Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. 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 in this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Move over Kentucky, TEXAS big bourbon in making a move on your #1 spot! … For those who are still reading, please excuse the sacrilege, I was making a point… which is that Texas is home to one of the fastest booms in the spirits industry, going from eight distilleries in 2008 to over 200 in 2023, with 30 being whiskey producers alone. This all makes Texas the third most concentrated state for craft spirit production.
“We’re experiencing an absolute whiskey renaissance,” says Andrew Braunberg, author of Fires, Floods, Explosions, and Bloodshed: A History of Texas Whiskey. “The last time there were this many whiskey distilleries in Texas was probably during the Civil War.”
Like the state itself, Texas bourbon is known for their big, bold, and intense flavors. Much of this is due to the state’s temperature. With massive fluctuations in the summer, the bourbon ages very rapidly, with the angel’s share evaporating at more than twice the rate of their Kentucky counterparts. This leads to a perception that Texas bourbons are “younger” or of less quality, but that can’t be farther from the truth. A two-year-old Texas bourbon can taste as rich and mature as a four-year-old, or older, whiskey from another state. Additionally, in part due to Texas’ size, whiskeys from one part of the state will age differently due to the variation of local humidity, with humid areas losing more alcohol during maturation and drier central Texas losing more water.
Enter Garrison Brothers, Texas’s first legal (there have been more than a few illegal) distillery. First licensed to start distilling in 2006, they released their first product, Young Gun, on March 2, 2010 (Texas Independence Day). Overcoming adversity, with their first barrels getting literally destroyed by the Texas heat, Garrison Bros. recently won the American Distilling Institute’s 2023 Distillery of the Year, aka “The Bubble Cap Award”.
I’m no stranger to Garrison Bros. I bought one of the first Garrison Bros. Small Batch bourbons on sale in Oregon. My first taste informed me that I was drinking something entirely different than Kentucky Bourbon and have been hooked ever since. My appreciation has only increased since I found this fiery defense of Garrison Bros. whiskey by Dan Garrison (it’s unsigned, but from context, it appears to be from him) on their website. “Around here, bourbon is sacred and we will fight like hell to defend it,” writes Mr. Garrison, and boy, from tasting his whiskeys, he means it.
Today at The Whiskey Wash, I have the privilege of tasting and reviewing a Garrison Bros. premium limited release, the Laguna Madre. Initially released in 2020 to fundraise support for hospitality industry workers who lost their livelihood due to the pandemic (this year, they are fundraising for FlatsWorthy – a non-profit of angler group focused on mutual respect, environmental hospitality, and resource protection), the dram is aged four years in American oak barrels, and another four in French Limousin oak casks. From the Limousin forest, this oak type is graced with wide grain structures that cause bold flavors not preferred in wine, but perfect for brandy (and whiskey).
For a brand known for their scorching high proof Cowboy Bourbon releases (2023 is 140.9 proof, that’s 70.45%) the Laguna Madre is positively tame at 50.5%. Clearly a different beast, it is smooth and supple, but backs up the flavor with the muscle of a Texas whiskey, having the telltale rye bread & Rhum Agricole flavor I ascribe to a Garrison Brothers whiskey.
Much sweeter than their Small Batch, more complex than their Honey Dew, Laguna Madre is in a category of its own. Looks like I’m collecting these now too. Cowboy Bourbon, you’re next.
Tasting Notes: Garrison Brothers Laguna Madre 2023
Vital Stats: Aged eight years, four in charred American Oak and four in French Limousin Oak; 101 proof (50.5% ABV); $349/750ml.
Appearance: Dark red mahogany.
Nose: Pencil shavings and caramelized honey peel aside to reveal wheat bread, raw vanilla bean and dried grass. I’m also sensing a hit of peaches.
Palate: Sultry port wine flits past in a blink of an eye as the Texas whiskey flavor goes to town. Tannic red-velvet cake wraps the tongue as fresh rye bread floats over it. On the finish, funky Rhum Agricole, corn, and vanilla crest a hearty goodbye.