they are popped. A small hobby torch may be used to smooth the wax. The bottles are then labeled and signed by the Garrison brothers.

Our tour ended in the barrel room. The white dog is placed in new white oak barrels that have been charred. During the time spent in the barrel, the liquid interacts with the wood to take on aromas and flavors. It was mentioned that in the Texas heat, this process is accelerated over the time it takes in other areas that make bourbon.

Garrison Brothers DistileryWe tasted a bourbon in a special glass made for tasting whisky. The bourbon was served neat, without water or ice. We were told not to smell the aroma through our nose. Stephanie demonstrated how to inhale through your mouth to notice the aroma. We were then asked to take just a small amount of the bourbon in our mouths to taste. The 94 proof bourbon was a dark gold to amber color. It was sweet with corn and wheat aromas and tastes. The finish was hot with traces of caramel.

When visiting the Texas Hill Country, make an appointment to visit the educational tour at Garrison Brothers. The tour and tasting lasts about 90 minutes.

Garrison Brothers Distillery
1827 Hye-Albert Rd
Hye, Texas 78635

GPS: N30º 13.064’ W98º 34.003’    

 

Article written August 2014

 

 


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