Around Lake Travis and the Hill Country, you have your fair share of spirits to wet your whistle. Between the beer brewers, tequila and moonshine distilleries, our fine state brings big flavor to the thirsty drinkers out here.
Hye, Texas, a city where time moves slower and the people are a bit more scattered, is home to a fast-growing distillery looking to make a name in the business of bourbon, Garrison Brothers Distillery.
Dan Garrison, the man behind the plan, starting out by challenging the very idea that the drink could only be made in Kentucky.
Hey, the law said it was so. That was until Garrison decided to challenge that law, taking his claim that Texas could make better whiskey down to the Texas legislature to change minds one at a time.
Luckily, he knew what he was talking about, and had a few key people to help him pull it off, including Rick Perry.
The First Whiskey Distillers in Texas
It was 2008, and no bourbon was being made and sold anywhere outside of the state of Kentucky. Dan had been practicing distilling on nights and weekends, perfecting the delicate balance of Texas heat and wooden Oak barrels that give the drink its distinct sweet and complex taste. Chipping away at decades-old laws that have been lingering since Prohibition, Garrison paved the way for future Texas bourbon distillers, one step at a time.
A trip out to the working ranch and distillery in Hye is like stepping into your own little slice of Texas heaven. High atop the golden hills of the Hill Country, set underneath shady Live Oak trees, and run by a never-ending series of volunteers and cowboys, Garrison Brothers Distillery is a labor of love. It had to be to put it all on the line in 2001 when Garrison decided to get out of the software industry in Austin and bet it all on the family farm, or in this case, his family’s distillery.
Life as a software executive had its perks, but when the internet bubble burst and the industry scrambled to collect the pieces, he picked up this company stock and traded in for life on the range, which started as a humble piece of land and has been transformed into the beautiful plot you can visit today.
A Life Changing Trip to Kentucky
When you meet Dan Garrison in person, it’s clear that he loves his bourbon. He has studied it, has consumed it and has savored it for a long time, perfecting the subtle flavors that can only come from years of aging and a steady distillation process.
But back when the bubble burst and he was left questioning his future, he was a neophyte to distilling, so he did what any jobless man would do — he set off on a trip to the Kentucky bourbon trail.
Visiting his favorite distilleries over the course of several weeks, he learned the entire process from the pros, from some of the biggest and best bourbon makers in America. Coaxing the distillers one by one, he learned a few tricks here and there to bring back to Texas.
When he got back with his plan he convinced his wife to let him purchase the land and barn that would house the huge stills that would go on to make thousands of gallons of bourbon. It was a huge risk to take because he still had to change several laws to be able to sell his brown spirits, but Garrison was up for the challenge.
One Texan’s Passion for Bourbon
Nothing feels more Texas than whiskey. But when Garrison decided to extend that sentiment to his favorite drink, bourbon, he still had a few roadblocks before he could sell it to customers. Soon after changing several key laws in the state, he was free to distill to his heart’s content.
“I never had any idea of doing anything else, I only wanted to make bourbon; I don’t know why anyone would drink anything else.”
Garrison took his passion and decided to let it simmer in the Texas Hill Country for a while, testing and playing with various woods and temperatures to bring about the best flavors in each sip.
“There’s a million things you can do to make a different tasting bourbon. But you don’t just fall in love with what tastes like a bourbon. You fall in love with the fact that you can taste 1,000 different bourbons and there’s all different tastes to them.”
You can tell just how much work and passion goes into every bottle, from the moment it’s a simple mash to the last steps in bottling. The last part in the whole process, bottling, is finished by an entire league of volunteers. Dan has a growing list of 4,000 volunteers, of which he only needs 1/4 of that for each batch — is filled with fans of the bourbon who are willing to dedicate a day to packaging and finishing the bottling process.
It’s this community that makes the brand and the drink so special — something you can taste, touch and see so you feel a part of it — that makes Texans come back for more.
“I want people to know it’s real, we make it all here ourselves. You’ll never see a truck pull up with gallons and gallons of bourbon. We have to be authentic; we have to be real.”
When you feel like taking a day trip out of the city and to the ranch to get a taste for yourself, their Sit and Sip tours are great reasons to come and check out the distillery, which gives you a firsthand look at the entire process, ending with a scrumptious tasting sample to pull the whole learning lesson together.
Garrison Brothers Distillery (map)
1827 Hye-Albert Rd,
Hye, TX 78635
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sundays