Review: Garrison Brothers Balmorhea Texas Bourbon (2019)
Texas-born bourbons are not exactly known for their delicacy, and Garrison Brothers — which stakes a claim as being “the first corn to cork bourbon distillery in America opened beyond Kentucky, and the first legal whiskey distillery in Texas” — has long stood proudly on those very laurels. While its standard Texas Straight Bourbon and a few other expressions are well known and widely available, Garrison Brothers also has a limited edition bottling called Balmorhea. This special edition has been released only once before; below we look at the second release of the whiskey, which arrives for 2019.
What’s Balmorhea? It’s a West Texas State Park that contains an enormous swimming pool, the largest spring-fed pool in the world. With Balmorhea whiskey, Garrison Brothers donates $5 from every bottle sold to preserving, restoring, and landscaping this park.
So what are you getting? The whiskey in the bottle is not simply repackaged Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon. Rather, it’s a double-aged bourbon that starts with its standard sweet mashbill, which is then aged for four years in new American white oak barrels made from Ozarks-harvested wood. A second aging involves an extra year in white oak barrels made from trees grown in Minnesota.
Let’s give it a try!
This is an incredibly intense whiskey, the color of (weakish) coffee, impossible to see anything but hazy light through it. The nose cues you in right away to what to expect, with heavy notes of barrel char, coffee bean, and candied pecans. Smoky with mesquite notes, there’s a pungency of black olives and smoldering eucalyptus branches underneath the surface.
On the palate, intensity reigns. An incredible amount of barrel char and campfire smoke notes dominate, though with enough time some sweetness starts to emerge in the form of maple, vanilla, and dark cocoa powder notes. That’s all so well-hidden under a wall of wood that water is all but mandatory here, and said water manages to soften the wood quite a bit, bringing out new notes of cherry and gingerbread spice, cloves and coffee. Bold, pungent, and chewy even with this addition, Balmorhea is about as far from a “starter whiskey” as you can get — though it is often worth the challenge.
115 proof. 6000 bottles produced.