Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Garrison Brothers Distillery. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Sometimes being the first to pose a question pays off. Dan Garrison confirmed with the TTB that he could craft bourbon in Texas, outside of Kentucky and Tennessee. With the TTB’s blessing, Garrison broke ground in 2004 in Hye, Texas, for the first legal bourbon distillery in the state: Garrison Brothers.
Texas’ extreme heat and drastic diurnal temperature swings (the change in temperature between night and day) distinguish the style. These swings cause a near palpable pulse of flavor from the barrel staves to the whiskey in the sauna-esque summer heat that runs over 100 degrees. The distillery credits this swing for providing richness and boldness to the spirit. The downside? The angels take a hefty toll, taking as high as 32% of the barrel’s contents for their heavenly merrymaking, nearly triple the norm in Kentucky.
Though 2010 marked their first commercial release, Garrison Brothers is a strong national player, and they’re certainly turning heads for their style. The distillery has won numerous awards and accolades at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Denver International Spirits Competition, Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, and beyond. The team is lead by Master Distiller Donnis Todd who was hired in 2007. He developed his knowledge base while touring the world in the Air Force, seeking out distilleries to visit and learn from. Samantha Olvera is the only woman distiller at Garrison Brothers, a ground-breaker and leader in her field.
Garrison Brothers released the oldest expression to date of the Laguna Madre line in May 2022. Named for the Texan coastal waters, just over 1,000 bottles were produced of this rarity, and about half were sold at the distillery door. The line launched in 2020 and used as part of their Operation Crush COVID-19 to benefit their non-profit Good Bourbon for a Good Cause, which aids veterans and local charities.
The Garrison Brothers 2022 Laguna Madre Texas Straight Bourbon was aged in new American oak for four years before another four-year rest in French Limousin oak finishing casks. The French Limousin oak is noted by the producer as being extremely rare and allocated, offering notes of “woody vanilla, sweet candy cacao and thick, white chocolate” when toasted. Garrison Brothers notes that the whiskey itself tastes of root beer, nuts and chocolate candies. This promises a decedent experience!
The distillery’s website offers meticulously documented details, which for whiskey nerds is fun to browse. Compliments to their website design, as deeper dive information is presented in more and more technical detail as you scroll further in an elegant presentation of information. Visit their site for full details, but essentially, 114 proof whiskey entered Kelvin Cooperage barrels in 2012; in 2014, sixteen of those barrels that presented the most desirable tasting notes and mouthfeel were selected for further aging; and in 2016, those barrels were transferred to 225 liter Limousin oak barrels with a medium plus toast. You could say the whiskey was eight years in the making, but seeing as Limousin oak is harvested at a minimum of 120 years, the 20th century was just breaking when the seeds for this bottle were planted.
Tasting Notes: Garrison Brothers 2022 Laguna Madre Texas Straight Bourbon
Vital Stats: Aged for four years in new American oak and finished for four years in French Limousin oak, 50.5% ABV, mash bill: no. 1 corn, local soft red winter wheat, and two-row barley, SRP $299.99/ 750ml bottle.
Appearance: Deep golden color with a mahogany undertone.
Nose: The nose opens with a lightly green note of fresh grass, red raspberry leaf, and sea salt. It’s aggressive and richly scented with an undertone of sawdust, charcoal, and clean cardboard. As the whiskey opens, it offers up rich notes of fruit, nuts, and chocolate. There are notes of black figs, toasted brown bread, freshly minced basil, caramel sauce, Nutella, and chocolate cookie wafers. I was impressed at how the aromatics changed.
Palate: This is silky and limp on the palate with a touch of drying tannins. At first, the green note from the nose offers up aromas of papaya, tarragon, and fresh pine cones. This gives way to a note of dark chocolate sauce, cinnamon gum, and toasted brown bread. It’s richly flavored, though it takes a while to open up in the glass. The finish is decadent and clinging, showing notes of melted dark chocolate, autumn leaves, and chocolate covered malt balls.