The Noble Experiment That Failed

This past December marked the 80th anniversary of the repeal of the 18th amendment, affectionately referred to as Prohibition. No one disputes the problems relating to the addiction aspects of alcohol, but history has shown it’s very difficult to legislate morality for a nation. Some social historians have even suggested the immense profits generated for organized crime during that period laid the foundation for the initial financing of our modern drug problems.
And with the historical background in place, I thought it might be fun to look at another aspect of the alcohol beverage industry…distilled spirits.
10 years ago, barely half a dozen distilleries were in operation, not counting the ones way out in the woods. In 2014, we have 50 plus operating with more on the horizon, producing rum, bourbon, vodka, tequila, gin, and even sake. In one of the most heavily regulated industries in America, there is of course the small group that embraces the true spirit of the law, not just the letter. It’s perfectly legal to have product produced elsewhere, then shipped to Texas to be bottled. In the interests of time, space, and my liver, I thought we could take a quick look at 3 of the local, authentic favorites….Garrison Brothers, Tito’s, and Ranger Creek.
“Never tell a Texan he can’t do something”…wrote author C.K.Cowdery. With this thought in mind I’m sure, Dan Garrison made a momentous career change in the early 2000s. After reading an article about the early growth of the Texas distillery industry, he wondered aloud why no one was producing his spirit of choice…straight, uncut Bourbon whiskey. His wife’s response was …” as much of that stuff as you drink, maybe you should make one…we’d probably save money”. Next thing he knew, he was in the heart of Kentucky, learning as much as he could, building up contacts, and collecting the assortment of tanks, plumbing, barrels, and everything else he would need to produce a world class spirit. The crown of his collection of parts and materials was an antique 40 year old pot still originally built for Wild Turkey. Renamed the “Copper Cowgirl”, she was the basis for his first series of experimental batches. Opening officially in 2008, Dan and his assorted friends, family, and volunteers have been producing stellar products ever since. Just named the 2014 Micro Whiskey of the year, is just another in a series of accolades from the press and consumers. Dan believes he’s producing a true Texas whiskey, not just a Kentucky clone. His recipe calls for Texas panhandle organic corn, Pacific NW barley, his own “estate grown” wheat (when the rain gods cooperate),barrel aging in the hot Texas sun for part of the year, and of course delicious aquifer water. Only the finest ingredients, but a wonderful product that’s worth every penny. They do it all there on site…everything from the corn to the cork in the finished bottle. A great addition to any trip to the Texas 290 wine trail, or just as a day trip by itself, they’re located in beautiful downtown Hye, Texas. Fair warning…these great folks have been “discovered”…please make sure you call ahead for reservations regarding a tour/tasting (www.garrisonbros.com/ 512-302-0608). Let’s keep Dan smiling and employed as he crafts his favorite spirit…or as he puts it “I own most of the business today, or at least my wife lets me think I do”.
wine    Next on the list is Tito’s Handmade Vodka. Born in San Antonio and a UT Austin grad, Bert “Tito” Beveridge embarked on a career that included the oil industry, water analysis, even mortgage banking. In the early 1990s, he watched the growth of small boutique wineries and microbreweries, and wondered if he could take his favorite hobby of making small batches of vodka, and help create a new industry…micro distilling. Almost single handily, he began the lobbying process to create the legal right to open a distillery in Texas. In 1997, his efforts were rewarded with the very first distillery permit for his vodka. His vision was to create a Texas product fusing domestic corn with the classic old world pot still method used in making fine cognac, single malt scotches. The journey was a long slow process at the beginning, with help from just family and friends. The major investor group consisted of basically Tito, and his 19 credit cards. His goal was to make the purest and smoothest product possible. Some vodkas make a big deal about being triple distilled…Tito quietly does his 6 times. As always, more information on his website (www.titosvodka.com). Check out the conclusion to “the story”. I can’t remember the last time I heard an owner finish his own business story with “Thank you very much.” Good people…drink well!
Last in our grouping are the folks at Ranger Creek. Mark, Dennis, and TJ met coming out of business school. After a short stint in the corporate world, they began to kick around business plans for a business that would be fun and produce a product that they all enjoyed. The demographics for the local market here in the San Antonio metroplex seemed ideal for an alcoholic beverage product. The problem arose that they were passionate about both beer and whiskey, and accordingly they developed separate business plans, figuring the coin-toss would determine the winner. Inspiration struck as they created the first brewstillery that I’m aware off…talk about Texas ingenuity! Now of course, all three of this down to earth group will never take individual credit for the idea, so we’ll just let them all share in the glory! This offers them the unique ability to do some very innovative products with cross-over in technologies occurring all the time. Where else could you age your own beer in bourbon barrels you used for your whiskey? Then distill your beers into a matching style whiskey. Texas harmony at its best. We’ll save the beer portion of their business for a future article (hopefully…let me know if you’re interested). Currently, they offer 3 very creative and limited edition whiskeys they refer to as their “Small Caliber Series”. I’m going to ask Mr. Cook (Cook Winston and Company, fine sporting arms and appraisals www.cookwinston.com ) to help me with the translation of all the gun terms, but what a nice Texas touch. In the current offering are their .44 Texas Rye Whiskey, .36 Texas Bourbon, and their most intriguing… Rimfire Mesquite-smoked Texas Single Malt Whiskey using mesquite to smoke the batch instead of Scottish peat. I’m hoping in the future they might take a look at their Texas interpretation of a fine Irish whiskey, and produce a small batch. As I indicated, a good group. Reach out to them for more information, ask for it at your favorite bar, restaurant, and package store, and give them a yell about visiting for a tour (www.drinkrangercreek.com
The author William Faulkner observed this whole process very eloquently…”There is no such thing as bad whiskey. Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others.”Hopefully by the time you folks are reading this, the weather will be back to normal, Daylight savings time will be kicking off, and there will be plenty of opportunities to enjoy a fine handcrafted Texas spirit by the fire pit some cool afternoon or evening. As an alternative to wine, this might be a fun time to explore the Texas spirits industry with plenty of brands and styles to choose from. We’ll let Tito have the last word….”My friends advised me to start small. Try to own your hometown, then, if you do that, try to own your home state, then, if you do that, try to own your home country.”Personally, I think we’re headed in the right direction.



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