By John Griffin – Express-News Staff Writer
HYE — This town is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dot on the map between Fredericksburg and Johnson City. But in a few years’ time, it could be known to spirit lovers as the birthplace of Texas bourbon.
For the past 19 months, Dan Garrison has been distilling the state’s first bourbon from a mix of organic corn, malt and soft red winter wheat. More than 150 filled and sealed barrels of what will be bottled as Garrison Brothers Distillery Bourbon are aging on his 68-acre lot, a couple of miles off U.S. 290.
At this point, no signs mark the place, but those who find their way to the plant will more than likely encounter Garrison there, working with his staff of two to get as much alcohol in barrels as they can.
By law, bourbon must be aged for at least two years before it can be bottled and labeled bourbon. It must also be made from at least 51 percent corn and aged in newly charred oak barrels. Other rules govern the proof at which it is distilled and bottled, but the most important factor to the consumer is nothing can be added to it except water. In other words, no dyes giving it the right caramel color or flavor additives to achieve the right balance.
Through the years, bourbon has been largely distilled in Kentucky, where such powerhouses as Maker’s Mark, Booker’s, Knob Creek and Woodford Reserve are crafted.
Garrison hopes to place his bourbon alongside those greats, though he doesn’t expect to have his first bottles for sale until his “fingers-crossed launch date” of 2011.
“You have to have a lot of patience to get into the bourbon business,” he says.
You also have to have a lot of passion, which Garrison has in abundance. As he works his way through the plant, complex chemical processes become lucid, at least for a moment, as he describes everything from the various waters he uses (softened water for boiling, rainwater for bottling, reverse osmosis water for fining, raw water for flavor) to the cooking of the corn and barley malt, the actions of barley enzymes and yeasts, and the temperatures and proofs that must be marked as the steam goes through the still.
What is important to remember is that Garrison uses Yellow Dent corn, which has “the highest fermentable sugar content” of any corn on the market, he says. Sweetness counts in bourbon, which is known for its caramel and butterscotch flavors as well as its fruitiness.
Garrison’s current formula is to use 74 percent corn, mixed with 15 percent soft red winter wheat and the rest malt.
Garrison went into making spirits after frustrating experiences in the tech industry. He credits his wife with the decision: “My wife said, ‘You drink so much of it, maybe you should make bourbon.’”
Getting the distillery launched hasn’t been easy. Though Garrison visited Kentucky and met with master distillers like David Pickerell from Maker’s Mark, it took 60 or so attempts to get the recipe right. But once he discovered when to add the malted barley, the process became easier.
The biggest blow was that he split with his original partner in a bitter breakup. He’s borrowed from family and friends to keep going. And he credits his father and brother, who “kicked me in the butt and told me not to feel so sorry for myself,” he says.
He repaid their faith by naming the distillery after the family.
Though the first bottles have yet to be bottled, Garrison has attracted the attention of devoted bourbon fans from across the country, many of whom have wanted to see the plant where Texas’ first bourbon is being distilled, even if they can’t have a sample.
“All of a sudden, people started flocking here,” he says. “I get five or six visitors a week.” For a private tour of the distillery, call (512) 302-0608.
Link to original story from My SA Life.