This year, I’m voting for Balmorhea 2020. No, that title doesn’t refer to a candidate seeking office. Rather, it’s this year’s release of Balmorhea, the twice-aged bourbon produced by Texas-based Garrison Brothers Distillery.
Balmorhea is named after a West Texas State Park, and its initial release in 2018 raised $250,000 to help its namesake remain open. It’s a twice-aged bourbon, meaning that it is aged for four years in new American oak barrels before being transferred to a second set of new American oak barrels custom-designed by Garrison Brothers Master Distiller Donnis Todd for its final year of aging.
The bourbon pours strikingly dark, and has a rich, ruddy, copper-bronze color. The barrel notes on the nose can be picked up from afar, but a closer and more considerate sniff reveals stewed plums, bourbon-soaked cherries, shortbread biscuits, and an intense, cooked vanilla bean that had me thinking of a pudding dessert.
It is creamy and rich in texture, and begins darkly sweet with cooked fruits followed by big, rich licks of creamy vanilla. But what’s even more notable on the palate is oak, which starts at the center and gradually increases in its boldness while growing ever more grippy and tannic. By the time it hits the back of the palate, the taste buds are fully engaged by a rich, crackling vein of oak peppered with cinnamon, baking spices, candied pecan, and peanut brittle. Its finish is long, gradual, and pleasantly meandering, content to let the palate sit and contemplate the full measure of its barrel flavor without overwhelming it.
Garrison Brothers Balmorhea delivers some of the most pronounced oak flavors I’ve ever encountered in a bourbon, deftly rounded out by flavors of creamy vanilla, stewed fruits, and nutty desserts. It’s an absolute powerhouse of a bourbon, capable of diving deep into the barrel while delivering darkly rich flavors that wouldn’t be out of place on an ice cream sundae.
Just 6,000 bottles of this year’s Balmorhea are available. 504 bottles will first become available at the Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye, Texas on May 22, with the remaining 5,496 hitting retail shelves nationally on May 25. So, keep an eye out.
— 57.5% ABV