Noting, as others so often do, that “everything is bigger in Texas” speaks directly to the flavor profile of most whiskeys coming out of the Lone Star State. Because of Texas’ intense heat, the influence that oak has on these whiskeys tends to be far more pronounced at a younger age than comparable products from, say, Kentucky or Indiana. All too aware of this, Texas whiskey producers are typically inclined to lean into that quirk of the climate and create spirits that are more brash and off-the-beaten-path than their northern counterparts. For Garrison Brothers, the expression that best exemplifies that ethos is their ultra-premium Cowboy Bourbon – which is bottled at cask strength and aims to capture the boldness that Texas bourbon has become known for. On the other end of the spectrum, however, is their more limited distillery-only offering and the subject of today’s review: Garrison Brothers Laguna Madre Bourbon.
After spending four years aging in American oak, the whiskey that makes up Laguna Madre is then transferred to Limousin oak barrels for an additional four years – making it the oldest release in the Garrison Brothers lineup. On their website Garrison Brothers notes, “the project got underway again in earnest in 2014. Todd Donnis selected 16 Kelvin Cooperage 25-gallon barrels from our barns that had been originally filled with 114 proof White Dog.” The site goes on to say, “The barrels were 2 years and 226 days old when they were selected for the project. On October 26, 2016 the liquid was entered into Limousin oak barrels…The eight barrels that were custom-coopered for Operation Cadillac were Radoux 225 Liter French oak barrels with a specific “vanilla” toast, referred to by Radoux as a medium plus toast, with toasted heads.” They conclude by making mention of the fact that the Limousin oak used for these barrels comes from trees that are only felled when they reach 120 years of age or older.
I give pause here to consider just how much time went into the production of this whiskey. Eight years is a lengthy spell spent aging distillate for a brand that has only existed for about twice that time span; but to consider the 120+ years that went into the growth of the Limousin oak that created the finishing barrels for this product certainly gives one much to think about while enjoying this expression. How different the world was – it can be said that this project began nearly two decades before Prohibition!
Due to the rarity and cost of these Limousin casks, as aforementioned this is Garrison Brothers’ most limited release and for this 2022 version, like the 2021 version, less than 2,000 bottles were produced. The mashbill is made up of undisclosed percentages of Number 1 white corn, local soft red winter wheat, and two-row barley, and it carries a hefty asking price of $300.
In the glass, the whiskey opens with lively fresh apple, white chocolate, and freshly sanded oak on the nose while toasted wheat bread and the slight chalkiness of chocolate sugar wafer cookies find their way forward, after allowing this pour to rest a while.
Next up, coffee beans and cocoa powder meet the lips before dissipating quickly and allowing space for baking spice and stewed apple ensconced in milk chocolate to pool in the middle of the palate. This whiskey has a pleasurable mouthfeel and a moderate albeit enjoyable finish to accompany those hearty flavors. It does become a touch drying, though that’s a welcome counterweight to the sweet flavor that lingers which is reminiscent of a chocolate mocha latte with white chocolate flakes.
Overall this feels like a sumptuous experience, even at the relatively restrained 101 proof point. Chewing the whiskey a bit coaxes forward some bitter oak indicating that there’s still a bit of those harsher aspects prevalent in Texas whiskey buried under the surface but when enjoyed in a straightforward manner this is a pour that is pleasing and even borders on being rich. With a taste of flat Dr. Pepper and a touch of cinnamon raisin rounding out the finish, there’s no shortage of interesting notes to reward repeat pours.
Concluding on a trifle of a matter, I loathe the fanciful copy that accompanies this bottle – though the copy is not to be outdone by the lavish package this comes in. Encased in a thick plastic cylinder with faux-aquatic accents underneath and a beach in the background, you’ll find phrases like “lovingly caressed from custom Limousin oak casks” appear on the side of the bottle as we’re told this expression “shines like an aquamarine temptress beckoning us to come out and play.” While my eyes threaten to roll right out of my head, the aromas and flavors presented in the glass force me to overlook such excessively ornate flourishes. When allowing this whiskey to speak for itself, I believe any enthusiast would be inclined to listen.
A- / $300 / garrisonbros.com
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