Texas whiskies appear to be all the rage right now. It seems we’re contacted daily by a reporter or writer who wants to profile a Texas whiskey. But as many already know, the term can be a little misleading.
We make Texas straight bourbon whiskey here at Garrison Brothers. It was never our intention to make Texas whiskey, only straight bourbon. To the best of our knowledge, Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey was the first whiskey ever made in Texas, and was the first bourbon whiskey in the world authentically cooked, fermented, distilled, barreled and bottled outside of Kentucky or Tennessee. Bill Samuels, Jr., the son of the founder of Maker’s Mark and one of my heroes, told me he believed our distillery was the first new bourbon distillery built in American since prohibition. And, apparently, imitation is indeed the most sincere form of flattery because more than a dozen Texas whiskies have been introduced since we first started legally producing bourbon in 2007.
Whiskey is a broad category that generally applies to brown spirits. The term whiskey is defined by the Tax and Trade Bureau as any distilled spirit made from grain that is entered into a barrel, regardless of how long it remains in that barrel. This category includes Scotch whiskey, single malt whiskey, Irish whiskey, Canadian whiskey, Japanese whiskey, blended whiskey and spirit whiskey. The latter two whiskies can even contain mostly grain neutral spirits (read “vodka”), food coloring, artificial sweeteners, and caramel coloring. We refer to these as brown vodkas and we’re not big fans of vodka out here in Hye. Bourbon is unique in that it cannot contain any artificial ingredients and MUST be aged in a new barrel every single time.
Additionally, many whiskies called Texas whiskey today are really not made here. It is not our intention or desire to name names. If you care about what goes into your body, and it is important to you to know who actually makes their own juice and who doesn’t, then you’ll have to do that research on your own time. Blogs and forums like straightbourbon.com contain many educated posts from knowledgeable whiskey enthusiasts who can easily separate fact from fiction. But a lot of this is just common sense. If it says “produced by” or “bottled by” on the label instead of “distilled by”, it’s probably made elsewhere. If the distillery owns a tiny still but sells 100,000 cases a year through 50 states, you can bet they’re not really making their own. If they’re selling a four year old bourbon, but the business was started in 2014, then that should answer your question.
Most Texas distillers are honest about how they make their Texas whiskey. They’re just trying to build a business like anyone else. But a few are deceitful. In our opinion, the term Texas whiskey is irrelevant. Bourbon drinkers rarely flip-flop between blended whiskies, spirit whiskies and bourbon. Blended whiskey drinkers are not our customers. But who’s to say they shouldn’t be somebody else’s? So, more power to the Texas whiskey makers and Texas whiskey drinkers. If promoting Texas brings more jobs to the state and helps our economy, then bring on the brown liquor. At Garrison Brothers we’ll stick to bourbon.