Call me a convert.
On my bleary-eyed, early-morning drive to Garrison Brothers’ Hill Country distillery, I was having a hard time imagining why bourbon bottling there is so popular. More than 16,000 people have their names in a lottery to volunteer for a dubious sounding opportunity: Two back-to-back, six-hour work days in an un-airconditioned Hill Country building, running a bourbon-dispensing, bottle-filling machine named Rosie, dipping full bourbon bottles in 300-degree wax, and carefully inventorying lots of six-bottle cases.
But by the end of the day, I was ready to sign up for any and all bottling days at Garrison Brothers, the Hye, Texas creator of award-winning premium bourbon and the fount of a community bound by kindness, strong values, and friendship—as well as hard work and bourbon.
My conversion started early, when a cheerful Garrison Brothers employee came by with an old communion tray, filled with communion cups brimming with Garrison bourbon. These “quality control” shots start before 9 a.m. and continue throughout the day, accompanied by toasts ranging from randy to sentimental. “Thank you for being here!” toasted master distiller Donnis Todd at mid-morning. “I’m tired of drinking with my own family! Salud!”
All day long, “John Daly” cocktails (one third lemonade, one third tea, one third bourbon) freely flow from a cold-drink dispenser, but no one ever seems to get completely drunk. There’s also help-yourself breakfast, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages, and a delicious lunch, freshly prepared by on-site chef Joseph Moreno and served in a breezy, barrel-filled rickhouse with gorgeous Texas Hill Country views. A boot-flask bottle of Garrison’s bourbon and GB swag is waiting for each volunteer at the end.
But the real draw? It’s the “brotherhood of bourbon,” as identified by founder and self-titled “distiller, whiskey peddler, storyteller, and toilet scrubber” Dan Garrison. Alongside its premium spirits, the distillery offers authentic connection coupled with Texas hospitality and good times. That brotherhood keeps people flowing to the distillery, where they sign their names on the bottling room’s rustic walls from floor to ceiling and greet each other with easygoing humor.
“It’s so fun, and we love the camaraderie,” says veteran bottler Teresia Harwell, who regularly drives to Hye with her husband Rick from Granite Shoals.