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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Auchentoshan, Glasgow, Scotland

While we lived in Aberdeen we didn’t get to Glasgow much, and with so many distilleries on our doorstep in Speyside and the rest of the Highlands it seemed I would probably never get to this one. However we took a brief holiday in February 2011 and landed in Glasgow airport late on a Friday night and decided to stay in hotel in Glasgow rather than drive the two plus hours back to Aberdeen. The next morning a detour via Auchentoshan was negotiated and agreed with Tammy and my daughter. I really liked this tour, they allowed our daughter to come along and it was just the three of us on the first tour of the day. The tour guide was knowledgeable and the tour was detailed, even explaining in considerable depth the complex triple (well more like 2 ½) distillation process unique to Auchentoshan in Scotch whisky. They also had some unique features on their tour, for example they allowed me to taste the fermented wash right out of the washback prior to distillation. I found it tasted like apple juice or rough cider but soured with some vinegar, brought back memories of the short lived Cider Gate in Exeter in the early 1990’s. They also allowed you to hit a barrel in the warehouse with a sledgehammer to pop the bung out! All good fun.

Did some tasting at the end of the tour from the Auchentoshan family, but had to restrain myself as I had to drive for next couple of hours and we ended buying a bottle of the 18 year old (as well as an unusual bottle of Drambuie made with 15 year old speyside whisky).

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Garrison Brothers, Texas, USA

Garrison Brothers, Texas, USA

This visit had a lot of firsts for me.  It was my first bourbon distillery, my first US distillery and the first distillery where we were greeted by the founder and owner of the distillery, in this case Dan Garrison of Garrison Brothers.  Pretty cool.  Located in Hye, this is Texas’ first legal bourbon distillery since prohibition and is producing a very nice product.  They charge $10 for a tour but this is one of the most interactive distillery tours I have ever been on and as they patiently waited for their whiskey to mature while resisting the temptation to sell white dog spirit or put an immature product on the market I didn’t mind paying.  My favorite aspect of this tour (other the laid back hospitality I have come to love about Texas) was the fact we were able to try and taste at every stage of production.  We could taste the mash after the corn, wheat and malted barley had been cooked (it was bit like sweet breakfast oatmeal), then taste the distillers beer during fermentation (quite sour but with some fruit), white dog spirit off the still at 140 proof (hot and herbal) and finally (of course) the matured, Texas straight bourbon.   

What are the main differences between a single malt and bourbon distillery? The first was the grain recipe.  Garrison Brothers use corn, wheat and malted barley (but no rye which is often found in bourbon recipes) while single malt distilleries of Scotland use only malted barley.  In Scotland the sugars are extracted by adding hot water to the grains, in bourbon making the process involves actually cooking the grains in water to extract the sugars.  The fermentation process in most malt distilleries produces a “beer” of around 8% ABV, Garrison Brothers beer was closer to 16% ABV.  Finally the distillation of the bourbon was done in a single still but single malt is always double distilled and sometimes triple distilled.   Garrison uses 500 gal of beer at 15%  ABV which is put into the steam heated stills and in turn produces about 150 gal of 140 proof (or 70% ABV) white dog spirit that is aged for at least 2 years in oak casks so that it can be called “straight” bourbon.  Garrison Brothers use a #4 char, also known as alligator char (and the "alligator" in the Ardbeg Alligator).

They have no license to sell liquor so we couldn’t actually buy a bottle at the distillery so I bought a T shirt instead, but there is a licensed store when you turn off the main road for Garrison Bros.  I believe if you are whiskey loving Texan you will love this place and being in the middle of Texas wine country (yes that really exists) there are plenty of other reasons to make the trip and visit the area as well.  If I had to complain it would be the price per bottle.  At almost $80 / bottle retail this is very expensive for a bourbon, but there are good reasons for that.  In it's defence it is not bad when compared to the price of many Scotch single malts in Texas and hopefully with some sustained success, time (and of course increased volumes) we will see the price point reduce. 

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