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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Bowmore, Islay, Scotland

Probably my favorite distillery tour and experience to date. I visited in July 2010 and after a couple of days touring Islay’s distilleries Tammy and Eleanor had seen enough and let me go alone, with a plan to meet in the tasting room at end of the tour. It turned out it was the last tour of the day and I was the only person who signed up, so it felt like I had the entire place to myself and my guide was happy to indulge every question I had, and without larger group I could indulge myself in the minutia of the place. Effectively it was a private tour of Bowmore, and the notes I took that day show that being alone had liberated my inner “whisky anorak” who normally stays safely hidden in the group tours. Not only was the tour perfect, but the subsequent tasting in a great room overlooking the Loch was well organized, fun, informative and innovative (they gave food samples like coconut, chocolate and raisins to help match tastes in the whisky). We tried a range of whiskies from their parent company, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and of course Bowmore. Perhaps with it being the last tour of the day they were also generous with pours and allowed us to retry samples while giving our daughter sweets and juice to keep her happy as well. Personally I fell in love with the rich, highly sherried Bowmore Darkest 15 year old that afternoon, and while it has never tasted quite as good as it did that perfect day in the distillery, it is still a 4 star whisky for me and my “go to” Bowmore.

If you go to Islay and only do one tour (which would not be a great idea in itself, stay and do more) I would say do this one and I can only hope you have same great experience I did.

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Speyside Cooperage, Speyside, Scotland

Speyside Cooperage, Speyside, Scotland OK - I admit this is isn't a distillery.  I would argue if you had toured distilleries fifty years ago then the cooperage would no doubt have been a part of the tour as most distilleries would have had their own cooper.  Today few distilleries have full time coopers (Glenfiddich and Midleton are the only two I am aware of) and so it is places like the Speyside Cooperage that carry on those traditions. So if you are interested in whisky and in Speyside then this is somewhere you have to visit, because I think it is fair to say that the quality of cask has probably just as much, if not more, impact on the final product than the new make spirit that comes off the still (at Macallan they suggest the final flavor can be attributed, approximately, 30% to the spirit and 70% to the wood).   At the Speyside cooperage you can watch the coopers build casks and a video explains the history of this craft.  All in all a great whisky related experience and definately worth the detour. 
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