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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Garrison Brothers, Texas, USA

This visit had a lot of firsts for me.  It was my first bourbon distillery, my first US distillery and the first distillery where we were greeted by the founder and owner of the distillery, in this case Dan Garrison of Garrison Brothers.  Pretty cool.  Located in Hye, this is Texas’ first legal bourbon distillery since prohibition and is producing a very nice product.  They charge $10 for a tour but this is one of the most interactive distillery tours I have ever been on and as they patiently waited for their whiskey to mature while resisting the temptation to sell white dog spirit or put an immature product on the market I didn’t mind paying.  My favorite aspect of this tour (other the laid back hospitality I have come to love about Texas) was the fact we were able to try and taste at every stage of production.  We could taste the mash after the corn, wheat and malted barley had been cooked (it was bit like sweet breakfast oatmeal), then taste the distillers beer during fermentation (quite sour but with some fruit), white dog spirit off the still at 140 proof (hot and herbal) and finally (of course) the matured, Texas straight bourbon.   

What are the main differences between a single malt and bourbon distillery? The first was the grain recipe.  Garrison Brothers use corn, wheat and malted barley (but no rye which is often found in bourbon recipes) while single malt distilleries of Scotland use only malted barley.  In Scotland the sugars are extracted by adding hot water to the grains, in bourbon making the process involves actually cooking the grains in water to extract the sugars.  The fermentation process in most malt distilleries produces a “beer” of around 8% ABV, Garrison Brothers beer was closer to 16% ABV.  Finally the distillation of the bourbon was done in a single still but single malt is always double distilled and sometimes triple distilled.   Garrison uses 500 gal of beer at 15%  ABV which is put into the steam heated stills and in turn produces about 150 gal of 140 proof (or 70% ABV) white dog spirit that is aged for at least 2 years in oak casks so that it can be called “straight” bourbon.  Garrison Brothers use a #4 char, also known as alligator char (and the "alligator" in the Ardbeg Alligator).

They have no license to sell liquor so we couldn’t actually buy a bottle at the distillery so I bought a T shirt instead, but there is a licensed store when you turn off the main road for Garrison Bros.  I believe if you are whiskey loving Texan you will love this place and being in the middle of Texas wine country (yes that really exists) there are plenty of other reasons to make the trip and visit the area as well.  If I had to complain it would be the price per bottle.  At almost $80 / bottle retail this is very expensive for a bourbon, but there are good reasons for that.  In it's defence it is not bad when compared to the price of many Scotch single malts in Texas and hopefully with some sustained success, time (and of course increased volumes) we will see the price point reduce. 

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Glenfiddich, Speyside, Scotland

Glenfiddich, Speyside, Scotland I have visited this distillery in Dufftown (the self titled Malt Capital of the World) on number of occasions and as you would expect for Glenfiddich it is slick and well done.  Supposedly it was the first distillery to open a visitor's center as well as being one of the first distilleries to actively market their single malt whisky, which is now the world's largest selling single malt brand.   The facilities are as good as any distillery I have been too with a large visitor's center, shop and a nice restaurant.  The tastings perhaps are not as generous and free flowing as some of the less commercial tours, however that is not really a complaint but more of an observation.   I also like the fact they are big enough to stay open all year, including Sundays compared to many distilleries, even major ones, that have quite limited seasons and hours for their visitors centers.

I love their entire range and the 21 year old which is finished in a rum cask, is one of my favorites of all time.  I also got a bottle of the limited release Snow Phoenix as Christmas present in 2010 which was devoured rather too quickly (thanks Dad) and before I started taking detailed tasting notes.   Tammy enjoys the Glenfiddich liqueur over ice as well.

So what's not too like?  Well for some apparently there is plenty.  Glenfiddich often manages to raise the ire of the scotch whisky anorak community, and at the very least it's popularity and ubiquity seems to turn off those who thrive on recommending obscure distilleries whose total annual liquid output appears to amount to slightly less than most people use to make their morning coffee.    

That's their loss and leaves more for the rest of us, not that there is much danger of the world running out of Glenfiddich, which in itself makes the world a better place.

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