But it doesn’t end there. As a family owned and operated company, we like to get to know our partners when we do participate in collaborations. So, we had a chat with Dan Garrison, founder of Garrison Brothers, to dig a little deeper into his journey into whiskey making, what the distillation process looks like, and why he wanted to collaborate with McC’s. Keep on reading for the good stuff!
McC’s: What made you decide to quit your tech job and go into whiskey making?
Dan: In my case, it wasn’t so much a “decision” as it was a necessity. Along with thousands of other Texans, I lost my job in the tech industry after the Enron Scandal in 2001, as they were my company’s biggest client. And with a wife and two kids to worry about, I did what any responsible parent would do: I went to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to get drunk. I’ve always loved bourbon, but once I got there and started talking to some of the distillers, it hit me that there was a huge opportunity there. There was an entire world of bourbon production that wasn’t being explored by anyone new; the same batch of distilleries had been doing it for decades. So I figured it was time for someone new to get into the game, and being that I’ve got a lot of Texas pride in me, I thought I could do it better than the Kentucky folks back home in Texas.
McC’s: What were some of the biggest obstacles you had to overcome when you started Garrison Bros?
Dan: One of the biggest obstacles I had was actually convincing people that it could be done. Keep in mind, when I started out there were only a handful of bourbon distilleries in America, and bourbon was 100% synonymous with Kentucky. So when I was telling investors about my plan to make bourbon in Texas, there were times when I was pretty much laughed out of the room.
Along with that, being the first person to make bourbon outside of Kentucky, I was having to experiment in an entirely new environment. The climate in Texas is vastly different than that of Kentucky, so when I tried the exact same distilling and aging process that they use, it resulted in a bunch of split barrels and my first batch of bourbon spilling out into the floor.
Thankfully, I have an amazing team and some good friends who got me through the toughest parts, and no matter how many challenges we have to deal with, I still have the best job in the world.
McC’s: What surprised you most about distillation?
Dan: What surprised me the most about the distillation process is that it’s an equal mixture of science and intuition. Coming from the tech world, I thought that the distillation process would be just a straightforward list of numbers, measurements, and processes. And a lot of it is, there’s a huge amount of science that goes into a bottle of bourbon. But a large part of it, especially when you’re first working out how you want your bourbon to taste, relies on your gut. You have to guess, experiment, and go with your instincts to develop the process that works best for you. The guys making whiskey in the Kentucky hills in the 1850s didn’t have computerized monitoring or reference spreadsheets; they had to rely on their experience and gut feelings to figure out the right ways to do it. And that’s just as true today.
McC’s: Can you walk through the distillation process for us?Dan: We make every drop of bourbon from scratch, and it all starts with our grains. All the grains we use are produced by smaller farms here in Texas. To be legally considered bourbon, your ratio of grains (known as the “mash bill”) must be at least 51% corn. For our recipe, we use 74% white corn (which yields more sugar than the yellow corn that most people think of), 15% soft red winter wheat, and 11% malted barley. This grain is then mashed up and mixed with our limestone-rich well water, which combines with the starch from the corn and activates an enzyme in the barley that converts that starch into fermentable sugars.
This mixture is called “mash”, which is then dumped into our fermentation vats. We then add yeast, which begins to ferment and create alcohol. A lot of distilleries use what’s called a “sour mash”, which uses a bit of the previous batch to speed up the fermentation. We use a “sweet mash”, which starts every batch from scratch and gives you a fuller flavor.
Next, we pump the resulting mixture (called “distiller’s beer”) over to the still house, where we separate the raw distillate, known as “white dog.” This is the alcohol that’s been produced from the grains, and it’ll be carrying plenty of flavor right along with it. The “white dog” is then used to fill our new American white oak barrels, which are sealed up and left to age in the searing Texas heat for a few years until they’re ready to be dumped and bottled by our volunteer bottling team.
McC’s: What’s your favorite part of distillation?Dan: For the distillation process itself, my favorite part is when we get those first few drops of white dog separated from the first batch. It’s pure chemistry at work, and it’s proof that the amazing grains we use are paying off exactly how we want them to. Also, as a side note, we always let guests on the tour try the white dog, and since it’s about 70 percent alcohol, it’s got a bit of kick to it, so the reactions are priceless.
If you include the entire process from grain to bottling, my favorite part is right at the end of the bottling line, where I often set aside some time to stand and personally sign as many bottles as I can. I view every bottle like one of my children, and nothing makes me happier than sending them off into the world.
McC’s: What’s your favorite product/drink?Dan: To borrow a saying from my good friend and Master Distiller, Donnis Todd, my favorite bourbon is always the one that we make tomorrow. Every day we try something new, and what we learn goes into the batch that we make tomorrow.
That said, if I’m at a bar and had every bottle of Garrison Brothers in front of me to pick from, I’d go with a pour of our Cowboy bourbon. It’s an uncut and unfiltered 133.9-proof beast of a bourbon that’s crafted from Donnis and my favorite barrels. As we like to say, it’s the Nectar Of The Gods.
McC’s: Why did you want to collaborate with McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams?Dan: McConnell’s stood out to me because, in many ways, y’all are doing the exact same thing in the world of ice cream that we’re trying to do with bourbon. Our bourbon is made from scratch using the finest ingredients we can find, with no preservatives, additives, or artificial colors. And since y’all make your ice cream the same way, doing everything from scratch, I couldn’t help but think that we have a similar mindset. It’s our goal to make the finest bourbon in the world, and I know it’s yours to make the finest ice cream in the world.
The other standout for me was how you approach the culture surrounding ice cream. We always say that bourbon isn’t just a drink. It’s a way to connect with others. Whether you’re toasting a marriage or birthday, or just spending time with the people you love, good bourbon brings people together. And through your products and the Scoop Shops, you’re doing the exact same thing with ice cream. You’re creating a way for people to come together and enjoy themselves, and with things the way they are nowadays, we need as much of that as we can get.
McC’s: What has been your favorite part about working with us?Dan: I’d be lying if I said that one of the best parts wasn’t getting to try some truly incredible ice cream!
Seriously though, it’s been amazing to work with a group that’s so dedicated to making the best product around, as well as to get a glimpse behind the curtain to see what really goes into making world-class ice cream. Y’all are so passionate about what you do, and even though we’re making different products, we’re certainly cut from the same cloth.
McC’s: What’s your all-time favorite McC’s ice cream flavor? Dan: This might be a bit of a cheat answer, but I have to say the Garrison Brothers Whiskey & Pecan Pralines. It’s like our philosophy when it comes to grains: when you put the best grains together, you get the best bourbon. And in this case, we’re combining the best bourbon with the best ice cream for an end result that’s pretty much impossible to beat.
McC’s: What do you love to do outside of work?Dan: Drink bourbon, of course! Some of my best days have been spent enjoying good bourbon in a new place with new people. I get to make new friends every day.
Aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my wife and kids, doing a bit of hunting or fishing, or going for a drive in hopes of discovering a patch of Texas that I’ve never seen before.
Shop Garrison Bros Whiskey & Pecan Pralines at our California scoop shop locations or online before it’s gone!