We’ve visited the well at Texas bourbon pioneers Garrison Brothers quite a few times, and today we’re taking a fresh look at a couple of expressions we’ve experienced in the past. The distillery should need no introduction, so let’s dive into the two whiskeys.
Garrison Brothers Small Batch Bourbon (2023) – A bit of a cheat here; the only time we’ve formally reviewed Small Batch was before it was even called that: in 2013, when Garrison Brothers bottled the product as Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon, back when it was pretty much all the company made, bottling it by “vintage” several times a year. Things have changed a lot since then, but not so much the approach with this whiskey: It’s still at least three years old, bottled at 47% abv.
Garrison’s trademark oak char is on full display here, beginning on the nose, which is made even more punchy with overtones of tobacco, cedar planks, and sugar burnt so heavily it’s almost black. Grassy and laden with rye notes on the palate, the whiskey further leans into its cigar wrapper notes, throttling back in time to showcase notes of charred coconut meat, sesame oil, dark chocolate, and a mix of both baking- and grilling-oriented spices. The finish is tough and enduring, but sweetened up with enough to make for a lip-smacking cocktail ingredient or to pair with that big ass plate of barbecue.
When this whiskey hit the scene well over a decade ago, it was unlike much of anything else on the market. Today, Texas bourbon has become a Thing that is widely emulated, and Garrison Brothers Small Batch isn’t nearly as unique or as exciting as it once was. However, it remains a stalwart against which other expressions must necessarily be compared. And just like your grandparents, it is something that demands continued respect. 94 proof. B+ / $80 [BUY IT NOW FROM TOTAL WINE]
Garrison Brothers Balmorhea Bourbon (2023) – Balmorhea was first released in 2017, and it comes with a commitment from the distillery to donate $5 from each sale to Balmorhea State Park, home of the one of the world’s largest natural spring swimming pools. To date, the distillery has donated more than $78,000 to Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation. Last reviewed here in 2019, 2023’s version is arrives with the same approach as always: Double barreling that sees the whiskey spend four years in new American white oak barrels made from wood harvested from the Ozarks, then another year in barrels made from Minnesota trees.
Racier than the Small Batch but still firmly represented on the ranch, Balmorhea sees Garrison Brothers taking a more alcohol-driven yet sweeter approach to the house style. It remains boldly spicy with cloves and allspice notes offering an aggressive punch, but the whiskey tempers some of the rye-driven grass and woody barrel influence with welcome elements of mint and basil. The palate feels quite similar, both burly and spicy, with a candied ginger quality emerging with time in glass. Punchy with cloves and dark espresso notes, the whisky finds a sherried, almost Maderized quality after it’s spent a half hour or so in glass, culminating in a finish that mixes together dates, raisins, and walnuts. Definitely a step up from the Small Batch, it’s a curious combination of both Old World and New World styles — all done with American oak from start to finish. 115 proof. A- / $140 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]