Garrison Brothers Bourbon was built on risks. Dan Garrison started working towards his dream of opening the first bourbon distillery in Texas since prohibition in the early 2000s when he was a freshly unemployed, broke, married father-of-two. It took over 60 tries for him to craft Garrison Brothers’ original mash bill. Just about everyone thought he was crazy. And yet, only 13 years later, Garrison Brothers Bourbon has been named the American Micro Whiskey of the Year by Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible four times.
All of that is to say that the folks at Garrison Brothers feel a kinship to anyone willing to take a risk, and they like to reward boldness. Their annual Bourbon Brawl—a cocktail competition that brings together the best bartenders in the state to see who can create the finest bourbon cocktail—is no exception. At the 2019 Brawls, they saw bartenders use cotton candy, chickpea brine, matcha, and steak sauce as ingredients, watched multiple competitors play with fire, and found out that leather-soaked bourbon is, in fact, delicious.
One risk-taker that stood out to judges was Cody Northcutt, winner of the Houston semi-finals. Most of the bartenders chose to stick with the flavors and techniques that they knew best, creating drinks inspired by their own favorite cocktails and flavors. Northcutt took a different approach, opting to spend as much time as he could researching Garrison Brothers’ and Texas’ histories to draw inspiration from.
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“I’m a native Texan and I know a good scheme of things, but [the competition] challenged me to delve really into it and find out at the core of what Texas is. So that was really fun,” Northcutt said.
Rather than spending all of his time practicing flashy techniques and experimenting with unorthodox ingredients, he got to know the bourbon itself. The more he learned, the more naturally a recipe came to him. He named it “Hye Five”—a pun on Hye, Texas, home to the Garrison Brothers Distillery.
“It’s very boozy, but it also doesn’t take away from the whiskey itself. It showcases it and shows little undertones that kind of bring it up and show you the different nuances of the whiskey, like the coffee notes or the citrus notes of it. So that one’s kind of representing the five communities outside of Hye that have shown support and love to Garrison Brothers throughout their whole adventure.”
He named another cocktail “Relentless” in honor of Houston, as well as the story of Garrison Brothers’ founding.
“[Relentless] dedicates to the character that is Houston throughout the years, and the character that is Garrison Brothers throughout the years; all the struggles, the ideas that they had to go to, just to be where they’re at today.”
Risks come in many forms. In a bartending competition full of flaming glasses and exotic ingredients, a subtler approach that focuses on flavor and story first is definitely a risk. But if anyone is going to reward a bit of boldness, it’s Garrison Brothers.