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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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Jameson Heritage Centre, Old Midleton Distillery, Ireland

Jameson Heritage Centre, Old Midleton Distillery, Ireland

I visited this distllery in July 2006 and that trip probably more than anything else stirred my interest,  now a full fledged passion, in whiskey.  We were on vacation in Cork in part because my mother's side of the family (maiden name Bradley) came from Cork.  This tour was simply on our list of things to do.  Up until that time I was a social scotch drinker, probably because my father always had a bottle in the house growing up so my brother and I had to learn to like scotch or not drink at family events.  We chose to drink.  I dont remember much of the actual tour other than the guide at almost every point in the process pointed out the difference between Irish and Scotch and the reason why Irish was better.  It felt like they were actively trying to convert Scotch drinkers (I was once in Salt Lake City and the tour guides there also tried to convert you, in their case to Mormanisim, it pretty much felt the same).  They really pressed home that they they didnt use peat in the malting process and that triple distillation created a much sweeter and smoother spirit.  It almost came across as a bit desperate, as if they had an inferiorty complex, because so much attention was put into Scotch rather than focussing on their product.

At the tasting at the end of the tour they offered two samples, one of Jameson and the other of "scotch".  After tasting both (and the previous 30 minutes of indoctrination and brainwashing... Peat is Bad)  I was convinced Irish whiskey was the greatest stuff on earth.  For the next 3 years I drank almost exclusively Irish whiskey and it was not until I moved to Scotland in 2009 that I began to explore Scotch again.

A few years later I subsequently learned they use Johnnie Walker Black Label as the blended scotch in those comparison tastings, one I personally don't like (see my review) and so in reality I never stood a chance. 

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