By Chef Alexa Weeks
The origins of bourbon are deeply rooted in American History, earning it the title of “America’s Native Spirit.” It plays a starring role in iconic drinks such as the Manhattan, old fashioned, whiskey sour, and mint julep. However, there seems to be a common misconception that bourbon can only be made in Kentucky. It’s true that the great majority of bourbons are made in Kentucky, about 95% in fact. Bardstown, Kentucky is considered the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” but according to the federal standard of identity for “bourbon whisky” it can be produced in any corner of the United States. Not only are craft bourbons being made outside of Kentucky, they being made well and gaining national recognition. Below are profiles of three microdistilleries that are pushing the boundaries of bourbons beyond Kentucky.
Garrison Brothers Distillery Hye, Texas
In the Texas Hill Country, about an hour outside of Austin, lies a small town called Hye. This is the home of Garrison Brothers Distillery. Their flagship bourbon is Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Other bourbons in the collection include The Young Gun (an unfiltered prerelease of the flagship bourbon) and Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon. The Cowboy Bourbon was recognized in the 2014 Whisky Bible as the “American Micro Whiskey of the Year.” These Texan style bourbons have become so highly sought after that you may have trouble getting your hands on a bottle. As soon as a vintage is release it’s sold out within months. However, if you would like to order your own barrel of bourbon, the Garrison Brothers will be happy to oblige. You can pick the barrel yourself, participate in the bottling, customize the label, and have 50-80 bottles of bourbon that once aged together in the same barrel.
Dark Corners Distillery Greenville, South Carolina
Like many things in the South, Dark Corner Distillery has a rich history best retold over a glass of sun tea. The “dark corner” of South Carolina is a small area in the northwest corner of South Carolina. This area was well known for its moonshiners that were able to stay tucked away in the Appalachian hills. Now, quite some time after prohibition, this area is bottling some of the best moonshines in America. In fact, at Dark Corners Distillery you can purchase a bottle of “The World’s Best Moonshine.” But moonshine is not the only spirit that this distillery does well. Lewis Redmond is a Carolina Bourbon Whiskey named after an infamous moonshiner from the 18th century. This slightly sweet bourbon has notes of vanilla and molasses and is a perfect representation of how South Carolina does bourbon.
Rock Town Distillery Little Rock, Arkansas
About 500 miles away from Bardstown, Kentucky, in Little Rock, Arkansas, there is a microdistillery making big waves. Rock Town Distillery was the first legal distillery in Arkansas since prohibition. Rock Town is crafting a bourbon made from local grains and water from the Ozarks, distilled in Little Rock, and aged in barrels made in Arkansas. Look out Garrison Brothers because the Rock Town Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon Whiskey was the 2015 Whisky Bible “US Micro Whisky of the Year.”
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Just off Keslinger Road in DeKalb, Illinois, is a tiny stone and timber building constructed from the remains of a turn-of-the-century dairy barn that once stood nearby. In the 1960s, the cows gone, it functioned as a picnic shelter and sleeping porch for the men who farmed the surrounding 2,000 acres.
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