Clearing out the clouds with whiskey

Courtesy of Garrison Brothers Distillery

By Scott Thomas Anderson

There’s an old Irish proverb that says, “What whiskey will not cure, there is no cure for.”

Sitting inside Locked Barrel, a noirish bar nestled in one of Sacramento’s architectural marvels, I watched the November stormfronts coming in and wondered what my Irish ancestors would say about a term that’s being thrown around called “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” I don’t know how therapists use this term, but the people in my highly creative but totally dysfunctional social circle are using it as shorthand for being a moody bastard – with the emphasis that there’s now an excuse.

At least for a few months.

Of course, there’s no doubt that dark and stormy atmospheres bring a certain numbness; but I would be damn hesitant to complain about this to my Celtic cousins, especially in the form of a clinical diagnosis. Case in point, after I left Locked Barrel, I send the following text to the Edinburgh poet Louise Peterkin: “The rainy dreary weather has returned to California.”

Her response was, “The rainy, dreary weather never leaves Scotland.” 

So, the Scottish and Irish continue to endure dim, draining seasons of mist with something far better than fifty-dollar medical terms – they endure it with elevated, soul-warming bottles of whiskey. And, accordingly, as I sat in Locked Barrel, I wasn’t fretting about the skies turning bitter; and that’s because I was about to drink one of the finest whiskeys you can have anywhere in Sacramento right now. It’s from the Garrison Brothers Distillery in Texas and it’s called Laguna Madre. This Lone Star bourbon is a wheated jewel that’s finished for several years in rare French Limousin oak barrels under the blistering climate of the Hill Country. At 101 proof, it’s fragrant spice meets vanilla vibrations with a singing finish of pure velvet.

The biggest debate in the spirits world is whether whiskey is craft, art or magic. Vintages like Laguna Madre are what keep the debate enteral. It is a limited release from Garrison Brothers, meaning it’s geared for the most-serious of American whiskey fanatics and priced at a premium. Around Sacramento, the spot to buy a glass of it – obviously – is Locked Barrel.

I first encountered Garrison Brothers’ whiskeys back in August when I was in Las Vegas, watching the American Distilling Institute award its owners, Dan and Nancy Garrison, with the distinction of ‘2023 Distillery of the Year.’ Jeff Hilmer, who works for Garrison Brothers, told me that the company’s head distiller Donnis Todd has been making Laguna Madre for half a decade now.
“The French Limousin oak barrels bring out a ton of unique characteristics,” Hilmer observed. “Those barrels are super hard to find; and the flavor and quality that comes out of it is hard to beat – there’s just so much going on.” 

A few weeks before, Hilmer and I had been hanging out at one of the famous whiskey-and-food pairing nights at Father Paddy’ Public House in Woodland. Owner Patrick Redmond had created his entire menu for the evening around Texas bourbons from Garrison Brothers. Father Paddy’s versatile cooks somehow matched these whiskeys against savory southwestern staples, whipping up everything from tamales and bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers to hot links and gorgeously fat-touched brisket.
Redmond got the idea after meeting Dan Garrison at Sacramento’s last whiskey festival. Dan used that opportunity to speak with local spirit connoisseurs, as well as make connections with local whiskey experts like Redmond. One of the bottles that Dan was pouring that day was his Lady Bird, which Redmond and I agree is the best pound-for-pound American whiskey we’ve encountered this year.

The Father Paddy’s pairing event emphasized that Garrison Brothers Distillery also makes amazing whiskeys for the more casual drinker, which include its Small Batch and its Honey Dew. Bottles of Honey Dew are created in a particularly fascinating way.
“We take our barrel staves and chop them up into little cubes and soak those in cask-strength bourbon, then we take it to the honey farm, and they infuse honey into the wood,” Hilmer explained. “So, we get this Honey Dew back, and we let it rest in the Small Batch bourbon for six-to-eight months, then we cut it down to 80 proof.” 

That equals a bourbon with a nose like honeycomb heaven and a taste that feels like a sweetly smoked ray of sunshine.

In addition to Father Paddy’s in Woodland and Locked Barrel in Downtown, Garrision Brothers’ whiskeys are also being poured at The Boxing Donkey Irish Pub in Roseville. Whichever pair of doors you chose to walk through, the clear leader in Texas bourbon is waiting to kill those cold, claustrophobic winter blues.

Scott Thomas Anderson is also the host of the ‘Drinkers with Writing Problems’ podcast.

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