When your tech company employer implodes on the brink of an IPO payout because its only client is Enron, you might consider having a drink or three. Experiencing such an event, bourbon aficionado Dan Garrison headed to Kentucky, the traditional home of his favorite distilled spirit, to knock back a few.
A casual exchange with a hotel bartender in Louisville ignited an idea: What would it be like to launch a bourbon distillery in Texas?
“I called my wife and said ‘I’m not coming home,’ ” Garrison says. “ ‘I’ve got to stay up here another two weeks.’ ” Armed with a notebook, the steady-eyed Texan visited every single bourbon maker in the region and listened while kind distillers freely shared their bourbon wisdom.
“I made lists of questions in my hotel room at night. How much yeast should you use per gallon of mash? How many bushels of corn does it take to yield X gallons of 100 proof white dog (un-aged, raw whiskey)? How much does a still cost, and how is it powered? I had to know all the answers to come up with a business plan.”
Today, Garrison heads up Garrison Brothers, the first distillery in Texas to offer legally made bourbon that’s also one of the few Texas-certified spirits, meaning that it’s actually produced in Texas, almost entirely from Texan ingredients (only the yeast is sourced outside Texas), instead of being made elsewhere and only bottled in the Lone Star State. Garrison’s bourbons have won multiple awards, and the camaraderie among the company’s employees and customers is as strong as the nearly 140-proof, coveted Cowboy bourbon that the distillery releases once a year to legions of people who arrive before dawn to get in line at the Hye, Texas headquarters for a bottle.
Photos by Kathy McFarland
“I wake up every single morning very excited to get to work,” Garrison says. “How many people can say that? I’m very blessed to be able to do this. I get to work with great people, the most beautiful people on Planet Earth.”
Garrison grew up in Spring Branch near Houston and pinged around the state and beyond for high school. He attended the University of Texas, followed by a stint at an advertising agency in New York. After meeting his future wife Nancy Scarborough, who was in New York on a buying trip for her family’s Austin retail business, he returned to Texas to work in advertising.
“There’s an attitude of state pride among Texans you don’t find anywhere else in the world,” Garrison says. “And in Texas when you say, ‘I’m going to build a business,’ people respond with, ‘How can I help?’ You don’t see that in many other states.”
While Garrison rides the rapid growth of his premium bourbon company, he maintains a steady perspective. “I believe good bourbon can change the world. Good bourbon can create lasting friendships and relationships. Good bourbon can increase one’s faith in mankind and God, and good bourbon can create legendary stories. I’m living proof of that.”