Dan Garrison and Garrison Brothers Distillery

posted in: General Whiskey Issues | 0

imageAccording to Wikipedia, quality is defined as:

In business, engineering and manufacturing, quality has a pragmatic interpretation as the non-inferiority or superiority of something; it is also defined as fitness for purpose. Quality is a perceptual, conditional, and somewhat subjective attribute and may be understood differently by different people. Consumers may focus on the specification quality of a product/service, or how it compares to competitors in the marketplace. Producers might measure the conformance quality, or degree to which the product/service was produced correctly.

I wouldn’t normally use Wikipedia as a primary reference, but it describes Garrison Brothers Distillery and its consuming focus so well. Nothing drives this distillery and its owner/COO, Dan Garrison, more than the idea of “fitness for purpose” and that purpose is to be the best tasting bourbon on the market. There is an inherent perfectionism that permeates every fiber of the company’s property, processes and people. This doesn’t mean that everything and imageeveryone reaches that elusive level, but it does mean it’s the ultimate goal and Dan makes sure it is constantly reinforced. “The mission of Garrison Brothers Distillery is to create, build and sustain a profitable, family-owned and operated whiskey distillery that makes the best tasting and highest quality bourbon whiskey in the world, and in turn, supports and nourishes our families, the families of those who work with us, and the community in which we operate.”

Very prominently displayed on the distillery and bottling barn is a Harley Davidson sign and a cross. When asked, Garrison explained the Master Distiller, Donnis Todd, is a Harley guy and Dan became a man of faith through many trying years of driving his vision for the very best bourbon in a constant up-hill battle. It wasn’t until 2014 that the distillery finally made a very small profit. There were many reverses and apparent failures, but the underlying principles never changed. Simply mention sourced whiskey to elicit an animated imageresponse. This is a “grain to glass” distillery that will not compromise. Many new craft distilleries resort to sourced whiskey from Kentucky or Indiana to permit survival for the first three or four years of operation. When asked how he survived, Garrison stated that everyone taking a tour of the distillery was required to buy the $25.00 T-shirt. Of course, there was much begging and borrowing from friends, family and people with a bourbon vision. One thing Dan does extremely well (besides making excellent bourbon!) is cast an easily understood vision for a preferable future for the distillery. He made 36 trips to Kentucky between 2000 and 2006 to thoroughly understand how to bring his vision to fruition.

Being a small craft distillery allows Garrison Brothers great latitude in what their process and bourbon ends up being. They openly state that consistency isn’t something for which they are striving. The mashbill is close to 74% (Texas organic) corn, 15% soft red winter wheat (grown on their own land) and 11% malted barley from Canada. However, every process and every formula is imageflexible. The bottom line for every decision is flavor: is this the very best tasting bourbon we can produce? They use 10, 15, 24, 30 and 55 gallon casks made by 3 different cooperages looking for the best flavor. Factor in an angel’s share of 13% – 15% per year, variable levels of barrel fill, varying weather (there’s cool, hot and very hot) and you end up with Texas in a bottle. Their excellent bourbon is loaded with oak in both nose and taste. With Texas weather, the appearance of the bourbon and oak influence is a certainty. Garrison Brothers Distillery now has close to 10,000 barrels baking in the Texas heat on their ranch. They are opening around 900 barrels a year.

Dan loves to use this story to illustrate Garrison Brother’s approach to making Bourbon. Recently, a liquor store manager in San Antonio told me my bourbon was too expensive. He wanted to know why. I explained: “Well, we use organic, food-grade grain that costs four times as much as the grain used by the big imagepicture commercial distilleries and we use custom-made 10-gallon, 15-gallon, 25-gallon, 30-gallon and 53-gallon wine barrels instead of whiskey barrels. These barrels cost three times as much as a traditional whiskey barrel.” His response: “That’s crazy; you’d sell so much more if it was cheaper.” Perhaps he’s right; maybe we should make cheap bourbon. But there’s a problem with that idea. Donnis, the Master Distiller, added “We’re not accountants we don’t do bar codes.” When pressed, the COO replied “We are real. We are the original Texas whiskey. We are authentic. There’s no bullshit in the bottle. That’s all I got.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *