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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Jim Beam, Kentucky, USA

My first major US distillery and the first stop I made on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in May 2012.  To call this a distillery visit is a bit misleading... as the official name is the Jim Beam Heritage Tour and you don't get to see any of the actual working distillery (except for one warehouse).  Instead the focus is on the Beam family distilling history (which begins with Jacob Beam.... not Jim) and and also learn about their product range.  This is not the artisanal style of distillery I have been used to seeing in Scotland, this is a major whisky factory wth over 475 employees (thats about 450 more men than you find in Tain and 472 more than Benromach).  I learned that 95% of the world's bourbon is made in Kentucky and 50% of that is made by Jim Beam.   Their range is a bit of a mixed bag for me... I like Jim Beam Black (but not the standard White label), I like Booker's but not Baker's and I love Knob Creek but don't like Basil Hayden.  All of these Beam brands are made at this facility and interestingly all made with the usual suspects of corn, rye and malted barley... not a wheated bourbon in the range.  Highlight of tour was probably learning our guide was 8th generation Beam family and seeing the pride and passion in her for bourbon (and she was cute which also helped).  The tour was free and included a short video and samples of Jim Beam Black and Baker's small batch bourbon (and a sample of choclate to try with the Baker's... a recurring theme on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail).  The facility is currently undergoing an upgrade with a new store and a cafe and will in the future the tour will include the actual distillery.... so I will have to come back and revisit when that is complete and hopefully get the same guide.

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Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, Kentucky, USA

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, Kentucky, USA My third stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail was not the actual distillery tour, but a visitor's center in the midst of their warehouses dedicated to the numerous brands produced at Heaven Hill.  At least I didn't have to stand in a noisy bottling plant.  Our knowledgable guide mentioned Heaven Hill currently produces 83 different brands including the Evan Williams, Elijah Craig and Old Fitzgerald lines.  Most of these are made from the standard corn / rye / malt recipes but they did make  5 wheated bourbons which I believe would be the Old Fitzgerald whiskies. The tour I chose was brief and focussed on the history of bourbon (as you might expect for a heritage center) rather than the specifc brands of Heaven Hill (unlike Beam and Maker's) and again was free and concluded with a tasting of Evan Williams Single Barrel.... which I really liked.  The guide tried to give a mini lesson in tasting bourbon, adding water or ice etc but to be honest was a little hampered by use of plastic cups and very small pours.  Interestingly the Beam family made another appearance... Jim's Beam's brother, Earl Beam, was hired by Heaven Hill as Master Distiller and Craig Beam is the current Master Distiller.  That made it 3 distilleries out of 3 with a Beam connection.
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