Garrison Brothers Whiskey and Governor Perry

Garrison Brothers Whiskey

I attended an event at the whiskey place down the street, Gamlin Whiskey House, to learn about Garrison Brothers Whiskey and during the talk found yet another reason to hate government. One of the Garrison brothers mentioned that it was illegal to distill whiskey in Texas when he and his brother started up their business. Only the personal intervention of Governor Perry allowed it to take place. You’d imagine I’m happy about that but you’d be wrong and I’m here to explain why.

Apparently, the Garrison lads were learning how to distill in those early years but not actually selling any product. They knew what they were doing was illegal in the state of Texas but nobody really cared as they weren’t in a commercial business.

The distillery is located in Hye, Texas which is not far from the state capital of Austin. This means that Perry happened across it one day. Perry also happens to be a whiskey drinker. Imagine, if you will, that the Garrison Brothers distillery was not located near Austin, that Perry was a teetotaler, that Perry’s wife had bad romance with one of the brothers. Where would Garrison Brothers be then? That’s the root of the problem.

Yes, it’s nice that the government of Texas allowed the Garrison Brothers to legally distill and sell their whiskey. However, it’s awful that the government is in a position to allow or disallow such activity. The Garrison Brothers should be able to distill their whiskey and sell it with or without government support. You only have to look at the horse meat industry to understand the government can put anyone out of business, at any time, with the stroke of a pen.

Certainly, the government has the right to obtain a sample of the whiskey, send it to a laboratory, analyze it, and publish the result of that analysis. Let the public know if the whiskey has so much alcohol that it is toxic. If the whiskey is toxic then the law enforcement arm of the government can spring into action.

Whiskey reviewers have the right to purchase the whiskey and assign it a grade and the government should be able to do the same thing.

The whiskey, you ask? It’s made with high desert water from Texas and local produce so it has a different overall feel than Kentucky or Tennessee whiskey. It is softer in the mouth and doesn’t have that immediate striking feel on the tongue and roof of the mouth but has a lingering and lovely flavor on the side of the mouth and down the throat.

My recommendation? Next time you go whiskey shopping, purchase a bottle. You might find it becomes a go to brand or you might not find it to your taste. That’s a choice for you to make, not the government.

Tom Liberman

Best Whiskey from Japan – Subjective or Objective

yamazaki-sherry-cask-2013I just read an interesting story about a whiskey tasting contest which is adjudicated by a panel from the Whiskey Bible. The winner in past contests has often been a Scotch Whiskey and usually at least one brand from Scotland makes it into the top five. That was not the case this year, and at least judging by the comments, there was some consternation over this result.

The winner is called Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 and it is from Japan. As I wrote about earlier, Japan’s Suntory recently purchased Jim Beam and there was a lot of tumult about a Japanese company owning such an iconic U.S. whiskey brand. I don’t really want to discuss why Japan is now producing some of the most delicious tasting whiskeys in the world and if this is a good thing or a bad thing. What I’d like to discuss is the nature of the comments below the article. I’d say about 80% argued that either there was bribery involved or that no one could tell if a whiskey was good or not because taste was subjective.

I can’t tell you if bribery was involved and certainly the whiskey that is ordained as the best tasting will certainly enjoy a large increase in sales. This would indicate the potential for financial shenanigans. I can tell you that while there is certainly a subjective view about what whiskey tastes good to you there is also, absolutely, a difference in the quality and taste of one whiskey over another. What is determined to be a good whiskey is objectively good. It is not a matter of personal taste preferences.

Let’s start with extremes. I have a bottle of urine and a bottle of Virgil’s Cream Soda. One is objectively better tasting than the other. That’s a fact. Subjectivists will argue that if they like the urine better that it is better. This is the argument of those who prefer a different brand of whiskey to that chosen as the best. If this argument is true, if best is a completely subjective idea, then there really is no such thing as best. I would even argue that there is no such thing as good and bad. Urine and Virgil’s Cream soda cannot be compared at all. I think this is nonsense. It is clear that one thing is better than another.

In a more nuanced argument, like the one between the Yamazaki whiskey and it’s competitors, the judging becomes more difficult. A panel of experts samples the various whiskeys based on certain criteria and they vote. The votes are tallied and one whiskey emerges as the best. It can certainly be argued that the panel used inaccurate judging methods. It is possible that financial incentives swayed the vote. It can even be argued that the scoring methodology was flawed. What I say cannot be argued is that this year the Yamazaki whiskey was victorious. That it is better than its competitors based on as good an objective rating system as exists. What else is there?

This same argument can be made for any food, television show, or business decision. You must weigh the various factors and make the best decision possible. If you do so then you will generally succeed in life.

It’s undeniably true that people personally prefer one brand of whiskey over another but that does not mean that particular whiskey is, in fact, better than its competitor. I reject the notion of a subjective world. This doesn’t mean I’m taking away your right to love Evan Williams over Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013. That’s your business. I’m just telling you that the Yamazaki is better, objectively.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
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A Whiskey Tale – Jack Daniels v. Popcorn Sutton

Whiskey LabelsThere’s a little news story out today that makes me sad for a couple of reasons.

A fellow named Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton was driven to suicide by the government over his illegal activities and now his wife is being sued out of existence by Jack Daniels. It’s a sad story, pull up a chair and see what our country has become.

A fellow by the name of Marvin Sutton brewed his own Tennessee Whiskey for many years. He didn’t bother to get a license for his stills or pay taxes on his sales so he was considered a Moonshiner and Bootlegger. The reason we require a distillery to be licensed is that poorly produced alcohol has the potential to kill and cause serious harm. The reason we require taxes is to fund the government.

Sutton produced his illegal whiskey for many years and became prominent for his videos showing how to make whiskey. He sold to a small but dedicated group of buyers for many years until the federal government gathered enough evidence to try him for his crimes. He was found guilty an sentenced to 18 months in prison. At about that time he was also diagnosed with cancer and rather than serve his time he committed suicide.

I’m not opposed to the government making sure our food supply is safe and I do think they have the right to force licensing on production of things like alcohol. I’m also not opposed to taxes on alcohol. The taxes are justified by the distribution required. The roads necessary for supplies required to manufacture the whiskey and for the finished product to be shipped.

I’m not completely sympathetic to Sutton. He knew the rules and many other liquor companies manage to follow the regulations and turn a nice profit. He broke the law and chose suicide rather than prison. It’s sad, as I said, but he certainly bears the responsibility for the decisions he made.

Now, onto the next part of this story. His liquor had a small but loyal following and some of those backers had some money. They decided to form a company with his widow and began to produce and distribute, legally, Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey. Initially they used mason jars as a tribute to Sutton but as popularity grew redesigned the bottle and label. That’s where Jack Daniel’s comes in.

The bottles of both products are squarish and have black and white labels. The labels are not similar except color pattern. For Jack Daniel’s this was enough to suspect that consumers would think that Sutton’s whiskey was actually a new brand from Jack Daniel’s. They’ve filed a lawsuit demanding that Sutton destroy all existing bottles and turn over all profits from sales.

This lawsuit will be difficult to fight and will certainly cost Sutton’s company a lot of money. They might not be able to stand-up under the pressure. We’ll see. On the other hand, it might be that the publicity generated from the lawsuit will spur Sutton’s whiskey to new heights. I’m certainly curious about it now and I do purchase whiskey.

Still, I find the entire story somewhat disheartening. A fellow who wanted to make a quality whiskey. A widow who wanted to start a company. The massive forces arrayed against them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not writing that it’s unfair. The government has the right to regulate. Jack Daniel’s has the right to sue. It’s just a little sad that it’s so much trouble for a fellow to make and sell a nice whiskey.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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