The Tasting Panel magazine

JUNE 2011

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A LONE STAR LIFE Distiller Dan Garrison makes Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey in the Texas Hill Country. Praise the Corn W TEXAS BOURBON IS BORN AGAIN by Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddle hen Congress rescinded the Volstead Act to end Prohibition, Kentucky became the country’s de facto home of bourbon whiskey. It still is, even though bourbon can be produced anywhere in the U.S. With only a handful of contemporary Texas distilleries, the Lone Star Whiskey Trail is a very short walk—and trying to fi nd Texas bourbon is near impossible—even though the state’s whiskey history is as long and colorful as most others. So far, the term “Texas bourbon” hasn’t popped up prior to Prohibition in my research, but I remain faithful to two ideas: The fi rst is that Texas must have made bourbon before now. And I’ll bet it was in Titus County, which has a long history of moonshining. During the turn of last century, a lot of corn- whiskey-making families migrated to Titus from Kentucky and Tennessee—and whether for fun or profi t, folks with the distilling bug in them can’t help but experiment. The second thing my faith tells me is that Texas will make world-class bourbon that steals the limelight from Kentucky. About 250 miles southwest of Titus, on a 60-acre property in Hye (which is little more than an unincorporated blip in the Texas Hill Country), Dan Garrison walks among the various buildings that make up the Garrison Brothers Distillery. “Our objective is to make the fi nest bourbon whiskey, period,” he says before stopping to let a chicken peck at gravel by his boots. Then he clarifi es his point: “Actually our objective is to make 12 of the fi nest bourbon whiskeys. Period.” For right now, he just has the one: Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Having debuted in late 2010, it’s in extremely limited quantities, but it has the distinction of 54 / the tasting panel / june 201 1 being produced in what is Texas’s fi rst legal bourbon distillery. And with that comes the privilege and challenge of setting the benchmark in both style and quality. “There is no Texas style. If anything, we’re creating it,” Garrison says. “And it’s defi nitely different from Kentucky and Tennessee bourbon.” For one thing, around three quarters of Garrison’s mash is Texas Panhandle organic yellow dent corn. Its high starch con- tent brings the mash up to an enviable 21 percent sugar. The soft red winter wheat is grown organically nearby. The water comes from the limestone fi ltered Trinity aquifer below the ground, and captured rainwater from above. With the exception of the Pacifi c Northwest barley, this is a distinctly Texan spirit. Perhaps the most important element is something that Kentucky can’t import: climate. Long, hot, muggy Texas sum- mers mature the spirit quickly, producing robust caramel and butterscotch notes. Right now, Garrison’s bourbon is sweating it out inside 15-gallon new American white oak barrels that are sitting in converted trans-ocean metal shipping contain- ers—with buckets of water added to increase the humidity. “We think aging in this type of environment for fi ve to seven years is where we want to be,” says Garrison. “If you like wheated whiskies with a strong lingering fi nish, you’ll like what this produces. It’s a caramel bomb. It’s a toasted-butter- scotch bomb with a nutmeg and brown sugar fi nish.” That may indeed become Texas’s signature style for bourbon, but I want to taste how the old-timers did it, too. All I have to do now is fi nd and resurrect a recipe for pre-Prohibition Texas bourbon. It’s a matter of faith.

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