Whiskey Women Changing the Game
Samantha Olvera – Distiller at Garrison Brothers
By Meredith Kay
Photography courtesy of Garrison Brothers
It’s not easy to be the only girl on the team. Women often have to work harder, be smarter, and prove themselves in a unique and singular way that makes us stand out in a male-dominated arena. Samantha Olvera has learned to not only navigate the arena, but she is winning the game and earning the respect of those in the field as the only female distiller at the legendary Texas bourbon maker, Garrison Brothers.
Born in Corpus Christi, Samantha was attending Del Mar College, studying to become a respiratory therapist, when she moved north to San Antonio to help with her family. She worked as a bartender at Albert Icehouse & Dancehall in Stonewall, and she would often serve the employees from Garrison Brothers after their shifts at the distillery. She became intrigued with the stories about how their bourbon was made, and when she heard about an opening in hospitality at the distillery, she applied and was hired immediately.
Garrison Brothers, located in Hye, was the first distillery to acquire a license to make bourbon outside of Kentucky and Tennessee, and they are the oldest bourbon distillery in Texas. They offer several flavor profiles to please even the most discerning whiskey palate.
From the beginning, Samantha knew that she wanted to become a part of the production team. Donnis Todd, Garrison Brothers’ Head Distiller, encouraged her and set out to teach her the bourbon-making process. She learned quickly, and seven years later, Samantha is proud to be the only female distiller on the team.
About her experience, Samantha is grateful to the team that has taught her well. She says, “I’ve learned so much over the years, and I’ve had to become mechanically inclined. I’ve learned how a valve works and how to replace one, and I’ve become pretty good at reversing a trailer.”
When asked what sets Garrison Brothers apart from other Texas whiskey distillers, Samantha will tell you that it’s actually the inconsistency based on the crazy weather here in South Texas.
“We don’t bank on making the exact same batch year after year. The heat and the cold really dictate the flavor profiles of each batch.”
During milder seasons, the distillery may practice a method of “zapping” the barrels to intensify the barrel aging process. This entails loading the barrels into a shipping container to force the heat circulation, thus producing a deeper flavor profile. Samantha recalls, “I’ll never forget the first time I went into the shipping container where they were zapping the barrels. I could literally hear the barrels breathing.”
Currently, Garrison Brothers can be found in over 20 states and internationally, and their reputation is growing quickly. Samantha wakes up every day grateful for the opportunity that launched a career that she never expected, but loves dearly.
She says, “I’m blessed to be able to earn a living doing something I love. You have to love what you do, and every day I remind myself where we started and how far we’ve come, and I can’t wait to see how far we will go in the future.”