By Father John Rayls
I’m reluctant to give an A+ out, because that grade is the top of the scale and I hate to think a whiskey cannot get any better. But I don’t feel that way about Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon this year. To my way of thinking, it is just that good and I can’t see room for improvement.
Previous Garrison Brothers releases have been very good, and although the distillery’s work has its detractors in the blogosphere, it’s widely agreed they are up to good things down in Hye, Texas. Jim Murray named two separate years, 2013 and 2015, as his choice for American Micro Whiskey of the Year in his Whisky Bible. As a rule, if you like big, bold Bourbon, you will like what Garrison Brothers does. In that vein, some say it’s outstanding for young Bourbon and some say it’s simply outstanding, and this year’s Cowboy Bourbon is outstanding by even Garrison Brothers standards.
I have Bottle #41 and it was distilled and barreled in 2012 using #1 Panhandle White Corn, aged four years and bottled in 2017 at 137 proof. Master Distiller Donnis Todd was the sole hand in picking the barrels and marrying them for this year’s Cowboy Bourbon, so hat’s off to that man!
The look of Cowboy Bourbon 2017 is simply magnificent. In the glass, it’s a beautiful dark reddish brown looking like mahogany. The light struggles to penetrate the dark, opaque whiskey. There are a few highlights of dark red, brown and dark gold. As the bourbon diminishes in the glass, it takes on a color of deeply burnt copper. The legs are reluctant and short, preferring to bead up around the top of the glass as if held in suspension.
The nose rises easily, and sits somewhere between middling and aggressive in its greeting. It’s filled with ample oak and fresh leather, complimented with caramel. There are some earthy aromas over the top of some very light chocolate. I thought there was no real burn to the vapor, but there is some tingling, so all said it’s not a hot Bourbon despite coming in at 137 proof (68.5% ABV!).
What with that proof, consuming Cowboy neat is not as much of a challenge as might be expected. It’s not an easy sipper, but it can be enjoyed without water or ice. From the start the liquid has a creamy/oily mouthfeel, and it’s flavor is big, bold and packs a punch. Oak and new leather (imagine new cowboy boots) are omnipresent. Beneath that is a nice caramel layer, plus some campfire smoke wafting in and out way in the background.
The finish runs strong and long, kicking in with white pepper. It’s a little hot, but not overwhelming.
If you get the chance, either buy a bottle or at least give it a try off the bar shelf.
Suggested retail for Cowboy Bourbon 2017 is $220, and even at that price it’s anticipated enough and the supply small enough that the release will go fast.